Temporary HOF Changes! No, I mean "Contemporary"
OK, so the Baseball Hall of Fame changed things up on the veterans committees. Again. The Hall of Fame is harder to keep up with than “Succession.” Before we get into the changes, let’s take a quick look at the history of the Hall of Fame veterans committees. I’ve done this before, so if some of this sounds familiar, well, hey, good memory.
The veterans committee as we understand it met for the first time in 1953 — 11 committee members were given the charge of righting the wrongs of the BBWAA. And that first year, they elected six people into the Hall of Fame — two umpires (Bill Klem and Tommy Connolly), two executives (Yankees president and general manager Ed Barrow, and Harry Wright, who assembled and played for the famed 1869 Cincinnati Reds), and two players.
The two players were Bobby Wallace and Charles Bender. Wallace was a fine-fielding, turn-of-the-century shortstop who played FOREVER (25 years) and he remains one of the most anonymous players in the Hall of Fame.* Bender is probably better known as Chief — his nickname at the time because he was Native American — and he won 212 games and is probably best remembered (if remembered) for throwing three complete games in the 1911 World Series. It was unclear then, and even more unclear now, why those two players in particular were selected over so many others who seem more qualified.
*One fun fact about Bobby Wallace is that he was born in 1873 in Pittsburgh … and another shortstop, named Honus Wagner, was also born in 1873 in Pittsburgh.
But, hey, that vote was viewed as a success, and the committee met again in 1955 and put in two more players — Home Run Baker, a great player who was long overdue for election, and Ray Schalk, who was also a player.*
*Schalk was one of the three every-day players on the Black Sox who was not accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. Schalk and Eddie Collins are in the Hall of Fame. Can you name the third?
If you said Nemo Leibold — well, you’re a better person than I am.
The veterans committee met 11 times between 1957 and 1969 and they elected 24 people, 20 of them players. Over that same time, the Baseball Writers Association of America elected just six players. Most people didn’t notice what the veterans committee was doing, I suspect, because the big news was always the BBWAA election. But the Hall of Fame was now being shaped by the veterans committee.
And it would get more stark in the 1970s as Frankie Frisch became the committee’s most powerful voice. Between 1970 and Frisch’s death in 1973, the committee elected 16 more people, including his former teammates Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Ross Youngs and High Pockets Kelly. It was an absolute travesty — not even one of those players had received any significant support from the BBWAA and, being blunt, not one of those players was even close to Hall of Fame-worthy.
Over the next three years — perhaps in deference to Frisch — the committee elected two more of his former teammates, Jim Bottomley and Freddie Lindstrom.
The Hall of Fame then began to realize that this thing was getting away from them. In 1977, they limited the veterans committee to a maximum of two inductees in any year. And so the veterans committee put in two new people every year from 1977 through 1986, and over this confusing stretch they did, in my opinion, some of their best work, electing important and great players such as Johnny Mize, Arky Vaughan, Pee Wee Reese and Enos Slaughter. The committee also achieved its high point when it elected Negro leagues founder Rube Foster in 1981.
Yes, that was the first year that Buck O’Neil was on the committee.
But the committee also rather bizarrely elected catcher Rick Ferrell, who had never received more than one vote from the BBWAAA, along with shortstop Travis Jackson, another underqualified teammate of Frankie Frisch.
Looking at 20th century Hall of Fame position players, here are the ones with the fewest Wins Above Replacement:
High Pockets Kelly, 25.6
Freddie Lindstrom, 28.3
Lloyd Waner, 29.6
Rick Ferrell, 30.8
Chick Hafey, 31.2
All of them were veterans committee choices during that strange time.
Starting in 1995, the committee was given the power to elect more people, including a Negro leagues player every year. In 1995, they elected Negro leagues star Leon Day just weeks before his death. Over the next five years they would elect six more Negro leaguers: Bill Foster, Willie Wells, Bullet Rogan, Smokey Joe Williams, Turkey Stearnes and Hilton Smith, all truly great players.
Beyond that, they would, again, do some great work, filling voids by electing Jim Bunning, Richie Ashburn, Hal Newhouser, Orlando Cepeda and, in particular, Larry Doby. The fact that it took until 1999 for Larry Doby to get into the Hall of Fame is one of the BBWAA’s great shames, in my opinion, and it’s something I will be exploring in-depth in the near future (foreshadowing!).
But the committee finally committed what the Hall of Fame viewed as an unpardonable sin. In 2000, Bill Mazeroski fell one vote short of election by the committee. Maz was the best defensive second baseman of his day — perhaps of all time — and everybody liked him and he hit one of what in my upcoming book* I will call the Holy Trinity of Walkoff Homers. But he was also a well-below average hitter, and the key voter holdout, as the story goes, was Ted Williams himself.
Well in 2001, Williams was sick and couldn’t attend. And so the committee — and chairman Joe L. Brown, who was general manager of the Mazeroski Pirates — just bullied through, found the extra one vote, and elected Maz. Nobody should have been surprised. The committee had been electing buddies going all the way back to 1953.
But Maz was a bridge too far, apparently.
The Hall of Fame shut down the committee.
After Maz, the Hall of Fame decided to give the vote to the Hall of Famers themselves. In theory, this seems an excellent idea. In practice, yeah, not so much.
The Hall of Famers voted in 2003. More than 200 people were nominated for the first ballot, and it was trimmed down to 40 — 25 players and 15 contributors. The Hall of Famers voted by mail, and anyone who got 75% of the vote would be elected!
Nobody came even close.
So they tried it again in 2005. Again, the 200 nominees were reduced to 25 players on the ballot — this time there were no contributors. All a player had to do was get 75% of the vote and …
Right. Nobody came even close.
“The results of the last two elections show that the writers — by and large — have done a great job of electing players to the Hall of Fame,” chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark said.
That was certainly one interpretation. Another is that Henry Ted Jackie Mays Ruth Robinson himself would have trouble getting 75% agreement from the players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“If the vote were left strictly to former players,” Mike Downey wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “they might not let another soul in.”
But the Hall of Fame was not ready to give up on the idea. In fact, in 2007, they gave the players even MORE power. In the first two votes, the Hall had included winners of the Spink and Frick awards in the voting. In 2007, it was just the players.
Can you guess what happened? Twenty-five players on the ballot. Fifteen contributors. Guess who got in!
Right. Nobody got in again.
OK, let’s try this thing one more time. In 2009, the Hall of Fame once again had only the Hall of Famers vote, but this time they reduced the ballot down to 10 players, each who played after 1943. They were putting the ball on a tee for the Hall of Famers this time. You couldn’t help but wonder if they included in the instructions, “Hey, how about voting for Ron Santo, huh? He’s dying, and you almost voted him in the last time. Come on, can you work with us here?
You know what happened. Nobody got in. Santo’s vote total actually went DOWN. He died a year later.
And thus ended the experiment of having the Hall of Famers vote for the Hall of Fame.
OK, now we enter the next phase of Hall of Fame veterans voting — the committees! Hold on tight, because it can get a bit confusing.
2009: There was a pre-1943 committee with 12 members on it. They voted in Joe Gordon.
2010: They were two committees, one for managers and umpires and the other for executives. The first managers/umpires committee voted in Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey. The executives’ committee didn’t vote in anybody, not even Marvin Miller.
2011: Now there was something called the Expansion Era committee, and their ballot included players, managers and executives who made their greatest contributions after 1973. The committee voted in the great general manager Pat Gillick. They passed on everyone else, including Marvin Miller.
2012: And now we move on to the Golden Era Committee, which voted on people who made their greatest contributions between 1947 and 1972. They finally voted in Ron Santo.
2013: In one of the more boneheaded moves the Hall of Fame has ever made, the committee that met in 2013 was called the “Pre-Integration Committee.” This committee voted on people who made their greatest contributions pre-integration — but only WHITE people, because Negro leaguers were not eligible. (The Hall of Fame had put together a Negro Leagues Committee back in 2006, with the intention of closing the book on the Negro leagues.)
That was an own-goal, to say the least, but the first Pre-Integration Committee did vote in three ancients — umpire Hank O’Day, former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, and 19th century catcher Deacon White.
2014: Back to the Expansion Era, and the group elected three managers from the Steroid Era, each unanimously — Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
2015: Back to the Golden Era — and nobody was elected. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva each fell one vote short.
2016: Back to the Pre-Integration Committee, who again did not look at Negro leaguers. They didn’t vote in anybody, not even Doc Adams, who, honestly, if you had to pick a true “Father of Modern Base Ball,” well, Doc Adams has a much better case than Alexander Cartwright, who has those words written on his Hall of Fame plaque.
2017: OK, now the Hall of Fame changed the committee names (thank goodness), but the Today’s Game Committee really didn’t do anything different from the previous ones. If you will notice, from 2010 to 2016, the various committees tried hard to avoid voting in actual players. And the Today’s Era Committee didn’t vote for a player, either, instead choosing two Steroid Era executives, John Schuerholz and commissioner Bud Selig.
2018: I think, finally, the Hall of Fame had enough. I don’t know what was said behind closed doors, but something definitely changed this year with what was now called the “Modern Era Committee.” The committee voted in TWO players, former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell. It was like the old days of the veterans committees! And it was about to become even more like the old days.
2019: Back to the Today’s Era Committee, and two more players were elected — Lee Smith and Harold Baines. The Baines selection was a shocker, though perhaps it should not have been, since the committee seemed tailor-made to elect Baines as it included his old manager, Tony La Russa, his old team owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, his old general manager, Pat Gillick, and a former teammate, Roberto Alomar. Cronyism was back!
2020: Back to the Modern Era Committee, and this time they finally did elect Marvin Miller. Of course by this point, Miller was dead — his dying wish being to not get elected to the Hall of Fame — but, hey, it’s not easy to get the timing right. The committee also voted in catcher Ted Simmons, an excellent choice in my view.
2022: The committees did not meet in 2021 because of COVID, so you had two committees meeting in 2022 — the Golden Day Era Committee and the Early Baseball Era Committee. By now the Hall of Fame had wisely decided to include Negro leaguers on the ballots.
In all, six people were elected — Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler were elected by Early Baseball, and Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva were elected by Golden Days. It was a wonderful day for many of us, but you had to wonder what the impact would be of six new people getting elected to the Hall of Fame. The Hall usually reacts when that many people go in all at once.
So now let’s check out the new rules!
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OK, so throw out all the old names. First thing is that there are now TWO eras and only two eras.
There’s the Contemporary Baseball Era, which includes everything from 1980 on.
And there’s the Classic Baseball Era, which includes everything before 1980.
All right. Starting this January, the committees will rotate as follows:
2023: Contemporary Era — PLAYERS
2024: Contemporary Era — MANAGERS, EXECUTIVES, UMPIRES
2025: Classic Era — EVERYBODY
And then you start again with players from the Contemporary Era.
So what’s the point? Well, I think there are two points. The first is that the Hall is now ready to, well, not exactly CLOSE the book on the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but at least put that book down for a while. Over the last few years, a few of the icons of those decades — Miñoso, Kaat, Hodges, Oliva and Simmons — have been elected, and even though there are still a couple of good players left from that time (particularly Dick Allen), I think the Hall is ready to focus attention on the 1980s and early 1990s icons who are not in the Hall, players like Fred McGriff, Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, Keith Hernandez, Dale Murphy, Dave Stieb, maybe Bret Saberhagen and Orel Hershiser and Kenny Lofton too.
The second point, I believe, is this: The Hall of Fame knows what’s coming. Now that the BBWAA ballot has basically been cleared of the original steroid gang, people will be looking hard at the veterans committees to see if they will show any movement at all on electing those guys, particularly Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. By doing it this way, the Hall can at least make that a once-every-three-year discussion rather than having it be an every-year thing like it has been for the last decade.
I’ll finish with this: It cannot be easy running the Baseball Hall of Fame. You have to try and balance history with what MLB wants with what fans want with sponsor requests with the living Hall of Famers’ interests … it’s an intricate puzzle, to say the least.
Consider Barry Bonds.
If he ever gets elected, there will be an outcry.
And every year he doesn’t get elected, there will be an outcry.
In other words, there’s no answer that will please everybody. So what can you do? I guess you just keep creating committees and hope for the best. This is the price of being the one sports Hall of Fame that people really care about.