The fab four?

Yesterday brought the news that four former managers are on the Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame.  They are: Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin.  They all managed in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s and each had good, though not spectacular careers.  If I had to offer a baseball metaphor, which I am apt to do, each was like the Joe Carter or Jack Morris of his time: Good, probably even All-Star quality,  but not Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime and certainly not a Hall of Famer.

Looking over the list of 24 managers in Cooperstown, it is comprised of names like Connie Mack, John McGraw and Casey Stengel — in short, legends.  Currently, there are four enshrined managers who did their best work in the era of Mauch, Murtaugh, Herzog and Martin: Walt Alston, Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver, and Dick Williams.   The first three seem like logical choices, near institutions as managers in their respective cities, each winners of multiple World Series.  On the other hand, Williams strikes me as someone who just happened onto a great situation with the powerhouse Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s.  He’s probably still more qualified than any of the four new candidates to be in the Hall.

The feeling here is that Herzog will probably be enshrined.  He made a couple of World Series as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the ’80s.  Moreover, the Veteran’s Committee is made up of former players and tends to be soft on likable, establishment-friendly candidates.  Late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray probably put it best, in a 1978 column: “To get into the Baseball Writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame, you better be Babe Ruth.  Or better.  To get in the veterans’ wing, all you have to be is a crony.” And Herzog is a baseball man if there ever was one.  He even titled his autobiography You’re Missing a Great Game (I’m titling mine Ask Me a World Series Winner From Any Year. I say this all the time to people that I meet, even at job interviews.)

Now granted, if there were a Hall of Fame for legendary characters of the sport, Martin would be a first ballot inductee.  But the Hall is about results, first and foremost, and Martin managed too many different teams and was always good, but never great.  Like Williams, he did his best work for another hugely talented team — the New York Yankees of the late ’70s — that probably could have been managed by just about anyone.  And Martin had too abrasive of a personality to make an attractive Veteran’s Committee pick.  Something doesn’t feel quite right here.

It will be interesting to see who makes the Hall of Fame out of the current crop of managers.  My money is on Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox.  Lou Piniella  could be a Veteran’s Committee pick, as could the retired Tom Kelly, though even that seems a slight stretch.  On the other hand, there are a number of Mauchs and Murtaughs managing today.  They are the Bruce  Bochys, Dusty Bakers and Bud Blacks of the sport.  Competent? Likable? Long-tenured?  Yes.  Future Hall of Famers?  Probably not.  They could probably feature prominently in some kind of B-Level Hall of Fame but that’s fodder for another post entirely.

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