Sometimes we wonder whether a bronze plaque is really a gold watch. Have you been a league president or MLB commissioner with a reasonably long tenure? Then you’re probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame. Look, if Bowie Kuhn can make it…. Here’s everyone who fits this description currently in the Hall of Fame:
- Morgan Bulkeley
- Happy Chandler
- Ford Frick
- Warren Giles
- Will Harridge
- William Hulbert
- Ban Johnson
- Bowie Kuhn
- Kennesaw Mountain Landis
- Al Spalding
Lee MacPhail kinda fits here too, though he was a highly successful general manager first. Not counting MacPhail, that’s ten of the 28 pioneer/executives in the Hall of Fame. Of them, four—Landis, Johnson, Spalding, and Hulbert—seem like reasonable selections. The rest, well, I dunno. Their accomplishments, such as they are, tend toward the uninspiring and generally have an air of either inevitability to them or non-obstruction. Aside from those four I just mentioned, these are political creatures, and the bestowal of this highest honor on them seems somehow to cheapen the honor for other executives.
We tend to view the game through the lens of what happened on the field, and we are more interested in questions such as Did this exec do more than other execs to make his team a winner? By and large, we don’t find that league executives led innovations so much as they kept the owners from killing each other. That’s important, we believe, but not as important as the innovations that have driven the game forward.
There is another name on this list that we both think is a joke: Tom Yawkey. Yawkey’s two major failings stranded his team among the also-rans far too long. Particularly when he had Ted Williams to build around. First off, his unwillingness to integrate the Red Sox in a timely manner. The Sox were the last team to add a dark-skinned player to their roster, and by 1959, all the great Negro League players had long since emigrated to MLB, and mostly to the NL. Imagine if Yawkey had landed Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. That kind of player beside Williams would have made the Sox, who had better pitching than you might remember, a strong challenger to Casey Stengel and Al Lopez’s teams. Even deep into the 1990s, the Red Sox were known as team (and Boston a city) that was hostile to African-American players. Yawkey’s second failing drove the stake in the Sox’s heart. Yawkey had a tendency toward cronyism. The result of which was that people lasted in jobs far longer than they should have and at the expense of wins. Dick Williams, the best manager Yawkey had hired since the 1940s, found Yawkey’s “country club” environment toxic, especially because the owner played favorites with Williams’ charges, undermining the manager’s authority. And there’s worse. One Red Sox employee was accused of abusing minors in the 1970s and 1980s, allegedly witnessed by players. Yawkey allegedly protected the employee from these accusations and didn’t fire him. We’ve seen enough, and he’s done for us.
There’s a second name on the list of Hall execs who we don’t think much of. We won’t reveal it now, but later on, we’ll tell you more. You may be surprised that this popular figure doesn’t meet our standards, but we hope you’ll see why when we explain it.
On the whole, of those whose credentials are not those of an early-game pioneer, we fully agree with nine of the Hall’s selections, about half. We believe that another four have strong cases, and that another two have decent cases. We won’t spoil it for you here, we think you’ll agree when we lay it out for you down the pike that we’ve got a better way to think about execs than the Hall does. On the other hand, we have a few execs in mind to examine closely that you might also agree the Hall should have elected a long time ago. Well, that’s why the Hall of Miller and Eric exists.
We hope you’ll enjoy this process as much as we will! And you can be assured that we aren’t stocking up on gold watches to dole out.