One Baseball Hall of Fame election ended last week, and another began this week.
In the holy name of Cooperstown, that’s two elections, three ballots -- with candidates ranging from Eddie Murray to Marvin Miller -- and two basically different electorates.
Well, who needs the wearying Pete Rose debate clouding the process when even the most devout Cooperstown followers are having trouble sorting out the reorganization of the Veterans Committee and its voting system?
This revamped phase of the election should ultimately lead to a fairer examination -- and reexamination in many cases -- of a larger number of former players, executives, managers and umpires who would not otherwise have received a first or second shot at admission.
It’s an admirable goal, but in the initial year of the new system, a significant number of perplexed readers keeps asking, “Who’s voting for whom, and when?”
In the interest of clarity -- if possible -- and with full service in mind, here’s how it works:
* There were no changes in the annual December election of eligible players by eligible members -- 10 years or more of membership -- of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. Those players who received 75% of the votes in balloting that ended last week will be announced Tuesday and inducted at Cooperstown in midsummer.
The ballot that is mailed to eligible writers in early December is determined by a screening committee of the BBWAA and the subsequent results of the annual elections. A player must be retired for five years before becoming eligible and can stay on the ballot for 15 years if he receives 5% of the vote each year. The five-year rule has been waived when a player dies while still active, such as Roberto Clemente or Darryl Kile, who was among 33 players on the December ballot.
Among the players who appeared on that ballot for the first time and were considered the leading candidates for election were Murray, who compiled 3,255 hits and 504 home runs during his 21-year career; Gold Glove second baseman Ryne Sandberg, whose 16-year credentials -- besides a glittering array of defensive records -- include 2,386 hits, 1,061 runs batted in and 277 home runs, the major league record at his position, and closer Lee Smith, whose 478 saves are a major league record.
The leading candidate among players who remained on the ballot by receiving at least 5% of 2001’s 472 votes is Gary Carter. The former catcher, in what was his fifth year of eligibility, just missed the required 75%, receiving 343 votes or 72.7%. Carter should have cleared the threshold this time if his total continued to improve, although it remains a mystery why some voters conclude that a player becomes more deserving in his later years of eligibility than his first, as if somehow he’d enhanced his career credentials in that time.
* The Hall mailed two ballots to each of the 84 members of the new and expanded Veterans Committee this week. One ballot included the names of 26 former players, the other the names of 15 former officials, managers and umpires -- well, one umpire, Doug Harvey. Similar to the BBWAA December election, committee members can vote for up to 10 people on each ballot. Voting ends Jan. 24, with those receiving 75% of the vote announced Feb. 26 and inducted with the BBWAA winner or winners in midsummer.
A former Committee on Baseball Veterans was established in 1953, met annually from 1961 until 2001, and elected 101 members to the Hall. In its last meeting in March 2001, the committee elected Bill Mazeroski, from the category of former players, and Hilton Smith, from the special ballot for Negro League stars. It did not elect anyone from the composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and Negro Leaguers, nor did it elect anyone from the special ballot for 19th century players.
That committee comprised 15 former players -- such as Ted Williams and Yogi Berra -- executives and writers, met in closed-door sessions, and, in the view of many close to the process, was vulnerable to old-boy friendships and relationships when it came to voting.
Said Jeff Idelson, the Hall’s vice president of communications, “I don’t think anyone felt the elections were fixed, but there was definitely the perception at times of bias. There were no specific calls for change, but it was something we had looked at for several years.
“We wanted to create a much more open process that would maintain the higher standards, mimic the BBWAA election and bring back the eligibility of a number of players who had forever lost it or were never considered. The fan response has been terrific.”
The new committee comprises the 58 living members of the Hall, the 13 broadcasters who have entered the Hall as recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award, the 11 writers who have entered as recipients of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award -- those writers are the only people eligible to vote in both the BBWAA and veterans’ elections -- and two members of the previous veterans’ committee whose terms had not expired, former executive John McHale and former broadcaster Ken Coleman.
Said Buzzie Bavasi, a former Dodger and Angel executive who was a member of the old veterans’ committee and is now up for election on the composite ballot of former executives, managers and umpires, “Our committee was great for 20 years, then it became too political. I like the idea of the players participating because they know the players better than anyone. I just worry that they may put too many people in. Our committee could elect just one from each category. The Hall was created for great players, not just good players. Now it seems that if you hit .300, you’re in.”
Although the previous committee was handicapped by a catalog of narrowing rules -- any player who had not received 5% of the vote in a BBWAA election, for instance, could never be considered again -- now every player who has 10 years of major league experience, excluding those on the ineligible list, such as Rose, or those still being considered by the BBWAA -- is forever eligible in the veterans’ voting, although the committee will vote on players only every other year and on officials, managers and umpires every four years.
The current process is the result of a long screening process by committees of the BBWAA and historians appointed by the BBWAA’s board of directors. More than 1,500 players were considered, along with managers, executives and umpires, and it is difficult to predict how a committee dominated by peers of many of the players -- almost all having been rejected in their years on the BBWAA ballot -- will vote.
Among the former players getting second chances are Dick Allen, Curt Flood, Joe Gordon, Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, Don Newcombe, Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Joe Torre and Maury Wills.
As a Spink recipient, I am carefully weighing my veterans’ committee ballots after having just voted in the BBWAA election.
Although we are asked not to reveal our selections before the results are announced, it can be assumed that I still believe Hodges, Santo and the game-changing Wills are deserving of induction, as I did during their years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot.
The composite ballot of former executives, managers and umpires features an eclectic group that includes former owners Walter O’Malley, Charles O. Finley, Phil Wrigley and August Busch Jr.; former executives Bavasi and Harry Dalton; former managers Billy Martin, Dick Williams and Whitey Herzog; former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and the union icon, Miller, who may have had a more significant impact on the industry than any candidate on either ballot over the last 35 years.
Will all 58 members of the Hall support their former union chief?
That’s only one of several intriguing questions in the new and complex process.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
VETERANS COMMITTEE BALLOTS
The 84 members of the Veterans Committee may vote for up to 10 candidates on each ballot. Those getting at least 75% of the votes will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July. Results of the Veterans Committee voting will be released Feb. 26.
Mike G. Marshall
Ken R. Williams
*--* COMPOSITE BALLOT
August Busch Jr.
Charles O. Finley