LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Before the phone calls that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell had waited a baseball lifetime to receive, there was a closed room, a rectangular table and 16 men discussing, deliberating, debating and after somewhere in the neighborhood of six hours, deciding how to cast their
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Before the phone calls that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell had waited a baseball lifetime to receive, there was a closed room, a rectangular table and 16 men discussing, deliberating, debating and after somewhere in the neighborhood of six hours, deciding how to cast their votes in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Modern Era ballot.
The end result of the process, as announced Sunday night and celebrated at a Monday morning news conference at the start of the Winter Meetings, was Morris and Trammell getting what some would say was their long-overdue call to the Hall. But the process is as interesting as the end result. It reveals to us the stark discrepancy that can exist in the perspectives between external observers and between-the-lines insiders as to which players dominated their respective eras, and it demonstrates that the heated discussions over who is worthy of Hall of Fame acclaim extend to the Hall of Famers themselves.
"Holy cow," said George Brett, one of the 16 Modern Era committee members this year. "You start comparing them, and then you get people speaking on their behalf and then you've got people bad-mouthing them. I mean, it was pretty heated discussions on everybody. Then it's a secret ballot, and you write down zero to four names."
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Brett and fellow Hall members Rod Carew, Bobby Cox, Dennis Eckersley, John Schuerholz, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount were on the voting board, as were Major League executives Sandy Alderson, Paul Beeston, Bob Castellini, Bill DeWitt and David Glass and veteran historians Bob Elliott, Steve Hirdt and Jayson Stark. The 10-person ballot featured Trammell, Morris, Ted Simmons, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Luis Tiant and former MLB Players' Association leader Marvin Miller, and as Brett said, the committee members were limited to four votes. To get in, a candidate needed to appear on at least 12 of 16 ballots (Morris appeared on 14, Trammell 13).
Yount looked at his ballot after the lengthy discourse and felt overwhelmed by the assignment.
"That," Yount said, "was more difficult than anything I had ever imagined when I was asked to be one of the committee members."
Yount and Brett both became first-ballot Hall of Famers in 1999. They didn't have to have their Cooperstown cases put through the wringer of spending 15 years on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot, as Morris and Trammell did. Morris and Trammell don't simply share a history as 1976 Detroit Draft picks turned 1984 World Series champs and 2018 Hall entrants.
The fact that they were rewarded by their baseball peers only added to the appeal of the outcome.
"I have to thank this group of people that voted for us," said Morris, "and it is somewhat more gratifying knowing that the guys that I tried to get out and the people that I competed against and the guys that worked the front office and made decisions are the people that helped us be here today. It's wonderful."
Added Trammell: "I think it's even better [than getting voted in by the writers]."
Trammell never appeared on more than 40.9 percent of BBWAA ballots. His case had strong support from sabermetricians but grassroots efforts to get him elected never gained traction. Morris, on the other hand, made it as high at 67.7 percent, ultimately losing a sort of culture war between the advanced analytics that pooh-poohed his place among Hall of Fame pitchers and more traditional numbers like wins and complete games that celebrated his standing.
Morris said he never really understood why his career would be judged by statistical criteria that didn't even exist when he was playing, but he ultimately learned to find peace with the process. He said he never begrudged the writers their opinion or their vote.
"Now that I'm in," he said with a laugh, "I don't have to worry about that anymore."
Some peers were puzzled to see Morris and Trammell left on the outside looking in for those 15 years, and their voices were heard via the Modern Baseball Era Committee, which considers the cases of those whose greatest impact was realized between 1970-87 and was created as part of the re-imagination of the former Veterans Committee process in 2016. One of the interesting wrinkles of the result was that Simmons, a catcher who spent 21 seasons with the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves, fell just one vote shy of election by the Modern Era Committee after dropping off the BBWAA ballot with just 3.7 percent support in his first and only year.
"I know how good a player he was," said Yount, "and something went completely wrong in the baseball writer voting."
That is the goal of the smaller committees -- to right potential wrongs from the BBWAA part of the process. And to be a fly on the wall in the room, with each member of the committee fighting for his guy.
"I learned an awful lot about the game of baseball," Brett said.
When the end result was discussed Monday, Trammell said was still in a daze of wonder and Morris continually got choked up about the topic.
"That's not the guy I remember on the mound snorting and sniffing and out for blood," Yount said. "He has a soft side."
The peers who had helped Morris and Trammell get in admitted to getting choked up, too, because, as Hall of Famers themselves, they know all about the emotion of entry into one of sports' most hallowed clubs. And as voting committee members, they took part in the fascinating process that had made it all happen.
"It really was a fun process," Brett said. "It was really kind of cool to be able to determine someone's fate."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.