Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher turned former U.S. Senator turned resident curmudgeon, is downright ticked off that the recent Golden Era committee failed to elect anybody to the Hall of Fame -- in particular, Dick Allen, his former Phillies teammate.
In an interview with Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News, Bunning ranted that "It was the most disappointing three days I've ever spent in my life. ... To me, it was a wasted weekend. We were there to pick someone for the Hall of Fame. We didn't accomplish anything."
His biggest gripe seemed to be that -- horror of horrors! -- writers and executives were part of the committee assigned to consider candidates from 1947-1972. The committee consisted of seven Hall of Fame players (Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith -- who didn't make his major league debut until 1978 -- and Don Sutton); executives Pat Gillick, Jim Frey, Dave Dombrowski, Roland Hemond and David Glass; and media members Phil Pepe, Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel and Tracy Ringolsby.
"I don't think writers should be voting on Golden Era players," Bunning said. "Let it be their peers, guys already in the Hall of Fame. And I intend to tell that to the Hall of Fame people. And I'm going to tell them they ought to narrow the list, cut it back from 10 names."
Bunning then advocated for Maury Wills -- even though Wills was pretty clearly the worst choice among the nine players on the ballot. Here are those nine with their vote totals and career WAR. A player needed 12 votes for election.
Dick Allen, 11 (58.7 WAR)
Tony Oliva, 11 (43.0)
Jim Kaat, 10 (45.3 as a pitcher, 6.1 as a hitter)
Maury Wills, 9 (39.5)
Minnie Minoso, 8 (50.1)
Ken Boyer, less than 3 (62.8)
Gil Hodges, less than 3 (44.9)
Billy Pierce, less than 3 (53.1)
Luis Tiant, less than 3 (66.1)
You can see the problem with just putting players on the committee. They tend to like their ex-teammates. One of Bunning's reasons for voting for Allen was, according to him, nobody hit as many 500-foot home runs. OK, even if that were true, it's not really relevant to the discussion on whether Allen deserves to be a Hall of Famer. Dave Kingman hit a lot of long home runs as well.
As for Wills, Bunning said he's worthy because he "changed the game." Joe Morgan has advocated for Wills as well. But is it true? I don't see evidence of that. Wills stole 104 bases in 1962, a feat considered so impressive that he won the MVP Award over Willie Mays. That year, the average stolen bases per game (per team) was 0.42. The next year it was 0.38. The year after that, 0.36. Hmm. It didn't get to 0.50 until 1973 -- the year after Wills retired. Maybe Wills was influential and a lot has been lost to history that doesn't show up in the numbers. But steals per game had actually ramped up more significantly in the late '50s than it did in the decade after Wills' big season. Stolen bases really spiked in the 1970s -- with the advent of Astroturf. That changed the game more than Wills.
Anyway, Bunning is 83 years old so let's cut him some slack. He is right, however, that the committee is kind of a mess. The problem -- if you want more players elected, at least -- is the way the vote is designed, not the voters. Committee members can only vote for up to four players. They can vote for fewer, but not more. Well, what do you think is going to happen with a group of essentially equal candidates? Of course, it's going to be difficult to get 12 votes. As Joe Posnanski wrote back in December, it's bad math.
Look, none of these guys are clear Hall of Famers. I would have voted for Minoso, whose career got off to a late start due to the color barrier but was one of the best players in the American League during the 1950s, well into his 30s. Give him a few more years at the start of his career and his numbers would look better.
At least we have the next Veterans Committee to look forward to -- the Pre-Integration Committee. Because we need more Hall of Famers from a period labeled pre-integration.