Want to Start an Argument About the Hall of Fame? Mention George Kell

As of the time of writing, there are 26 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame depicted in the 1952 Topps set. Among them are many icons of the game, such as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, as well as popular but less inspiring players like Pee Wee Reese. Minnie Minoso has an outside chance of becoming the set’s 27th HOF representative.

Nothing starts a good nerd fight like a discussion of who should or should not be in the Hall. Among vintage collectors, George Kell provides an excellent jumping off point for such a discussion. Elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee in 1983, his selection remains controversial.

The Case For Kell

Kell’s batting prowess is his strength, a skill not often found at defensively-demanding third base. A lifetime .300 hitter, he was known for as having one of the game’s greatest eyes for the strike zone. He struck out only 287 times in 7,528 plate appearances, never recording more than 37 in a single season. He had several years where he competed for batting titles, one of the most popular performance metrics of the era. These runs often coincided with intense competition with much better players, raising fans’ esteem of Kell through brief comparisons to players like Ted Williams.

Further endearing Kell to baseball fans was a nearly four decade stint providing play by play commentary for televised Detroit Tigers games. Some sentimental attachment may have transferred to Kell in this role as he was the replacement for Mel Ott after the latter died in a car accident.

The Case Against Kell

Kell primarily made the Hall on the strength of his batting average, much of which was based on slapping a large number of singles. While he carries a reputation for hitting for average, his .306 career mark does not immediately jump off the page as worthy of baseball immortality. While he played a difficult position his defensive skills were not regarded as above average.

The most effective case against Kell’s candidacy would be a comparison to other third basemen who posted similar career numbers. Looking at the list below, there are few with Hall of Fame credentials present. Stan Hack appears to offer a more compelling case and is not enshrined in Cooperstown.

George Kell.30678.36238.2
Johnny Pesky.30717.37132.1
Cecil Travis.31427.36527.7
Freddie Lindstrom.311103.36430.6
Bill Madlock.305163.35835.0
Stan Hack.30157.37555.8
Placido Polanco.297104.32738.4
Buddy Lewis.29771.36726.2
Jeff Cirillo.296112.35133.0
Kevin Seitzer.29574.35126.7

Do players like Johnny Pesky and Bill Madlock deserve of a spot in the Hall of Fame or was the Veterans Committee just generous?

Where I Fall

I do not find the case for Kell highly compelling and would not cast a vote for his inclusion in the Hall. He was a very good batter, but his case is marginal at best and in my opinion does not quite live up to the Hall’s performance ideals.