Why the Veterans Committee didn’t surprise me today

Voting results for this year’s Veterans Committee were announced today, with no one being voted in. I tweeted beforehand that I didn’t expect any players to be enshrined through the committee, and I can’t say I’m surprised by how voting came out.

Here’s why I wasn’t surprised:

1. There weren’t enough voters on the Veterans Committee: This latest iteration of the committee had 16 members which, given Cooperstown’s history, makes little sense. Some of the worst Veterans Committee selections came when people like Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry wielded great influence over small versions of the committee in the 1970s. Consider that with 75 percent of the vote needed for induction, five voters for this Veterans Committee had the power to keep anyone from being inducted. While I’m not suggesting it happened, it’s not difficult for five people to unite and push their own agenda. It’s a lot more difficult for 50 people to do this, 500 more so.

2. There were too many candidates: Once or twice a year, I organize projects here where I have people vote on a variety of topics, from the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame to the 25 most important people in baseball history. One thing I’ve learned in doing these projects is that candidates tend to get more votes if I put them on the ballot, maybe three or four times as many votes than if they’re just write-in options. There’s something about having a name on a ballot that spurs a voter to think of it. Fewer candidates concentrate the vote totals more. This year’s Veterans Committee ballot featured nine players, with two– Dick Allen and Tony Oliva– falling one vote shy. I assume that if there’d been fewer candidates to choose from, Allen and Oliva might have gotten in.

3. There wasn’t enough incentive to vote for any players right now: This is most important. Give me a minute, and I’ll explain why.

As a fan of a big Hall of Fame, I have no problem with anyone from this Veterans Committee ballot being in the Hall of Fame. Allen is the best player from the 1960s who isn’t enshrined. Oliva is one of the best contact hitters not in. Minnie Minoso and Billy Pierce rank with Allen among the most underrated players in baseball history. Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat are two of the best pitchers not in. Ken Boyer is at least a poor man’s Ron Santo. Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single season stolen base record. And Gil Hodges is a sentimental favorite.

That said, none of these players would rank as inner circle Hall of Famers if enshrined. While they all have their supporters– easier than ever to find in the age of the Internet– these players are mostly a collection of second and third-tier candidates, if that. The Hall of Fame is not glaringly worse for their absence, and some purists might argue they’d dilute the quality of honorees. From the standpoint of a cost benefit analysis, the benefit gained from preserving the exclusivity of the Hall far outweighs the goodwill generated by putting any of these players in, at least for now. Since the early 1980s, the Veterans Committee has tended to vote conservatively for this reason. No one, I’d guess, wants to be blamed for enshrining the next Dave Bancroft.

It’s sad, but it generally takes one of three things, I think, to get people into the Hall of Fame through the Veterans Committee these days:

  1. A good showing on the BBWAA ballot [e.g. Jim Bunning, who rose as high as 74.2 percent of the writers vote]
  2. Years and years of well-publicized rejections from the committee [e.g. Phil Rizzuto, who finally got in Cooperstown in 1994 at age 76]
  3. Sympathy generated by death [e.g. Santo and at least a few others]

That said, even if one of these factors is in play, the Veterans Committee can still generally be counted on to vote skittishly. And that’s unfortunate.

7 Replies to “Why the Veterans Committee didn’t surprise me today”

  1. It makes sense that players with a lot of support on the BBWAA ballots would be popular candidates with the VC- they clearly have a lot of support, meaning selection would be far less controversial; and if 65% of writers thought he was a HOFer, you’d think the majority of the pool of eligible VC voters would think he was one, too.

    That said, Jim Bunning’s 74.2% had a greater influence on his being elected by the VC than some might think.
    In 1995, the HOF changed who was eligible for election by the VC. Now only players whose careers started before Integration, received at least 100 votes in an election before 1993, or received at least 60% support after 1993 were eligible.
    So their pool of eligible recent players was “limited” to those with a lot of support, until after Bill Mazeroski was elected and they completely revamped the system.

    1. Hi Ron,

      It’s true that Ken Boyer won one MVP while Ron Santo never won any. But that’s not a measure of Boyer being better than Santo for his career. It maybe suggests better peak value, though MVP awards are subjective, voted on by writers. The award can also be dependent on one’s team.

      Statistically, Santo had a better season in 1964 than Boyer– more home runs, a higher batting average and, if you’re into sabermetrics, vastly higher totals for OPS+, WAR, and Wins Above Average. But Santo toiled for the eighth-place Chicago Cubs. Boyer was MVP for being the best player by traditional offensive stats on an iconic, World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals team.

      I’m all for giving Boyer his due. But let’s be realistic here.

      Thanks for commenting,

  2. Thanks Graham for giving the results of the VC Committee. I was away so I didn’t know what happened.I agree with you that I thought the candidates that were eligible should all go in. it’s unfortunate that no one got in.

  3. My personal opinion is that six of the candidates deserve at least serious consideration:
    Allen, Tiant, Kaat, Boyer, Minoso and Pierce.
    Agreed it’s not surprising but disappointing that no one made it in. [That being said, I think it’s kind of strange that 1 of the 2 players who were 1 vote shy isn’t on my list of players who deserve serious consideration (Oliva).

    Over at the Hall of Merit (at baseballthinkfactory) there was a mock election and no one made 75% either. [3 players made 50%: Minoso .72, Allen .61, and Tiant .57]. Although some of these players are in the “official” Hall Of Merit.

  4. Dick Allen was the ONLY player on this past Golden Era Ballot to win two Major In Season Awards. 1964 NL Rookie of the year and 1972 AL MVP. His OPS+ of 165 from 1964 to 1973 ranks # one during that ten year period, ahead of 17 Hall of Famers.

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