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The Backdoor is Open: To VC or Not to VC

This is the front door to the Hall. The back door, as you might suspect, is around the back.

This is the front door to the Hall. The back door, as you might suspect, is around the back.

The Hall of Fame’s back door swings open once again on December 9th at 10:00 AM when the Hall of Fame’s Expansion Era Committee (a subset of the infamous Veterans Committee) announces the results of its voting. Despite the cronyism and ineptitude of its past, the committee has done good work in recent years by electing Ron Santo, Pat Gillick, and Deacon White, all strong selections.

But the HoME is a critique of the Hall, so we won’t let their successes stop us from having our fun. This week we’ll be looking at the VC itself, then analyzing the players under consideration on Wednesday and the managers and executives on the ballot on Friday.

If you haven’t seen the ballot yet, here it is: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony LaRussa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, and Joe Torre. We’ll get to them soon, but today we’re going to look at whether or not the VC, in any of its forms, should exist. Then we’ll explore what’s going wrong. And finally, we’re going to offer a better way. After all, if we can’t come up with a better way, our complaints are hollow.

Flaws and Disorder

The VC’s mission is simple. Scoop up any deserving players who the BBWAA might have missed and elect any non-playing personnel with important contributions to the game. The setup is also simple: a 12-man ballot and a 16-member electoral committee. Electors can vote for as many as five candidates, and any candidate receiving 75% of the vote or more will be inducted into the Hall next July.

Anyone who’s even thought about the Veterans Committee knows that it’s flawed. Each of the first 17 players discussed in our “How the Hall Failed” series were put in by the VC. Yes, it’s flawed, it’s flawed, it’s majorly flawed. It’s so flawed that some people think we should scrap it entirely. However – and let me be frank here – such a sentiment is just silly. You know what’s majorly flawed? How about the healthcare system in the United States? But we should scrap healthcare? Obviously not.

Maybe you don’t care about healthcare. Rather, you come around here for the baseball talk. If we just scrapped the Veterans Committee, we’d have a much sleeker and much less flawed Hall. However, we’d also have a Hall without Home Run Baker, Sam Crawford, Billy Hamilton, John Clarkson, Stan Coveleski, Amos Rusie, Johnny Mize, Hal Newhouser, George Davis, and Ron Santo. Unless you want to induct only 70 players, a Hall without these guys would be indefensible. And without the VC, there’s no pathway to election for non-players, or anyone at all before about 1920.

I Don’t See Any Elephants, Do You?

Over the years, there have been many problems with the various versions of the VC. Their voting schedule (too frequent). Their lack of limits (too many selections). The makeup of the players they’re even allowed to consider (too narrow or too broad). But all of these, honestly, are reasonably easy fixes. Or they’re not. Times change. The Hall changes. And it’s never going to be perfect. But in the big scheme of things, these are very small problems. There’s one huge problem today—and it’s the same problem that’s always existed. The voting body itself is comprised of people who don’t have the necessary expertise to do what they’re charged with doing.

To soften this point a bit: neither the members of its screening panel nor its electorate are well matched to their task. They were players, they were clubhouse insiders, or they were managers or execs. They didn’t spend their life researching and comparing guys from bygone eras. That’s what historians do. And so the problem increases by orders of magnitude for candidates further back in time. What does Andre Dawson know about Paul Hines and his times?

Worse yet, the electorate problem is compounded during each step of the process, which goes like this:

  • The Hall’s Historical Overview Committee chooses up ten candidates who meet the qualifications. We don’t know if they meet in a smokey room, over beers, on a conference call, or whatever.
  • All sixteen electors of the appropriate VC group meet in person at the Winter Meetings to trade some horses.
  • They each vote for at most five candidates and announce the result.
  • Each of the three committees washes, rinses, and repeats every three years.

So who are these screeners and electors? Why the very BBWAA guys who have recently made a hash of the Hall, officials of the Hall itself, or Hall of Famers. In other words, guys whose incentives and motives are poorly aligned with an objective election process.

  • BBWAA members: For each era—Pre-Integration (prior to 1947), Golden Era (1947-1972) and Expansion Era (post-1972)—the writers are being asked to essentially critique the work of their peers. This is why most of the guys the VC elects are ones who did very well in the regular voting.
  • Hall officials: You think these guys are going to go toe-to-toe with the Hall players and the BBWAA…the guys they depend on for revenues?
  • Hall of Famers: We know these guys aren’t so good at elections because during the early 2000s when all Hall members had a vote, they elected no one. For years. Not even Ron Santo. After all, letting people into their club makes it less exclusive.

Bobby Doerr is the oldest living Hall of Famer at 95, so physics tells us that it’s currently impossible that anyone eligible to be a member of the Pre-Integration committee could have seen Bill Dahlen or Jack Glasscock play. Doerr is old enough to have played with Wes Ferrell, but that was 70 years ago. About twenty Hall of Famers’ careers overlapped significantly with Gil Hodges’, and those guys are anywhere between 77 and 91 years old. Oh, and not all of those guys actually played against Hodges because there was no interleague play before 1994. At least the Expansion Era committee has some people on it who experienced their candidates.

Especially for the first two committees: Where the hell are the baseball historians? Tired of hearing about Bill James from us? Then how about baseball’s official historian, John Thorn? Pete Palmer, Craig Wright, even Rob Neyer would all make sense.  SABR has its own committees that study various eras of the game; it could easily burp up 16 super-qualified screeners or electors every year who would know more about older candidates than most electors know about their siblings. And at the risk of self-promotion, even though there are hundreds of more qualified candidates, we’d do a better job than those making the decisions today.

One more pachyderm. Possible VC enshrinees fall into these three pools:

  • Ten-year major leaguers retired at least twenty-one years and not on baseball’s ineligible list
  • Ten-year managers and umpires retired five years or more or sixty-five years old and retired six months
  • Executives retired at least five years, unless they are over sixty-five, in which case they can be elected while active.

That’s right, Negro Leaguers, early pioneers, coaches, and scouts have no current pathway into the Hall.

VC Twenty One-Four (Remix featuring Miller and Eric)

It’s no good to gripe if you don’t have a solution. Here’s a VC remix that makes sense, helps the BBWAA and the Hall save some face by keeping their skin in the game, and still gives the Hall’s members a voice. We’ll keep the three-era system, and the essentials of the process, but we’ll add a few wrinkles here and there.

Remix the screeners: For the Pre-Integration Era, we get 12 real baseball historians, a mix of folks who specialize in the 19th Century, Deadball Era, and pre-War years with a few generalists to keep them honest. For the Golden Era, we’ll give up to five seats to BBWAA members who actually covered baseball in that time; the remainder will be filled by baseball historians. Finally, the Expansion Era screeners will be up to seven BBWAA members from that era and the remainder historians. As contemporaries of these eras die off, historians will fill the vacated seats just like for the Pre-Integration Era committee.

Remix the electors: Same principles at work here with our 16 voters. Pre-Integration is all historians. Golden Era is up to seven BBWAAs or Hall members. Expansion Era is up to nine BBWAAs or Hall members. A Hall official will sit on the committee and break any ties.

Remix the pool of candidates: We doubt that any groundswell will lead to an onslaught of cronyism for coaches or scouts. But we do think the option should exist to elect these contributors. Dave Duncan, Leo Mazzone, Johnny Sain, Paul Krichell, Hughie Alexander, and a few others may or may not be Hall worthy, but they merit the opportunity to at least be argued over.

That’s the obvious part. Change the faces to change the process. The BBWAA and the Hall members will bark, but nearly all museums rely on historians and curators, why shouldn’t the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum?

Finally, because research is ongoing into both baseball’s earliest days and the Negro Leagues, we want to be sure that anyone whose contribution is newly understood or unearthed gets a chance to have their case heard.

Remix the committees: Create committees on the Negro Leagues and on Pioneers. Unlike the triannual committees we have now, however, these two groups would convene on a staggered ten-year schedule. Only researchers and historians invited, but with no requirement to elect, only to do due diligence on candidates from these less-understood but important periods. Negro League players such as Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Dick Lundy, John Beckwith, or Dobie Moore fall into this category, as do pioneers Doc Adams, Al Reach, and Dickey Pearce. We wouldn’t expect these committees to elect many men, in fact, we might expect they won’t, and we’ll give them strict guidelines to avoid an historian Frischfest. But we want to be sure.

In the end, that’s what this is all about, and, to us, should be about: getting it right. Our plan won’t be perfect, but it will be more perfect. Not too many folks who aren’t related to Chick Hafey would argue that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. The point isn’t that he or Pop Haines makes the Hall too big, they obviously do, but that’s water under the bridge. Our point is that getting it right is important. Finding the greatest, honoring them, and celebrating the story of the game we love by getting the right characters into the narrative is the mission. Why should we have to settle for less?

The backdoor is open, now let’s make sure that we invite the right people to enter.

Miller and Eric

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