"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice



Part One

There are several good articles on the Veterans Committee which have been published recently that are worth investigating.

The first, “A Brief History of the Veterans Committee,” written by Neal Traven for Baseball Prospectus, is a concise overview, and a great place to start, especially for those who aren’t one hundred percent sure what the Veterans Committee is all about.

Tom Verducci from SI, also wrote an insightful piece, delineating the newly revamped Veterans Committee’s selection process:

Give the Hall of Fame credit. Its purpose for re-engineering the Veterans Committee was noble. It wanted to end the back-room cronyism and bring more voices into play. Now 84 members will vote: 58 Hall of Famers, 13 Frick Award winners (those in the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall), 11 Spink Award winners (from the writers’ wing) and two members of the old committee whose terms have not yet expired. A player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain enshrinement. Great. But creating the ballot for the new committee proved troublesome.

First, the Hall, with help from Elias Sports Bureau, identified the more than 1,400 players who played at least 10 years in the big leagues, up to and including the 1981 season. A 10-person committee of writers and historians whittled that list to 200.

Next, a screening committee of 60 writers (two from each major league city with one team and four from those with two) was individually charged with voting for 25 players from that list of 200. I served on that committee, and it was the most difficult assignment I had all year…

Remember that cheesy promotion last season when fans were asked to vote for the 10 greatest moments in baseball history? The voting populace, many of whom used the Internet to cast their ballot, had no sense of history. Basically, if they didn’t see it on SportsCenter, people didn’t vote for it. That’s why Kirk Gibson’s home run made the top 10 and Bobby Thomson’s didn’t, among other short-sighted mistakes.

That same lack of perspective — or worse, was it laziness? — poisoned the screening committee results. Hey, with 200 names, the 25-slice pie could have been cut many ways. There is no “right” outcome. But we do know more historical balance was needed. To virtually disregard the first three-quarters of a century of baseball is wrong, if not shameful.

Moreover, the Hall of Fame asked six of its former players to serve as another sort of screening committee. They were charged with picking five players from the list of 200. Four of the five players they selected were on the writers’ ballot. Their fifth choice, while not identified, was added to the other 25, putting the ballot at 26.
And that’s how just about everybody who retired before 1950 got hosed. Of the 26 who made the final cut:

none retired prior to 1929.

only four played their entire careers before World War II.

19 played in the 1960s.

Now, falling through another crack, are those old-timers who don’t show up on the radar of the screening committee. And after this well-intentioned process, the fear is that they are gone for good.

Sadly, there aren’t many true veterans on either ballot for the Veterans Committee to consider. The Veterans Committee has been revamped all right. They ought to call it the Baby Boomer Committee now.

Marc Hugunin applied Bill James’ Kelter List to the group of twenty-six players up for consideration by the Veterans Committee over at Baseball Primer. For general reference, those questions are as follows:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

2. Was he the best player on his team?

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

OK, those are the questions, here is Hugunin’s conclusion:

It has been suggested that questions #1 and 6 are the only ones that really matter in HoF voting. In the case of the veteran’s ballot, a clear “yes” cannot be said of any player in answer to these questions. So the hair-splitting of the rest of the Keltner List becomes more helpful here than with the BBWAA ballot.

So, taking all of the questions and answers into account, it seems clear that Santo, Allen, Minoso, Gordon, Boyer, Oliva, Pinson, Flood and Bonds are the best candidates on the veteran’s ballot. Each of these players can appeal to eight or more of the above to make their case, with Santo able to appeal to the most areas of analysis-ten.
On WS, Santo was arguably the best player in MLB in ’66 and ’67, at which time he was also the best player on his team and at his position. He played more than 2000 games and may be the best eligible player not in the HoF, overall and at his position. He had several MVP-type and many All-Star caliber seasons. If he was the best player on his team, it could at least contend for a pennant.

No other player on the veteran’s ballot can put quite so many items on the plus side of his case, though if you set aside Allen’s demerits on the so-called character issue he might even rank ahead of Santo. I don’t wish to debate the merits of the demerits, only to point out that they have surely hurt Allen’s historical ranking and may hurt him on this ballot. But if you set that aside, he is probably the top-rated player on the ballot on questions #2, 6 and 10.

Minoso probably benefits even more than Allen from this analysis, in the sense that everybody knows about Allen’s positives and negatives and has made up his mind. Minoso’s accomplishments have, in contrast, been somewhat forgotten. His late start diminishes his career numbers and the shadow of Ted Williams diminishes his peak. But he benefits the most from consideration of question #9, and scores highly on his MVP-type and All-Star type seasons and comps.

Gordon, having retired 50 years ago, also benefits from the close scrutiny of the Keltner List. He scores highly among second basemen, for his pennant race and post-season performances, and for his MVP season. Boyer scores well for his longtime leadership of the Cardinals team, including a team that won a World Championship. Oliva has the best comps and a good record in MVP voting.

Pinson’s comps are better than most, Flood stands out on defense and for his stand against the reserve clause, and Bonds at his position and for his then unusual power/speed combo.

Torre, Wills, Colavito, Lolich and Reynolds can make claims against several of the categories but lack a real high point to hang their hat on. Hodges ranks highly on certain elements but perhaps not enough of them.

On the other side of the coin, one could argue that the BBWAA has done its job correctly in determining that none of these 26 players is a HoFer. It is shocking how few of them were ever even the best player on his own team, and how few of them led his team to a pennant. Few of them could play beyond his prime, and their comps, as a whole, stink.

But I would hope that some combination of Santo, Allen, Minoso and Gordon is selected.

Part Two

I have no problem with Santo or Dick Allen going in, and I love Joe Gordon, so I’ve got no beef there either. I expect Marvin Miller, who is on the composite ballot, to be respected properly while he’s still around to experience it. The man seems bitter enough; let him enjoy his just due. No matter how much I’m fascinated by Curt Flood, I don’t know that I’d put him. Believe me if they ever did, I’d never be happier with a selection that I may have reservations about; even though he’s dead, Flood deserves all the public tribute and recognition that he can get.

But the more I’ve thought about it over the past couple of weeks, the more convinced I am that Minnie Minoso is a Hall of Famer. I had read Allen Barra’s profile on Minoso last summer in his collection, “Clearing the Bases,” and was duly impressed, both with Minoso’s talents as a player, and his importance as the first dark-skinned Latino to play in the major leagues. Barra asked a pertinent question: why is Minoso, the Jackie Robinson of Latin ballplayers not in the Hall of Fame? Especially when his numbers are comparable to say, Larry Doby.

My father has wondered out loud for years why Larry Doby has been so overlooked in comparison with Robinson? This is coming from a man who modestly asserts that he’s “second-to-none as a Jackie fan.” The point is not to take anything away from Robinson, but to note just how neglected Doby is in comparison. Being the first black player in the American League has to amount to something, no? But if Doby has been shortchanged in some way by coming in second to Robinson, then Minoso doesn’t place at all.

It just seems odd. Especially considering the socially-sensitive culture we live in. Where are the Latin protest groups? How come no one is fighting the good fight for Minnie Minoso? This seems particularly alarming when you consider how popular he was during his heyday in the 1950’s in Chicago with the Go-Go White Sox.

“There is a reason they call it the second city,” opined my old man.

Casting all aspersions aside, it’s a pretty big deal when the first black player in Chicago, an effusive, and personable star, has a remarkable career in many ways, only to be summarily dissed by the baseball establishment. I can’t figure why the media hasn’t picked up on it. The only thing I can guess is that perhaps Minoso is seen in retrospect as something of a clown. The old dude who kept coming back for a couple of at bats. Or maybe he’s not keen right now because he isn’t hard enough. There is no edge. And if no one is going to come out and straight up say Minoso was an Uncle Tom, maybe that’s what they are thinking. How cool is that? How tough is that. It’s a similar brand of scorn and neglect that greeted in some quarters as Louis Armstrong throughout his old age. I may be completely off, but I’m at a loss as to why there isn’t more support in the media and amongst baseball fans for Minoso.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver