This Club Tougher to Join Than Augusta

As a member of the Hall of Fame's new veterans committee by virtue of my 2001 inclusion in the writers' wing at Cooperstown, I know two things:

It is far better to have your mug displayed in a museum than a post office, and I don't need a second election cycle to conclude that the committee is unlikely to elect anyone -- ever.

A premature evaluation?

Perhaps, but it appears that a committee now largely made up of Hall of Fame players has retained the rigidly high standards of the balloting baseball writers compounded by an unwillingness to let even a degree of indebtedness interfere with their selectivity.

Indeed, the rejection of the 26 names on the players ballot might not have been the surprise (the eligible players, after all, had previously endured 15 years of rejection from the writers) that the dismissal of former union leader Marvin Miller was.

Among 15 former executives, managers and umpires on the composite ballot, Miller received only 35 votes (25 shy of what he needed) from a committee that included 53 former players, 41 of whom were active for a time during a tenure in which Miller made his union the strongest in the country, pumped up his constituents' salaries and pension plan to a point where the union's benefit package may be the country's strongest as well, and significantly affected the game's history.

Said a Hall of Fame pitcher who refused to be identified: "I think a lot of players were just getting a feel for the process this year. Some may think that non-players don't belong in the Hall at all, but most recognize what Marvin has meant. He should be elected eventually. You also have to remember that it's not just players who are voting."

As a non-player (unless over-the-line counts), how could I forget? The committee includes four Hall of Fame managers, a Hall of Fame executive (Lee MacPhail), 25 writers and broadcasters who have received Hall associated awards and two members of the previous committee.

Nevertheless, if Miller had received all or even a larger percentage of the player votes, he would have been elected. Many of those players are living off the fruits of Miller's labor, but he finished only third in the composite ballot voting behind umpire Doug Harvey and former Dodger owner Walter O'Malley, who also created a financial legacy for the players (in addition to his family) through his pioneering migration to the West Coast, ultimately leading to widespread expansion and the creation of hundreds of jobs.

The deserving O'Malley, however, needed 22 more votes to be elected, and now he and Miller must wait four more years until the composite ballot goes to the committee again, and it seems evident they may not receive any more support from this player-dominated committee than they did from its smaller predecessor, a committee dominated by former executives who may have harbored long festering antipathy regarding Miller's union role and O'Malley's influence on the game's power structure.

Much, of course, had been made about the changing form and format of the committee, raising expectations among those on both the composite and, particularly, the player ballots that there was a greater opportunity for election with peers voting.

The expectations proved unfortunate and unfounded, compounding the disappointment for players such as Ron Santo and Maury Wills, as well as the family of Gil Hodges. In retrospect, the process probably should have come with a warning, because there was no realistic reason to think the committee would weigh the players' credentials any differently than the writers had during their initial 15 years of eligibility. Similarly, there is no realistic reason to think there will be a groundswell of support when the players come up for vote again in two years.

Putting personal preferences aside (I voted for and believe that Hodges, Santo and Wills deserve to be elected), the committee simply validated -- and is likely to continue validating -- the conscientious and selective approach that eligible members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America have brought to the privilege of serving as the Hall's primary locksmiths.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, a member of the Hall's board of directors and an architect of the new committee, alluded to the committee's rejection of players previously rejected by the writers and said:

"Maybe not as many [players have fallen] through the cracks as people think. We think there have been some, but maybe there haven't been any. Maybe the writers have done a pretty good job."

Maybe? Well, as ESPN's Jayson Stark put it in his Internet column: What the writers have done (over the years) is what writers are supposed to do: get it right.

If that seems to have been taken for granted at times, it was clearly endorsed by the committee and many of those 58 Hall members, protective of their exclusive club and quietly angered at times by the perceived cronyism of the previous committee and its frequent election of a player deemed to have fringe credentials.

The muttering was loudest after the 2001 election of the brilliant-fielding but limited-hitting Bill Mazeroski, the death knell for the former committee.

As Morgan noted in a conference call after the election's non-results were announced Thursday:

"One very important thing that [Hall] players look at is that they feel it's very important that the player sitting beside them [in Cooperstown] truly deserves being there."

No kidding.

It is even evident that a significant number of Hall players would prefer that their former union leader and benefactor wasn't sitting next to them, seemingly ample proof it might be impossible for anyone to be elected through this veterans committee.

Buzzie Applauds

Was it a bad thing that the veterans committee failed to elect anyone?

Not at all, said Buzzie Bavasi, who might have the best perspective of all.

He was twice a member of the old committee and admits it was subject to bias and lobbying. He was also one of the 15 people on the composite ballot, a longtime general manager with the Dodgers and Angels who finished fourth in the voting and deserved better, although he wasn't disappointed.

"Not at all," he said, from his La Jolla home. "Just to be nominated was enough of an honor."

And the overall vote?

"I felt badly that [Hodges] didn't get in again, but [the outcome] proved my point and [former commissioner] Ford Frick's point when he founded the Hall," Bavasi said.

"This is the most exclusive club in the world and that's the way it should be. The Hall is for the great players, not just the good players, and this proved again that you guys [writers] get it right.

"I mean, the fact that no one was elected has no significance at all other than to support the way the writers go about it and to support the real intent of the Hall."

On Losing Hoffy

How dominant and resilient has Trevor Hoffman been as the San Diego Padre closer?

Consider that Manager Bruce Bochy hasn't summoned any other on a regular or semi-regular basis since he was managing in double A in 1992.

Consider that Hoffman, since joining the Padres on June 24, 1993, has won 43 games and saved 350, a remarkable 55% of his team's 710 victories.

Now, at 35, Hoffman is going on the disabled list for the first time to have his right collarbone shaved, not a common procedure for pitchers and a follow-up to his October labrum surgery.

He will be out until midseason at least, and the thought of his absence hasn't really set in yet, said General Manager Kevin Towers, who referred back to last year and added, "it will be kind of like going through our first year without Tony Gwynn."

More than that, for a team needing to secure those infrequent victories whenever the opportunities present themselves, it's a significant void, or as Phil Nevin, whose four years with the team represent the longest tenure among active Padres, put it: "It's a blow. We've got plenty of guys who can fill the role, but you can't replace him."

Boomer Backlash

Some aspects of David Wells' new book, citing rampant steroid and amphetamine use in the major leagues and revealing that he pitched his 1998 perfect game while nursing a hangover after a full night (and morning) of partying, has not sat well in the New York Yankee clubhouse, where Wells apologized to teammates Saturday.

Jason Giambi suggested it was one thing for Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti to discuss steroid use as retired players but a little more galling for Wells to do it while active, and "unless you're going to take a survey, why even comment on it? Unless you specifically know what everybody's doing, there's no reason to make an estimate" that tends to "categorize all of us."

Roger Clemens, in turn, called the hangover revelation an irresponsible example for young pitchers that should have been kept private -- if it's even true.

Clemens told New York reporters that his nickname for Wells is "Eli, as in he lie."

"Because," Clemens added, "if his story goes on for more than 30 seconds, he's lying."

The reports had Clemens kidding when he said it -- sort of.

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