Introduced (to this author, anyway) by Bill James in his landmark book Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame, the “Keltner List” is a list of fifteen “subjective questions to which one can generally find almost unarguable answers.” The name “Keltner list” is in honor of Cleveland Indians third baseman, 7-time All-Star during the 1940’s.

Quoting James from his book…

“It’s actually my favorite way of trying to figure out how a guy ranks, but, because it involves a series of subjective questions, it doesn’t necessarily work as a formal methodology. You can’t total up the score and say that everybody who is at eight or above should be in, or anything like that. It’s purpose is more to help you clarify your own thinking on the issue, by breaking the great question into smaller questions.”

— Bill James, in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame (1995)

Anyway, here is the list, from James’ book, almost verbatim. (Incidentally, it’s my opinion that this is the best book about baseball’s Hall of Fame ever written).

  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?
  2. Was he the best player on his team?
  3. Was he the best player in baseball (or in the league) at his position?
  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?  (Remember, this was written before the heart of the PED era)
  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
  8. Do the players numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? (“Hall of Fame standards” are another James invention, the results are listed on every player page on Baseball Reference, you can see what the numbers are by which James calculates those “standards” by visiting Baseball Reference here)
  9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
  12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
  14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?