The HOF Review
On Sunday, the Modern Era Baseball Committee voted union leader Marvin Miller and eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons into the Hall of Fame. Before I dive into all the thoughts, let’s take a quick look at the voting.
There were 16 members for on the Modern Era Baseball Committee:
Executives and owners
And the voting went as follows:
Ted Simmons, 13 votes
Marvin Miller, 12 votes
Dwight Evans, 8 votes
Dave Parker, 7 votes
Steve Garvey, 6 votes
Lou Whitaker, 6 votes
Received 3 or fewer votes
The Miller Conundrum
Before the election, I wrote at some length about the vexing question: What do you do about Marvin Miller? He obviously should be in the Hall of Fame; he should have been elected decades ago. He’s one of the most influential people in the history of baseball.
But he was not elected while he was alive and in his final years he made it unmistakably clear that he did not want to be elected after he died. He left specific instructions for his family and friends to take no part if he was, in fact, elected against his wishes. He did not want any of his friends to speak on his behalf. He did not want his family to attend the ceremony or lend it any credence at all. He could not possibly have been misunderstood.
And now he has been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Word is that his family, indeed, will not attend, which could make for an awkward ceremony. His son Peter says that his father told him his wishes “many, many times.” His daughter Susan told the Associated Press, “it would have been a great honor 20 years ago.” It is unclear who, if anyone, will speak on Miller’s behalf. Perhaps the Hall of Fame will just play back some old interviews Marvin Miller gave, which might be the best that they can do.
On the one hand, Miller’s impact on the game should be honored and remembered forever. His induction to the Hall of Fame is right. Future generations should see his name in the plaque room with the other people who made baseball what it is.
On the other hand, it should not have happened like this — it feels like half-an-honor considering that Miller lived to be 95 years old. There was plenty of time for him to be celebrated while he was still living. It feels now as if baseball people are happy to put him in the Hall but did not want to give him the big pulpit to speak. And that is definitely bittersweet.
Speaking of bittersweet: It was great to see the Hall of Fame committee vote in Ted Simmons, but there is also something a little bit off about it. I’ve been thinking about what it is, and it’s hard to describe. Let me see if I can do it.
First, let’s state that Simmons has a very good Hall of Fame argument. At his retirement, he led all catchers in hits and doubles (since passed by Ivan Rodriguez) and was second in RBIs (to Yogi Berra). As baseball guru Bill Deane asked: Could you even imagine the modern hit leader at ANY OTHER POSITION not being elected to the Hall of Fame (assuming he is eligible)?
1B: Eddie Murray
2B: Eddie Collins
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Adrian Beltre
LF: Carl Yastrzemski
CF: Ty Cobb
RF: Henry Aaron
So, yes, through that lens, it’s flat out bizarre that Simmons simply fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. The thinking apparently was that Simmons was a poor defensive catcher (which probably wasn’t true), that he never had a season where he was one of the five best players in the league (you could make that argument either way) and that he was never even one of the three best catchers of his own time (true but unfair because it was a historical fluke to have Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Ted Simmons all come along around the same time).
In any case, Simmons deserved better than that. He deserved 15 (now 10) years on the ballot to let his case be sorted out. He didn’t get that, and so he was mostly forgotten as a Hall of Fame candidate. He was brought back on a veteran’s committee ballot in 2011 and didn’t receive enough votes to register (the Hall of Fame only announces the vote totals for those above a certain threshold). He appeared again in 2014 and again didn’t received enough votes to register.
But in 2018, he made a huge jump forward and finished just one vote shy of election. Seven of the 16 members of that committee were on this year’s committee, including David Glass who was a diehard Cardinals fan when Simmons played for St. Louis and Simmons’ former teammate in Milwaukee, Robin Yount. I don’t know what role they played in promoting Simmons behind closed doors. but it’s good to have supporters in that room.
And this time he was voted in.
That’s a good thing. This is not a Harold Baines election — Baines, while a good player, was simply not a reasonable Hall of Fame choice. Simmons has a strong case.
No, what feels off is: Why Simmons? Why was HE the guy chosen on this loaded ballot?
Was he the best player on the ballot? Certainly not. Would anyone have traded an in-his-prime Dale Murphy or Dave Parker for Simmons? Did he have the best overall career? Certainly not. By WAR, Lou Whitaker (75/68 WAR), Tommy John (62/79 WAR) and Dwight Evans (67/65 WAR) all trump Simmons (50/54 by a substantial amount).
It’s not entirely clear that Simmons was even the best catcher on the ballot. Thurman Munson was about as good a hitter, a superior defender, he made seven All-Star Games himself despite his premature death at 32, he won an MVP award and he was widely viewed as the fierce leader of the World Series champion Yankees of the late 1970s. It’s pretty close between those two.
So the whole process feels just a bit … confusing? Is that the right word? I’m not sure exactly what happened or why it happened. This whole thing feels a bit random. Over the last three years, committees like this have elected Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Harold Baines and Ted Simmons. What connects them? What standards are the voters using?
I mean, look: Trammell was a terrific and under-appreciated Gold Glove-winning middle-infielder with an impressive career WAR. And that’s EXACTLY Lou Whitaker’s story. I don’t see how you separate them — for 20 years, nobody ever did.*
*You COULD make the argument that Trammell has a better Hall of Fame case because he had a couple bigger seasons (he should have won the MVP in 1987 and could have won it in 1984). But you could make just as compelling argument that Whitaker has the better Hall of Fame case because he had a higher career on-base percentage, higher career slugging percentage, he hit more doubles, triples, homers, scored more runs, drove in more runs, etc. But this is the point — it doesn't make sense to argue which was better because they were, more than any two players in baseball history, a team. It’s like arguing whether Abbott or Costello, Cheech or Chong, Tina Fey or Amy Poehler is funnier — it doesn’t matter. It’s mind-bending trying to figure out why Trammell was elected but not Whitaker.
But beyond Whitaker-Trammell, how could a committee vote in Harold Baines and not Dave Parker, who was the player managers hoped Baines could be? Why Ted Simmons over two-time MVP and 1980s icon Dale Murphy? How is Jack Morris a Hall of Famer while Tommy John is not?
I’m not saying there are not answers to these questions — I’m sure we can all come up with answer. I’m saying that these Hall of Fame committees seem haphazard and erratic. People complain all the time about the BBWAA, and there are reasons to complain, but there’s a transparency there. This is just, yeah, confusing. I’m happy Ted Simmons was elected, I really am. But I don’t know why he was elected over the others.
You know who was a winner in this vote? Dwight Evans. It seemed like he had been all but forgotten after he fell off the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 1999. That was a rough ballot for Hall of Fame candidates, by the way. Three legends — George Brett, Robin Yount and Nolan Ryan — all came on the ballot along with Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy. They took up so much oxygen that everybody else took a step down.
Jim Rice dropped from 43% to 29%.
Gary Carter dropped from 42% to 34%
Tony Perez dropped from 68% to 60%
Steve Garvey dropped from 41% to 30%
Bruce Sutter dropped from 31% to 24%
Dave Parker dropped from 25% to 16%
Some regained momentum. Others did not. And Dwight Evans fell off the ballot. It was just one of those timing things. Dewey also dropped out of Hall of Fame conversations for the most part. He was not on any of the Veterans' Committee ballots before this year.
But this year, he not only made it on the ballot but he got eight votes, the most of any player not elected, and that puts him in amazing shape to get elected the next time Modern Era Committee meets. That’s great news: Evans was a wonderful player. He got on base. He hit with power. He played great defense in one of the toughest outfield spots in baseball — right field at Fenway Park. And he had one of the greatest arms in the game’s history.
If you look at WAR between 1969-1994 (which makes more sense to me as an era than the Modern Era’s 1970-1987), Evans ranks third among all outfielders.
Rickey Henderson, 98.9
Reggie Jackson, 69.3
Dwight Evans, 67.1
That puts him ahead of contemporary Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Harold Baines.
One way I look at the Hall of Fame is to think: Who are the best positional candidates not in the Hall of Fame (who are eligible and not being kept out because of PEDs)? My Top 10 in alphabetical order might look something like this:
That’s not in stone. I could be talked into any number of others — McGriff, Mattingly, Allen, Parker, Boyer, Helton, Nettles, etc. — but my point is that Evans is definitely on my list. And his Hall of Fame case is moving! Good stuff.
A few words about my friend Dale Murphy: I cannot for the life of me understand why he cannot get any momentum in these votes.
I’m not saying he should have been elected this time around — I didn’t expect that — but he got three or fewer votes. And I don’t get it. It’s true that there’s nobody on the committee who seems like an obvious connection for him — no Joe Torre, for example. But I mean, Brett, Ozzie, Eck, Yount, Murray, Carew, these guys all played in Murph’s time. All the executives saw him play at his best. The media people too. I don’t quite get it, unless they just didn’t see his greatness the way I and so many other fans did.
Murph’s career was too short. He declined too quickly. But he was at the top of the game for an extended period of time — he’s the only two-time MVP on this list — and he represented the game with grace and dignity. At his best, I would take him over the best of any other player on this ballot, with the possible exception of Dave Parker.
I’m just sad that the committee doesn’t see Dale Murphy the way I do.
I'll take Costello, Cheech and Fey.
Joe- I agree with your comments on Murphy. I think the challenge is to recall what everyone thought of the player at the time and they veterans on the committee should be able to do that. They should remember that for a period of time, Dale Murphy was the consensus best outfielder in baseball. Yes, he played on bad Braves teams, but he was fantastic.
This is particularly true of guys like Murray, whose career stats seem to scream "longevity without excellence", who never led the league in anything and never won an MVP. But, those of us who were alive know that for a while, Murray carried that mantle of the "most feared hitter in baseball", the guy you did not want to face in the 9th inning with runners on base, they guy they invented the awkward "Game Winning RBI" stat to track his exploits. I think they just need to figure out a way to remember the excellence of their peers and a chunk of these guys will show up as deserving as we remember them to be.