Category: Hall of Fame

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!

The Hall, Hanley and Pete, and the Miracle League

Congratulations to Barry Larkin on being voted in to the Hall of Fame. I first saw him as a shortstop for the University of Michigan at the College World Series in Omaha back in the 1980s. Jim Abbott was on that team. Also, a first baseman named Casey Close. Who is Casey Close you say? He has become well known as a player agent for Derek Jeter.

I am very disappointed that Jack Morris did not get enough votes to gain election and I think Larkin getting in should cause voters to look at why they have never given Davey Concepcion more attention. This brings me to ask the question we hear often. Why does it take some players, who eventually gain election, so long to get there? What is the thinking process by the writers eligible to vote? Why are we as fans and former players asked to drink this bitter-tasting Kool-Aid year after year?

I read Richard Justice’s column on over the weekend explaining and rationalizing why writers need time to gather more data and change their minds over a period of five to 10 — to sometimes 15 — years. Now I know writers, fans and former players like myself see things differently. As Roy (played by Robert Redford) said to Max (played by Robert Duvall) in The Natural, “Writers write, Roy, and players play.”

I respect what the print media does and how they have helped publicize the game of baseball. I enjoy blogging on occasion, and don’t have the writing skills they possess. I was a player and I understand who was good, great, overrated and underappreciated. Writers can only go by numbers, but players know far beyond the numbers who is deserving to be callled a Hall of Famer.  If you ask Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez (all in the Hall) and Pete Rose (who had a Fall of Fame career) about Concepcion’s value to the Reds, I think they would say he is as much a Hall of Fame shortstop as Larkin.

This is not meant to diminish Barry’s credentials , it’s meant to accentuate and raise awareness to Davey’s. Food for thought to you who are voters. Why do names like Vinny Castilla and Brad Radke and some others get votes? To give them a chance to tell their grandkids that they once received votes for election into the Hall of Fame? If that is true, then the writers that do that are devaluing the importance of gaining entrance to Cooperstown.

Do they really do enough research and homework? Couldn’t they find comparable Hall of Famers and have my friends at the Elias Sports Bureau compare some numbers and get good idea if a player was Hall-worthy and if so elect him on the first ballot? Enough already with jamming this “first-ballot guy” or “may get in some day” down our throats. If one does the proper homework, research and talking to the player’s contemporaries, you shouldn’t have to wait 10 to 15 years to decide.

My friend and teammate Bert Blyleven gets 13 percent of the vote his first year of eligibility, and then 79 percent 14 years later? I can’t make sense of it. I know, it’s the writers’ Hall of Fame and writers write and players play, and we have different opinions.

But let’s discuss Morris and compare him to Jim Bunning. Both former Tigers. Jim is in the Hall. Frank Dolson, a longtime writer covering the Phillies when I played there in the 1970s, campaigned intensely for Bunning. Frank would say ” He won over 100 games in each league”. He threw a perfect game in the NL and a no-hitter in the AL. He won 224 games in his career over 17 seasons.

Morris won 254 and helped three different teams win World Series titles. His 1-0 complete game extra-inning performance in the 1991 Series was more impressive to me than Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. With due respect to the Senator from Kentucky — the pitcher we affectionately called “The Lizard” because of his slinky frame and motion — Morris is more worthy of induction than Jim, and Jim obviously is worthy or he wouldn’t be there. It took the veterans committee to finally get him in.

I just read where seven teams did not have a starter who pitched 200 innings this year. Morris did that 11 times, several times going over 250 innings and once exceeding 300. Forget his high ERA. He didn’t care if he won 6-5 or 6-0. He just wanted to finish the game and win. And he had 173 complete games in his career. Bunning had 151.

Still, I’m open to your opinions if I’m wrong on my thinking on this issue.

On to Hanley Ramirez and Rose. So it’s a big deal to be asked to play third base instead of shortstop. For 10 or 15 or however many millions they pay Hanley, I would be honored to play right field, second base, third base, left field or first base if it helped my team win a championship. That’s what Pete did. Only player to play at least 500 games at five different positions. Never complained about it. Sparky Anderson asked him to do it and he did it. Ah, the days of no entitlement.

Lastly , to put baseball and life in perspective. I recently played in a charity golf event to benefit the Miracle League. It was hosted by Angel Hernandez, a Major League umpire. Several former and current umpires and players participated. The Miracle League’s motto is: “Every child deserves a chance to play baseball.”

Harmon Killebrew was passionate about it. Johnny Bench hosted an event to help raise money for it. It takes a special rubberized field. Kids play in wheelchairs and they have all kinds of afflictions. They all congratulate the player who does something special like hitting a home run, regardless of what team they are on. The game has the happiness and innocence it had when I was a kid. I love it. Check it out sometime.

Only a month away from… “Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow!”