Category Archives: Baseball Hall of Fame

An interview with Dwight Evans

This is about a week late. Chances are, some of you have already seen the following piece on Twitter or elsewhere online. For the rest of you just seeing this, my apologies. But I figure better late than never.

I’ve taken this week off from my column for Sporting News, partly because I have some other work pressing. Last week however, I released an interview with Boston Red Sox great Dwight Evans, one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame who is no longer on the writers’ ballot.

I’ve enjoyed every interview I’ve done so far, but I will say that Evans, like Bobby Grich or Alan Trammell, was in the inner circle of players I’ve wanted to talk to. It was very cool to get some time with him, and he said a lot of interesting things.

Again, my apologies for the lateness here. Hope you all enjoy the piece and are enjoying this series. That said, I’d welcome more feedback, positive or negative. I want to know what’s working and moreover, what isn’t working, so that I can continue to get better at this.

Thanks for reading.

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Other people I’ve talked to: Steve Garvey | Jeff IdelsonTommy John | Jim Kaat  | Tony La RussaDale Murphy | Alan Trammell | Fay VincentBilly Wagner

I talked to Tony La Russa about Jim Edmonds

My latest is out for Sporting News. I got two minutes with Tony La Russa at an event in Phoenix this past week. Because my mind quickly goes to the Hall of Fame, I asked him about the case of one of his former players, Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds got just 2.5 percent of the BBWAA vote for Cooperstown in January, disqualifying him from future writers’ ballots. But La Russa thinks he belongs.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Talking to Alan Trammell

The latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” came out for Sporting News yesterday. I’m at spring training in Arizona so I haven’t had a ton of time to promote this, but I hope this gets some reads. I interviewed Alan Trammell about his Hall of Fame case.

Trammell, who completed his eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot in January, gave a good interview, worth a read for anyone who cares about Cooperstown.

Let me know what you guys think.

Celebrating the greatest baseball writers of all-time

I have two related articles out at Sporting News today that might be of interest:

As always, feedback’s appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Talking to Tommy John

My latest is out for Sporting News. For the fifth straight week, I interviewed the player I wrote about. In weeks past, I’ve spoken to Bobby Grich, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, and Jim Kaat. This week, I scored another great interview with Tommy John, who’s got a good shot of going in eventually but, like every player I’ve spoken to, is in long-term limbo.

As always feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading.

Bobby Grich knows he’s underrated

My latest for Sporting News dropped a little while ago. Continuing my recent spate of interviews, I scored an hour-long talk with one of my favorite candidates, Orioles and Angels second baseman Bobby Grich.

If you’re into sabemetrics or 1970s baseball, you might love this interview. Grich is a good storyteller, as well as a rare former player who understands how his value breaks down in terms of sabemetrics. He was a pleasure to talk to.

Expect more of these interviews, by the way. I feel momentum building.

Another week, another interview: Steve Garvey

My latest is out for Sporting News. At this point, I feel comfortable saying here that I’ve set a goal to interview one iconic non-Hall of Famer a week for the foreseeable future.

If you’ve been reading along, in recent weeks I’ve interviewed Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, and Billy Wagner. This week’s interview is Steve Garvey, who was a pleasure to talk to and was thought of as a Hall of Famer near the end of his career.

Old players aren’t too difficult to get a hold of and generally love to talk about their careers. Want me to interview someone? I can probably do it (within reason, of course– I don’t know if I can get Barry Bonds on the phone.)

Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or email me at thewomack@gmail.com.

Talking to Dale Murphy about Hall of Fame exclusivity

My latest is out for Sporting News. Continuing my recent interview kick, I talked to two-time MVP and Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy.

It was pretty cool to talk to Murphy, who was one of my dad’s favorite players when I was a kid. For someone who I think has a fair shot of eventually going in Cooperstown through the Expansion Era Committee or some other iteration of the Veterans Committee, Murphy’s very accessible. He also ranks as one of the nicest sports figures I’ve interviewed along with Ozzie Smith and Dick Vermeil.

Expect more interviews. I spent 40 minutes on the phone this morning with another well-known player. I’ll share that one next Tuesday.

Talking to Jim Kaat about his Hall of Fame case

My latest Sporting News article just went live. I’ve been on an interview kick as of late, so I talked to Jim Kaat, winningest pitcher of the 1960s who isn’t in.

A link to my piece is here. As always, feedback is welcome.

I have more big interviews on the horizon. Feel free to suggest someone if you’re interested. It’s not too hard to find numbers for players like Kaat, and I’m fairly resourceful about getting people on the phone.

Lou Gehrig’s unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America  will announce the results of its annual Hall of Fame vote today, and there’s a chance Ken Griffey Jr. could be the first unanimous selection for the writers ever. So far, with nearly half the ballots known publicly, Griffey has been named on every one.

Many people have speculated that Griffey will lose at least a few votes from wonkish writers who never vote for anyone first ballot, though he’s got a reasonable chance to break Tom Seaver’s record 98.83 percent from 1992. Personally, I still think Griffey has a shot to make it unanimously, though I’ll stop short of predicting it.

Thing is, the BBWAA has had a unanimous selection for more than 75 years. I don’t hear too many people talk about it publicly, but it’s happened.

After Lou Gehrig took ill and immediately retired in 1939, the BBWAA voted unanimously to suspend its usual process and present Gehrig as the sole Hall of Fame candidate that year without a vote. His induction was announced December 8, 1939, less than six months after Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium.

So technically, Gehrig never received 100 percent of the vote in a general election. He was on the ballot before 1939 and didn’t come anywhere close to the necessary 75 percent of the vote for induction from the writers. But post-illness, no writer dared oppose putting him in.

Interestingly, this sentiment hasn’t held since. Roberto Clemente got 92.7 percent of the vote– 393 yes, 29 no, and two abstentions– in a special Hall of Fame election held by the BBWAA in the early months of 1973 after his death on New Years Eve ’72. An AP story I came across this morning noted, “The negative votes largely were a protest against the system and not the man.”

The writers have only been less sentimental since, albeit with weaker candidates. Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile, and Rod Beck have all appeared on the ballot sooner than five years after retirement because of their deaths, and none have come anywhere close to making Cooperstown.

The 25 best players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Proud to say the results are out for my Sporting News project on the 25 best players not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

To read the project, go hereBe sure to check through to the end for a list of full voting results and a list of voters. (If you ask me how a player did in voting, I’m not replying.)

Thanks to all 467 people who voted. Voters this year included Larry Dierker, Pete Palmer, and a range of other notable baseball figures.

That said, I’d like to give a special shout out to the eight people who’ve voted all five years I’ve had people voted on the best players not in the Hall of Fame. These voters are: Brendan Bingham, Craig Cornell, Victor Dadras, Wayne Horiuchi, Jason Hunt, Dan McCloskey, Joe Williams, and Vinnie, super reader whose last name I still don’t know and might never know.

As always, feedback and other comments are welcome. I’m already looking forward to next year. At some point, we need to do this as a book.

Ken Griffey Jr. and unanimity

My latest piece for Sporting News went live a little while ago. I wrote about Ken Griffey Jr.’s chances of becoming the first unanimous selection in Hall of Fame history. My friend Ryan Thibodaux keeps track of BBWAA ballots made public. So far, with about 1/4 of ballots known, Griffey’s been named on every one.

Anyhow, feedback and suggestions are as always welcome.

In other news, voting on my project on the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame officially wrapped yesterday afternoon. Thanks to the 468 people who voted, which is close to the number of voters we had combined the previous four years this project has run. Results will be out January 4 at Sporting News, though I’ll definitely note it here and elsewhere.

Delayed thoughts on Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez

I’ve neglected to post here about my latest Sporting News piece, which dropped a few days ago. I wrote about Mike Piazza’s likely Hall of Fame induction this election and whether that could help get Ivan Rodriguez and other Steroid Era candidates enshrined. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, to name two, are starting to look like they could get in from the BBWAA.

Anyhow, my apologies on the delay for posting. Life is pretty busy with the holidays and my project on the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame, which voting will wrap for next Monday.

Talking with Dick Allen’s teammates about him

The latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” is live at Sporting News. I had some fun with this one.

A lot’s been written about Dick Allen over the years, much of it unflattering. Since a lot of old ballplayers have listed phone numbers, I called up six of them to ask them how much of this stuff is accurate.

Anyhow, big thanks to Wilbur Wood, Bill Melton, Carlos May, Don Lock, John Herrnstein, and Ed Roebuck for taking my call. A link to my column is HERE. As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Vote: The 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame

I’m pleased to announce I’m bringing back my project having people vote on the best players not in the Hall of Fame.

An article about my project went live a little while ago at Sporting News. As I wrote there:

  • You must vote for 25 players. Next to each of the 25 players you vote for, put a “Y” or “N” to signify if they belong in the Hall of Fame. Please doublecheck spelling, include first and last names, and include suffixes like Jr. or Sr.
  • Please submit votes HERE. A 200-player ballot can be found HERE.
  • Write-in votes are welcome. Please feel free to write in any player who hasn’t played since 2010. A player need not have played 10 seasons or even in the majors to be eligible here.
  • All votes are due by Dec. 28 at 6 p.m.ET. Results will be unveiled Jan. 4, two days before the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces the results of its 2016 election.

Regular readers may know we’ve voted four times since 2010 on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. I took last year off from doing the project since it’s a lot of work, and it had reached a point it seemed somewhat stagnant creatively.

With my gig at Sporting News, I thought it might be fun to resurrect my project over there and see how the results compare. I’ve cut the project down to 25 players for a few reasons. First, I wanted more people to vote. Requiring votes for 50 players can be intimidating and off-putting. I’m willing to do it for projects here, since some of the people who frequent this site are highly knowledgeable, but it seemed foolhardy for a major platform like Sporting News.

We’d also reached the point over here where people were copying and pasting the same ballot each year. I want voters engaged. I want people having to make the tougher decisions that a 25-player project calls for.

Anyhow, I look forward to seeing how everyone votes.

How aware were HOF voters of Red Ruffing’s 3.80 ERA?

In my Sporting News piece Tuesday on Mike Mussina, I questioned how aware Hall of Fame voters were of Red Ruffing‘s lifetime 3.80 ERA, highest in Cooperstown. My hunch: not much. I suspect this because the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Ruffing into Cooperstown in 1967, two years before the publication of MacMillan’sBaseball Encyclopedia.

As Alan Schwarz explained in his 2004 book The Numbers Game, lifetime stats for older players weren’t widely disseminated before David Neft and his team at Information Concepts, Inc. spent several years rebuilding baseball’s stat records for their landmark 1969 encyclopedia. The 1951 Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, for one, listed just batting averages for hitters and win-loss records for pitchers.

It’s part of the reason that when Ruffing was elected in 1967, he suggested that all 200-game winners, lifetime .300 hitters and 20-year players be automatically enshrined. Such statistics were fairly easy to find. [There was also still some support during the ’60s for the concept of automatic enshrinement, even after the Hall of Fame forbid it in 1956.  The BBWAA simply wasn’t inducting many players in these years.]

Granted, publications at least occasionally published more in-depth stats, most notably perhaps The Sporting News with its “daguerreotypes” that it periodically ran for older players. It carried one for Ruffing on March 4, 1967, two weeks after the BBWAA voted him in, listing his 3.80 ERA as well as a range of other stats.

But I couldn’t find a mention of that 3.80 ERA in the archives at newspapers.com, and I’m curious how many of the 292 Hall of Fame voters in 1967 knew of it. In fact, the bigger issue with Ruffing‘s candidacy, from both newspaper and Sporting News stories that I came across, seems to have been his win-loss record: that he had more wins than just a handful of pitchers enshrined; that he had poor records in his early years with the Boston Red Sox, then a perennial American League doormat; and that he fared better with the powerhouse New York Yankees. The Sporting News also made several mentions of Ruffing‘s fine postseason numbers.

Anyhow, it’s telling to me that several of the pitchers with the highest ERAs in the Hall of Fame got in before 1969. For the ones enshrined in the years immediately following, I’d point out that momentum for induction often takes several years, even decades and that some of these pitchers could have built a critical mass of support before their lifetime ERAs were well-known.

Consider this list of the 10 highest lifetime ERAs in Cooperstown, compiled with the help of Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool:

Player Lifetime ERA Year inducted
 Red Ruffing  3.80  1967
 Ted Lyons 3.67  1955
 Jesse Haines 3.64  1970
 Herb Pennock 3.60 1948
 Waite Hoyt 3.59  1969
 Tom Glavine  3.54  2014
 Early Wynn 3.54  1972
 Burleigh Grimes 3.53 1964
 Dennis Eckersley 3.50 2004
 Robin Roberts 3.41 1976

[Also, and this is mostly for my friend Adam Darowski, I suspect that Wes Ferrell was denied induction more due to character issues than his 4.04 ERA. I can only imagine the precedent that may have been set had Ferrell had a less volatile personality. Jamie Moyer can curse Ferrell’s memory in a few years when his 4.25 ERA gets him quickly turned down by Hall voters.]

Perhaps the BBWAA was willing to look past some things with Ruffing. That March 4, 1967 Sporting News carried another interesting tidbit, noting:

Without [Cleveland Plain Dealer sports editor Hal Lebovitz’s] help, Red couldn’t have been elected this year. Here’s why:

After Ruffing failed to gain enshrinement in 1966, Lebovitz [then president of the BBWAA] discovered certain discrepancies in the ballots. Some ex-players who were no longer eligible were listed. It was rightly reasoned that several of them possibly received votes that might otherwise have gone to Ruffing and others.

So, the BBWAA petitioned the Hall of Fame executive committee for a special election this year. The request was granted and Ruffing received one more opportunity. It was to be his last, until the need for a run-off prolonged the process.

The rest you know.

The BBWAA had voted every other year for the preceding decade, causing a backlog of players comparable to the current ballot, and I had wondered what prompted the shift. I wouldn’t have put money down that Ruffing caused it, but then, the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame have occasionally made up the rules as they’ve gone for players they wish to honor. That’s a post for another time, though.

Future Hall of Famers, as judged in 1986

I’ve been reading Zev Chafets’ book Cooperstown Confidential and just happened across a bit on Steve Garvey which talks about him being named as a future Hall ofFamer in a 1986 poll of major league managers in The Sporting News. As a SABR member, I have access to full archives for The Sporting News free of charge so I decided to take a look at the full poll.

These kinds of polls or predictions generally interest me. I enjoyed reading Bill James’ forecasts for 25 years of inductions in The Politics of Glory, and I made my own predictions here last year. I think it’s interesting to see how many of these pan out.

Here’s what the poll, printed May 26, 1986, looked like:

“Which players in your league– if they retired tomorrow– have already done enough to merit selection to the Hall of Fame?”

  1. Players listed who are now enshrined (16): Reggie Jackson, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Don Sutton, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Robin Yount, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Gary Carter, Tony Perez
  2. Players listed who aren’t enshrined (4): Ron Guidry, Pete Rose, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy

“Which players in your league have a chance to make the Hall of Fame if they continue to play at the level they are currently demonstrating?”

  1. Players listed who are now enshrined (4): Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Ryne Sandberg
  2. Players listed who aren’t enshrined (6): Harold Baines, Kent Hrbek, Fernando Valenzuela, Willie McGee, Mike Marshall, Tim Raines

“Which players in your league with four years experience or less have demonstrated the potential to someday qualify for the Hall of Fame?”

  1. Players listed who are now enshrined (1): Tony Gwynn
  2. Players listed who aren’t enshrined (9): Don Mattingly, Tony Fernandez, Bret Saberhagen, Jose Canseco, George Bell, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Vince Coleman, Orel Hershiser

Don’t be surprised if some of the players here, particularly from the first group, arefuture Veterans Committee selections. The committee, after all, is comprised largely of the baseball establishment. I doubt their thinking on Hall of Fame worthiness has changed that much since 1986.

The hunt for more Veterans Committee ballots

“The Veterans Committee never reveals its vote. In fact, committee members are cautioned not to say anything about their meeting. But word gets out.”

-Jack Lang in The Sporting News, March 13, 1989

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The quest began for me when, in the course of Sporting News archive research,  I discovered lists of Veterans Committee candidates for the 1961-64 elections. Heretofore, such lists have been forgotten and thought not to exist. Baseball-Reference.com, which lists full voting results for every Hall of Fame election by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1936, has only listed names of players inducted by the modern version of the Veterans Committee since its founding in 1953. This is because the Veterans Committee, for almost 50 years, was loathe to release any information.

Since the Veterans Committee reformed prior to the 2003 election, it’s gotten easier to find lists of candidates and voting results. [Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t list this information, though my friend Adam Darowski alerted me that Wikipedia does.] Still, that’s left 45 Veterans Committee elections between 1953 and 2001 unaccounted for. Recently, I decided to do something about this.

After discovering the 1961-64 Veterans Committee lists, I quickly ascertained three things:

  1. Robust lists of candidates were fairly easy to find in The Sporting News up until 1964. I think this is partly because Sporting News publisher J.G. Taylor Spink served as chairman of the Veterans Committee until 1959.
  2. For some reason that I’m still not sure of, the number of Veterans Committee candidate names made publicly available dropped dramatically after 1964. Spink’s death in 1962 may have had something to do with the flow of information slowing to The Sporting News.
  3. That said, at least a few names leaked out with the majority of Veterans Committee elections after 1964.

With the help of The Sporting News archives, newspapers.comand Baseball-Reference.com, I aggregated the names of every leaked Veterans Committee candidate I could find between 1953 and 2001. It’s a little crazy, I’ll grant, but with the proliferation in recent years of online archives, such research can easily be undertaken. I’m surprised that seemingly no one has done this before me. I imagine there are more candidate names out there for anyone who wants to look hard enough and that more names may become available as old newspapers continue to be digitized. Truly, we’re in the golden age of research.

As I write this, I’ve found 802 candidates, who I’ve listed in this Google spreadsheet. I organized the spreadsheet in order of name, with separate listings for each year a person was considered by the Veterans Committee and notes about how they fared in voting, where I could find it. There’s more of this information out there than I initially expected. Leo Durocher, Gil Hodges, and Bill Mazeroski all had years where they missed by one vote from the Veterans Committee. Vic Willis, Joe Gordon, and Nellie Fox each had years where they drew the necessary 75 percent of the vote but weren’t inducted due to limits on how many players the committee could enshrine.

I learned other interesting things in my research. For instance, Deadball Era pitcher Willis’s name came before the Veterans Committee at least 22 times over five– read this again: five– decades before his induction in 1995. Durocher, Amos Rusie, Charlie Grimm, Phil Rizzuto, and Roger Connor all were Veterans Committee candidates at least 10 times as well. Unlike the BBWAA, which is now limited to considering players up until 15 years after retirement, there doesn’t seem to be any statute of limitations for the Veterans Committee. I don’t know if there should be a limit, as new information and ways of viewing players can always come to light, but I also don’t know what’s different about a Hall of Fame candidate his 22nd time on the ballot. Of course, in 1995 when online news archives weren’t much a thing, Willis may have looked like a long-lost discovery, precisely the kind of candidate the Veterans Committee is tasked with finding. The committee, for its part, wasn’t in any rush to dispel this myth.

It’s uncertain if the Hall of Fame still has voting information for the Veterans Committee between 1953 and 2001. I reached out to Hall of Fame librarian Jim Gates, who directed me to contact Bill Deane. Bill’s the former senior research associate at Cooperstown and has written a few times for this site. When I have a Hall of Fame question, Bill’s on a short list of people I email. Jim CC’ed Bill in his email to me. Bill replied to both of us:

Jim –
Thanks for the “vote” of confidence.  Graham has already been in touch with me.  However, my expertise is more on BBWAA voting, and the composition of the Veterans’ Committees.  He has already amassed more information about the Vets’ ballots than I have ever seen.
When I worked at the NBL, there were about 800 bankers’ boxes in remote storage; I never saw or knew what was in them.  I wondered if the mother lode of Hall of Fame ballots was among them, and you had since catalogued them.  Judging from your response, I guess not.
My second guess was that Bill Guilfoile, as the Vets’ liaison in the 1980s & ’90s, kept documents related to that committee in safekeeping somewhere, and that someone in the museum has continued that tradition.  If true, I guess the intent is not to make the information available to the public.
One wonders, if the Hall of Fame doesn’t have records on its own Veterans’ Committee proceedings, who does?
 It seems unfortunate to me that full voting information for the Veterans Committee might be lost. It’s a little galling as well. Since its founding, the committee has put far more people in the Hall of Fame than the BBWAA. If there was one thing that came through resoundingly in my research, it’s that the Veterans Committee has been able to more or less operate with impunity and little transparency. Its process is far from democratic for fans, with select retired players and other appointed representatives acting as kingmakers. That’s kind of the American political tradition, but for the Veterans Committee, it’s occasionally led to some egregiously bad Hall of Fame selections.

More Veterans Committee ballots found

My research to make more Veterans Committee ballots available online continues.

I now have ballots for the eight Veterans Committee elections between 1953, when the modern version of the committee debuted, and 1964. Rather than post another long table that overlaps a bit with yesterday’s post, I’m just going to offer a link to a Google doc where I’m compiling my findings.

A few things:

  1. My source for all the ballots thus far has been archives for The Sporting News, accessible for all SABR members via the Paper of Record service listed at SABR.org/research. If anyone wants a quick crash course on how to use The Sporting News archives, I’m happy to offer it. I encountered a slight learning curve.
  2. I found 133 players, executives and umpires on Veterans Committee ballots between 1953 and 1964, with 59 now in the Hall of Fame.
  3. The ballots may be incomplete. I found ballots for the 1955 and 1957 elections when Hall of Fame secretary Paul Kerr said nominations would be accepted until the time of the Veterans Committee meetings.
  4. I haven’t found full voting results for any older ballot– they’re typically listed in news accounts for contemporary Veterans ballots, such as the most recent one– though I’ve seen top finishers listed. Forgotten candidates like Jack Coombs and Lefty O’Doul each came close to induction on at least one ballot.
  5. It amazed me to see some of the players on these ballots, long before Baseball-Reference.com or the 1969 publication of The Baseball Encyclopedia. Deacon White makes multiple appearances. So do Jack Glasscock, Jimmy Ryan and other 19th century stars who would seemingly be forgotten at this juncture in baseball history.

Anyhow, I’ll keep posting Veterans Committee ballots as I find them. If anyone wants to join in my efforts, I’m happy to give full credit.

Let’s get more of these ballots publicly accessible.