Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My 3 or 4 picks for the Hall of Fame

Yesterday's big news, as I'm sure you know, was the publication of the 2011 list of post-1972 candidates to be considered (by the Veterans Committee) for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame.

The Veterans Committee evaluates candidates who failed to win "popular" election (by baseball writers) during their initial period of eligibility (15 years for players).  This means that the players on the VC ballot aren't usually once-in-a-generation superstars like Willie Mays or Tom Seaver.  Thus it's not surprising that 4 of the 12 candidates are on the list primarily for non-playing achievements.

If there's a no-brainer on the list, it has to be Marvin Miller.  By unionizing baseball and creating free agency, he raised the average ballplayer's annual income from that of a journeyman plumber to that of a half dozen neurosurgeons.  He completely outwitted the owners every step of the way, and would have made them look like fools even if they hadn't already done it to themselves.  Not surprisingly, he made some major enemies along the way, which is the only thing that could keep him out of the Hall.

The Veterans Committee this year is 8 players, 4 executives, and 4 media.  The threshold for election is 75%, which means that the executives would need only one more vote to blackball Miller.  The easiest way to do this would be to buy the vote of one of the media representatives.  I can't imagine how any of the players could vote against Miller.

Next, I'm going to surprise some of you by saying I'd vote for George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin -- together, because neither of them would have gotten in without the other.  It's a tragic love story of two men who hate but need each other -- perhaps now that they're both gone, someone can make a real tearjerker of a homoerotic movie about them.  Baseball needs characters like these.

And that's it.  I wouldn't vote for any of the other 9.  Tommy John was a fine pitcher, but few would remember his name if it hadn't been repurposed, as in the "Tommy John surgery" that has saved countless arms.  You don't get into the Hall for being a guinea pig.  Lou Gehrig is there because of what he did *before* he got Lou Gehrig's disease.  (By contrast, there was a Bush league long before two of its members became US presidents.)

Pat Gillick is a cipher to me, and my reluctance to vote for him may simply reflect that, like most fans, I don't have enough insight into what baseball executives really do.  I see no signal achievements that advertise his greatness -- but possibly I'm punishing him for being so much saner than Steinbrenner.

The remaining 7 candidates -- Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, and Rusty Staub -- were all very, very good players.  They all had moments of greatness, and several -- Garvey especially -- excelled over extended periods of time.  But none of them, it seems to me, amassed either the statistics or the legend and anecdotes that put you in the Hall of Fame. 

Moreover, I think that if you look carefully, you'll find that their most passionate advocates are also fierce supporters of the teams they played for.  Reds fans can be forgiven for having no doubt that Concepcion belongs in the Hall, and the same goes for Dodgers, Yankees, Pirates, and Expos fans.  (Are there any Expos fans?)  And as a long time Mets fan, I'd love to see Rusty Staub become the second Hall of Famer wearing a Mets hat.  (Triva answer:  Tom Seaver.)   I'd love to see myself crowned Mr. Universe, too, but that doesn't mean I deserve it.

I'd like to believe that, were I on the Veterans committee, I'd preserve the high standards of the Hall and vote for only 3 of the 12.  But I'm probably kidding myself.  In 1967, my father took me to my first-ever professional baseball game, where my Columbus Jets beat the Syracuse Chiefs 1-0.  Afterwards, I waited patiently in line to get my ticket signed by the young nobody with the winning RBI. 

I'm pretty sure I can hear my father saying, "Hold on to that, he could be in the Hall of Fame some day.  You never know."   I have it still.  Just above my own compulsive annotation, in much larger letters:  Al Oliver.

OK, so I'd probably end up voting for 4 of the 12.  Baseball without maudlin sentiment would be just a more athletic version of chess.  Maybe Al Oliver's career didn't *quite* justify Hall of Fame entry, but to my mind, he missed it by no more than a single autographed ticket stub.