It's Hall of Fame Season!
Yes, baseball season just ended … but as you probably know, for me it’s only just beginning. It’s Hall of Fame season! For the next two months or so, I’ll be writing up the Baseball Hall of Fame top to bottom, every candidate, every argument, it’s going to be a lot of fun (and a lot of words).
We’ll begin this week with the veterans committee candidates — the players in the Early Baseball Era Committee and candidates from the Golden Days Era Committee. That’s 20 players in all, every one of them fascinating.
So, for your enjoyment, I’ll write about all 20 in the order that I’d put them in the Hall of Fame.
It’s no secret that there are two very special candidates for me on the ballot this year. I am not going to highlight them now, but I’m sure you’ll be able to pick them out.
The Early Baseball Era ballot is filled with Negro leagues players — seven of the 10 are from the Negro leagues. This is just as it should be. The Negro leagues players, in alphabetical order, are: John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Home Run Johnson, Buck O’Neil, Cannonball Redding and George Scales. Well, technically, Bud Fowler preceded the Negro leagues — he is widely considered to be the first African-American player to play organized baseball. He has an incredible story, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
The three major league players* on the list are Bill Dahlen, Lefty O’Doul and Allie Reynolds — again, each with a fascinating story.
*So, I’ve been struggling with this lately: Last year, MLB rightfully categorized the Negro leagues as “major league.” This was a powerful gesture and it has led to some really cool tangible things, such as Baseball-Reference including Negro leagues stats in major league searches. There is no doubt that this is excellent; the other day I searched for catcher stats and players like Josh Gibson, Double Duty Radcliffe and Biz Mackey popped up. It’s a beautiful reminder of their place in baseball history.
But sometimes, like in this paragraph, I’m writing about MLB history … and so when I write “The three major league players on the list,” it seems weird since the Negro leagues were definitely a major league. I guess that’s the confusion with the vague term “major league baseball” and the specific “Major League Baseball.” Maybe the capitalized “Major League Baseball,” should refer to the American and National League only?
Then we jump to the Golden Days ballot, which is especially interesting because there are several players on there who got SUPER close to being elected last time. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva both finished just one vote shy of election, and this is particularly sad in the case of Allen, who died in December. Jim Kaat finished two votes shy. Maury Wills fell three votes short and Minnie Miñoso fell four votes short (Miñoso died less than three months later).
All five of those players are on the ballot again this year.
In addition, there’s Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Roger Maris and Billy Pierce, along with former Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh. Again, all five had incredible careers and fascinating stories.
I’ll get into the specifics as we go — from No. 20 to No. 1 on my list — but we should probably talk a little about the math first. I wrote about this back in 2014, the last time the Golden Era Ballot committee got together: The way the Hall does this is a mathematical trap.
Here’s what I mean: There are 16 members of each committee. That means that 12 have to vote for a player — 12 of 16 is 75%, which is the magic number as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. This seems simple and straightforward enough.
BUT … it isn’t. It might be straightforward if the voters were allowed to have a simple yes/no vote on each player … but that’s not how it works. Instead, the voters are only allowed to vote for four players.
Again, this sounds logical enough: It seems unlikely that anybody would vote for MORE than four people … I mean, these are all candidates who have been considered before, some of them have been considered MANY times before. All of this feels logical.
But then, math is hard. See, by limiting each person to four votes, you have allocated only 64 votes among the 10 candidates. Basic calculation tells you that if you had 10 equally compelling candidates, and each of the voters used all four of their votes, that would mean each person would get six votes, well shy of election.
But dig deeper and it gets even more dire than that, as Tom Tango explains. If you have 10 equal candidates, that means that each candidate has a 40% chance of being picked on one ballot. And a player with a 40% chance of being picked on one ballot has a 1-in-200 chance of getting 75% of the vote. It just isn’t going to happen.
And it didn’t happen in 2014 — even though the voters more or less disregarded Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant*, there STILL were not enough votes left to get a single player elected.
*I’m a little bit heartbroken that Tiant was left off this year’s ballot, replaced by Roger Maris. But I’ll bet he did not get a single vote in 2014, and while I STRONGLY disagree with that and believe he has a very strong Hall of Fame argument, I do understand reality.
In order for one or more players to get elected in one of these mathematical corn mazes, the voters basically have to decide that six or seven of the candidates are unworthy of their vote. That’s what happened in the Today’s Game Era vote of 2016, when the voters decided that none of the players on the ballot (Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser and Mark McGwire) were compelling candidates. they also showed little interest in the cases of George Steinbrenner and Davey Johnson. That allowed them to vote in two people — Braves executive John Schuerholz and former commissioner Bud Selig.
And then, interestingly enough, the Today’s Game committee again showed no interest at all in Belle, Clark, Hershiser, Johnson or Steinbrenner, were not swayed by the cases of new additions Joe Carter or Charlie Manuel. And that led to them electing Lee Smith and, bizarrely, Harold Baines, who had gotten almost no support two years earlier.
Point is, for there to be any movement this year, there will need to be some losers as well as winners.
For me, that’s particularly worrisome for the Early Baseball Era ballot. There are seven Negro leaguers on the ballot who have not had their cases heard since 2006. Lefty O’Doul is really fascinating because he has not really been considered for the Hall of Fame in several decades. Allie Reynolds and Bill Dahlen both have had their supporters in the past.
Split vote? Oh yeah, it’s an extreme possibility.
And I don’t know if my heart can take another Buck O’Neil disappointment.
But, again, we’ll come back to that over the next three weeks. Hope you come along for the ride.