|Wednesday, February 26
Updated: March 2, 12:31 PM ET
Committee's stance should surprise no one
By Jayson Stark
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- We just hope Ron Santo and Tony Oliva didn't carve a lot of time out of their day Wednesday for their long-awaited Hall of Fame election celebrations.
Because they had no shot.
And it's clear now they'll never have any shot. Not unless someone performs major surgery on the new, not necessarily improved, Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.
If there's one thing that became obvious when the results of this group's first election ever were finally announced Wednesday, it's that these particular voters -- made up mostly of other Hall of Fame players -- aren't likely to agree on much of anything. Or anybody. At least not 75 percent's worth, anyway.
It took months of exhausting, painstaking work by a distinguished screening committee to come up with the 26 players who wound up on this ballot.
It took about 30 seconds of examining the election results to see that Hall of Fame players don't have any intention of overcrowding either the golf course or the induction podium next July in Cooperstown. Or any July after that, either.
"One very important thing that (Hall of Fame) players look at," said one of those Hall of Fame players, Joe Morgan, on a conference call Wednesday, "is that they feel it's very important that the player sitting beside them (in Cooperstown) be a player who truly deserves to be there."
So after dissecting a ballot full of candidates who already had been rejected by the writers in their first quest for a plaque, the Hall of Famers who voted in this election went right ahead and rejected them all again. And no one should have expected otherwise.
Of the 84 ballots sent out, 58 went to the living players in the Hall. The other 26 went to writers and broadcasters in their respective wings of the Hall, plus two members of the old, now-defunct Veterans Committee.
Three of those 84 ballots were never even mailed back, for reasons unknown. Three more came back with a vote for none of the 26 players. Five were returned with a vote for no one on the other half of the ballot, either -- the half made up of managers, umpires and executives.
One of those three voters who felt no players merited his check mark was Mike Schmidt, who willingly admitted to sending in that blank sheet after a hard day's work as a guest instructor in the Phillies' spring-training camp.
Asked by ESPN.com why he voted for none of the 26 names on his ballot, Schmidt laughed and replied: "I'm a hard-liner, I guess."
"Here's the thing," he said. "There are guys who have had great, great careers. There are guys who have had really solid Steve Garvey, Reggie Smith, Andre Dawson-type careers. Or Dale Murphy, who I think should be getting stronger Hall of Fame consideration than he is. All of those guys had great, great careers -- but not Hall of Fame careers. Not in my mind, at least."
But Schmidt wasn't asked to vote on any of those players, because they weren't on his ballot. In fact, all but Smith are still on the writers' ballot. He was asked to vote on Santo and Oliva, Gil Hodges and Joe Torre, even on his longtime friend, Dick Allen. Schmidt passed on them all.
He passed for the same reason the writers passed on them back in another time and place -- because having Hall of Fame skills and Hall of Fame seasons and Hall of Fame stretches is not the same thing as having a Hall of Fame career.
"You couldn't say it better," Schmidt said of that assessment. "You should quote yourself in your article."
OK, buddy. Consider it done.
"I looked at them all," Schmidt said. "And I go back to what I said before. They had great, great careers. But you only ought to vote for them if they were one of the best of all time at their position for an extended period of time. But if they were that, they'd already be in the Hall of Fame, right?
"The Hall of Fame," said this particular Hall of Famer, "is for no-doubt guys."
Of course, deciding who is a "no-doubt guy" is harder than it sounds. But it's safe to assume that if a player fails to get elected by the writers in 15 elections -- not one, not three, not five, not 10, but 15 -- one thing he clearly isn't would be a "no-doubt guy."
Of the 84 voters in this election, 11 happened to be Hall of Fame baseball writers. And they found themselves in the midst of an especially weird déjà vu voting experience.
One of them, the Los Angeles Times' Ross Newhan, described that experience as "pretty strange." To say the least.
"After spending a lot of time going over the list," Newhan said, "the bottom line was that I voted this time for the same guys I voted for when they were on the writers' ballot. It wasn't a long list."
It was a list that contained just three names -- Santo, Hodges and Maury Wills. They represented half of the six players who even got so much as 25 percent of this vote.
That isn't much. But in the end, as it turned out, the new Veterans Committee's vote wasn't dramatically different than the writers' votes on the same players.
Of those six leading vote-getters, four -- Oliva, Santo, Torre and Vada Pinson -- got a higher percentage than they ever got from the writers. Two -- Hodges and Wills -- got a smaller percentage. You can decide for yourself how significant or revealing those differences were:
But three of those six -- Hodges, Santo and Torre -- have made meaningful contributions to baseball in other capacities since their playing careers ended. Hodges and Torre managed World Series champs. Santo has been a very visible Cubs broadcaster.
There were two other players on the ballot who theoretically might have gotten some support for reasons other than their career numbers -- Roger Maris and Curt Flood. Nope. Maris, in fact, collected only 22 percent of these votes -- nearly half of his peak (43 percent) in the writers' election.
We've always felt that the only kinds of players the Veterans Committee ought to be electing were men like Torre, who had distinguished careers as players and then went on to make significant impact on the game in their post-player lives. We feel that way now more than ever.
But while the voters in this election were told they could consider managerial and other contributions of these players, it's obvious few voters factored that in. Schmidt, revealingly, said he wasn't sure if he was supposed to consider Torre's managerial exploits or not.
Over on the other side of the ballot, you would have thought an electorate made up mostly of ex-players would have elected Marvin Miller, at least. 'Fraid not. He got just 35 votes.
Schmidt said he voted for Miller, umpire Doug Harvey and former manager Dick Williams. Only Harvey (with 61 percent) even got more than 50 percent of the votes. And that group can't be considered again for four years, according to the rules.
The players, on the other hand, can be voted on again in two years. And they will be, under precisely the same system. Morgan said this system deserves "one more shot" before anyone considers trashing it and installing yet another new Veterans Committee.
Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey suggested the next vote could be different because a few new players would be eligible and there might be some changes in the screening committee. But unless Dennis Eckersley somehow bypasses the writers' ballot and goes straight to the Veterans Committee ballot, we're looking at more of the same.
So after all the hoopla, what did this new system accomplish, anyway -- other than to make sure Eddie Murray and Gary Carter can make longer acceptance speeches next July?
"I don't know that this (system) resolves anything," Newhan said, "except that, in my mind, it validates the way the writers have always gone about it."
Bingo. We may have had our own differences with the writers' take on certain players over the years, but we know this: The writers devote more time, more passion, more thought and more care to the business of electing Hall of Famers than they're ever given credit for.
And thanks to the players and the newfangled Veterans Committee, at least we know now what we've always suspected -- that the writers have done exactly what they're supposed to do in life:
They got it right.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.