Golden Era Committee has a tough task ahead
SAN DIEGO -- The most recent iterations of the Veterans Committee have already harvested a rich bonanza of new inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
From Pat Gillick to Ron Santo to Jacob Ruppert; Deacon White and Hank O'Day to Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, the three distinct committees voting on players, executives, managers and umpires from three distinct eras of Major League Baseball have done exactly what they were intended to do: enshrine some worthy people in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The 16-member Golden Era Committee will have a chance to add to that legacy when it votes Monday on a ballot that includes nine players and one executive whose careers were prominent from 1947-72. Or perhaps it won't. The election is on Monday morning with a possible announcement scheduled for 11 a.m. PT during the first day of the annual Winter Meetings.
"I'm honored to be part of the process," said Roland Hemond, a second-time committee member and D-backs executive, who is a past recipient of the Hall's prestigious Buck O'Neill Award. "They know you've seen the players yourself, but it's also very humbling when nothing happens and no one is selected, so you always try to go in with an open mind and hope a few guys get elected."
Like three years ago when Santo was selected, this year's edition of the Golden Era Committee has a chance to right what many fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers believe is an egregious wrong and finally put Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame.
Among this year's nine players, Hodges by far came the closest of anyone to making it during his 15 years on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. Hodges and Jack Morris are the only players currently finished with their BBWAA eligibility to garner at least 60 percent of the vote and thus far fail to make it into the Hall. Morris had 61.5 percent earlier this year, his 15th and final year on the ballot.
Aside from Hodges, the current Golden Era ballot includes first baseman Dick Allen, third baseman Ken Boyer, outfielders Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva, pitchers Jim Kaat, Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant, and shortstop Maury Wills. The late Bob Howsam is being considered for his accomplishments as general manager of the Cardinals and Reds.
Hodges had 60 percent three times when he was on the BBWAA ballot from 1968-83, including a high of 63.4 percent in his final appearance. Since then, he has been passed over by five editions of the Veterans Committee, including the Golden Era, which gave him nine of the 16 votes in 2011, the year Santo was finally elected.
It should be noted that the three committees -- the Pre-Integration Era, Expansion Era and Golden Era -- previously voting four times, have only elected two players: Santo and White, a catcher who played the position during the 19th Century without the aid of modern equipment. Based on history, it's unlikely the committee this year is going to elect any players, either. The BBWAA determined that the nine of them were worthy only of the Hall of "The Very Good."
Beyond Hodges, Oliva was the closest with 47.3 of the vote in 1988. Kaat, a winner of 283 games, topped out at 29.6 in 1993, Wills hit a high of 40.6 percent in 1981. In 1998, Tiant (30.9 percent), Boyer, (25.3 percent) and (Minoso (21.1 percent), all hit their highest levels. Pierce never cracked two percent in his five years on the ballot from 1970-74 and only the previous rules kept him on it that long. In his final year, the five-percent threshold to remain on the ballot the next year was instituted. Pierce didn't make the cut.
It's not as if the Veterans Committees have been very receptive to players, either. The last time the Golden Era Committee voted in 2011, Kaat, Minoso, Oliva, Boyer and Tiant were on the ballot and none of them were elected. Kaat received 10 of the 16 votes, two shy of election; Minoso -- like Hodges -- earned nine votes; Oliva eight and Boyer and Tiant less than three each.
"There are some good names on the ballot," said Hemond, the GM of the White Sox when Allen and Minoso were playing in Chicago. "It depends on the voting. Sometimes it gets real close and [candidates] go away disappointed. Sometimes it's the fulfillment of a dream they've had as long as they've been in the game."
This year, proponents of Hodges, Allen and Wills have all directly made contact seeking support for their candidates.
One can argue numbers and metrics, but it's very tough to project good players from another era against their descendants. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is one way to try. Supporters of Jeff Bagwell's candidacy on the current BBWAA ballot argue that his WAR of 79.6 is the highest of any retired first baseman not in the Hall. He's 37th overall among position players. Lou Gehrig is the top first baseman at 13th. Hodges' WAR for 18 seasons was 44.9, tied with J.D. Drew for 235th on the all-time list.
Hodges was an eight-time All-Star in the nine seasons from 1949-57 and his Dodgers teams went to the World Series six times, winning in 1955 and '59. But with a .270 lifetime batting average, 370 home runs and 1,274 RBIs, it would seem that Hodges might have a tough time making it again.
Supporters of Allen in Philadelphia, where he played nine years in two stints of his 15-year career amid fierce racism, say that Allen's election is long overdue. He was a seven-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year in the National League with the Phillies in 1964, and MVP of the American League with White Sox in 1972. Allen's numbers are similar to Hodges. He hit 351 homers, knocked in 1,191 runs and batted .292. His WAR of 33.9 is well below even Hodges.
Wills was a solid player and the first to swipe 100 bases in a single season when he stole 104 for the Dodgers in 1962. He was a .281 hitter and compiled 586 steals in his 14-year career -- 12 with Los Angeles -- good for 20th on the all-time list. His WAR was 39.5, and only 11 position players have been enshrined in the Hall with a lower WAR than that -- most of them from baseball's prehistoric era. In contrast, Boyer, one of the great third baseman of the 1960s for the Cardinals, has a WAR of 62.8. Boyer is in good company. Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles and Scott Rolen are the only other retired third basemen with WARs better than Boyer not in the Hall.
But like the supporters of Hodges and Allen, proponents of Wills say that voters have to look beyond the numbers. It's hard to disagree.
"The elements that Wills brought to the game were often intangible," Lewis Leader, a journalist and Dodgers fan who grew up in Los Angeles wrote in a letter to select members of the committee. "He rattled opposing pitchers to the extreme, he knew how to take the extra base, he was brilliant at going from first to the third on a single, and he carried electricity with him to the ballpark every day.
"Wills returned the stolen base as a potent weapon to the game. Thanks to him, more than a half-century ago, the steal resumed its position as a key offensive weapon after it had been mostly missing for several decades."
On Sunday, the 16 committee members will gather in a hotel meeting room and discuss the attributes of all the candidates. The group includes seven Hall of Fame players, one Hall of Fame executive who is again active, a current owner, two former executives, four writers and Hemond. Like all Hall elections a victor must reach the 75 percent mark.
As Hemond attests, this time the 12 votes are going to be tough to get.