An interview with Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson

My latest just dropped for Sporting News. I’ve been on an interview kick lately and have another big one out today. I interviewed Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson.

If you’re into the Hall of Fame or care about what goes on there, be sure to read this one.

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.

I went on AM 1570 in Baltimore

Writing for Sporting News has a few perks. One perk is that it dramatically increases my chances of appearing on the radio. Something about the Sporting News name lends instant credibility that I could never dream of in my years simply blogging at this website.

Anyhow, I have an almost 20-minute clip to share from WNST AM 1570 in Baltimore yesterday morning. I talk a lot in the clip about my love for Candlestick Park, the Hall of Fame, and more. Let me know what you think if you listen.

If you’re reading this and you have a radio show, podcast, or television show, I’d be happy to appear on it free of charge. Feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com if you’re interested.

The baseball book that changed my life

I have another freelance baseball article out today. Work has been brisk lately, as I want it. I struck out one on my own as a full-time writer and editor about three months ago, and I need all the work I can get.

Anyhow, one of the websites that I write for, The National Pastime Museum has a cool series called, “The Baseball Book That Changed My Life.” My contribution to it just came out a little while ago this morning. I wrote about The 20th Century Baseball Chronicle, a massive book of baseball trivia that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. To read why it changed my life, be sure to check out the essay.

Feedback as always is welcome. Thanks for reading.

An interview with Fay Vincent

My latest just dropped for Sporting News, and it’s another doozy.

I wanted a big follow-up to my project on the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame, so I cold-called former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, a fellow member of the Society for American Baseball Research.

Vincent and I talked for nearly a half hour about his thoughts on the Steroid Era, Pete Rose, Buck O’Neil, and more. Vincent’s remarkably candid.

Anyhow, a link to my interview is here. As always, feedback is welcome.

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.

Nine months of content is missing from my website

Any new visitors to this site may notice that it looks a bit bare, with the most recent published article from March 14 as I write this post. My site went down over the weekend, and though it’s back online, roughly nine months of content is missing.

I hate when this happens. In the six and a half years my site has existed, this is maybe the third time I’ve lost content over what I presume is a server crash. The last time, two years ago, I lost three months of articles. This is the most that’s disappeared in one fell swoop. I feel nauseous writing this.

Every article I publish is automatically sent to me via WordPress, so I have the option to manually republish everything. I really don’t want to do this, for a number of reasons. But I’ll try and get at least a few big posts from the past several months up.

If anyone has ideas about how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, I’m all ears. I’m really tired of this happening.

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.

Babe Ruth, the White Sox, and what might have been

In the summer of 1914, 19-year-old Babe Ruth emerged as a star pitcher for Baltimore of the International League, and a bidding war quickly developed for his services. Robert Creamer wrote in his landmark 1974 Ruth biography of Baltimore owner Jack Dunn offering Ruth to Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack and failing to contact New York Giants manager John McGraw, who had interest.

There were other potential suitors as well, such as New York Yankees owner Frank Farrell who offered Dunn $25,000 for Ruth and three other players just prior to Ruth’s sale in July 1914. Dunn turned it down, hoping to get at least $30,000. The Baltimore owner was sometimes notorious for holding out on selling players, most notably perhaps with Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove a decade later.

Another offer Dunn received may have changed baseball history had he moved on it. In reporting the sale to the Boston Red Sox of Ruth, Ernie Shore, and Ben Egan, theAllentown Democrat [Allentown, PA] noted July 11, 1914 that the Chicago White Sox had offered $18,000 for Ruth alone.

I tweeted a little while ago about finding this article, and my friend and editor Rich Mueller, whose website Sports Collector Daily I contribute to, showed me a piece he wrote in 2012. In uncovering correspondence from White Sox scout George Earl Mills, Mueller found that team owner Charlie Comiskey could have had Ruth and five other players for $18,000, but turned it down thinking the price too high.

Mueller wrote:

Had Comiskey been willing to open his checkbook a little more for the recent refugee from St. Mary’s Industrial School, baseball history would have been forever altered.  The White Sox may have become the dominant team in baseball during the 1920s.  The Black Sox scandal may never have happened–or Ruth could have been caught up in it.

I like to think Ruth could have turned the tide in the 1919 World Series on his own. It’s rare in baseball that a single position player has the power to change the course of events, but Ruth was more or less a one man show for Boston in 1919. It’s one of the more underrated seasons in baseball history, even if it paled in comparison to what came later for Ruth.

Ruth was so much better than the rest of his team and the rest of his league in 1919 it’s ridiculous. In just his first full season as a position player, Ruth offered a 217 OPS+ and shattered the home run record with 29. He hit all but four of Boston’s home runs, scoring or driving in about a third of Boston’s runs. Ruth also hit 12 percent of all homers in the American League in 1919. For context, Barry Bonds’ 73 homers represented just 2.5 percent of all National League homers in 2001.

So I like to think Ruth could have beat the Cincinnati Reds and eight conspiring teammates on his own in 1919, but who knows. Then again, heroics by Ruth may never have brought to light the gambling problem in baseball, which was endemic over the first 20 years of the 20th century, maybe longer. In that respect, I’m glad things played out as they did. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what might have been.

An interview with Greg Vaughn

This evening finds me sitting in the press box at Raley Field, home of the San Francisco Giants Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats. I covered the River Cats as a freelance journalist in 2004 and 2005, and one thing I learned early on is that there are often interesting, unexpected people to be found in press boxes. In my time here a decade ago, I crossed paths with Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers and Moneyball author Michael Lewis, among others.

I came out this evening in hopes of interviewing Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who was on-hand to be inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame. I took part in a group interview with Perry, highlights of which I’ll post tomorrow. Unexpectedly, though, I ran into former All Star and Sacramento native Greg Vaughn, whose son Cory plays for the River Cats opponent for the evening, the Las Vegas 51s.

Unlike Perry, I got to chat with Vaughn one-on-one for about 10 minutes just prior to game time, having a wide-ranging discussion with him. Highlights of our exchange are as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: Are you out here tonight for your son?

Vaughn: Yeah, I’m a baseball fan, and I love the River Cats, but my son’s with Las Vegas. So for me, I wouldn’t miss it.

That’s awesome. What’s he rated as a prospect? Is he in the top 100?

Vaughn: I’m not sure. You know, I don’t look at any of that stuff to tell you the truth. I figure, if he plays the way you’re supposed to play, he’ll get where you’re supposed to get. So if he goes out there and plays and does what Cory’s supposed to do, Cory’ll be in the big leagues. I mean, what good is it to say, ‘Oh you’re a top 100 prospect.’ What’s that mean? You still have to produce.

What does he do best as a player?

Vaughn: Well, I think, he’s a tool freak. He’s a tool box. He can run, he can hit for power, he has a great arm. It’s just being able to process it and do it on a consistent basis, night in and night out.

**************

How much has baseball changed since you retired?

Vaughn: It was always numbers. We were always taught, ‘Put it down in black and white,’ and you can’t take that away from you. But at the same time, I don’t know what OPS is or WAR against replacement and all that stuff. I was taught to hit and produce runs and all that stuff took care of itself.

Were there any guys who were into the advanced numbers?

Vaughn: Probably towards the end of my career all that stuff was coming out, but like I said, thank God I was fortunate enough to play for organizations that knew that they had good baseball people around me. So it wasn’t a computer telling me I was supposed to go up there against Randy Johnson and take three or four pitches and get one swing of the bat. It’s too hard to hit. This game is hard. A round bat with a round ball, a guy that’s throwing 100 miles an hour, and you got the best athletes in the world out there fielding baseballs. I wasn’t that good. I needed three swings, if not more, every at-bat.

**************

How do you think you’d fare in today’s game? I know strikeouts are really high. Do you think your strikeouts would be higher if you were playing today?

Vaughn: I don’t think they’d be higher. They were what they were when I played. I don’t know. I think I’d be okay you throw a lot of fastballs. It just depends what organization I’d be with because If I had to take pitches, I probably wouldn’t do very good. If they were going to let me be me, I think I’d be alright.

Why do you think the strikeout levels have gone up so much in the majors? Do you have any idea?

Vaughn: I just don’t think kids are getting enough swings. Also, coming up, kids aren’t allowed to figure things out on their own. Ever since they’re eight, nine, ten, eleven years old, you have coaches, ‘Don’t swing, don’t do this, don’t do that,’ so you can’t go out in the driveway and play strikeout, learn how to take balls off your chest, rifle them to right field, play where left field is closed, and do all those things. So it’s a situation where as good as these coaches [are] and thankful I am that we have these coaches coaching our youth, they’re hurting them in the sense that they’re not letting them play. They’re not letting them experience certain things that allow them to become players.

You mentioned you’re a coach yourself, right?

Vaughn: Yeah

What do you try to impart to your players?

Vaughn: For me, compete. Play and compete. That’s the biggest thing for me. You know what, go out there and hopefully I can make you better today and it will be fun… We don’t bunt. We teach them how to bunt, and if it’s a certain time of the year and we have to get a bunt down to win the championship, or something, yeah. But I’m not going to bunt on day one of the season just because I’m trying to put a notch on my belt. I’d rather kids learn how to play the right way and how to have fun when they play.

I wanted to ask you as well, yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day, and baseball today, it seems like African American players are represented at some of their lowest levels since integration. Does that bother you at all?

Vaughn: Oh without a doubt. Living in Sacramento, living out in the country, it costs $250, $300 for a kid to play Little League now. And then, they have five coaches on the coaching staff. Those five coaches have five kids. So you got the rest of the team battling for four spots. Those five kids are never coming out… African Americans, you know, first of all, if my mom had to pay $250, $300 for me and my brother and sister to play, being a single parent, it wouldn’t have happened. The bats are $400. The shoes, the spikes, the travel, it’s just really an expensive sport.

Do you think the R.B.I. Program is doing enough these days?

Vaughn: Well, I don’t think there’s ever anything doing enough [but] the R.B.I. Program definitely helps. It gives kids an opportunity that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity. So, for me, I thank the R.B.I. Program for going into those cities. We need more of them. We need Major League Baseball to help us out and get more of them so we can get more kids in baseball.

One thing there’s been some debate about, even just on my website, is there’s some people who say these days, more African American kids are coming up and they’re playing football and basketball instead. I’ve heard other people say that’s nonsense, if somebody’s really good at baseball, they’re going to play baseball. What do you make of it?

Vaughn: The African American has to be really, really good. You know what I’m saying? He has to be really, really good to get on the field. In those other sports, they’re faster, they don’t have to sit and clean up the field, and I think they have a better opportunity to play, a fairer chance. Because like I said, you got five coaches, you got all the rest of the people vying for four spots, so that African American player is going to have to be really, really good.

As a major league veteran and an African American, is there anything in particular that you try to do to promote baseball among younger black youth?

Vaughn: Yeah. For me, like I said, you know growing up, everyone played when I was coming up, Hispanic, black, white, upper class white, lower class white, the neighborhood as we called it. We need to get back to that. But it’s our job as society to give these kids an opportunity, to give them a fair shake, to let them go out there and hone their skills… A lot of these kids are coming from single parent homes. They never have a dad out there playing catch with them. They’re not going to camps. They might have the tools or more tools than some of the other players, but they don’t have the experience. So now, if they don’t get it done, they’re just going to sit on the bench, and we need to give them opportunity to fail and coach them right.

Hasn’t it kind of always been that way in baseball? I thought even during like the 1950s, if blacks came up in the minors and they weren’t a star player, their opportunity didn’t last as long.

Vaughn: I agree 100 percent. That’s life in general. I don’t play the race card, but it is what it is. What my grandmother told me a long time ago, ‘If he’s right here, if someone’s right here, be three times above that. Don’t make it close.’

That’s gotta put pressure on you hearing something like that. Was it ever intimidating to know in the back of your mind that you had to be that much better?

Vaughn: No, but I expected it from myself. It was something that I think fueled me. It inspired me. It gave me the ammunition to go out there and do better.

With that kind of competitive drive, is it ever tough being retired from baseball? Do you ever miss it?

Vaughn: Oh without a doubt. Competing, you do miss it. But all I gotta do is go to a golf course and it’ll humble me very quickly.

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

____________________

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.

A repository for old Veterans Committee ballots

The last time I posted here, I mentioned I was working on a freelance piece, one which I now know will run April 13. Without giving anything away, I found something in the course of research I’d like to share a little sooner. I’m doing this in the hopes that what I found may spur more research from the kind of people who frequent this site.

Baseball-Reference.com has the voting results listed for every Hall of Fame election by the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1936. For some reason, however, Veterans Committee elections aren’t listed, perhaps because the committee typically meets in private. I don’t even know of a place online that publicly lists which players have been candidates.

It’s getting easier to find candidates and even voting results for recent Veterans Committee elections, which are often reported in the news and can be found archived via Google. Older Veterans Committee elections are trickier; but in heavily going through old Sporting News archives to research my freelance piece, I found lists of candidates for the 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964 Veterans Committee elections.

I’ll withhold much comment at this time besides to say that it suggests to me that Frankie Frisch has maybe been maligned by Bill James and others for some of the worst Veterans Committee selections from the 1970s. A number of the players Frisch reputedly championed appeared on at least one Veterans Committee ballot before Frisch joined it in 1967.

Anyhow, here are the lists of Veterans Committee candidates from 1961 to 1964. A total of 79 people appeared on committee ballots during these years, with 44 now in Cooperstown:

Player Years on Vets Committee ballot Now in HOF?  Inducted
Al Reach 1963 No N/A
Amos Rusie 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1977
Babe Adams 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Bill Bradley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Bill Dahlen 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Bill Dinneen 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Bill McKechnie 1961, 1962 Yes 1962
Billy Evans 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1973
Billy Hamilton 1961 Yes 1961
Burleigh Grimes 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
Charlie Grimm 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Chick Hafey 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1971
Dave Bancroft 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Donie Bush 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Duffy Lewis 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Dummy Hoy 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Earl Averill 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1975
Earle Combs 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1970
Edd Roush 1962 Yes 1962
Eddie Grant 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Elmer Flick 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1963
Eppa Rixey 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1963
Firpo Marberry 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Fred Fitzsimmons 1964 No N/A
Fred Lindstrom 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1976
Fred Tenney 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
George Mullin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Glenn Wright 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Goose Goslin 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1968
Hack Wilson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1979
Harry Hooper 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1971
Heinie Manush 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
High Pockets Kelly 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1973
Hooks Wiltse 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jack Coombs 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jack Glasscock 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jake Beckley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Jake Daubert 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 No N/A
Jesse Haines 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1970
Jesse Tannehill 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Jim Bottomley 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1974
Jimmie Wilson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Jimmy Ryan 1963 No N/A
Joe Kelley 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1971
Joe Sewell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1977
John Clarkson 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1963
John Kling 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
John Tobin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Kiki Cuyler 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1968
Lave Cross 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Lefty Gomez 1964 Yes 1972
Lefty O’Doul 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Luke Sewell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Max Carey 1961 Yes 1961
Mickey Welch 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1973
Miller Huggins 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Monte Ward 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Ned Hanlon 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1996
Pud Galvin 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1965
Red Faber 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1964
Red Rolfe 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Riggs Stephenson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 No N/A
Roger Connor 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1976
Ross Youngs 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1972
Rube Marquard 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1971
Sam Rice 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1963
Sam Thompson 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1974
Stan Coveleski 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1969
Thomas Lynch 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Tim Keefe 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate], 1964 Yes 1964
Tom Corcoran 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Tony Lazzeri 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1991
Travis Jackson 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] Yes 1982
Urban Shocker 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
Vic Willis 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] Yes 1995
Waite Hoyt 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943], 1964 Yes 1969
Wes Ferrell 1963 [automatically on ballot because he appeared in 1962 BBWAA election but retired before 1943] No N/A
Wilbur Cooper 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A
William McGunnigle 1961, 1962, 1963 [on ballot as holdover candidate] No N/A

If anyone knows of places I can find other Veterans Committee ballots, particularly anything before 1961, please let me know. I’d like to make more of this information easily accessible.

Lee Allen’s standards for automatic HOF induction

My apologies to everyone for not posting here in awhile. I moved to Sacramento on January 31 to be with the woman I love and have been settling in at a new job. What writing time I’ve had has gone to paid obligations, though that brings us to what I’m writing about here today.

In researching a Hall of Fame-related freelance piece that will run sometime this spring, I came across an interesting note in a February 1961 edition of The Sporting News. In it, former Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen proposed automatic induction for the following statistical milestones: 300 wins; 2,500 hits or games; having more runs scored than games in a 10-year period.

Just for fun, with the help of Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool, I thought I’d see who’d be enshrined now who isn’t had Allen’s suggestion been acted upon:

300 wins: Roger Clemens.

2,500 hits: Harold Baines, Buddy Bell, Barry Bonds, Bill Buckner, Doc Cramer, Lave Cross, Willie Davis, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Steve Garvey, Luis Gonzalez, Al Oliver, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Vada Pinson, Tim Raines, Jimmy Ryan, Gary Sheffield, Rusty Staub, and George Van Haltren.

2,500 games: Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Gary Gaetti, Graig Nettles. Some of the players in the 2,500-hit club above would also qualify here, though I figured I’d just list them once.

More runs scored than games played in a 10-year period: Harry Stovey and George Gore. Only three Hall of Famers have done this, all from the 19th century: Billy Hamilton, Willie Keeler, and King Kelly. I suspect Allen at least had an inkling of this when he proposed the rule and that it was another tool to get 19th century players enshrined. A number of them got in on his watch during the early 1960s.

Bill James’ classic Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? notes that Allen did a lot of good for Cooperstown, pushing for some of the best Veterans Committee selections in the early 1960s. That said, I’m glad that this change was never picked up on.