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The Five MLB Seasons Since 1940 With No Hall of Fame Debuts

I am a former sports editor and historical baseball aficionado, now making a career in the hospitality industry.

this-only-happened-six-times-in-major-league-baseball-between-1940-1993

How Many Times Has an MLB Season Not Featured the Debut of a Hall of Famer?

Hundreds of players step foot onto a major league baseball field for the first time every season, and among those debuts are a handful of stars, a lot of duds, and—in most cases—at least a Hall of Famer or two. But what about those seasons which don’t see a Hall of Fame player making his debut? It’s infrequent—just five times between 1940 and 1993—but it happens, and it may be happening with more frequency in the post-strike era.

The phenomenon hasn’t occurred since the 1980s, when it happened twice, and in the 40 seasons before that, there was an average of 13 years between seasons that failed to see a Hall of Fame career take flight (it occurred just three times between 1940 and 1979). Based upon the players who have debuted since 1993, however, there is reason to believe there will be several new Hall of Famer-less debut classes.

Below, have a look at the seasons since 1940 that failed to produce a Hall of Famer, as well as see which more recent campaigns could fall into the same category.

Editor’s notes: When this article was first published, six seasons were included, but with the induction of Lee Smith and Harold Baines in 2019, the class of 1980 debuts went from zero Hall of Famers to two. An argument could be made that the Class of 1949 could be included on this list, as the only Hall of Famer to debut that year was Monte Irvin, who was inducted mostly for his contributions to the Negro Leagues.

this-only-happened-six-times-in-major-league-baseball-between-1940-1993

Class of 1985

Performance-enhancing drugs are to blame for the demise of the 1985 class of debuts, as Jose Canseco may be enshrined in Cooperstown today had he posted the same career numbers without the aid of PEDs. Canseco was known for his power, smashing 462 homers during a 17-year career, but injuries slowed him in many of those seasons and his secondary numbers don’t add up to typical Hall-of-Fame status (.266 average, 1,877 hits, 200 steals), so it’s hard to guarantee he would have been elected on merit alone.

After Canseco, however, there isn’t much to be desired, as debuts included memorable stars like Paul O’Neill, Andres Galarraga, Lenny Dykstra, and Devon White, as well as short-term superstars such as Cecil Fielder, Mike Greenwell, and Rick Aguilera, but none had the lasting star power it takes to reach Cooperstown.

O’Neill would have the best argument. A dependable 17-year veteran, O’Neill collected 2,107 hits, batted .288—including six straight seasons above .300 in his prime - and was a member of five World Series-winning teams. Nevertheless, he picked up just 12 votes—or 2.2 percent—when he first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2007, falling off for failing to be named on at least 5 percent of writers’ ballots.

this-only-happened-six-times-in-major-league-baseball-between-1940-1993

Class of 1983

Orel Hershiser, the 1988 World Series Most Valuable Player, enjoyed a long and fruitful career (204 wins and 2,014 strikeouts over 18 years) but even with all his successes, he was never really in consideration for the Hall of Fame. Though he did garner more than five percent of the vote in his first try in 2006, Hershiser fell off the ballot in 2007 and then failed to reach the 75 percent threshold in 2017, when he appeared again as a candidate before the Veterans’ Committee.

Other significant debuts from the season included Tony Fernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Andy Van Slyke, and Joe Carter, but none of them ever made it past the first ballot.

In a case of right name, wrong player, Bob Gibson made his debut in 1983. Only not the Hall of Famer and long-time ace of the St. Louis Cardinals, this Gibson appeared in 98 games, mostly as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets, from 1983-87.

And who could forget Rod Allen, who made little impact in the majors but became a sensation for charging the mound and chasing a pitcher all across the field while playing for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japan Central League in 1991. He's since become a colorful broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.

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Class of 1971

A year that saw the debuts of numerous long-time players couldn’t find a star bright enough to get into the Hall of Fame and keep alive a streak of 13 seasons that saw a Hall of Fame debut. Led by the likes of Ron Cey, Darrell Porter, Dave Kingman, Cecil Cooper, J.R. Richard, and Doyle Alexander, the debut class of ‘71 saw 19 players stretch a career 15 seasons—including Kurt Bevacqua, who managed to play 15 years as a backup, despite hitting just .236 for his career.

But even those who were stars didn’t stand much of a chance from the writers’ votes - as Cey (8 votes), Evans (8), Richard (7), Alexander (0), Porter (0) and Cooper (0), among others, never saw a second time on the ballot.

Also debuting in 1971 was Monty Montgomery, whose unusually patterned name garnered more attention than his play. Montgomery struck out 36 batters in 12 appearances over two seasons for the Kansas City Royals.

this-only-happened-six-times-in-major-league-baseball-between-1940-1993

Class of 1957

Among one of the more common “is he” or “isn’t he” a Hall of Famer debates revolves around Roger Maris, who made his Major League debut in 1957. For years, he held the single-season home run record of 61, which skews the perception of a career marred by injuries. Maris played more than 120 games in just seven of his 12 seasons, and by taking away his three-year peak from 1960-62, Maris never did much that was spectacular. With career marks of 275 homers and a .260 average, Maris landed where he belongs—the leading star of an uninspiring class of debuts.

He was joined in 1957 by the likes of Milt Pappas, Tony Kubek, John Roseboro, and Claude Osteen as stars who didn’t quite perform well enough to break a 12-year run of seasons that saw a Hall of Famer begin his career.

Pappas does have a connection to the Hall of Fame, albeit not the one he would have preferred. The 209-game winner was a headliner when the Baltimore Orioles traded for Frank Robinson. Pappas would win 99 games for the Reds, falling just short of winning 100 games in each league.

Kubek, a solid middle infielder for the Yankees, only played nine seasons, hurting the three-time All-Star’s chances of reaching Cooperstown. He hit .266 with 57 home runs and 522 runs scored in his career, while also fielding at a .967 clip.

Roseboro, among the first black players in the game, had a strong career as a catcher for the Dodgers, but didn’t superbly excel in any area except defense, finishing his career with a .989 fielding percentage.

Osteen won 196 games in his career after debuting as a 17-year-old, but with 195 losses also attached, he was far from a Hall of Famer. He pitched for 18 years, but allowed a hit per inning and only recorded a strikeout an average of every two innings.

this-only-happened-six-times-in-major-league-baseball-between-1940-1993

Class of 1944

Known for his ability to draw walks, Eddie Yost emerged as the top player among those who debuted in 1944, but not even after a successful career would he appear on the Hall of Fame ballot when he first became eligible in 1968. Yost led the league in walks six times and finished his career with a .394 on-base percentage. Outside of all-time career leader, Barry Bonds, Yost’s 1,614 career walks are the most among players not inducted to the Hall of Fame.

Another star to debut was Eddie Lopat, who would receive Hall of Fame votes each year from 1969-72, but there was little hope of his ever being elected. Over 340 career appearances, mostly for the White Sox and Yankees, Lopat finished with a win-loss record of just 166-121 and only struck out 859 hitters over 2,439⅓ innings of work.

Another good pitcher from the class was Joe Nuxhall, though no one would confuse his career stats with those of a Hall of Famer, either. In 16 seasons—mostly with Cincinnati—Nuxhall was just 135-117 overall, with a 3.90 ERA and only 1,372 strikeouts over 2,302⅔ innings pitched. Nuxhall later had a lengthy broadcasting career, and some hope that he will eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown for his work behind the microphone.

The most well-known player to come of the Class of ‘44 is perhaps Ralph Branca, the Dodgers pitcher who famously surrendered the game-winning home run to Bobby Thomson during the 1951 playoffs that gave the Giants the National League pennant.

But perhaps most importantly, the Class of 1944 gave us many great baseball names from the Philadelphia Phillies, including Granny Hamner, a three-time All-Star middle infielder who played all but two seasons of a 17-year career in Philadelphia; Moon Mullen, the second baseman who went homerless in his only season in the big leagues; Turkey Tyson, who went hitless in his only career at-bat, a pinch-hit opportunity on April 23 in a 5-0 loss to the Boston Braves; and Putsy Caballero, who went 0 for 4 in limited action in ‘44.

What Years After 1993 May Not Have a Hall of Famer Debut?

Each year after 1993 is still up in the air, though it’s possible there will be back-to-back seasons that won’t see a Hall of Famer debut for the first time since 1930s—considering the players who debuted in 1999 and 2000—and it’s not out of the question for six seasons between 1994 and 2006 to not see anyone emblazoned onto a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Here’s a look at which years may become the seventh and beyond seasons to fail to see a Hall of Famer make his debut.

Year: 1994

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Low
  • Potential candidate(s): Alex Rodriguez
  • Analysis: Seemingly the next-coming of Ken Griffey Jr., Rodriguez was a can’t-miss prospect who blossomed into a star in the late 1990s, but a strong connection to performance-enhancing drugs should keep A-Rod out of Cooperstown, despite offensive statistics that would otherwise suggest he is a lock for enshrinement. He gains eligibility in 2022.

Year: 1997

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Lock
  • Potential candidate(s): David Ortiz, Todd Helton
  • Analysis: Ortiz, who was the heartbeat of the 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino, became one of the premier sluggers of the 2000s, finishing his career with 541 home runs and three World Series rings and should have little trouble winning enshrinement to Cooperstown when he hits the ballot in 2022. Less a lock is Helton, the face of the Colorado Rockies, who hit .316 during his 17-year career and becomes Hall of Fame eligible in 2019.

Year: 1998

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Lock
  • Potential candidate(s): Adrian Beltre
  • Analysis: One of the more underappreciated players of this generation, Beltre recently notched his 3,000th career hit and should become the seventh player to join the exclusive 3,000-hit/500-home run club before he retires. He won’t even become eligible for several more years because he remains a star in 2018 at age 39, as one of just two players who debuted in the 1990s to remain on the field.

Year: 1999

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Low
  • Potential candidate(s): Lance Berkman, Tim Hudson, Alfonso Soriano
  • Analysis: A class without much luster, top candidates include Berkman (2019 eligibility), who had just 293 homers in a 17-year career; Hudson (2021 eligibility), who won 222 games over 17 seasons; and Soriano (2020 eligibility), who had 2,095 hits and 412 homers in 16 seasons.

Year: 2000

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Low
  • Potential candidate(s): Mark Buehrle
  • Analysis: While two stars certainly headline the class of eligible players to debut in 2000, the class saw Johan Santana fall off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, which does not bode well for Buehrle, who brings 214 wins and workhorse reputation to the ballot in 2021.

Year: 2001

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Lock
  • Potential candidate(s): Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, C.C. Sabathia
  • Analysis: There is a chance each of the top three players from the class of 2001 will be represented in Cooperstown, but if nothing else, Suzuki has done everything necessary to be inducted. The owner of 3,000 hits in America after a lengthy Japanese career, Ichiro will be remembered as one of the finest hitters ever to play the game. Likewise, Pujols has everything needed for induction, including more than 3,000 hits and 600 home runs -- a feat only three other players have accomplished. Sabathia, meanwhile, also brings a strong case, as he has already amassed nearly 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. None of these players are retired.

Year: 2002

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Low
  • Potential candidate(s): Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez
  • Analysis: While Lee enjoyed a fine career and Martinez continues to play, the chances of either reaching Hall of Fame status seems low. Lee, first eligible on the 2020 ballot, was strong in the postseason, but outside of three seasons (2005, 2008 and 2011), he was never among the league’s elite. Martinez, meanwhile, saw injuries hamper what was a promising career that has still seen him hit almost .300 over 16 seasons (and counting).

Year: 2003

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Very strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Miguel Cabrera, Chase Utley
  • Analysis: With a career average over .300 and a high percentage chance of reaching the 500-home run plateau, Cabrera is a strong candidate to become a Hall of Famer after he retires. Utley has battled injuries, but has been a steady second baseman most of his career. Still active, he has regularly posted solid numbers, but will probably be relegated the “Hall of Very Good.”

Year: 2004

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Fair
  • Potential candidate(s): Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Jose Bautista
  • Analysis: Though most will be remembered as star players, there remains a decent chance at least one of these long-time players will eventually gain induction to the Hall of Fame.

Year: 2005

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Lock
  • Potential candidate(s): Justin Verlander, Edwin Encarnacion
  • Analysis: Verlander has been a legitimate ace for most of his 14-year career, and when adding in more than 2,500 strikeouts and well over 200 wins by the time his career ends and a strong postseason track record, he should be enshrined without much trouble. Encarnacion, meanwhile, has somewhat quietly been one of the most consistent power hitters in baseball. He’s at six straight seasons with at least 34 homers and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, which should put him in the 500-home run club by the time he retires.

Year: 2006

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Uncertain
  • Potential candidate(s): Dustin Pedroia, Cole Hamels
  • Analysis: Pedroia and Hamels both teeter on the edge of Hall of Fame status, as both have had solid careers that have included postseason success. But with injuries limiting each at times, it may be hard for either to finish his career with Hall of Fame status.

Year: 2007

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Joey Votto
  • Analysis: One of the more consistent offensive players in baseball over the past decade, Votto would have to see a significant drop off in production to not see his career end with a Hall of Fame plaque.

Year: 2008

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Very strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, David Price
  • Analysis: Kershaw and Scherzer continue to be two of the best pitchers in baseball today, and as long as injuries don’t cut their careers short, both should have legitimate cases to be enshrined once they retire. There was a time when it could be argued that Price was the best pitcher in the game, but he’s seen a drop off recently. Still, he has enough years left to try to turn it around and make his case for Cooperstown.

Year: 2009

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Very strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Madison Bumgarner, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey
  • Analysis: Already considered among the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time, Bumgardner still has a lot of career ahead of him to add to a shiny resume. McCutchen and Posey, meanwhile, have been regular stars at their positions ever since debuting.

Year: 2010

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Very strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Chris Sale, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Stephen Strasburg
  • Analysis: All five players will be elected to the Hall of Fame if they continue to produce as they have since reaching the big leagues. The probability for all of them to fail to do so is extremely slim.

Year: 2011

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Very strong
  • Potential candidate(s): Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Corey Kluber, Anthony Rizzo, Charlie Blackmon, J.D. Martinez
  • Analysis: Though the careers of these players remain in the early stages, the likelihood that all of these superstars tail off to mediocre finishes is extraordinarily small.

Year: 2012

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Too soon to tell
  • Potential candidate(s): Bryce Harper, Manny Machado

Year: 2013

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Too soon to tell
  • Potential candidate(s): Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich, Gerrit Cole

Year: 2014

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Too soon to tell
  • Potential candidate(s): Jacob DeGrom, Mookie Betts, George Springer, Jose Abreu

Year: 2015

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Way too early
  • Potential candidate(s): Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Gary Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Trea Turner, Corey Seager

Year: 2016

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Way too early
  • Potential candidate(s): Aaron Judge, Alex Bregman, Whit Merrifield, Trevor Story, Blake Snell

Year: 2017

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Way too early
  • Potential candidate(s): Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Ozzie Albies, Matt Chapman, Walker Buehler, Josh Hader

Year: 2018

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Way too early
  • Potential candidate(s): Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, Gleyber Torres

Year: 2019

  • Likelihood of a HOFer: Way too early
  • Potential candidate(s): Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bo Bichette, Yordan Alvarez, Keston Hiura

© 2018 Andrew Harner

Comments

Andrew Harner (author) from Ohio on July 21, 2018:

Thanks, CJ. The Hall is definitely a point of contention, but the ability to freely think for oneself is also part of what makes it so great!

CJ Kelly from the PNW on July 20, 2018:

Great breakdown.

I'm fans of so many of these guys but they are borderline. However, with the induction of guys like Bert Blyleven and Bill Mazeroski maybe the bar has been lowered. Look at Milt Pappas. His #s are very similar to players already in the Hall (Waite Hoyt, Red Ruffing, etc.) On top of that, half the players in the HOF played in a segregated league.

Endless arguments on both sides. Like everyone else, the HOF riles me up. :) Good work. Sharing everywhere.

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