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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Hall of a vote for Veterans Committee
By Leonard Koppett
Special to ESPN Classic

Baseball writers have voted Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield into baseball's Hall of Fame, for induction this August. Who will join them in the Class of 2001? The Veterans Committee meeting March 6 will decide.

And how does that committee work? Since I'm on it, let me explain. The Writers, about 500 who've been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for the last 10 years, vote on players whose active careers ended between five and 20 years ago. Any player whose name appears on 75 percent or more of the ballots cast goes in.

The Veterans Committee deals with players whose careers ended at least 23 years ago, and all non-players (managers, club owners, umpires, club and league officials and other "major contributors to the game").

What is the Veterans Committee? A 15-member body redesigned in 1996, after taking various forms in the past. As presently constituted, it contains five former players (all Hall of Famers), five former executives and five media members.

But this 15-member committee has restraints the writers don't. It votes on players as a separate category, and non-players as another, and is allowed to choose only one a year in each category.

It also requires a 75-percent agreement, which means 12 of 15 votes, (or 11 of 14 if someone is absent; there are no proxies). Only the top vote-getter goes in, even if someone else also gets 75 percent.

In addition, there are two special, temporary categories, used in recent years but to be phased out at some point. One considers figures from the 19th century, both players and others. The other considers former Negro League stars.

The one-per-year limitation has this consequence: the committee is not simply judging the "worthiness" of each candidate, but deciding which worthies to pass over for the sake of the one chosen this year. No one up for discussion, having been nominated by a five-man sub-committee, lacks Hall of Fame "credentials", or he wouldn't be under consideration. But only one can be chosen, so the group must arrive at a large enough consensus after several hours of frank, face-to-face exchanges in what amounts to an elimination tournament. Those not elected this time can remain on the list for consideration in subsequent years.

So it's quite possible for no one player to be elected in the first category, as happened just last year. I can list up to 10 names on the first ballot; if a second is needed, only five. If no one has 75 percent, there's no third.

The session itself is intended to be strictly confidential, so that opinions can be openly stated without concern for how outsiders or friends may react. We are honor bound to avoid leaks and public comment on how the voting went and what was said. But the voting itself is secret, and no member's vote is identified to the rest of us.

The five player members are Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron and Juan Marichal. The five executives are Joe Brown (chairman), Bill White, Hank Peters, John McHale and Buck O'Neil. There are three writers (Jerry Holtzman, Allen Lewis and myself) and two broadcasters (Ken Coleman and Ernie Harwell). Our average age is well over 70, as it should be: we're considering oldtimers, not recent stars.

These rules, and appointments to the committee, are made and supervised by the Hall of Fame's board of directors. In the past, the size, composition and regulations of the committee have differed. But I can testify that the present group is thoroughly serious, sincere, and straightforward in it's deliberations, with strong opinions firmly held and expressed. We are supplied with elaborate factual material.

Obviously, we can't satisfy everyone (or anyone?). Everybody has some favorite. But we aren't capricious, or political, or stubbornly biased. As long as we vote our conscience, we're doing all we can. And we do.

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