Early next month, 16 men will go into a room and try to get behind a Hall of Fame candidate or two. Which should they choose? And will they?
As we reported yesterday, the Baseball Hall of Fame has released the 10 names on the Golden Era ballot, which will be considered at the Winter Meetings early next month.
From the Hall's release, those names:
I'm not going to run through each of those guys, mostly because most of them have been serious Veterans Committee candidates for some years already, and I'm tired of writing about them and you're probably tired of reading about them.
The most interesting names are Ken Boyer and Allie Reynolds, as neither of them have gotten much play in the past. But what's really interesting about them is that Boyer's actually a fine candidate while Reynolds is actually sort of a terrible candidate.
Boyer was a third baseman, and that position is underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. It's hard to say exactly why, or whether this is something we should even worry about. But Boyer was a really really good player, and for some reason he's received very little credit for that. I'm not saying I would vote for Boyer; WAR-wise, he's essentially in a group with Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell and Sal Bando; we can't put all of those guys in, and I don't know how to separate them. But I'm happy to see one of the forgotten third basemen -- and there are a lot of them -- get a little love, even if he's got no chance at all of being elected.
I don't know what Reynolds is doing on the ballot, though. He won 182 games with a fantastic winning percentage, but he (mostly) pitched for fantastic teams -- the Yankees in the late '40s and 1950s -- and didn't throw a lot of innings. Also, his first three seasons, good seasons, came during World War II when a huge majority of baseball's best hitters were in the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines. I think he's on the ballot because somebody wanted a pitcher from the '50s and Reynolds is just about the only one left.
Now, before going any further I must take issue with two things in the Hall of Fame's press release ...
1. "Golden Era" is the worst name in the history of names.
Okay, so maybe it's not quite as stupid as using the name Pacific Coast League for a sports league that includes teams in Iowa, Nebraska, and Louisiana. It's not quite that stupid. But Golden Era, really? What was so golden about the 1950s and '60s and '70s? I was there for part of that, and it didn't seem so golden to me.
Anyway, a minor quibble. I just wish they would have at least tried to come up with something that passed a routine sniff test.
2. The Hall of Fame is willfully abusing the term "historian".
Real historians spend untold hours combing through microfilm, looking at census records, and stuff like that. The study of history is a discipline, like any other. Granted, there are amateur historians and some of them do incredible work. And I wouldn't argue that they don't deserve that appellation simply because they lack a graduate degree in American History of Library Science or whatever. I will argue that a historian should spend some significant percentage of his life actually, you know, studying the past.
With that in mind, see if you notice anything odd about this paragraph:
The Golden Era ballot was determined this fall by the Historical Overview Committee, comprised of 11 veteran historians: Dave Van Dyck (Chicago Tribune); Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (New York Daily News); Ken Nigro, (formerly Baltimore Sun); Jack O'Connell (BBWAA secretary/treasurer); Tracy Ringolsby (FSN Rocky Mountain); Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle); Claire Smith (ESPN); and Mark Whicker (Orange County Register).
So you've got one statistician and (essentially) 10 newspaper writers. I'm willing to be wrong, but I'm going to guess that those 11 historians have written fewer works of baseball history than I have ... and I would not presume to describe myself as a historian.
The problem the Hall has, when casting about for baseball experts is that they essentially recognize or respect only two categories: baseball players and newspaper baseball writers. Nobody else counts. I don't count. Bill James doesn't count. John Thorn doesn't count, nor do any of the other actual historians.
I'm not blaming this committee. They didn't describe themselves as historians, and in fact their list of 10 candidates is, with only one or two exceptions, a perfectly reasonable list of the most popular (if not necessarily the most deserving) candidates from the Golden Era who have been passed over by the BBWAA.
It's just terribly misleading to call these people historians. Because they're not.
Again, though, they didn't do a terrible job with this ballot. It's perfectly innocuous, which is exactly what the Hall of Fame prefers; the committee did its job well.
There are only two candidates to whom I can throw my unreserved support: Ron Santo, who might finally be elected after way too many tries, and Buzzie Bavasi, who probably doesn't have a mouse's chance in a herpetarium.
Santo ... Gosh, where does one begin? If you don't mind, I'll just refer you to my piece from August, which at least begins to make the painfully obvious case for Santo. His absence from the Hall, 31 years after he first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, is a blot on the institution's credibility. I don't exactly weep for the Hall of Fame, but I might if I weren't made of granite.
I would also like the make the case for Bavasi. The de facto standards for baseball executives have not been clearly defined over the years, but a) there are a fair number of them in the Hall of Fame, and b) eight National League pennants in 18 years as Dodgers GM seems pretty damned impressive to me. His teams in San Diego and Anaheim didn't do nearly as well, but I believe Bavasi's four World's Championships, his many decades in baseball, and his involvement with Jackie Robinson's entry into Organized Baseball are enough to ring his Cooperstown bell.
Or should be, anyway. I don't think Bavasi's got much of a chance, because he just doesn't have the constituency.
The electorate is 16 guys, including
- seven Hall of Fame players: Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton, Billy Williams
- one Hall of Fame manager: Tommy Lasorda
- five executives (active and retired): Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael, Al Rosen
- three newspaper writers: Dick Kaegel, Jack O'Connell, Dave Van Dyck
I'm sure some of those guys are wonderfully conscientious. But how many of those Hall of Famers are actually going to look at the evidence at hand? I've heard some of these guys talk about Hall of Fame candidates, and generally they seem to have made up their minds decades ago. And the Hall of Famers already had two or three shots at electing Santo -- as usual, the most deserving candidate on the ballot -- and they didn't get it done.
Will that change now? You need 12 votes out of 16. It'll be close. Figure he'll get the four longtime National Leaguers, plus half the executives and writers ... that still leaves Santo four votes short. Are there four more to be had. Man, I just don't know. This almost looks to me like yet another committee that's destined to elect nobody, though on the other hand you never know what might happen when you get 16 guys in a room and they get to horse-trading.
If you want to argue about any of these guys -- the 10 guys on the ballot, I mean -- I'm happy to do it. Meet me in the comments, but please do at least a little research first. If you want to tell me Gil Hodges was a great player, that's cool ... but you have to explain why so few of the contemporary observers thought he was a great player.
Who's your favorite GOLDEN ERA Hall of Fame candidate?
Buzzie Bavasi (4 votes)
Charlie Finley (8 votes)
Gil Hodges (22 votes)
Jim Kaat (19 votes)
Ken Boyer (16 votes)
Luis Tiant (21 votes)
Minnie Miñoso (36 votes)
Ron Santo (222 votes)
Tony Oliva (16 votes)
Allie Reynolds (2 votes)
366 total votes