With the baseball Hall of Fame, one and done truly means that

Following the death of former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar on Friday, I reviewed his stats and saw he appeared on just one Hall of Fame ballot. Current rules state that any player who receives less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is dropped from future ballots but can be considered after twenty years of retirement by the Veterans Committee. The one year Cuellar was on the ballot, 1983, he received no votes despite going 185-130 lifetime and winning at least 20 games four times. It may have been a tough year, as a dozen future Hall of Famers were on the ballot, plus several All Stars who have yet to make it including Gil Hodges, Maury Wills and Thurman Munson. Still, I think Cuellar deserved at least a vote.

Other good players besides Cuellar fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one appearance. After reading a couple of good articles today, which I’ll reference in a minute, I made a list. As should be obvious, most of these players probably are not strong Cooperstown candidates, though I could lobby for a few. More on that momentarily. First, here are some notable One-and-Done players:

  • Bill Buckner (2.1 percent, 1996)
  • Ken Caminiti (0.4 percent, 2007)
  • Jose Canseco (1.1 percent, 2007)
  • Joe Carter (3.8 percent, 2004)
  • Norm Cash (1.6 percent, 1980)
  • Cesar Cedeno (0.5 percent, 1992)
  • Ron Cey (1.9 percent, 1993)
  • Will Clark (4.4 percent, 2006)
  • David Cone (3.9 percent, 2009
  • Cecil Cooper (0 percent, 1993)
  • Mike Cuellar (0 percent, 1983)
  • Darrell Evans (1.7 percent, 1995)
  • Tony Fernandez (0.7 percent, 2007)
  • Kirk Gibson (2.5 percent, 2001)
  • Dwight Gooden (3.3 percent, 2006)
  • Bobby Grich (2.6 percent, 1992)
  • Pedro Guerrero (1.3 percent, 1998)
  • Tom Henke (1.2 percent, 2001)
  • Frank Howard (1.4 percent, 1979)
  • Jimmy Key (0.6 percent , 2004)
  • Carney Lansford (0.6 percent, 1998)
  • Bill Madlock (4.5 percent, 1993)
  • Bobby Murcer (0.7 percent, 1989)
  • Milt Pappas (1.2 percent, 1979)
  • Boog Powell (1.3 percent, 1983)
  • Dan Quisenberry (3.8 percent, 1996)
  • Willie Randolph (1.1 percent, 1998)
  • Rick Reuschel (0.4 percent, 1997)
  • J.R. Richard (1.6 percent, 1986)
  • Bret Saberhagen (1.3 percent, 2007)
  • Ted Simmons (3.7 percent, 1994)
  • Dave Stieb (1.4 percent, 2004)
  • Dizzy Trout (0.5 percent, 1964)
  • Virgil Trucks (2 percent, 1964)
  • Bob Welch (0.2 percent, 2000)
  • Lou Whitaker (2.9 percent, 2001)
  • Frank White (3.8 percent, 1996)

There are many more I could list.

Looking over the names, I think two are destined for Cooperstown: Simmons and Whitaker. Both were mentioned in a Joe Posnanski piece for SI.com in December, detailing notable one-and-done players. Posnanski wrote about how Whitaker’s number one competitor at second base from his era, Ryne Sandberg, easily made the Hall of Fame; he also noted that Bill James ranked Simmons in the New Historical Abstract as the tenth best catcher of all-time. I’ve read a couple stories over the last year or two that suggest Whitaker got shorted by the writers, while the Times piece said other great catchers in Simmons’s era overshadowed him. The Veterans Committee exists to select players overlooked by the writers, and I think Whitaker and Simmons both fall into this category, strongly.

I could also make cases for Clark, Grich, Gooden, Madlock and Saberhagen, though I don’t think they’ll get into Cooperstown. Before I spell out why that is, let me offer credentials for each player, briefly. A 2008 New York Times piece makes a pitch for Grich, a power-hitting second baseman who also won four Gold Gloves. Clark and Madlock were among the best pure hitters of their respective generations with each man hitting over .300 lifetime with more than 2,000 hits; as the Times piece noted, Madlock also is the only non-Hall of Famer to win four batting titles.

Meanwhile, Saberhagen went 167-117 lifetime, won two Cy Young awards, and has the third-best career WHIP, 1.1406, among modern-era pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, not counting four active players. And I think Gooden would be a Hall of Famer had his career derailed due to injuries, like Dizzy Dean or Sandy Koufax, rather than cocaine abuse, or if he’d been like Rube Waddell and made people laugh while destroying his life. As it stands, Gooden has more career wins than any of those three.

I ranked Gooden last May among the ten best players not in the Hall of Fame and wrote a post in November predicting Grich would be among ten future Veterans Committee picks. However, they and most of the men named above have slim chances, at best. Since 1980, the Veterans Committee has enshrined 23 former big league players. Three of the honorees played before the modern era and never appeared on any writers ballots, seemingly forgotten by history. However, out of the remaining 20 honorees, all but two appeared on at least ten writer ballots. Seven men exhausted their fifteen years of eligibility.

The knock on the Veterans Committee has long been that it rewards cronies. However, looking over the players it tabbed in the past three decades, many fell just shy of being elected by the writers, including Nellie Fox and Jim Bunning who came within one percent of the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. All of these players were thoroughly vetted by the writers, and this gave them time, I think, to build their future cases with the Veterans Committee.

Interestingly, ten of the Veterans Committee picks since 1980 received less than five percent of the writer vote their first time on the ballot after they retired. These men are:

  • Richie Ashburn
  • Bobby Doerr
  • Rick Ferrell
  • Joe Gordon
  • Travis Jackson
  • Chuck Klein
  • Tony Lazzeri
  • Ernie Lombardi
  • Hal Newhouser
  • Arky Vaughan

Due to Hall of Fame rules at the respective times, each man was allowed to remain on future ballots. In fact, eight of them went on to appear at least eleven times before their eventual recognition by the Veterans Committee. The one-and-dones could only wish these rules were still in effect. It’s better than the stretch in the mid-1990s to 2001 when any player with less than five percent of the vote was ruled permanently ineligible, before this was reversed. Still, I don’t think it’s better by much.

The shame of Marvin Miller

The 2010 Hall of Fame picks for managers, umpires and executives were announced today, and while Whitey Herzog got the call (I told you so), Marvin Miller did not. The retired Major League Baseball Players Association executive director is 92 now and has come close a few times in the past decade, but never gets quite enough votes from the Veterans Committee for induction. He received seven votes this year from the 12-person committee, two shy of what he needed. Miller had the same number of votes as Jacob Ruppert, who can be remembered for employing Babe Ruth, and one less than a former Detroit Tigers executive named John Fetzer. Who exactly is John Fetzer?

In another few years, Miller could join Dom DiMaggio and Buck O’Neil, other baseball greats overlooked by Cooperstown in their lifetimes. Such an outcome would be a travesty.

Much has been written about Miller elsewhere, so I’ll simply repeat what I read today on ESPN.com. In his sixteen years heading baseball’s labor board, starting in 1966 when the minimum salary was $6,000 a year, Miller introduced collective bargaining, did away with the Reserve Clause and helped players win the right to free agency. Coming from a labor organizing background, not an athletic one, Miller probably did more to ensure the welfare of athletes than any other person. I’ve written before that I don’t think the end of the Reserve Clause is necessarily a good thing for baseball’s mid-level teams. I’m also not predisposed to electing baseball labor executives. Donald Fehr will never be in any Hall of Fame that I champion. All the same, I have to respect Miller’s contributions to the game and having visited Cooperstown once as a kid, isn’t that what the place is all about?

With all this said, it doesn’t look good for Miller. As I’ve written before, the Veterans Committee is notoriously conservative, preferring establishment-friendly candidates. And while what Miller did was great for players, it wreaked absolute havoc for owners, introducing never before things like player’s strikes and million dollar contracts to baseball. Just as Walter O’Malley reputedly fined Brooklyn Dodgers employees a dollar for mentioning Branch Rickey’s name after he left the team, what’s being done to Miller right now can be deemed payback, pure and simple.

Committee member and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver put it well, to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.

“I agree with the process, but I don’t agree with the result regarding Marvin,” said Seaver, who voted for Miller. “I think we probably have to have a couple more players [on the panel] to have a balance in that meeting. That’s the thing I’m going to suggest. This is not about your feeling on Marvin Miller. This is about the history of the game of baseball. It’s a no-brainer for me.”

It should be for everyone.

Prediction: 10 Veterans Committee picks

Months ago, I wrote about “The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains one of my most-read entries and even got mentioned in a Mormon blog, since it included Dale Murphy. Were I really slick, I’d post the Top 10 Mormons not in the Hall of Fame. That’s a project for another time, though.

Today’s list features players I expect to be Veteran’s Committee picks sometime soon. Rather than simply reposting my old list, though, I will offer a couple of clarifications. First off, this list will not include Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and Hal Chase. Deserving though they may be as players, they remain long shots because of their involvement with gambling. If anything ever does happen, it will come from the commissioner of baseball, not the Veteran’s Committee.

The Veteran’s Committee is baseball’s fiefdom for those players not quite good enough to make the Hall of Fame fresh off their careers but able to gather sentimental appeal over time. While the Writer’s Association recognizes the Hank Aarons and Babe Ruths of baseball, the committee is for the Phil Rizzutos of the sport. There are probably dozens of these kinds of players who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. Here are ten worth considering:

1. Dom DiMaggio: At some point, committee members will awaken to the injustice surrounding DiMaggio, one of the game’s great gloves and not a bad bat either. It’s a shame it didn’t happen within his lifetime.

2. Johnny Pesky: This might seem a stretch, as Pesky had 1,455 career hits and just seven full seasons. However, if DiMaggio makes it to Cooperstown, Pesky might too. Here’s why. Pesky lost three prime seasons to World War II. In the season before and two seasons following his military service, Pesky averaged .330 and led the American League in hits each year. Barring WWII, Pesky would have had over 2,000 career hits which is usually enough to get the Veteran’s Committee talking.

Pesky would benefit from DiMaggio’s induction for a subtle reason, though. In 2003, David Halberstam came out with a well-received book, The Teammates, which described the friendship of Boston Red Sox teammates DiMaggio, Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams. Doerr and Williams are already enshrined. If DiMaggio gets in, it would make sense to let Pesky in too.

3. Gil Hodges: Having just finished The Boys of Summer, I am putting Hodges on this list over Murphy. Murphy had slightly more career hits and home runs, but Hodges gets the nod for also being a World Series winning manager with the New York Mets. He gets a sentimental boost too because of his death from a heart attack, two days shy of his 48th birthday.

4. Urban Shocker: After my original post about the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame, a reader suggested Urban Shocker. I agree. Not a regular starting pitcher until he was 28, he won 187 games, nearly all of them in a nine-season stretch.

5. Carl Mays: A fellow pitcher from Shocker’s era, Mays notoriously killed a batter with a pitched ball in 1920. He also had 207 career wins, a 2.92 earned run average and won at least 20 games five times.

6. Bobby Grich: A power-hitting second baseman, like Doerr, the two had similar career numbers.

7. Dave Parker: I wrote in May that Parker was a Veteran’s Committee pick waiting to happen, since he had better career number than Cooperstown members Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda. I maintain my position.

8. Ron Santo: Another player the Veteran’s Committee seemingly exists for.

9-10. Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker: The Detroit Tigers double play combination were repeat All Stars, each getting over 2,000 career hits. Neither merited induction by the Writer’s Association, but they’re the sort of candidates the Veteran’s Committee loves: Earnest, consistent and baseball men all the way. If Rizzuto can make it into Cooperstown, Trammell and Whitaker should as well.