|Wednesday, February 26
Updated: March 4, 10:30 AM ET
A look back: The new Veterans Committee
By Rob Neyer
The following column was first posted on August 9, 2001, shortly after the Hall of Fame announced the formation of the new Veterans Committee ...
Let's take a look at the last 10 major leaguers elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, along with my best guess as to whether or not they would have been elected under the new rules (which I'm assuming you've already read about):
Phil Rizzuto No Richie Ashburn No Vic Willis No Jim Bunning Maybe Nellie Fox No George Davis No Larry Doby Maybe Orlando Cepeda Maybe Bid McPhee No Bill Mazeroski No
No slam-dunk choices among the 10, but of course that's the nature of the Veterans Committee choices; if a player is obviously a Hall of Famer, then the BBWAA would already have put the guy in. But there are three 19th-century players on that list, and there's no way in hell that the new Veterans Committee is going to put any more of them in. Phil Rizzuto and Richie Ashburn and Nellie Fox? Not enough of their contemporaries are members of the new Veterans Committee. Mazeroski? I doubt it, not with his hitting stats. You had to actually see him turn the double play to appreciate him. Well, that or believe in fielding stats, which ex-players don't do (with the possible exception of fielding percentage, which of course happens to be the least relevant fielding stat).
So that leaves Bunning, Doby, and Cepeda. Bunning played in the 1960s, and he spent significant time in both leagues. Doby has the "pioneer factor" working for him. And Cepeda has the great name, along with a certain aura that causes people to remember him as better than he actually was.
Mind you, I'm not saying that any of these guys would have been elected if the new rules had been in place when they actually were elected; I'm just saying that they would have drawn significant support.
But why, exactly? Well, I guess I've started this thing backwards. Before I guess which current Hall of Famers would or wouldn't have been elected, I should answer this question: "What kind of player might we expect to get significant support from this new Veterans Committee?"
First of all, I don't think numbers have much to do with it. I mean, the numbers will play a part, but nearly anyone with obvious "Hall of Fame numbers" is already in (or still being considered by the BBWAA) with perhaps two or three exceptions. No, the history of the Veterans Committee suggests that the players will vote for their old pals. I don't mean that as negatively as it sounds, but most of us are adults so let's face facts. Players entrusted with a Hall of Fame ballot tend to vote for their peers, and especially their teammates. If you want to write a history of the Veterans Committee, that's your starting point and your ending point. And I certainly don't see any reason to think that will change now. When Joe Morgan talks about non-Hall of Famers who should be Hall of Famers, who does he talk about? Dave Concepcion (a teammate, of course), Steve Garvey, Curt Flood, Maury Wills ... all of them National Leaguers.
Nothing against Joe Morgan, he just happens to be human like the rest of us. But we can probably assume that the more Hall of Famers you played with or against, the better your chances of drawing support from this new Veterans Committee. Can we somehow quantify this?
I started by entering the names of the Veterans Committee's 59 ex-players into a spreadsheet. I added Ozzie Smith because he'll certainly join the list next year. Actually, two spreadsheets, one for the National League and one for the American League. My column headings began with 1928 (Al Lopez's first season in the majors) and ended with 1996 (Ozzie Smith's last). Next, for every player I simply entered a "1" in each box that corresponded with one of his "league-seasons." For example, on the American League page Rollie Fingers gets a "1" in his boxes for 1969 through 1976 (Oakland) and 1981 through 1985 (Milwaukee), and on the National League page he gets a "1" in his boxes for 1977 through 1980 (San Diego). (For anyone trying to duplicate my "research," I did not include a rookie season if it only consisted of a few games, but I did count seasons in which a player was in the military.)
I suppose this all sounds needlessly complicated to some of you, but the goal is to be able to look at, say, the National League in 1971, and find out how many current members of the Veterans Committee were playing in that league-season.
Well, the answer is 22, which is tied with the National League in 1970 for the highest score. We could also look at groups of seasons, centered around a particular season. For example, the "five-year cluster score" for the National League in 1971 is 101. Here, I'll show you what I mean:
Score 1969 21 1970 22 1971 22 1972 19 1973 17 5-Yr 101
Below are the three league-seasons that have the highest five-year cluster scores, where none of these individual years fall in the others' groups.
NL 1969 106 NL 1966 100 NL 1972 94
This shouldn't be particularly startling to anyone. The National League dominated the All-Star Game in the 1960s and '70s, in part because the National League had a significant percentage of the best players. The five-year National League cluster with 1969 at its center contains 106 seasons of players on the new Veterans Committee. The best five-year American League cluster? It's 1974, with only 76 seasons for players on the new Veterans Committee.
If you sum up all of the player seasons -- no more of those bothersome clusters ("What in the hell is Neyer talking about?") -- the National League has the edge, 591 seasons to 525.
What does all this mean? Well, to me it means that if you weren't a National Leaguer in the late 1960s or early 1970s, you're going to have a very tough time getting elected to the Hall of Fame by the new Veterans Committee.
Who does this "hurt"? Well, Luis Tiant becomes eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee in 2005, and though he's never drawn much support from the BBWAA, Tiant does have a decent argument. However, I don't see him getting elected by the Veterans Committee, because he spent his entire career in the American League (save nine starts for the Pirates near the end). Pitching in the World Series will help him some, I suppose, but Tiant simply didn't pitch against enough of the players who will be doing the voting.
Others who probably won't fare well, because of the time and/or the league in which they played, include Roger Maris, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva ... and anybody who played before 1950. As Joe Morgan said not long ago, "It's difficult for me ... to critique Dom (DiMaggio) because I never saw him play." DiMaggio and Mel Harder, both of them championed by Ted Williams and (not coincidentally) both of them still living, can pretty much forget about the Hall of Fame.
The winners? I suspect that they'll be the National Leaguers of the late '60s ... and if a guy played in the American League, too? Well, all the better. I suspect that Ron Santo will lead the voting in 2003, perhaps followed by Dick Allen. Santo fared pretty well in the BBWAA voting in 1998, his last year of eligibility, and of course he spent the 1960s in the National League. He spent a season in the American League, but played terribly so that's not likely to help him much. He's also spent the last 12 years as a radio broadcaster for the Cubs, and that should help him.
Gil Hodges was a big RBI man in the National League in the 1950s, but perhaps just as important, he managed in both the American League and the National in the 1960s, so a great many of the current Veterans Committeemen saw him up close and personal. And of course, Hodges was highly respected around the game.
Dick Allen had some problems staying in the lineup, and was regarded by many as something of a problem child. But when he did play, he absolutely murdered the ol' horsehide. We might, if only halfway accurately, describe Allen as an early version of Gary Sheffield. Allen spent most of the 1960s in the National League, and he also played four seasons in the American League (and won the MVP in one of them). And while it's true that a lot of people didn't like Allen -- which certainly won't help him with the broadcasters and the writers -- it's also true that a lot of Allen's teammates did like him.
I don't think that Dick Allen will make it, but he'll do better than most on the ballot ... and you see, that's the rub. Yesterday I asked six learned baseball fans who would be elected by the Veterans Committee in 2003.
Two of them said, "Ron Santo."
Four of them said, "Nobody."
And I think that's about right. I think that Santo has something like a 1-in-3 chance of finally making it ... and I think there's something like a 2-in-3 chance that nobody makes it. Because that 75-percent standard is going to be very, very tough for anyone to meet. With the old Veterans Committee, 13 or 14 old men would go into a big room and get to horse-trading. You vote for my guy this year, and I'll vote for your guy next year. Everybody's happy because everybody gets to eventually get their buddies into the Hall of Fame.
Well, no longer. While politicking won't be impossible -- Joe Morgan politicks on national TV all the time for Dave Concepcion and others, because that's part of his job -- it won't be like it was. There won't be any vote-trading, and there will be relatively few personal appeals on the behalf of old friends.
Is the new system perfect? Of course not. Bad Bill Dahlen's out of the running now, and so is Parisian Bob Caruthers and Pebbly Jack Glasscock and Carl Mays and just about anyone else that didn't play in a league with Joe Morgan or Harmon Killebrew. And yes, it would be nice if Bob Costas were a part of the process. Or Bill James. Or Whitey Herzog. Or John Thorn. Or Jon Miller. Or, God forbid, Rob Neyer.
That said, a system that might (or might not) give us Ron Santo and Dick Allen is immensely preferable to a system that did give us Vic Willis and Phil Rizzuto and Hack Wilson.
I fear that it won't last, though. What happens if the Veterans Committee doesn't elect anyone in 2003, and then again in 2005? The Hall will lower the percentage from 75 to a number that will likely result in at least one player being elected every two (or perhaps four) years. Quite simply, the Hall of Fame isn't interested in conducting elections without winners. It's just bad business.
But it's probably OK if the number drops to 70 or 65 percent. There are a few players ignored by the BBWAA who shouldn't be. Always have been, always will be. Pee Wee Reese was a great player, and he had to wait for the Veterans Committee to elect him. Arky Vaughan had to wait, and so did Home Run Baker. And yes, Ron Santo should probably be in the Hall of Fame, even if his career was a little short. Maybe Dick Allen should be in there, too. And as the years pass, other candidates overlooked by the BBWAA will come before the Veterans Committee, and a few will get their pass.
But just a few. And of course, that's the way it should be.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season and irregularly in the offseason. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.