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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
About That New Veterans Committee
Marc looks at the new Veterans Committee and the effect it will have on the Hall.
Well, the Hall of Fame has gone and rejiggered its Veterans Committee process, again, leaving us to ponder at least three questions. What problems is the new Veterans Committee process meant to solve? Did it solve them? And, what kind and caliber of selections will the new committee make?
Before attacking these questions, let?s review the new process.
Veterans Committee Membership
The committee itself is now the largest Veterans Committee that the Hall has ever employed. It consists of three permanent categories of membership and a fourth, temporary membership category. The three permanent categories consist of living members of the Hall of Fame, including players and managers, living recipients of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writers, and living recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters. Presently, there are 58, 11 and 13 eligible voters in these three categories, respectively, for a total of 82.
The temporary members are those who served on the previous Veterans Committee, but whose terms have not yet expired. They are only two in number: Ken Coleman, whose term expires after the 2003 election, and John McHale, whose term expires after the 2007 election.
The number of voters seems likely over time to decline by more than just these two temporary memberships, however. That?s because the Spink Award was routinely given to two or three writers per year during the 1970s and early 1980s. Only one award has been given in more recent years, so as some of the old-timers pass away, the number of writers should decline. The open question is whether the number of eligible Hall of Famers will rise or decline with time, and the answer to that question is pretty much up to this new committee. More on that later.
The 2003 Veterans Committee Ballot
The Veterans Committee ballots of 26 players and 15 managers, umpires and executives were not just constructed by a committee. They were built by a series of committees. First, the Elias Sports Bureau constructed a list of all eligible players, managers, umpires and executives. Eligible players are those who played in ten or more major league seasons, who have been retired for a minimum of 21 years, and who are not on the ineligible list. (Bobby Bonds, who last played in 1981, is eligible while Reggie Smith, who last played in 1982, is not. Joe Jackson is not eligible.)
Managers, umpires and executives must be retired for five years unless they are 65 years of age or older. In that case, they are eligible after just a six-month waiting period. These initial lists reportedly contained the names of more than 1,400 players and "several hundred" managers, umpires and executives.
In the next step, a Historical Overview Committee pared the Elias lists down to 200 players and 60 managers, umpires and executives, the latter being referred to as the "composite ballot." The Hall of Fame web site notes that the Historical Overview Committee is "independent of Hall of Fame employees, members and directors." It was appointed by the BBWAA?s Board of Directors, and consisted of ten "historians and veteran baseball writers." The names of these ten are not provided anywhere on the Hall of Fame web site, however.
The final ballots of 26 players and 15 managers, umpires and executives were mostly selected by another committee appointed by the BBWAA?two writers were selected from each major league city except for four each from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, for a total of 60. Each writer voted for 25 players and 15 on the composite. The vote totals are not provided, however, nor is there any indication whether the votes involved the ranking of the candidates. We assume they did not, consistent with historical Hall of Fame voting methods.
Simultaneously, however, a six-member screening committee of Hall of Fame members appointed by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors independently selected five players. Those players were integrated into the final ballot. Apparently, only one of their five selections was not on the writers? list of 25?and therefore, the committee members have a list of 26 players to choose from. We do not know the identity of this lone addition by this screening committee, nor of the players who selected him. The screening committee was not empowered to make any selections of managers, umpires or executives.
As a result of this process, candidates must be placed on the players ballot or the so-called composite ballot, and may not appear on both. In either case, committee members appear to be free to consider the candidates? entire record of achievement (see below).
Ballots "and all supporting material" will be mailed to the members by January 15, and members must return their ballots by "mail" (presumably, snail mail) postmarked no later than February 15. Members "shall consider all eligible candidates and voting shall be based upon the individual’s record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the game." There is nothing to suggest that the managerial record of a candidate on the players? ballot may not be considered, or that the playing record of a manager or executive may also not be considered. We should assume that members will consider such "bonus" accomplishments on the candidates? records.
On each of the two ballots, members may vote for as few as none and as many as ten candidates. Write-in votes are not permitted. All candidates receiving votes on at least 75 percent of ballots cast on the each of the two ballots will be elected.
With this background, let?s move to our three questions.
Why Reengineer the Veteran?s Process?
The Hall of Fame announced the new Veterans Committee process in an August 6, 2001, press release. It read, in part:
"The changes?are designed to make the process much more open and understandable while maintaining the high standards for earning election to the Hall of Fame?. In addition, more than 1,700 players who spent 10 or more seasons in the major leagues but whose names were dropped from consideration for failing to receive a requisite number of votes in past elections have been given new hope."
”?The Board believes in keeping the standards very high and continuing to make it very difficult to earn election,? said Jane Forbes Clark, the Board’s chairman. ?These new procedures?open up and streamline the process so every baseball fan has a much easier time understanding and following along,? Clark said. ?The Board also thought it fair to give the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) the opportunity to place players its organization had previously not elected back on the ballot for a second chance, given changing historical perspectives.?”
It?s bad enough, of course, that old-time Veterans Committees made selections based on anecdotes and reminiscences without apparently reviewing the real historical record. It?s bad enough that they vastly over-represented the 1920s and 1930s while shortchanging other periods. It?s bad enough that they dramatically lowered the standard for selection to the Hall of Fame with selections like George Kelly, Travis Jackson, Freddie Lindstrom, Lloyd Waner, Rube Marquard and Jesse Haines.
But worse than that was the stench of cronyism that hung over the Veterans Committee selections for so many years and through several different regimes. The Hall of Fame seemed to acknowledge as much with code words like "open up" and "make the process more understandable." "No more back-room deals," they seemed to say.
Meanwhile, what are we to make of the Hall loudly proclaiming its belief "in keeping the standards high"? Are standards?recent standards?too low? (If the problem is the selections of 1945 and 1946 and the Frisch regime, it?s a bit late for action.) Does the Hall believe that recent standards, as evidenced by the selection during the 1990s of Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizutto, among others, are too low?
It?s hard to say, because there?s also the desire to allow a reconsideration of players previously declared ineligible. In 1991, the BBWAA was reported to be unhappy that the Veterans Committee was selecting players the writers had previously declined to anoint. (Who else were they going to choose?) So the Hall had agreed that the Veterans Committee would only consider players from the post-World War II era who had won 60 percent, but not 75 percent, of the BBWAA vote. Under this rule, Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox are the only post-World War II era players the prior Veterans Committee could consider.
Is the Process Better?
Is the new Veterans Committee process better than its immediate predecessor? Simply on the basis of the committee?s new freedom to consider players like Ron Santo and (someday) Bobby Grich, yes. In casting aside the ridiculous 60 percent rule, absolutely.
On the matter of making the process "more open" and "more understandable," the results are a bit more mixed. Certainly it will be more difficult to make back-room deals and indulge good old-fashioned cronyism with a membership of 80-some electors. But "more open?" "More understandable?"
Well, compare the ballot-building process to that of the BBWAA ballot. On the BBWAA ballot, every player is either newly eligible or has been "elected," you might say, to remain on the ballot. Every newly eligible player goes on the ballot until he is, in effect, voted off. The fate of each player, up or down, is determined in full public view and is scored against the simplest of standards?5 percent or not 5 percent.
The veteran?s ballot lacks that simplicity. The list of eligible players was pared down from more than 1,400 to 200 and then to 26 behind closed doors, by committees whose members, while perhaps not secret are nevertheless not widely known, whose deliberations, whose rationale is not "open" to the general public. Of course there cannot be a public ballot with 1,400 names on it, but it is easy to think of more "open" and public ways to select the best of the rest.
And if the process was understandable, then generally knowledgable baseball fans wouldn?t be asking why Bobby Grich isn?t on the ballot, would they?
Then there?s the matter of "high standards." Well, it?s too late for high standards after the election of Kelly, Lindstrom, Marquard and others. What?s needed even more than high standards are consistent ones?high, low or in the middle, but consistent. Here is where the process has failed. The final ballot of 26 includes not one player from the 19th century and just four?Wes Ferrell, Carl Mays, Bob Meusel and Kenny Williams? whose prime years occurred before World War II. Of the latter two it must be noted that neither is among the 25 best, much less the four best players of that era on the ballot of 200. Most knowledgeable fans would agree that Larry Doyle and Sherry Magee are more deserving. They didn?t even make the ballot of 200. Stan Hack and Heinie Groh did, but didn?t make it to 26. Likewise Bucky Walters and Lon Warneke. All would be better choices than Meusel and Williams.
Many of the best candidates from the 19th century also didn?t make the ballot of 200. Among those are catchers Charlie Bennett and Jack Clements; second basemen Ross Barnes, Hardy Richardson, Fred Dunlap, Cupid Childs and Fred Pfeffer; third baseman and catcher Deacon White; outfielders Charley Jones, Tip O?Neill, Paul Hines, George Gore and Mike Tiernan; and pitchers Tommy Bond, Jim Whitney, Guy Hecker, Larry Corcoran, Silver King and Bill Hutchison. Not one of them on the ballot of 200.
And between the ballot of 200 and that of 26, all the rest dropped out of sight?Bill Dahlen, Jack Glasscock, Herman Long, Lave Cross, Harry Stovey, Pete Browning, Jimmy Ryan, George Van Haltren, Dummy Hoy, Bob Caruthers, Tony Mullane and Will White.
How many of these players is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Bob Meusel or Kenny Williams? Every single one of them. So, despite the multiple layers of committees, the Veterans Committee is entirely without a clue about players from the first three-quarters of a century of major league baseball in America. This is a travesty.
Finally, if the BBWAA was unhappy with the old Veterans Committee process, as reported, then this is certainly a better process for the BBWAA. Sure, the BBWAA does not make the final selection, but it has had no formal role in previous Veterans Committee deliberations. Now, it almost solely controls two of three steps in the development of the final ballot.
What Kind of Selections Will They Make?
Well, there is at least reason to hope that the new Veterans Committee will select the most deserving post-World War II players. And we won?t have to wait long to find out. The results of the 2003 voting will be announced in February.
But to anticipate the results by six weeks or so, it seems not at all unlikely that the new Veterans Committee will elect no one.
The committee will elect those players, managers, umpires and executives who can gain the support of 75 percent of the voters. Now, it?s true that the BBWAA has been electing two and three players every years based on the 75 percent standard. And it?s also true that those on the "composite ballot" have never really been voted on at all. So it is conceivable that on the composite ballot the players might readily coalesce around a Billy Martin or a Walter O?Malley, or Marvin Miller.
It?s also true that the BBWAA players ballot features 33 players and the veterans ballot just 26, so might it be easier for a single candidate to gather 75 percent on the veterans ballot? But on the BBWAA ballot, you?ve got the real superstars of the game, players who stand head and shoulders above the rest, who are easy to spot no matter how large the ballot. On the veterans ballot, you?ve got 26 also-rans, 26 players who by definition did not suggest themselves as Hall of Famers to a previous class of voters. It is difficult for a player to stand out who is not a stand-out. It?s that simple.
The veteran?s ballot, in other words, contains more candidates of relatively equal appeal, as indicated by the narrow range of career win shares and of the combined Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Monitor and HOF Standards among the veteran?s candidates as opposed to the BBWAA candidates. Leadership on the veterans lists below also are spread out among 15 players, compared to 13 players on the BBWAA ballot. And only Ron Santo appears on all five of the veterans lists, while Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg stand out on all of the lists possible (neither has yet been eligible to earn any BBWAA Hall of Fame votes).
Perusing these lists suggests a variety of outcomes, however. One is that Santo is the leading candidate from the standpoint of "new stats" and may very well benefit from the venerable tradition of the Hall of Fame sympathy vote. If so, his selection would be a welcome and a deserving one.
Meanwhile, Dick Allen appears on four of the five lists and had higher peak values than even the BBWAA ballot candidates. He would be a deserving choice on the basis of his performance between the white lines. And if the players consider broader "contribution(s) to the game," as the rules seem to allow, then it may be difficult to keep Joe Torre from gaining induction. His would be a questionable choice on his playing career alone but well-deserved on a "composite" basis.
No other player stands out in this analysis, unless the new committee, made up mostly of players, votes similarly to the writers in previous BBWAA balloting. Then Gil Hodges could sneak in; he would be about equally deserving as Torre on a composite basis. But there?s no reason to believe the players will vote as the writers did, and if they do it bodes poorly for everybody other than Hodges, Santo, Tony Oliva and maybe Maury Wills.
What the players seem likely to do is to vote for players they played with and against. Among current Hall of Fame members, who make up a large majority of the voters, the heaviest single concentration (34 of them) were active in the years 1969-1971 and 1973. If that?s putting too fine a point on it, 30 or more were active from 1965 to 1975. So players active during the decade from 1965 to 1975, with a peak from 1969 to 1973, would seem to have an advantage. This logic would reinforce the case for Allen, Bonds, Oliva, Pinson, Santo and Torre while also insinuating Mickey Lolich and Thurman Munson into the mix.
Wills does not fare too badly in this analysis, nor does Hodges based on the timing of his managerial career. Boyer and Curt Flood were active during about half of this period, but all other candidates suffer if this hypothesis turns out to be correct.
Another factor which suggests that the committee will elect somebody is that it is likely that the committee will fully flex its newly-acquired muscle. That is, members, who can vote for up to ten players, are likely to do so, or at least to vote for more than just one or two candidates.
Yet, unless a 75 percent majority gathers around Santo, Allen or Torre, it is difficult to imagine who it would be?except that there is one final election scenario that is not difficult to imagine. That is, that the voters decide to ignore the statistical achievments, which analysis seems to necessitate the kind of hair splitting that only SABR and Baseball Primer aficionados could love. Hey, the numbers have been ignored before in Hall of Fame balloting. In this scenario, they select a player who rises above his peers on other dimensions. If so, what greater "contribution to the game" could there be, for example, than to have touched off the massive increases in player salaries over the past quarter-century, as Curt Flood did. Or to have created the institutional systems that kept salaries growing after Flood?which is what Marvin Miller did.
If a bunch of baseball executives could elect Charlie Comiskey to the Hall of Fame, it would be poetic justice for the players to return the favor by electing these two thorns in the side of baseball owners.
But if Flood and Miller are elected, the real insights will come in answer to the question,
"Who?s in second?" Because no future candidate will have the same appeal as Flood and Miller, and if the runner-up, at least, is a Ron Santo or a Dick Allen or a Joe Torre or a Gil Hodges or even a Bobby Bonds, a Carl Mays, a Tony Oliva or a Vada Pinson, then indications will be that the real historical and statistical record had an impact.
We can hope.
But whatever happens, this ballot will be vitally important because it may very well set up the pecking order for future selections. Players who did not even make the ballot of 26 will probably have to wait another generation or more, until the next iteration of the Veterans Committee, to gain serious consideration. Keep in mind, also, that the new Veterans Committee will be voting only every second year, so any player not in this year?s top ten will have a long, long wait.
Taking all of the above into account, the new Veterans Committee might elect up to three to four players and one to two from the composite ballot. In thinking about who they might elect, however, the odds that they might elect no one are probably better than the odds that most of the candidates face. Here?s who the committee might elect, whether in 2003 or in 2005.
(eg. Phil Wrigley or August Busch but not Charles O. Finley)
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