Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players

6 10 2015

If you’re a borderline candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it sure helps to be a white guy.

Rules, standards and the election process to the Hall of Fame have changed a lot over the years, but one thing is certain: Except for special committees to consider Negro League players, the voting has always been skewed toward white players.

As I noted in the last post, only one Latino player (Orlando Cepeda) and one African American player (Larry Doby) have been chosen to the Hall of Fame by Veterans Committees, the second-chance committees that have chosen most white players in the Hall of Fame.

Part of that is a function of time. Baseball was integrated in 1947, so a player starting a 20-year career in 1950 would retire in 1970. That player then would have to wait five years before going on the writers’ ballot (1975), then, if not elected by the writers, would not become eligible for Veterans Committee consideration until about 1995. So we’ve had roughly 20 years of Veterans Committee consideration of retired black and Latino “major” league players.

And that timetable has pretty much worked out. Three minority players (other than Negro Leaguers) were elected to the Hall of Fame before 1975:

  • Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947 and played only 10 years in the “majors.”
  • Roy Campanella, Robinson’s Dodger teammate who started playing in 1948 and whose career was curtailed by a car accident in 1957.
  • Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972. The Hall of Fame waived the five-year waiting period and he was elected immediately, the first Latino in the Hall of Fame.

After those three, Ernie Banks‘ election to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1977 started a steady stream of black and Latino Hall of Famers. He was one of nine selected over the next 10 years.

But the Veterans Committee has been much more generous with white players than with players of color, even if you look past all the pre-1947 players elected to the Hall of Fame.

Orlando Cepeda's autograph (above Manager Red Schoendienst's) on a ball autographed by members of the 1967 or '68 Cardinals. The ball belongs to my son Joe.

Orlando Cepeda’s autograph (above Manager Red Schoendienst’s) on a ball autographed by members of the 1967 or ’68 Cardinals. The ball belongs to my son Joe.

Even since they could start considering black players, committees have been far more generous in admitting whites. Veterans Committees have elected these white players who played all or most of their careers since 1947: George KellPee Wee ReeseEnos SlaughterRed SchoendienstPhil Rizzuto, Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski and Ron Santo.

That’s 10 white borderline Hall of Famers elected by various committees who played since baseball was integrated to only one black and one Latino. Think about the roles that African American and Hispanic players have played in baseball since 1947. What do you think are the chances that there have legitimately been five times as many borderline whites who have belonged in the Hall of Fame as blacks and Latinos combined?

Let’s compare that disparity to elections by the writers. Since 1977, the year Banks was elected, writers have elected 64 players to the Hall of Fame. The players elected need to get 75 percent of the vote. You can argue about some of the players who fall short (and I do), but those voted in by the writers are generally the easiest calls. Of those 64, 36 have been white, 22 black and six Latino. So, for the obvious calls, whites have less than a 2-1 ratio, closer to dead even. But for the borderline choices of players from the same period, whites have a 5-1 advantage.

Voting was always skewed

Hall of Fame selection has always been skewed for white players. Baseball was segregated in 1936, the first year of Hall of Fame selections.

With 20th-Century players dominating the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, the Hall added committees in the 1930s to recognize players who had been retired longer, as well as managers, umpires, executives and pioneers of the game.

Five different times Veterans Committees elected six or more people to the Hall of Fame, most of them players. This peaked with the selections of 10 players in 1945 and 11 in 1946.

I don’t know whether the rules changed or the committees (likely both), but the number of selections declined. With the exception of 1963, when the committee elected four, and 1964, when it elected six, the committee chose no more than three people a year from 1955-70.

By the time Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, 68 white players had been elected to the Hall of Fame. Another 17 white players would be elected before Robinson’s teammate, Campanella, became the second African American in Cooperstown in 1969. That’s an 85-2 disparity to start with.

Two years later, a Special Committee on Negro Leagues elected Satchel Paige as the first Negro Leaguer and third black Hall of Famer. But an interesting thing happened that year on the Veterans Committee: It elected six players plus Yankee executive George Weiss (who was responsible for the slow racial integration of the Yankees). It was as if the Hall voters made a conscious decision that, if it had to let Negro Leaguers in, it should elect even more marginal candidates from whites-only baseball. From 1972-76, one more Negro Leaguer joined the Hall of Fame each year, but he was outnumbered each time by three white choices by the Veterans Committee. In 1977, the Special Committee on Negro Leagues chose two players, Martin Dihigo and Pop Lloyd, and the Veterans Committee chose two players and a manager.

Johnny Mize's autograph, with some Yankee teammates', on a baseball belonging to my son Mike.

Johnny Mize’s autograph, with some Yankee teammates’, on a baseball belonging to my son Mike.

In 1978, consideration of Negro Leaguers and players passed over by the writers was merged in a new Veterans Committee. Its first three years, the committee chose one player and one executive, all whites. Finally in 1981 Negro Leaguer Rube Foster and white player Johnny Mize were elected to the Hall of Fame together by the New Veterans Committee. But the next five years would bring only white players and other white contributors into the Hall of Fame through the committee. Negro Leaguer Ray Dandridge broke through in 1987. The next Negro Leaguer to get a nod was Leon Day in 1995.

The Soul of BaseballFinally in 1998 and ’99, Doby and Cepeda became the only black and Latino “major” league players chosen by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame. In 15 years of selections since then, not a single minority player bypassed by the writers has won election to the Hall of Fame.

In 2005-6, the Hall finally decided to catch up after years of adding just one or two Negro Leaguers, if any, every year to the Hall of Fame. A Special Committee on the Negro Leagues chose 12 players and five pioneers/executives for induction into the Hall of Fame all at once, all of them dead. As only the Hall of Fame can screw things up, the committee snubbed Buck O’Neil, who was deserving both for his play and for his work as a coach, scout, promoter and keeper of Negro League history. And then the Hall asked O’Neil to speak at the induction, since all those inducted were dead. And he was such a gentleman and such a faithful steward of the Negro Leagues’ memory that he did speak. (I highly recommend Joe Posnanski’s book The Soul of Baseball, which tells this story.)

Era Committees

I could accept the Hall of Fame’s decision to shut the door to further inclusion of Negro Leaguers if it also shut the door to further inclusion of white players from the segregation era.

But in 2010, the Veterans Committee selection gave way to a rotating consideration of players from three eras: Pre-Integration (before 1947), Golden Era (1947 to 1972) and Expansion Era (post-1972). For purposes of this discussion, we’ll look past the declaration of a particular period of baseball as the Golden Era and overlook that baseball didn’t actually expand in 1972. I just want to focus on the existence of the Pre-Integration Era Committee and the fact that the Golden and Expansion Era committees have, in four meetings, not approved selection of a single black or Latino player.

To even consider selection of players by a Pre-Integration Era Committee, when Negro League players and contributors are no longer eligible is an outrageous return to segregation and a current-day embrace of the bigotry of that time.

But in 2013, the Pre-Integration Era Committee voted in Deacon White (an appropriate name for this discussion), a 19th-Century catcher who hadn’t played in 123 years and had been eligible for Hall of Fame election for 78 years without previously being judged worthy. I don’t know if White belongs in the Hall of Fame or not, but I’m willing to bet there are at least 100 players just as worthy who aren’t honored in Cooperstown, many of them players of color. The Pre-Integration Era selection was as though he won a lottery 74 years after he died. Umpire Hank O’Day and executive Jacob Ruppert also won election to the Hall of Fame by the Segregation Era Committee.

While White finally won election, the division into rotating ballots representing different eras has not resulted in any African American or Latino players reaching the Hall of Fame.

On two Golden Era ballots and two Expansion Era ballots, nine black and Hispanic players have been considered and all rejected. White third baseman Ron Santo has been the only player elected from either era (a year after he died, just adding to the many Hall of Fame outrages). Here’s what happened on those four ballots:

I don’t know what can be done to correct the racism reflected in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I guess it’s just a reflection of racism in society at large. But let’s not pretend that racism in baseball ended in 1947 any more than racism in society at large ended with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president.

This has always been and remains a racist nation. It’s just particularly easy to show how that racism persists when you examine elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Also in this series

This is the third of four posts I am writing about racism in selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Earlier posts:

Next I will compare some white Hall of Famers to borderline minority candidates who have been passed over.

Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I am referring to them all in this series as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees or the Special Committee on Negro Leagues. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.

Yankee note: This blog usually writes about Yankees. This week I am taking a broader look at continued racial discrimination in baseball, so I didn’t want to disrupt to note Yankee connections in the body of the post. But I’ll note them here: Torre, of course, managed the Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Tiant and Mize played for the Yankees late in their careers.

Starting pitcher series. I have paused my series on Yankee starting pitchers this week for this series on continuing racial discrimination in election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The series on pitchers will resume next week.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this blog post a few months ago late at night, unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my selections, that’s fine, too.

Thanks to newspaper partners

I offered a shorter (less stats-geeky) version of the first post in this series to some newspapers. Thanks to the newspapers who are planning to publishing the in print, online or both (I will add links as I receive them):

If you’d like to receive the newspaper version of the first post to use as a column, or would like a shortened version of any other posts in the series to publish, email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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5 responses

8 10 2015
Comparing borderline white Hall of Famers with black and Latino contenders | Hated Yankees

[…] Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players […]

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9 10 2015
Few teams integrated as slowly or reluctantly as the Yankees | Hated Yankees

[…] Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players […]

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17 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers with the greatest teammates: Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez | Hated Yankees

[…] borderline teammates haven’t had as much time to get voted into the Hall of Fame. Plus, the standards for Hall of Fame selection of players before baseball integrated were much lower, as I documented in my series on racial discrimination in the Hall of Fame. But, both in terms of […]

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30 11 2015
World Series champs nearly always feature Hall of Famers | Hated Yankees

[…] just went back to 1947 in answering my question, because, as I noted in an October post, Hall of Fame standards were much lower before baseball […]

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7 07 2016
The Negro Leagues Museum: Class in the face of bigotry | Hated Yankees

[…] Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players […]

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