Earlier than expected, the Hall announced its ballot for what they’re calling “Today’s Era”. These are folks whose main contributions were from 1988 on. Votes will be announced early in December. Here’s what we think of the ballot.
MILLER: Well, the new Veterans Committee ballot, what they’re calling “Today’s Era” came out a couple of days ago. I have to admit that I’m not that excited.
ERIC: We’ll get into individual cases in a moment, but it feels underwhelming because, well, it is! But it turns out that there’s a reason for it. This committee’s rules state that it can vote on people who made their greatest contributions after 1987, including:
- players retired 15 years (i.e. haven’t appeared in a game since 2001)
- managers retired five years or six months if they are 65+
- executives either retired five years or active but 70 or older.
You got all that?
MILLER: Yeah, I do. And to my surprise and appreciation, so does the Hall. There’s no Jack Morris. There’s no 50 other guys they might have put on who don’t belong there. Of course, there’s also no Bret Saberhagen. He’s so incredibly close to Hershiser, who made the ballot, and certainly fighting with Schuerholtz, also on the ballot. But clearly he belongs. Seriously, who was better, Saberhagen or Harold Baines?
Anyway, before we go further, maybe we should list the complete ballot.
ERIC: Other than swapping out Saberhagen for Baines, this is about as good a ballot for players as we high-information Hall watchers could have hoped for given the rule set. The managers present some interesting questions. Where’s Jim Leyland? I thought he had a possible shot at election given the tide of good feeling that he rode out of Detroit on. Turns out instead that he didn’t even make the ballot! That Davey Johnson did, however, is great, great news. Lou Piniella makes the cut, and he and Leyland have fairly similar careers overall. I wouldn’t necessarily choose one over the other. Charlie Manuel was also eligible, and he’s fourth in line after Davey, Sweet Lou, and Leyland.
MILLER: Piniella had enough sabermetric issues as a manager that I’d take Leland over him. Of course, we don’t get to make that choice.
Of the players on the ballot, who gets your support? Who aside from Baines is least qualified to appear here?
ERIC: Baines and Belle are, in my opinion, a whole step down from Hershiser, McGwire, and Clark. Actually, Baines is like three steps down. There’s also not too too much difference between Big Mac and Will the Thrill. They are each very close to my personal borderline at first base. Mac happens to be on the good side of it. Since we each voted for Orel and McGwire, I would absolutely support their candidacy on this ballot. Clark is just shy, though he exceeds the Hall’s own standards for first baseman. You?
MILLER: To nobody’s surprise, we agree. I have McGwire and Clark at #25 and #26 respectively on my first base list. And if McGwire and Clark are on the ballot, it would make sense for my #27, John Olerud, to be there too.
You’re right that Baines is just a silly choice. And Belle is behind a bunch of others. I’m really pulling for Hershiser. He was great, though not great enough for some with “only” 204 wins. But he also had that historic run in 1988 when he didn’t give up a run in six September starts over 55 innings (do that math those of you who think modern pitchers are weak) and then dominated the Mets and A’s in October. If properly motivated, perhaps a coalition of 12 can be formed to get Hershiser a plaque.
ERIC: The next time I see the VC elect a starter from our own era with fewer than 250 wins will be the first time. [He says without checking BBREF…gulp.] I think it’s more likely that Donald Trump goes a week without tweeting about “Crooked Hilary” than those old codgers vote for someone with Hershiser’s resume.
Turning back to the managers for a moment, like you, I’m out on Sweet Lou. But I’m way in on Davey Johnson. The era of Davey, TLR, Cox, and Torre was a very special one managerially. Johnson is very clearly the fourth of those four in terms of his overall case, but he might also be the best in-game manager of any of them. He learned from Earl Weaver after all. He’s got outstanding numbers against pythagenpat and against expected wins. Everywhere he went, the team just played better.
MILLER: How is it that you’re consistently more hopeful than I am in the world but I’m more positive when it comes to Hall voters?
[Hoping you don’t reply that you’re just smarter…]
As we get to the managers on the ballot, I’m reminded that disagreeing is a bit more fun, certainly for our readers. But like with the players, we agree here too. Davey Johnson belongs in the Hall of Fame. I hope he makes it, but I’m not holding my breath.
Three more guys to discuss: a Commissioner, an owner, and a GM. Thoughts?
ERIC: Every cynic begins as a bright-eyed idealist….
Let’s end with a bang, so we’ll save our biggest area of disagreement for last. In the meantime, we’ve already voted Schuerholz into our Hall, and he’s so obviously overqualified compared to other execs already in the Coop that it’s not much of a conversation. Steinbrenner is, however, a more complicated case. He’s a felon. He was suspended from the game twice, including once for hiring a known gambler who was digging up dirt on one of The Big Stein’s own players. Though he took Andy MacPhail’s building blocks and turned them into the late 1970s dynasty, his meddling probably cost the Yankees more AL East crowns in the late 1980s and led to the team’s full collapse (aka: The Oscar Azocar era). When he was banned, the team rebuilt into the late 1990s dynasty, and then when he came down with Alzheimers, he could no longer meddle, and they kept on winning. OK, those last two clauses were kinda unfair.
On the other hand he spent like a drunken sailor and won a boatload of championships as one of the first owners to embrace the power of free agency. The Evil Empire Yankees became and still are the biggest road draw in the league. Every league needs a Darth Vader, so spake my pal Miller once.
MILLER: We disagree? As you know, I’m all for Schuerholz. And while Steinbrenner is interesting, he has two big strikes against him. First, he’s under-qualified, I think. Second, even if he were qualified, I’d have a hard time voting for him because of some of the actions you mentioned.
So maybe we disagree on the Commissioner, Bud Selig. He forced interleague play into the game. Yuck! He made the All-Star Game worth something, so the ads say. But the game is actually as unimportant as ever. He expanded the playoffs, which I hated. But then he added the second wild card. That one-game playoff is exciting. And it’s the crapshoot that’s deserved by those who don’t win their division.
But there a huge reason that Selig rises above many others for me. He was placed in a Commissioner position unlike any before him. He wasn’t given the job to look out for the best interests of the game. Rather, he was put in there to make the most money possible for the game’s owners. And that he did. Has there ever been anyone who’s brought as much money into the game as Bud?
ERIC: Money. If that’s the best thing about Bud Selig, then he’s got issues. The reality of baseball as a business has a curious relationship with the Hall of Fame. I don’t recall any plaque that mentions money, revenues, licensing, concessions, or gate receipts. Lots of mentions of winning championships and personal achievements. Some pioneer and executive plaques talk about improvements of the experience for fans or innovations that made the game stronger.
And Selig has some of those innovations. During his tenure, MLB Advanced Media grew and thrived. It now leads all sports in providing a more immersive, interactive online connection with the game. A big plus for baseball overall. Though it’s hard for me to imagine that an octogenarian used-car salesman had much of a hand in creating something steeped in contemporary technology.
But very few of his accomplishments came without a dark side to them. And that dark side was always about one thing…grabbing more money from players, from fans, from taxpayers, from any pocket in sight.
Take the boom in new ballparks. Baseball rebuilt its entire infrastructure during the Bud era. And in municipality after municipality, the commissioner rode into town and talked about how the team would have to move if there wasn’t a new ballpark paid for mostly if not entirely by the city and regional taxpayers. To create leverage for this ruse, Selig had to badmouth his own product and make empty threats about contracting teams. If I ever hear the word “disparity” from him again, I might go postal. All this just before and after expanding the league! If so many viable markets were queued up and to embrace a team on the move, why haven’t we seen more interest in relocation or further expansion? The move to Washington made sense, but what huge market has had a hankering for baseball since? To sell these stadia he also made claims about community financial benefits that economists have found dubious.
A nasty undercurrent of dishonesty and dissembling pervaded much of what Selig said in public. His stern position on steroids after years of ignoring them and lapping up the beaucoup bucks from fans who dig homers. Crying poverty while baseball busted the billion dollar revenue mark and signed players to big contracts. Claiming people loved interleague games when attendance figures suggested otherwise.
Selig also had terrible taste in friends, and his favoritism has led to on-field issues. Jeffrey Loria is among the very worst owners in sports today, and it was Bud who welcomed him to the fold. Loria ran the once proud Expos into the ground before the smoke-and-mirrors deal that gave him the Marlins. In Miami he pulled the same routine until the city capitulated to a stadium deal, despite county voters first rejecting it. Now he runs the team at a profit by sucking off revenue sharing money and chronically underfunding team payroll. All this while acting like a tyrant, churning through managers, and behaving like a petty tyrant.
Then there was Frank McCourt. His purchase of one of the Dodgers, one of baseball’s crown-jewel franchises, in 2004 was almost entirely debt-leveraged. He proved an utter embarrassment to the game and the team in both his very public divorce proceedings, which laid bare how he mismanaged the team, and the over-extravagant lifestyle he led. All this despite the team raising ticket prices each year of his reign to service its debt. There was also a scandal in which a close friend was paid about a quarter of the funds of the McCourt Foundation to be its executive officer. (McCourt himself was required to pay back $100,000 dollars of that money.)
And then there’s the Wilpons. Bud allowed them to carry a debt load much higher than the league’s ownership rules allow. This meant he was supporting beneficiaries of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Bernie was a good friend of the Wilpons, so wink-wink. The Mets, a successful franchise situated in the nation’s largest metro area, had to shed payroll like crazy and are still hamstrung by the Wilpons’ debt issues.
Meanwhile, thanks to the anti-trust exemption, Bud and his cronies have denied Mark Cuban a chance to buy in. He’s been highly successful in other sports, but, you know, he calls a spade a spade, and owners shouldn’t make waves. Just ask model citizens McCourt, Loria, and Wilpon.
Let’s not forget that Selig was one of the hardline owners associated with the 1986-1988 collusion cases. He was at it again in the 2002-2003 collusion case, and probably in the blackballing of Barry Bonds.
The question isn’t whether Bud Selig was good for baseball. On the whole he likely was. But does he rise to the level of a Hall of Famer? No one is Ghandi in the back rooms of baseball, but Selig seemed like either a snake oil salesman or a mere tool of the owners. In the former case, I’m not buying. In the latter case, why would I buy? In any case, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the money argument.
MILLER: I think we’re just going to have to disagree here. Selig was the first baseball Commissioner whose job is was to make the owners money. Did he hold cities hostage? Maybe. But baseball makes them money. Did he build on the backs of the players? Hardly, they’re making millions. Did he hurt the fan? Attendance says he didn’t.
I’m not far enough along in my thinking about what makes someone Hall-worthy as a Commissioner. However, I do suspect someone who brought more money into the game than anyone before him has to be toward the top of that list.
So how about some predictions?
ERIC: People who rob you with a gun get cast in jail. Those who rob you with a fountain pen get cast in bronze. Selig wins in a landslide. Schuerholz follows in Pat Gillick’s footsteps. He gets just enough votes. No one else gets more than three.
MILLER: Yeah, Selig gets in. Schuerholz doesn’t quite. Steinbrenner does well, maybe eight votes. I think Hershiser tops three votes. Maybe he gets five or six. Then it’s three or fewer
I know we’re both looking forward to the election. Hopefully the voters surprise us both.