Who belongs in the Hall of Fame? Players? Sure. Managers? Of course. In addition, 31 executives and 10 umpires have been inducted, and here’s to all of them for their various roles in shaping the game we know and love.
I also would not stop there. You know, if I was King of the World for an hour or two, I’d pry open the doors a bit more and make room for the men and women who’ve had a significant and positive impact on the sport.
Below are five names on my wish list, but first, a quick overview of the process:
The Hall of Fame’s membership is split into four categories: Players, managers, umpires and executives, with that last category serving as an overarching term for influential front-office members and “pioneers” -- such as Henry Chadwick (inventor of the modern box score), Candy Cummings (the oft-cited inventor of the curveball) or Marvin Miller (executive director of MLB Players Association) -- that made a profound impact on the game from outside the lines. Ten-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote only for players, with a 75-percent voting threshold required for induction. Players who don’t get in via the BBWAA vote are often given another chance via the Hall’s Era Committees (that’s how the likes of Harold Baines and Lee Smith ended up getting in).
Managers, umpires and executives are elected solely by the Hall’s Eras Committees, which are small panels of former players, former managers and luminaries of the sport that vote on individuals from rolling eras of baseball history. A Hall of Fame candidate is placed into the era that corresponds to his or her greatest contributions to the national pastime. All of the folks below would need to make it in via one of the committees.
1. Buck O’Neil, player/ambassador
Baseball has done a nice job of honoring the game’s Negro Leagues in inducting 35 of its former stars. But O’Neil, who died at 94 in 2006, remains a huge omission. To point to his modest career statistics during 11 seasons is to miss the point of who he was and what he represented. (His baseball career was interrupted by two years serving in the Navy during World War II.) Baseball never had a better ambassador, salesman or unshakable optimist. We’ll never know how many people fell in love with the sport because of O'Neil's love for it. His optimism was remarkable in the context of the indignities he endured because of the color of his skin. He never lost the ability to see the best in all of us. To the Hall’s credit, it did create the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in '08, which is basically the Hall’s highest honor outside of a plaque in the gallery. But Buck deserves one of those as well.
2. Janet Marie Smith, ballpark architect
If her lone contribution had been in the design and construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which forever changed the look and feel of Major League ballparks, that would have been enough. What she has done in three decades since its opening in 1992 is become one of the dominant figures in the evolution of the ballpark experience in terms of comfort, food, accessibility and aesthetics. She was instrumental in the preservation and modernization of Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium, and the transformation of the '96 Olympic Stadium into Turner Field.
3. George Genovese, scout
No group deserves to be represented in the Hall of Fame more than scouts, and no scout deserves the honor more than Genovese, who died in 2015 at 93. He spent 70 years in the game and had a genius ability to identify talent in players that weren’t always the hot prospects. Among his signings: Bobby Bonds, Chili Davis, George Foster, Jack Clark and Matt Williams. The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation has honored him with a lifetime achievement award named in his honor.
4. Dave Duncan, pitching coach
Quite simply, the best there ever was. He wasn’t just innovative and brilliant, he had the ability to make players see things in themselves they’d never seen before. Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa said hiring Duncan was the most important acquisition he made in 33 seasons on the job. Duncan was by his side for 28 of those 33 seasons, and he was part of 14 postseason teams, including six that went to the World Series and three that won it.
5. Billy Beane, A’s executive vice president of baseball operations
He won’t be eligible until he retires, and considering how bright his competitive fire still burns, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. That said, virtually no one has had a greater impact on the modern game. Bill James may be the godfather of the game’s data revolution, but it was Beane who implemented it in practical terms. He began a revolution in which baseball embraced technology and information in a way no professional sport ever had. Recent college graduates now turn down six-figure jobs on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley to work in a sport that embraces innovative ideas. After 23 years on the job, Beane is still working his magic, having constructed teams that won 97 games in both 2018 and '19 despite payrolls that ranked near the bottom of the 30 clubs.