Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’

25 07 2016

The Baseball Hall of Fame has improved the ridiculous structure of its Veterans Committees and corrected the egregious racism that was part of the old structure.

The three rotating committees used the last several years will now become four committees, with more frequent consideration by the committees that review more recent players. In a significant development, the revised process will allow consideration again for Negro League players and contributors.

The three Eras Committees the Hall of Fame has been using could hardly be more absurd. Each had its own nonsensical aspects:

  • The Pre-Integration Era Committee, as I noted last year, perpetuated segregation in baseball by having one committee that could consider only white players. Consideration of Negro League players of the Hall of Fame ended in 2006, and the rules for the Pre-Integration Era Committee said that it could consider only “major league” players (and coaches, umpire and executives) whose primary contributions came prior to 1947, and that meant whites only.
  • The Golden Era Committee considered players (and others) whose primary contributions fell from 1947 to 1972. Who the hell proclaimed this the “Golden Era” of baseball? Not Cincinnati Reds fans, whose team’s golden era was just getting started in 1972. Not fans of the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks or other teams that didn’t even exist in 1972. Not fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, who won their only championships after the supposed Golden Era. Hey, my childhood fell during this supposed Golden Era. In other circumstances, I might argue that this was the golden era (the Yankees won 10 World Series in the era). Isn’t whenever you grew up the “golden era” of anything? But in designating eras for Hall of Fame consideration, it’s laughable, as though players elected from this era are automatically greater, more golden, than the others. And, you know what ended the Golden Era? Let’s see, what changed about baseball in 1973? That’s when they adopted the designated hitter rule, which self-anointed purists think ruined baseball. Because it’s so much fun to watch pitchers hit.
  • The Expansion Era Committee considered players and contributors whose greatest contributions came since 1973. But what the hell did 1973 have to do with expansion? It’s the Designated Hitter Era (even though the committee hasn’t admitted anyone who was primarily a DH; the only DH in the Hall, Frank Thomas, was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and the Hall calls him a first baseman, even though he played more games at DH). Baseball expanded in 1961 and 1962, adding two teams each year, then in 1969, adding four. So a majority of the expansion teams, eight of 14, were added before the so-called “Expansion Era” of the Hall of Fame’s absurd Era Committees.

The committees rotated, each considering players every three years. Last year the Pre-Integration Era Committee didn’t elect anyone for induction this year.

Now we’ll have four committees:

  • Today’s Game, considering contributions from 1988 to 2016. Of course, it’s another ridiculous name. Players actually from today’s game, of course, aren’t eligible for Hall of Fame voting, and the committee can only consider players who’ve been retired 15 years and weren’t elected by the writers. This committee will vote twice every five years, starting with 2016 and 2018.
  • Modern Baseball, 1970 to 1987. Sure, 46 years ago was “modern.” This committee also will vote twice every five years, starting in 2017 and 2019.
  • Golden Years. 1950-69. Still “Golden,” but they’ve tweaked the dates and called it “years” instead of an “era.” This committee will vote every five years, starting in 2020 and 2025.
  • Early Baseball, 1871-1949. Not only have they tweaked the date and dropped the “Pre-Integration” label, but the Hall of Fame announcement says Negro League players and contributors will be eligible again. I won’t take credit for this change, but I applaud it. Joe Posnanski’s opposition probably helped push this. The committee will vote every 10 years, starting in 2020 and 2030.

It’s definitely an improvement.

Some thoughts on how the Yankees of various eras might fare under these committees, and who else might be contenders:

Today’s Game

This committee’s big task will be deciding when or whether to admit players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, presuming that the writers continue to reject players under strong suspicion. This may become a de facto Scoundrels Committee (though Pete Rose wouldn’t fall in the era and they would never use that name for it), eventually deciding the fate of players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

This ballot could be pretty slim the first time or two. Bonds and Clemens have another half-dozen years on the writers’ ballot. And the committee is really just considering players whose greatest contributions came between 1988 and 2001, since players have to be retired 15 years to gain consideration.

Lee Smith, a Yankee for just eight games, will likely be on a Today’s Game ballot, since five of his seven All-Star appearances and three of his four league save titles came after 1987. This will be his last year on the writers’ ballot, and, with 34 percent last year, he has no chance of reaching the 75-percent vote required for induction. As I’ve noted before, his career is indistinguishable from the relievers of his era who made the Hall of Fame: Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter. Smith will make it eventually. He’s already waited too long.

Bernie Williams and David Cone are likely Yankees to make a Today’s Game Committee ballot, but I’d be surprised if either wins election, especially soon.

Modern Baseball

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Ron Guidry, photo I took in 1977 with his daughter

Lots of Yankees in this era who belong in the Hall of Fame have been screwed by the baseball writers and by previous Expansion Era Committees.

Tim Raines has his last year on the ballot next year. He got 69.8 percent of the writers’ vote this year and will probably make it into Cooperstown next year. If not, he’s a certain selection by a Modern Baseball Committee. He’ll go into the Hall primarily for his play for the Expos and White Sox, but he was a valuable contributor to the Yankee championships in 1996 and ’98. Though Raines played until 2002 and had more years in “Today’s Baseball,” he clearly belongs in Modern Baseball Committee consideration. All seven of his All-Star seasons and all his seasons leading his league (four times in steals, twice in runs and once each in doubles, batting average and on-base percentage) came before 1988.

Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Tommy John and Graig Nettles are bound to be on some Modern Baseball ballots. I think John is the most likely to make it to Cooperstown, but it’s inexplicable why he’s had to wait this long.

Two players who were briefly Yankees, Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat, overlapped this era and the Golden Years. Both have strong cases to get into Cooperstown, but they, like John, suffer because so many starting pitchers from their time are already enshrined.

The Tigers have some players who should get Modern Baseball Committee consideration: Jack Morris is quite likely to get it, and I expect Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker to go in together someday. Kirk Gibson was damned famous, but didn’t have the longevity the Hall demands.

Steve Garvey will certainly be on a Modern Baseball Committee ballot and is as likely as any selection from the era.

Golden Years

Roger Maris' autograph, with some St. Louis Cardinals teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Roger Maris’ autograph, with some St. Louis Cardinals teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Roger Maris, Allie Reynolds and Elston Howard are Yankees of this era who should be in Cooperstown but aren’t yet.

Maury Wills, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and Dick Allen are others who belong in the Hall of Fame.

Curt Flood should finally get his due as well.

I already mentioned the Detroit Tigers in the previous section, but the Tigers are probably second to the Yankees in legitimate complaints about exclusion from the Hall of Fame. Bill Freehan, Mickey Lolich and Rocky Colavito are Tigers from the Golden Years who might end up on Golden Year ballots, and one of them might actually win election someday, but I doubt if all three do.

Early Baseball

Buck O'Neil, honored in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, needs to be honored in Cooperstown as well.

Buck O’Neil, honored in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, should have a plaque in Cooperstown as well.

Giving the Early Baseball period a shot only every 10 years is definitely an improvement. The “major league” players of that era are vastly over-represented in Cooperstown, but considering them once a decade allows correction of any lingering mistakes.

But the big mistake from this era remaining to correct is Buck O’Neil, snubbed in the final Negro Leagues election. O’Neil is more deserving than any player from the white major leagues of his era who hasn’t already been elected. He could also be honored as a contributor from one of the other eras, because he contributed long after his playing years, as the memory of the Negro Leagues, a relentless promoter of baseball and the driving force behind the creation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

The new committee rules have their flaws, but if they lead to giving O’Neil his due, that will erase one of the biggest shames from the Hall of Fame.

With the tweaked dates, Reynolds could get Early Baseball Committee consideration. His best years were in the 1950s, which should make him a Golden Years candidate. But he won most of his games and had an All-Star season before 1950, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for an Early Baseball Committee to consider Reynolds.

Griffey and Piazza

Congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, honored Sunday in Cooperstown. I enjoyed watching each of them play, and got to see Junior in person as a season-ticket-holder in Kansas City when he came up with the Mariners. Griffey’s an all-time great by any standard, and maybe the greatest ever before turning 30. Injuries when he joined the Reds turned him into a mediocre player. But his 1990s were one of the best decades any player ever had. He wore out Yankee pitching in the 1995 Division Series with five homers in five games.

Piazza didn’t belong behind the plate, but he hit well enough that managers played him where he wanted to play, and that was behind the plate for 1,630 games.

Piazza also had a memorable post-season moment against the Yankees:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: