Same Old Story
The Hall of Fame?s reshuffling of the Veterans Committee is an important symbolic step, but it?s not likely to produce better results.
The Baseball Hall of Fame this week announced the most extensive overhaul in
its voting procedure since the institution was established in 1936. The old
Veterans Committee ? the embattled group that gave us laughable Hall of Famers
like Jack Chesbro, Phil Rizzuto, and Travis Jackson, while denying entry to
worthy candidates like Bill Dahlen and Spottswood Poles ? has
That?s the good news. The bad news is, the new voting process doesn?t promise
to be much better. The new, allegedly improved Veterans Committee will include
all living Hall of Famers, plus all living recipients of the Hall?s lifetime
achievement awards for broadcasters and sportswriters. And just so they don?t
feel too bad, the three members of the old Veterans Committee who don?t fit
into any of these categories will be allowed to remain until their terms expire.
All of this bumps the Veterans Committee up to 90 members, although that number
will almost certainly change by the time the Committee first votes in 2003.
The change is likely to have both positive and negative effects regarding the
selection of Hall of Famers. Lest I be accused of being a cynic, let?s look
at the positive aspects first:
First, the changes are good because the old Veterans Committee is gone. Almost
anything would be an improvement, except maybe drawing the electees? names out
of a hat.
Second, the change virtually guarantees eventual election for Curt Flood and
Marvin Miller, a duo who, because of their antagonism toward team owners, had
no chance of election under the old ownership-dominated Veterans Committee,
whose members were appointed by the likes of Bud Selig, Paul Beeston, and George
Steinbrenner. Now, only 33 of the 90 voters draw their paychecks from the corporate
entity of Major League Baseball. (For the record, the 33 include 14 longtime
broadcasters, 18 Hall of Fame players still employed in baseball, and Devil
Rays president John McHale). Instead of yes-men appointed by owners, the new
voting body includes Carlton Fisk, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield,
and many others who reaped the rewards of Flood and Miller?s work on players?
rights. Soon, I think, both of these baseball pioneers will be officially recognized
as such in Cooperstown.
Third, the change is good because Vets elections on players will be held only
every other year, in odd-numbered years. Elections on umpires, managers, and
executives will be held every fourth year beginning in 2003. This will make
it much harder to get into the Hall of Fame, which is good in the long run.
The fewer elections, the fewer undeserving Hall of Famers. This does, however,
mean that there will be uneven numbers of Hall of Famers being inducted each
year. Induction ceremonies in even-numbered years will likely honor just one
or two people, perhaps none, while those in odd-numbered years could have seven
or eight inductees.
Now the bad. First of all, the idea of putting Hall of Famers in charge of
electing their own is absurd. This isn?t a fraternity or an Elks lodge, for
chrissakes, it?s the Baseball Hall of Fame. Time and time again, baseball players
have proven that they are inadequate at best when analyzing the performance
of their peers. Players tend rely on memory and observation, which is fine,
except they also tend to sneer at statistics, which is not fine. Players are
set in their opinions, and if Ted Williams thinks Mel Harder is a Hall of Famer,
there is no statistic or argument that will ever change his mind. All of which
means that the Veterans Committee will continue to elect players based on feelings
rather than on analysis.
A related problem is cronyism: Players electing their friends to the Hall with
little regard for whether they really belong there. It?s no coincidence that
both of this year?s selections had close personal friends on the Veterans Committee.
(Buck O?Neil was Hilton Smith?s roommate with the Kansas City Monarchs, while
Joe Brown was in charge of the Pittsburgh franchise for the entirety of Bill
Mazeroski?s career.) These players may be deserving of the Hall, and they may
not, but is players voting on players really fair? Where does it leave guys
like Pete Browning, who have no golfing buddies on the committee? The good news
is that the new committee may help stymie cronyism because of its sheer size.
Before, a player only had to have one or two good friends on the committee and
he was in. Now election to the Hall will require having lots and lots of friends,
instead of just a couple. The new solution doesn?t solve the cronyism problem;
it only multiplies it.
Secondly, players from one generation will be voting on players from other
generations, which will make it essentially impossible for many deserving players
to make the Hall of Fame. If it?s difficult for players to judge their peers,
then it?s damn near impossible for them to judge those who played before and
after them. I mean, what makes Enos Slaughter particularly qualified to judge
whether, say, Lou Whitaker is a Hall of Famer? How many Tigers games do you
reckon ol? Enos watched during the 1980s? Probably not many. Players will inevitably
vote based on what they saw during their careers, and if they didn?t see someone
play, it?s highly unlikely they?ll support him for the Hall of Fame. How many
people on the new Veterans Committee do you think have heard of Bill Dahlen?
How about Spottswood Poles? Pete
Browning? Dick Redding?
Again, not many. It?s a shame, because these men, and a few others like them,
are probably the most deserving players not already in the Hall. And now they
have virtually no chance of ever getting there.
The Hall of Fame did say in its press release that it was still undecided on
the question of Negro League players. It?s pretty clear that there are still
Negro Leaguers out there who deserve to be enshrined; I?ve heard estimates ranging
from five worthy Hall of Famers to 60. Anyway, the Hall has commissioned an
extensive academic study of African American baseball from 1860-1960, and will
wait until that is done before deciding the Negro Leaguers? fate. After that,
a committee will be formed to recommend a course of action. So once the Hall
of Fame hears from its academic committee, it will then form another committee,
which will advise the Hall?s board of directors (a committee) on whether to
form another committee. How efficient. Meanwhile, Spottswood Poles lies in Arlington
National Cemetery, a-mouldering in the grave.
And lastly, there is the question of Pete Rose. If I were a cynic, I might
speculate that the motivation behind forming a new Veterans Committee was to
keep Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame forever. You see, Pete retired as an
active player in 1986, which means that five years from now, in 2006, he will
have been retired for 20 years, making him ineligible for consideration by the
writers. The BBWAA?s first rule of eligibility clearly states that a candidate
?must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during
a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior
to election.? So even if he is reinstated from the ineligible list, Rose?s only
hope for election after 2006 will be through the Veterans Committee. While the
writers? group was largely sympathetic toward Rose, many current Hall of Famers
are adamant that Rose not be allowed in the shrine. Some ? including Bob Feller
and Johnny Bench ? have reportedly threatened to boycott future Hall of Fame
ceremonies if Rose is elected. Now, the control over Rose?s eventual fate has
been placed in their hands.
Eric Enders is a former researcher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
Library. He lives in Cooperstown, New York, where he runs Triple
E Productions, a baseball research and consulting service.
Posted: August 08, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 1 comment(s)
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