There are two ways to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The first is to receive at least 75% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Players get a maximum of 15 years on the ballot before they’re no longer eligible, and even with that wide of a margin, getting in is sometimes no easy feat. Joe DiMaggio needed three years to garner enough votes; 300-game winners Don Sutton and Phil Niekro each needed five. And Bert Blyleven has just two tries remaining.
But those who miss the vote have a wide net to catch them: The Veterans Committee.
I’ve said it before on this site, but it bears repeating. Late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote, “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.”
It seems like if the Veterans wing of the Hall of Fame were to disappear tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a huge number of worthy players left out of Cooperstown. If the Writers wing is home to guys like DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, the Veterans section champions the Joe Gordons and Jim Bunnings of the sport– good players, sure, maybe nice guys too. Gordon is even from my hometown of Sacramento. But to say that he, Bunning and others belong in the same Hall of Fame as some of the game’s immortals makes it seem like less of a Hall of Fame to me.
The official task for the committee is to find players overlooked by the writers, and definitely, it has succeeded admirably there at times. Especially in the early years of the Hall of Fame, when selecting from a huge number of players was a daunting task, the committee helped find forgotten players.
Here are the ten best players selected by the Veterans Committee:
1. Sam Crawford (1957): Arguably the best player the committee has put in the Hall of Fame. In a career that took place entirely in the Deadball Era, Crawford had 2,961 hits, a .309 lifetime batting average and an all-time best 309 triples.
2. Tim Keefe (1964): Kind of surprising it took 25 years after the museum opened for Keefe to be inducted, as he won 342 games during his career. He won 30 or more games six consecutive years, including 42 in 1886.
3. Sam Rice (1963): A similar player to Crawford. In fact, I get the two players mixed up sometimes. They both were speedy outfielders from the early part of the 20th Century with close to 3,000 hits and a batting average north of .300. Rice is interesting in the sense that he had his first full season at age 27, following which he served in World War I. His career didn’t get going in earnest until he was 29. Had he started sooner, he may well have gotten something close to 4,000 hits.
4. Ernie Lombardi (1986): Arguably the best hitting catcher of all-time, with two batting titles, though he had a hard time staying healthy and didn’t make the Hall of Fame in his lifetime. There was a myth about him that he was bitter about it.
5. Addie Joss (1978): A latter-day, right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, Joss died at 31 in 1911. As it stands, he finished 160-89 with a 1.89 career ERA.
6. Heinie Manush (1964): Hit .330 lifetime with 2,524 career hits, holding his own with contemporaries of his era like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons.
7. Chief Bender (1953): Went 212-127 with a 2.46 ERA in his career. Interestingly, he had a year, 1913, where he won 21 games and also had 13 saves.
8. Johnny Mize (1981): Not a terribly different player than Hank Greenberg, though it took Mize much longer after his career ended to make the Hall of Fame. Like Greenberg, Mize rose to stardom in the 1930s and had his career interrupted by World War II. Like Greenberg, Mize would probably have finished with close to 500 home runs if not for his service.
9. Stan Coveleski (1969): Went 215-142 with a 2.89 ERA lifetime. Over the second half of his career when hitters ruled, beginning in 1921, he won at least 20 games twice.
10. Orlando Cepeda (1999): One of the few picks the committee has gotten right in recent years, this honored Cepeda, whose bid was delayed several years by drug problems. Interestingly, the same thing is happening to Dave Parker right now, maybe Keith Hernandez too.