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Wednesday, August 08, 2001

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   been abolished.

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?   Sol White?   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.


Fadeaway: The Baseball History Podcast Posted: August 08, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 1 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. David Jones Posted: August 08, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604056)
To be fair, I think there are certain "safeties" built into the current system. At any given time, the Veterans Committee will be composed of players from fairly disparate eras, and the 75 percent threshold will prevent cronyism from creeping up, I would bet. If somebody thinks that Davey Lopes is a Hall of Famer, that's fine, but to get 75 percent to agree would never happen for a player like that (I hope.) I agree with Eric that the Hall of Fame should not be run by the players--that is the most unfortunate outcome of this new system.

But there is a larger issue to all this: Who cares? One could argue that the Hall of Fame as a valuable benchmark for achievement was permanently ruined 30 years ago by the ill-advised admissions of Frankie Frisch and his cohorts. Once you put in Travis Jackson, George Kelly, Chick Hafey, etc. etc., there was simply no going back. We have all said that the "IF A is in then, then B should be in argument" is bogus, but the truth is that that argument is really justified by notions of fairness. At this point, to put in all players as good as the worst player would require maybe 500 or more new plaques. (And who would want to be the artist to have to chisel Garry Templeton's face into a plaque?)

Is Bill Dahlen diminished by the fact that he is not in the Hall of Fame? Not in my eyes, maybe in the eyes of people who don't know what they are talking about, but those people of course, don't care about Bill Dahlen anyway, and wouldn't even if he was put in the Hall of Fame.--There was a reason, after all, that Hilton Smith's induction was cut from the ceremony broadcast.

So there, I said it. In the end, the Hall of Fame doesn't matter. They already put in Phil Rizzuto--so who cares if they put in Davey Lopes, anyway?

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