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.

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