Here’s how Miller and I reacted to the news of today’s big, fat Veterans Era Committee goose egg.
ERIC: For the second straight year, it’s nobody.
MILLER: Aaargh! I was sure we were going to get Dahlen. I’d have put money on it. I’m just stunned, like the wind has been knocked out of me.
ERIC: How’s this for a track record? Since 2001 (and not including the special Negro Leagues committee for 2006), the old Joe Morgan Superfriends voters and the era committees have elected only three players since 2001: Deacon White (2013), Ron Santo (2012), and Joe Gordon (2009). In that time, they have elected six managers, five pioneer/executives, and two umpires. They’ve only elected one more player in the past fifteen years than they have umpires. Wow. And it’s not like there aren’t a couple dozen fully qualified candidates out there.
MILLER: You’re absolutely right to point out that these committees are failing.
ERIC: The good news for the Hall is that these committees haven’t elected Jim Kaat, Marty Marion, or Allie Reynolds. Bad news is that Jack Morris comes along next year….
MILLER: I guess the good news for the HoME is that we won’t have to elect much of the backlog.
ERIC: We’ve said it before, so let’s say it again. It’s time to put the VC elections into the hands of people who are well equipped to do them. Ex-players and superannuated beat writers aren’t. Do we really think that ex-players are qualified to vote on guys who have been out of baseball for 100+ years? That’s what historians are for. Virtually no one in the Hall who is able to get on a plane to the winter meetings saw Wes Ferrell play, let alone played against him. And how is it possible that these guys are qualified to vote on execs and pioneers?
And so on in this vein.
In some corners of the internet (especially at BaseballThinkFactory.org), discussion has included voices saying that it’s time to dismantle the committees system for the pre-expansion era altogether. To focus instead on the dearth of honorees from the modern and post-modern eras in MLB.
A key argument for this perspective is that no one cares about the long-dead. They have no advocacy groups, their family trees may well have petered out, and certainly no one currently in MLB or the press thinks twice about them. Bill Dahlen don’t sell column inches. So let’s narrow the view, so says this argument, on the living.
That’s not an unfair perspective. We should celebrate great players now before they die and become…like those old timers who no one cares about.
But let’s turn this around for second. Take the current overstuffed ballot crisis. What kind of Hall of Fame, ask many, doesn’t have the very best players in history? How can it take Mike Piazza or Craig Biggio or Bert Blyleven multiple ballots to reach the Hall when they are overqualified for the honor? Many of us slam the BBWAA quite frequently for its ability to recognize greatness. Would it be inconsistent and equally unfair to tell the Hall to fold up shop on the pre-Jackie era when there’s an awful lot of strong candidates out there? Bill Dahlen is probably one of the 10 best shortstops in big-league history. What kind of Hall of Fame doesn’t include one of the 10 best shortstops in history?
By definition, the Hall of Fame and organizations like it have as their mission to honor the greatest in the game. So when great players are ignored, those institutions are failing at their mission. It doesn’t matter when a guy played. What matters is that his career merits the honor. In which case, the Hall and its Veterans and Era Committee systems have failed repeatedly with the early game.
Another argument for killing off this Committee is that the early game is overrepresented. We don’t have to get into a census to say that this is not an important argument. We can’t undo the elections of fellows like Tommy McCarthy who have helped swell the Hall’s ranks unnecessarily, but every era has those and some more than others. Leaving out a great player because of institutional failure is like saying that Bob Overachiever shouldn’t get a raise just because Joe Average got one last year.
The pre-Jackie era has at least the following player candidates who are, in our opinion, worth electing or strongly considering:
- Ross Barnes
- Charlie Bennett
- Bill Dahlen
- Wes Ferrell
- Art Fletcher
- Jack Glasscock
- Paul Hines
- Bob Johnson
- Tommy Leach
- Sherry Magee
- Wally Schang
- Jimmy Sheckard
- Urban Shocker
- Bobby Veach
- Bucky Walters
Heinie Groh and a few others might have good cases (or not, of course) depending on what light emerging retrosheet data may shed on them.
We’ve just mentioned sixteen players. We understand that you might prefer Harry Stovey or Pete Browning or Bob Caruthers or whomever, but we’re absolutely 100% sure that half or more of these guys are no-doubters. Damn near all of them would raise the average Hall of Fame qualifications. Does that sound like a group the Hall should abandon?
No. No it doesn’t.
So our recommendation is to let the historians do the work here. Gather up experts (SABR can cough them up in drove). Not Bert Blyleven, Bill Dewitt, Jack O’Connell, and a bunch of Hall cronies like always. After all, the analytical revolution in baseball isn’t just for modern times and for statistics. It includes research of all sorts, including narrative/qualitative as well as quantitative. Wouldn’t John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Craig Wright, Chris Jaffe, Adam Darowski, and maybe even Bill James, himself, pick up the phone for this invitation? Seems pretty likely. Get people in the room who actually know what they are talking about and who have spent large chunks of their careers studying what the game was like back in the day. Who would actually know who Harry Stovey was without being given a briefing on him. Who understand a player’s stats in the context of the game in the 1880s or 1920s. That’s what historians do. That’s what the Hall of Fame election process should do.
How many more times do we have to say it?