December 2014

Is the Hall of Fame tarnishing the Golden Era?

Wow! What a backlash from friends, current Hall of Famers, baseball fans from all teams and all areas of the country. I wish I could personally thank you for your sentiments and well wishes. I want to say up front that this post is not intended to be one of bitterness, disappointment or “sour grapes.” I have a wonderful life, had a wonderful career and whether I have a plaque in Cooperstown — though a very high honor — will not have any affect on me personally.

I understand the process and I understand the difficulty to receive 75 percent of the votes necessary for induction. I told friends I guessed I would get 10 votes — maybe 11 at the most and possibly as few as eight. I embrace the process, having been through it a few times. I am a big horse racing enthusiast, like my friend, the late Don Zimmer. So, when I see the names of the 16-person committee, I handicap my chances like I would a horse race.

First, you eliminate those who have very little chance of winning, which in this case would be those who have very little chance of voting for me. Let’s see: one member was barely a teenager during my prime years, one didn’t start covering baseball until 1976 and one never got into baseball until 2000, so there are 3 discards. Long shots, but not really realistic.

So now I know I’ll need 12 of the remaining 13 votes — a tough road ahead. Let’s see who are the potential contenders. I can count 8 that I feel confident will support me. That means I now need four of the remaining five. In analyzing the background of the remaining five. I see most were in the National League when I was in the American League or didn’t really get involved in professional baseball during my Golden Era years. I scratch my head and wonder why they are on the Golden Era committee, when most of them weren’t around during the Golden Era? I can’t answer that.

I ended up with 10 votes.

It is an honor just to be in the conversation to be considered for Hall of Fame induction, since about one percent of all those who played Major League Baseball get a plaque in Cooperstown. I always have been grateful for that.

Announcement day and a few days leading up to it are, quite frankly, uncomfortable and awkward. The Hall of Fame requests you be available should you get The Call from Jane Clark telling you that you have received the necessary votes. You actually have to clear your calendar for three days to do the traveling and media. I have learned to stay fluid and ready to go either way.

This year during the 12:30-1:00 time of the expected call, I was in the dentist’s chair, with my phone handy. After about 1:15, you know it’s not coming — actually I knew that quite some time earlier, but out of respect to the Hall, you stand by. As my friend and outstanding pastor/teacher John Ortberg says, “Be careful that what you’re waiting for is not something you’re counting on to happen.” Sound advice.

So Margie and I headed to the golf course, which we planned to do anyway. In the early years of my eligibility, I was curious about what level of support I might receive, but soon realized it was minimal so I paid little attention to it. The Veterans Committee is different to a certain degree, because it is supposed to consist of players, executives and media who actually saw you play and could make an objective, honest evaluation. As you can see by the profile of this year’s committee, that really isn’t true. Only about half of the committee saw me play or played with or against me in the same league during the Golden Era.

I have received 10 of the necessary 12 votes in the past two elections. It reminds me of a line Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog — who managed the Cardinals teams I was on in the early 80s — used when asked about our team’s chances of winning the pennant. He said, “We’re two players away from winning the pennant: Ruth and Koufax!” Like my need for two more votes…

So what can be done so the Hall of Fame doesn’t waste people’s time and money paying attention to something that has very little chance of happening?

Let’s look at the background of the Veterans Committee. I was raised on baseball history. As I type this, I’m looking at a picture of my dad standing in front of the Hall of Fame in 1947. He was there to see his hero, Lefty Grove, inducted. I knew who the Georgia Peach, Big Six, The Big Train, The Flying Dutchman and the Sultan of Swat were when I was seven years old. They’re the first five inductees into the Hall: Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner and Ruth. I also learned that in the 1970s, Frankie Frisch, a Hall of Fame player, lobbied for five of his teammates to be inducted. They were, along with three more after his death. For many years, executives lobbied one another to get “their guy” inducted.

I think today’s process is a little more democratic than that, but still quite flawed. I was happy to see my former teammates and good friends, Tony Oliva and Dick Allen, get 11 votes. Along with Marvin Miller, Curt Flood and Jack Morris, they are very deserving. When we were kids in the playground, we would grab a bat by the barrel and we would go hand over hand toward the handle until the last hand grabbed the knob. He got the first pick of all the guys available for his team. My former teammates Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew are Hall of Famers because of batting titles and home run titles, respectively. Tony Oliva was a combination of power and high average as a hitter and a Gold Glove fielder. He would be my first pick if all three were to be available, and I don’t think Rod or Harm would argue. Ron Santo and Reggie Jackson are Hall of Famers, but if they were available along with Dick Allen, Dick would be my first pick.

An idea from a few of my media personality friends that I agree with would be to reconvene the committee before the votes are revealed. Gentlemen, we have two players with 11 votes. Could we revote and see if anyone might change their mind on one or both? Otherwise why bother to meet?

The other solution that I would favor is to limit the writers who can vote during the 15-year eligibility period, which I understand soon may be lowered to 10 years. Select the beat writers who followed the players on a daily basis during their careers. Add in radio and TV announcers who saw the players for a specific period of time, and eliminate card-carrying BBWAA members who rarely — if ever — saw the player perform.

Just thought I’d share the process and feelings of one who has been through this. Now we can turn our attention to the important stuff. Are the Cubs and White Sox going to treat us to a Windy City World Series?

Have a joyous, meaningful holiday season!