The new ballot for the Hall of Fame’s era-based veteran’s committee selection process has been announced, and several compelling candidates are included on the list.
Among the 10 names selected to appear on the “Golden Era” ballot, Ron Santo is by far the most deserving. The case for Santo has been made countless times, and most agree his body of work warrants election. Unfortunately, those presiding over the Hall of Fame’s selection process haven’t cooperated. As a result, if the third baseman does finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown, it will be posthumously. Regardless of the circumstances, Santo’s enshrinement would still be a cause for celebration, not only for his family, but all of baseball. As one of the best third baseman to play the game, excluding Santo dings the Hall’s credibility a bit, so the time has come to right that wrong.
Whether or not he receives the necessary 3/4 support from the 16-man panel, Santo’s inclusion on the ballot doesn’t bode well for Ken Boyer, a contemporary third baseman who always seemed to be one step behind his counterpart from the Cubs (Boyer’s last gold glove was 1963, the year before Santo reeled off five in a row). Considering the shadow cast by Santo, both during their playing days and now in the voting process, Boyer’s chances of election are pretty slim.
Another cause célèbre on this year’s veterans’ ballot is Gil Hodges, who, like Santo, has garnered considerable sentimental support over the years. However, as a first baseman, Hodges’ resume is not as substantial, even if you include his managerial success with the Mets. Of course, Hodges was always more of a likeable figure than Santo, which perhaps helps to explain why he garnered significantly more support from the BBWAA (a peak of 63.4% vs. Santo’s 43.1%). Playing in seven World Series probably didn’t hurt either.
Now that Bert Blyleven has been elected, it might seem to some as if the door has also been opened for Jim Kaat. After all, the pair has always been considered a close comp (they have nearly identical win totals and ERAs). However, the case for Blyleven had more of a sabermetric bent, and in that regard, Kaat seems to falls short. Then again, the committee presiding over the process isn’t likely to consider WAR or ERA+, so the similarity between Kaat and Blyleven could work to his advantage.
Tony Oliva, one of Kaat’s teammates in Minnesota, is probably one of the most underrated players from his era. Lost amid names like Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, Oliva was a strong defensive outfielder who also happened to lead the league in hits on five occasions. Oliva, whose OPS+ of 131 ranks sixth among all outfielders during the span of his career, was also a perennial All Star Game participant who placed among the top-10 in the MVP balloting on four occassions. Unfortunately for Oliva, his career didn’t start until age-25, so despite having a very strong prime, his aggregate totals probably fall short of the Hall of Fame mark. The same is also true of Minnie Minoso, who fits a similar profile as Oliva. Perhaps best known for his two cameo appearances in 1976 and 1980, which helped him become a five-decade player, Minoso was also one of the best outfielders of his era. Also like Oliva, however, Minoso wasn’t able to sustain his success long enough to push him over the induction borderline.
The only long-time Yankee on the Golden Era ballot is Allie Reynolds. In eight seasons with the Bronx Bombers, the Superchief went an impressive 131-60, but he is perhaps best know for being the only Yankees’ pitcher to throw two no-hitters, and only one of four pitchers to accomplish the feat in one season. Reynolds also made a name for himself in the World Series. A member of six championship teams, the right hander’s 7-2 record with a 2.79 in the Fall Classic made him an October standout. Despite these accomplishments, Reynolds’ 13-year career, which included five seasons in Cleveland, wasn’t long enough to build a strong Hall of Fame resume, so he isn’t likely to garner much more than the same tepid support he received from the writers over 30 years ago.
Luis Tiant is another pitcher who had many memorable moments, especially during the 1975 World Series, but his career was plagued by inconsistency. Although he had four seasons with at least 20 wins, El Tiante also mixed in several campaigns during which he was essentially league average. His career numbers, which include an ERA+ of 115 and 229 wins, are nothing to sneeze at, but they really don’t measure up to the Hall of Fame standard. Regardless of whether he is elected, Tiant’s colorful personality and whirlwind windup will continue to make him one of more popular figures from the era in which he played.
In addition to the eight players on the Golden Era ballot, there are also two executives up for consideration. In the past, getting into the Hall of Fame as a general manager required an extraordinary contribution to the game (or the last name MacPhail), but with last year’s selection of Pat Gillick, a more realistic standard may be applied going forward. If so, Buzzie Bavasi is certainly worth a look. As general manager of the Dodgers from 1951 to 1967, a period during which the team went 1,541-1,131 (.576 winning percentage) with eight pennants and four championships, Bavasi earned the reputation as one of the top executives in the game. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to repeat the same success during his time in San Diego and California. Although the Angels did win two division titles on his watch, Bavasi’s .436 winning percentage in 16 seasons with those two franchises weighs down his credentials.
During his 20-years as owner of the Athletics, Charlie Finley was innovative, combative, controversial, entrepreneurial, stubborn, and cheap, among many other distinctive qualities. His teams also enjoyed periods of success unmatched in franchise history, despite the often contentious relationships he had with his players. In many ways, Finely was the Boss before George Steinbrenner claimed that title. However, unlike Steinbrenner, Finley’s impact was much more destructive. In addition to constantly trying to either relocate his team or dismantle his roster, Finley rarely put any effort into promoting his ballclub, leaving Oakland as a financially destitute franchise when he finally sold the team before the 1981 season. While baseball history during the 1970s would not be complete without a chapter on Finley, his is a story that should be told from outside the Hall of Fame.
Finley employs no full-time scouts or minor league hitting and pitching instructors, and he fleshes out his directory of club officials by including secretaries and clerks as well as Trainer Joe Romo, Equipment Manager Frank Ciensczyk and Visiting Clubhouse Manager Steve Vucinich.” – Sports Illustrated, May 21, 1979
With only 16 ballots being cast, the identity of the voters could play as much a role in who gets elected as the credentials of the individual candidates. For that reason, Finley likely has little chance to be enshrined. Not only was he generally disliked by the players of the era because of his views on labor issues, but Roland Hemond, one of the “executive voters”, was an ally of Bill Veeck, who had more than his fair share of scrapes with the combative Athletics’ owner.
A player like Santo, however, who was more respected by his peers than the media, should benefit from the 10 former players who are part of the electorate. Also, having teammate Billy Williams as an advocate on the committee probably won’t hurt. Based on the composition of the committee, if Santo is ever going to be elected, this December seems like the perfect time.
Because the new era-based voting process is still relatively new, it’s hard to say whether the revised procedures will lead to more elections. After years of relying on a veteran’s committee prone to cronyism, and then a more expansive voting process that made it near impossible to form a consensus, the Hall of Fame is hoping it has found a middle ground. Last years’ “Expansion Era” vote was kind of a swing and a miss, so the election of Santo could serve as a litmus test going forward. If the Golden Era committee whiffs as well, it will then be up to next year’s “Pre-Integration” electorate to avoid the strikeout.