King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball Hall of Fame shutout. That's three straight, and it's time for another overhaul of the veterans committee.


Salon Staff
March 1, 2007 10:00PM (UTC)

The baseball Hall of Fame veterans committee this week voted not to induct any new members in the class of 2007. It's the third time the committee has voted in the six years of its current incarnation, and the third time it has refused -- failed, as most reports put it -- to elect anyone.

So Ron Santo, the leading vote getter, falling just five short of the needed 62, is still shut out. But Santo's qualifications are a matter of debate, as are almost anyone's. That's not why I think the veterans committee needs to be reorganized again.

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The old veterans committee was scrapped amid charges of cronyism, the old players opening the Cooperstown doors wide for their buddies and former teammates. The election of glove man and World Series hero Bill Mazeroski in 2001 was the final straw. The new version votes every two years for players who weren't voted in by the baseball writers in their 15-year window, and every four years on what's called the composite ballot, which has managers, umpires and executives.

The committee, 84 members at the moment, consists of all living Hall of Famers and winners of the Ford Frick and J.G. Taylor Spink awards, handed out most years to honor a baseball broadcaster and writer, respectively.

So what we have is the members of a club not being anxious to extend a welcome to new members. They want to keep it exclusive. And that's fine. If Ron Santo or Jim Kaat or Gil Hodges couldn't convince the writers for 15 years that they belong in the Hall of Fame, and now haven't been able to convince a bunch of Hall of Famers that they belong in the Hall of Fame, maybe they don't belong in the Hall of Fame.

"The baseball writers voted on these guys for 15 years and they did not get in," committee member Joe Morgan said. "Should we lower our standards to put more people in the Hall of Fame? I don't think so."

I don't think so either, and I happen to think Santo does belong in the Hall of Fame. But nobody asked me, which is good. I could make a big argument for him here, but I've found over the years that such an argument doesn't accomplish anything and just annoys the elephant.

But here's some more of what Morgan said: "It is harder for me, and other Hall of Famers, to evaluate executives, so maybe that's something we'll talk about" at the next board meeting in May. Hall of Fame chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, who has also defended the committee in the wake of the third straight shutout, has said the board will evaluate the veterans committee process starting at that meeting.

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"We are disappointed no one has been elected during the three cycles since the restructuring," Clark said.

I think Morgan's on to something. Players are notoriously bad historians -- every baseball beat writer has stories about ballplayers who have never heard of Henry Aaron or Ty Cobb or Bob Feller or some other titan of the sometimes recent past -- but at least they tend to know a little something about the guys they played with and against.

That can cover a pretty wide swath of years. Morgan, for example, played in the majors from 1963 to 1984. When he broke in, there were a few guys still around who had played in the early '40s. When he retired, there were a couple of kids who made it to the 21st century in a big-league uniform.

But what do a bunch of ballplayers know about executives, or about some of the other figures in the game who get tossed onto the composite ballot?

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I'm thinking specifically of longtime union leader Marvin Miller, who I think is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, one of the most influential figures in all of sports in the 20th century, and who only got 63 percent of the vote this time, 11 votes short of the necessary 75 percent.

Red Smith used to sometimes refer to players, even long before the days of free agency and high salaries, as "capitalists," but how many of them really understand the importance of Miller, or of Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, the first to take a ball club to the West Coast, a hugely important -- and successful -- move in baseball history, however heartbreaking it was to the Brooklyn fans who got screwed by it? And that was just part of a half-century of extremely successful ownership.

I haven't really thought too much about whether O'Malley belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I plan to lose no sleep over it. But I wonder if he has ever been properly assessed.

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How many former players can or are even willing to accurately assess the importance of Bill James, whose influence took effect long after most of them retired and became, in the baseball sense, old men protective of the old ways of doing things? Morgan, for one, is famously antagonistic to the field of sabermetrics, almost to the point of lunacy.

And are former players really the guys to ask about umpires?

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that the veterans committee hasn't been voting anybody in, though it's always more fun when someone makes it than when no one does.

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The committee was set up as a sort of backstop, to scoop up anyone deserving the writers may have missed in the 15 years players appear on their ballots. Sometimes attitudes change, history is assessed differently, and a guy who didn't look like a Hall of Famer in Years 6 through 20 after his retirement looks like a Hall of Famer a few decades later, all things considered.

I'm dubious of the idea that the writers -- more or less the same folks who named Justin Morneau the American League Most Valuable Player last year and who can't see clear to send Bert Blyleven, fifth on the all-time strikeout list, to Cooperstown -- haven't missed anybody. But, these things being subjective, it's not indefensible. And I think former players, along with, sure, a few veteran writers and broadcasters for variety, are a perfectly fine group to judge former players.

But the Hall of Fame should similarly get experts to judge the others. Let a committee of current and former umpires and league officials vote on the umpires. Let a committee of historians, similar to the one that studied the Negro Leagues and elected 17 new members last year, decide on managers, executives and other auxiliary figures, such as Miller and James.

It doesn't matter if any single player or off-field figure makes it or doesn't. It really doesn't matter if nobody ever makes it other than recently retired former players who are voted in by the writers. They're the main reason most people ever think about the Hall of Fame anyway.

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But if the Hall's going to do this, it should do it in a way that makes a little more sense. When Joe Morgan, who's not one to admit that his expertise should be doubted, publicly doubts his own expertise, it's time for a change.

Previous column: Huge steroid bust

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