EVALUATING BASEBALL'S 2017 TODAY'S GAME ERA COMMITTEE BALLOT

Mark McGwire Mark McGwire
02 Dec
2016
Not in Hall of Fame

Index



Executive Decisions: John Schuerholtz and George Steinbrenner

Of the two executives, John Schuerholtz and George Steinbrenner—we'll treat Bud Selig separately below—are almost opposites although both steered winning franchises.

A college baseball star, John Schuerholtz had been a young teacher at a Baltimore junior high school when, in 1966, he wrote to Baltimore Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger and asked for a job. Surprisingly, he was offered an assistant's position—at a smaller salary than his teaching job—but Schuerholtz, a graduate of Towson and Loyola Universities, buckled down and did his homework. Soon he was an assistant to the Orioles' director of player development Lou Gorman, and when Gorman left in 1969 for the new American League expansion team the Kansas City Royals, Schuerholtz followed him into this new opportunity.

With the Royals, Gorman and Schuerholtz applied the model they had learned in Baltimore, where the Orioles had won three AL pennants and two World Series between 1966 and 1970. It took the Royals, who at one point had Lou Piniella on their roster, a few years to develop, but they began to build a strong foundation by drafting and acquiring franchise players George Brett, Dan Quisenberry, Frank White, and Willie Wilson.

And by 1976, with manager Whitey Herzog at the helm, the Royals had won the first of three consecutive division championships although they lost to the New York Yankees in all three AL Championship Series. Clinching the division once more in 1980, the Royals this time bested the Yankees to get to their first World Series, facing the National League pennant-winners the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies wound up winning the Series, their first ever, in six games, with Game Six remaining the most-watched game in World Series history as 54.9 million television viewers tuned in to see the Phillies prevail.

By 1983, John Schuerholtz had been named the team's general manager. Remembering his fundamental lessons in Baltimore, he used the Royals' farm system to cultivate an impressive staff of pitchers including Bud Black, David Cone, Mark Gubicza, Danny Jackson, and Bret Saberhagen. The Royals made the postseason again in 1984 but were swept by the Detroit Tigers, who went on to win the World Series. By 1985, Saberhagen had won the AL Cy Young award as he and Brett helped to lead the Royals back to the playoffs, where they defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in a thrilling ALCS to advance to the World Series.

The Royals' Series opponent was their cross-state neighbors the St. Louis Cardinals, which led to the Series being dubbed the "I–70 Series" for the interstate highway that connects the two Missouri cities. Once again, the Royals provided the thrills as they fell behind the Cardinals three games to one, but behind manager Dick Howser the Royals rebounded to win the Series; ironically, the Cardinals were managed by Whitey Herzog, the Royals' erstwhile manager. The 1985 World Series is also notorious for its two blown umpiring calls in Game Six, the second a crucial bang-bang play at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning involving Royals baserunner Jorge Orta and Cardinals pitcher Todd Worrell that umpire Don Denkinger called safe even though replays showed that Orta was out. With that lease of life, Kansas City scored two runs to win the game, and then won the Series in an 11–0 blowout in Game Seven. Interestingly, years later, John Schuerholtz championed the use of replay to adjudicate close calls even though a replay in 1985 would have overturned the Royals' good fortune thanks to Denkinger's call.

Although the Royals remained a winning franchise through the second half of the 1980s, they made no return to the postseason following their 1985 World Series victory; by 1990 Schuerholtz had recommended himself to Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten for the team's general manager position following Bobby Cox's decision to manage the team on the field. Schuerholtz remained the Braves' general manager until 2007, helping to steer the Braves to a sustained run of excellence that is the highlight of Schuerholtz's career as a baseball executive.

In 1991, with a pitching staff that included future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz along with Steve Avery, the Braves won their first National League pennant in 33 years—remarkable considering that the Braves had finished in the division cellar the previous season—in an exciting seven-game NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing the Minnesota Twins, who had similarly been cellar-dwellers in 1990, the Braves provided their half to one of the most exciting World Series ever, capped by an epic Game Seven that saw the Twins' Jack Morris go the distance in a ten-inning shutout—Morris simply refused to let manager Tom Kelly take him out of the game—as John Smoltz matched him for 7 1/3 innings before leaving in the eighth inning. The Twins finally eked out a run with one out in the tenth inning on a bases-loaded pinch-hit by Gene Larkin that scored Dan Gladden, who had doubled to start the inning.

The Braves again made it to the World Series in 1992, and again they downed the Pirates in another NLCS that went the distance, ending with a Game Seven come-from-behind win for the Braves in the bottom of the ninth inning—down 2–0, they rallied for three runs including pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera's two-out single that scored David Justice and, memorably, Sid Bream, who chugged home ahead of the throw by Pirates' left fielder Barry Bonds. However, the Braves couldn't handle the Toronto Blue Jays, who took the World Series in six games for their first world championship.

In 1993 the Braves scored a coup by signing Greg Maddux, later a first-ballot Hall of Famer, who helped Atlanta to a 104-win season, finishing one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants (who had just acquired Bonds) in the NL West; the Braves went a torrid 55–19 over the last 74 games to overcome the Giants' division lead, although they lost the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

With the 1994 a wash because of the strike that forced the cancellation of the World Series, the Braves returned strong in 1995. Having won 90 games in the newly-created East division of the National League, Atlanta polished off the Colorado Rockies, not only a new team but the first NL wild-card team, in the NL Division Series before sweeping the Cincinnati Reds for the NL pennant, setting up a confrontation with the AL pennant-winners the Cleveland Indians, which had won 100 games and featured a pitchers'-nightmare lineup including Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. But the Braves had the pitchers to prevail, including the Series MVP Tom Glavine, who won two games including a combined shutout in the clinching Game Six, which gave Atlanta its first World Series title in 38 years, since the team had been located in Milwaukee.

The Atlanta Braves, with John Schuerholtz as the team's general manager, reeled off a streak of ten consecutive division titles following their 1995 world championship, returning to the World Series twice more, in 1996 to defend their crown and again in 1999, but they were bested by George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees both times as the Yankees established their own dynasty. Nevertheless, the Braves under Schuerholtz clinched a total of 14 consecutive division titles, a feat unmatched by any team including the Yankees.

Having developed an organizational flair with the Orioles, Schuerholtz has become the business face of modern professional baseball, an intelligent, perceptive executive with an outstanding track record of franchise success. However, that anonymous, corporate competence will likely not get him into the Hall of Fame, at least not this time.

On the other hand, George Steinbrenner, who owned the New York Yankees from 1973 to his death in 2010, has truly been one of the most larger-than-life figures in baseball history, and with the Yankees having won seven World Series titles under his ownership—fully one-quarter of the 27 the Bronx Bombers have won in their history—Steinbrenner had the hardware to back up his colorful, autocratic manner.

Who says you can't throw money at the problem? When Steinbrenner, a shipping magnate, took ownership of the Yankees in 1973, the once-storied franchise was ineffective and in disarray. Rather than wait for the Yankees' farm system to cultivate talent, Steinbrenner simply went out and bought it, looking to jump-start the team with high-priced free agents such as former Oakland A's pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter and outfielder Reggie Jackson. The acquisition of Jackson paid quick rewards when he slugged three consecutive home runs, off three different Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers, in the clinching Game Six of the 1977 World Series, earning the team its first world championship in 15 years and himself the undying sobriquet "Mr. October."

Not that Steinbrenner had rosy relationships with his high-profile—and high-cost—players. In 1981, Steinbrenner signed free agent outfielder Dave Winfield to a ten-year contract worth $23 million, making Winfield the highest-paid player at the time—although Steinbrenner reputedly thought the contract value was only $16 million. And by 1985 Steinbrenner was blasting his blue-chip hitter as a "Mr. May" when Steinbrenner wanted another "Mr. October" or even a "Mr. September"; that year, the Yankees lost the American League pennant to the Toronto Blue Jays as the season was ending. Compounding the animosity, Steinbrenner in 1990 hired Mafia-connected gambler Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Winfield, a move that got Steinbrenner banned for life from running the Yankees by commissioner Fay Vincent, although by 1992 Steinbrenner was back at the Yankees' helm. The capper came when, following Winfield's being voted into the Hall of Fame, he elected to be inducted as a San Diego Padre, his first team before signing with the Yankees.

Furthermore, Steinbrenner's notorious grooming policy of banning long hair and facial hair except for moustaches, an edict that began as soon as he assumed ownership of the franchise and which likely reflects his education at a military academy and subsequent service in the Air Force, produced a continual source of friction between him and his charges. Memorably, Steinbrenner's disdain for hirsute unkemptness began so soon that, upon spotting long-hairs in the lineup during the 1973 home opener, he wrote down the uniform numbers of the offenders because he did not yet know who his players were. Don Mattingly was a notable violator of Steinbrenner's grooming obsession, although Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage's trademark walrus moustache was born as the acceptable limit of defiance to the Boss's possible chaetophobia. No wonder relief pitcher Sparky Lyle, another mustachioed Yankee, popularized the term "the Bronx Zoo" to describe the Yankees. Nevertheless, New York remained the baseball Mecca for free agents, even the previously-hirsute ones such as Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, who willingly depilated themselves upon signing a Yankees contract.

But if Steinbrenner had a contentious relationship with his players, that was nothing compared to his dealings with his managers. Steinbrenner fancied himself an on-field strategist as well, which did not sit well with the men he hired to actually perform that duty—one former manager, Dallas Green derisively nicknamed him "Manager George"—although Steinbrenner is just as (in)famous for the managers he fired, sometimes more than once.

During Steinbrenner's reign, no fewer than 15 managers toiled in the dugout for the Boss, with four of them—Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, and Lou Piniella (who had also been a Yankees' outfielder in his playing days)—having made two stints while Billy Martin, perhaps the most celebrated of Steinbrenner's skippers, lays claim to having served on five separate occasions; in fact, Piniella spelled Martin after Martin's fourth stint in 1985, only to be replaced by Martin at the start of the 1988 season—and then only to replace Martin after 68 games, which might not have been such a good idea as the Yankees had been 40–28 under Martin but only 45–48 under Piniella, who was gone by the end of the season, replaced by Dallas "Manager George" Green. In addition, Ralph Houk and Yogi Berra had managed the Yankees prior to Steinbrenner's acquisition of the franchise before working for him; Houk had been the manager Steinbrenner had inherited although Houk left under his own power after the 1973 season.

George Steinbrenner
George Steinbrenner (L) with his five-time manager Billy Martin. Is the Boss truly a viable Hall of Fame candidate?

By the mid-1990s, however, the Yankees under manager Joe Torre and with its vaunted "Core Four" players—shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, and pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera—became a dynasty, winning, between 1996 and 2009, eleven division titles, seven American League pennants, and five World Series titles including four in five years between 1996 and 2000, missing only 1997, in which the Cleveland Indians represented the AL.

Under George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees, always a storied franchise, became akin to baseball's "America's Team" even—especially—if you hated them. Steinbrenner's big, open checkbook used to buy free agents to pursue championships quickly was arguably an incentive for Major League Baseball to institute during the 1996 Collective Bargaining Agreement a luxury tax, a mechanism that penalizes financially big-payroll teams that exceed a specific spending threshold. The goal is to redistribute, directly or indirectly, that money to teams with smaller payroll to effect a competitive balance. Whether that has been effective is also arguable—for example, from 1997 to 1999, the Yankees paid out nearly $10 million in luxury tax while winning World Series in two of those three years—while the phenomenon of "moneyball," or trying to maximize player value on the cheap, among low-payroll teams, notably the Oakland A's, became a staple of the 2000s.

Steinbrenner himself became the franchise's constant presence in the media, whether making Miller Lite commercials with Billy Martin in the 1970s or making Visa commercials with Derek Jeter in the 2000s. A fictionalized version of Steinbrenner became George Costanza's (Jason Alexander) boss (and a recurring character) in the sitcom Seinfeld.

George Steinbrenner appeared on the 2011 Expansion Era Committee ballot, polling fewer than eight votes; executive Pat Gillick got the sole nod for the Hall on that ballot. If the Today's Game Committee decides that Steinbrenner's ownership of the Yankees had contributed to—and had not hindered—the club's run to seven World Series championships under his reign, this may be the year for Steinbrenner to enter Cooperstown. Why not? Bill Veeck eventually got in, although we're still waiting for Charlie Finley.

Conspicuous Commissioner: Bud Selig

As the most recent former Commissioner of Baseball, Allan "Bud" Selig has cast a giant shadow on Major League Baseball in the last quarter-century although Selig, as a baseball owner dating back to his minority stake in the then-Milwaukee Braves, has been involved in the sport for twice that time. But as the Acting Commissioner from 1992 to 1998, becoming the Commissioner later in 1998, Selig has overseen a host of changes and events in baseball: expansion to 30 teams, restructuring each league into three divisions, interleague play and a merging of the two leagues under the Office of the Commissioner, the introduction of wild card teams into the postseason, revenue sharing and an overall financial turnaround in the sport, and, notoriously, the 1994 baseball strike that cancelled the World Series, and the opprobrium surrounding the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Milwaukee native Selig grew up a fan of the hometown minor-league Brewers before eventually becoming the largest public stockholder in the major-league franchise the Braves, which had moved to Milwaukee from Boston in 1953. However, when the Braves left for Atlanta in 1965, Selig divested his stock and set about trying to bring another Major League franchise to Milwaukee. That bore fruit when in 1970 he bought the financially failing Seattle Pilots, brought them to Milwaukee, and then renamed them the Brewers after his beloved childhood team. (And the Seattle Pilots, which existed for only one season in 1969, might have languished in the Brigadoon of baseball memory were it not for pitcher and author Jim Bouton, whose landmark inside-baseball baseball diary Ball Four, which exposed the less-than-glamorous truth about baseball and its participants, documented Bouton's daily travails in the Pilots' bullpen during that season.)

Selig acted as the owner and president of the Brewers until 1992, when he became the Acting Commissioner of Baseball. During Selig's tenure with the Brewers, they made it to the postseason in 1981 and again in 1982, when "Harvey's Wallbangers," the hard-hitting crew led by Gorman Thomas and Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount and nicknamed for manager Harvey Kuenn, faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, which went to all seven games although the Cardinals won the Series. However, the Brewers soon fell into the basement for the rest of Selig's tenure.

Squaring off against then-Commissioner Fay Vincent, who accused baseball owners of colluding in the mid-1980s to suppress player contracts, both dollar amounts and lengths of term, Selig led a group of owners seeking Vincent's removal. Vincent suffered a no-confidence vote and subsequently resigned, and with no effort to find a replacement, Selig, who by now was the chairman of the Executive Council of Major League Baseball, became the de facto acting commissioner.

As acting commissioner, Selig had instituted by 1994 a wild-card spot for each league with a corresponding realignment to three divisions, from two previously, in each league, enabling the wild-card team to play one of the three division winners. The impact was now three rounds of postseason play—Divisional Series, Championship Series, World Series—which polarized fans, and not for the first time did Selig do that as he instituted further reforms. Of course, Selig needed to have the support of team owners to institute these changes, but as Selig had been a team owner himself (his daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb assumed his ownership interest in the Brewers), suspicion loomed that he was a commissioner, albeit an acting one at this point, who wasn't in the owners' pockets—rather, he had part-ownership in the trousers.

Selig was on point during the 1994 players' strike, prompted by a worsening financial situation that eventually resulted in the institution of the luxury tax and that invoked memories of the owners' collusion—including Selig's involvement—in the mid-1980s that saw the ouster of Commissioner Fay Vincent and Selig step into the vacuum. The upshot was Selig's cancellation of the World Series, the first time that had happened since 1904, and a lingering resentment and animosity among baseball fans even when play resumed in 1995. But the resumption of play in 1995 nevertheless entailed initially the use of replacement players, regarded as "scabs" in the context of labor-management relations, which fans in any case regarded as a dispute between millionaires and billionaires with the fans left holding the bag.

By 1998, fan animosity had abated while Selig, now officially named as the Commissioner of Baseball by owners' vote, introduced another innovation: interleague play. For the first time other than in spring training exhibition games and the World Series, American League and National League teams played each other as part of the regular season, with those games counting as part of every team's record. The benefit was to introduce teams and their players to fans who could only see them on television (although free agency and the continual migration of players overall had long since quashed the idea of league affiliation), but it was unsurprising that this too was controversial.

The 1998 season also featured several sluggers who seemed to have a legitimate shot at breaking the single-season record for home runs, 61, set by Roger Maris in 1961. Ken Griffey, Jr., Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, and even Gregg Vaughn all hit 45 or more home runs, but it was the chase between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs that began to grip the nation—even those with little to no interest in baseball. McGwire eventually belted 70 home runs, smashing Maris's mark, while Sosa was close behind with 66 long flies, and their exploits, along with the offensive explosion throughout baseball, seemed to save the sport by erasing the resentment over the 1994 strike.

But then the specter of performance-enhancing drugs began to loom larger as players seemed to be getting huge and baseballs flew off bats and over fences, hit by players not regarded as power threats before. Steroids became a household term—and a dirty word for those who believed that players were blatantly cheating by artificially making themselves into musclebound sluggers or flame-throwing pitchers.

Through it all, Selig was reluctant to act. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke McGwire's single-season mark, set just three years previously, by three home runs, and the outcry over PED usage grew louder and uglier as Major League Baseball—Selig, the owners, the MLB Players Association—seemed to be ignoring the issue. By 2006, baseball had instituted the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program with its clear penalties for testing positive for banned substances, and in 2007 the independent investigation by former Senator George Mitchell, asked by Selig to investigate the PED issue, returned its report, which identified 89 players alleged to have used PED including Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Gary Sheffield, all on the current BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. But by then, fan disgust was even higher than it was for the 1994 strike, with the ramifications still being felt—and sure to flare up once more with Manny Ramirez on the 2017 BBWAA ballot.

Another Selig innovation includes the "this time it counts" importance of the All-Star Game following the tie game that occurred when the 2002 game ended in an extra-innings tie because each league's team had run out of players. It was an embarrassing moment for baseball and for Selig himself—the game was played in Miller Park, the Brewers' home field in Selig's hometown of Milwaukee—but the consequence was similarly controversial: Starting in 2003, the league that wins the All-Star game would be ensured that its World Series representative would have home-field advantage, thus elevating essentially an exhibition game for the fans into a game of consequence. This innovation has just been struck down by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement concluded in December 2016.

Bud Selig
"This time it counts"--Bud Selig deciding what to do about the 2002 All-Star Game. Have we really had time to evaluate the controversial commissioner?

There is no doubt that Bud Selig has presided over one of the most eventful eras in baseball history; Jerome Holtzman, the former official historian for MLB from 1999 to his 2008 death, has called Selig the best commissioner in baseball history, which seems more like a party endorsement than an impartial assessment. Selig is certainly one of the most notable commissioners, and he has had a significant impact on the sport, and he may in fact be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

However, Selig retired in 2015; he remains the Commissioner Emeritus of Baseball, a title that has not existed until now. Isn't it too soon to evaluate—and then decide on—his legacy? The vote on Bud Selig may in fact be a bellwether for the Hall of Fame, or at least the veterans committee aspect to deciding legacy.

Today's Game Committee Recap

Of the five player candidates, only Mark McGwire has the credentials for the Hall of Fame, but as I concluded above, voting McGwire in this year, so soon after he exited the BBWAA ballot, will look like elitist favoritism.

Albert Belle defines the bubble, at least for this year's crop of player candidates. He was a truly fearsome slugger for most of the 1990s, an offensive-rich period that may have obscured, and may continue to obscure, his record. I don't think Belle stands out during his period in the same way as Ralph Kiner and Dick Allen did during theirs; Belle looks more like Hack Wilson, also an auspicious slugger albeit one also in a high-offense era; Wilson is a Hall of Famer but as a gratuitous Veterans Committee pick. I would not vote for Belle, but if he is elected it is not as if his case is completely unjustified.

Of the three remaining player candidates, Will Clark was an excellent first baseman when he was healthy but not an elite one at any time. Harold Baines piled up impressive career counting numbers and is a strong designated hitter candidate, but he too is not distinguished enough. Orel Hershiser had a historic pitching season in 1989, when he set the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched during the regular season before being named the Most Valuable Player in both the National League Championship Series and then the World Series, and he had some excellent seasons prior to that. But, again, Hershiser was an outstanding pitcher in his peak years but never an elite one.

Among the non-players, Lou Piniella could very well sneak in as a Hall of Fame manager based on his record—he is 14th in career wins—but apart from his famous temper and on-field antics, Piniella's managerial career, although excellent, does not rise to level of elite. Davey Johnson has the better winning percentage, and proved himself to be a winner with every team he joined to manage. Furthermore, Johnson has that memorable 1986 World Series title with the Mets on his resume. Still, Johnson, like Piniella, is an excellent manager but not at the Hall of Fame level.

Of the two executives not named Bud Selig, John Schuerholtz established an outstanding track record with the Kansas City Royals and especially with the Atlanta Braves. And although only one World Series win didn't hamper Bobby Cox, Schuerholtz, less visible to the public—although not to the Today's Game Committee that will deliberate his candidacy for the Hall—does not jump out as a Hall of Fame executive. On the other hand, George Steinbrenner is probably the most recognizable team owner at least in recent history, and with his New York Yankees—unlike the Braves—establishing itself as a dynasty that can go all the way to the world championship, he simply seems like an executive who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Even if, indirectly, he got there through his pocketbook.

As for Bud Selig, he is undoubtedly one of the most influential and impactful baseball commissioners in history, as well as being one of the most controversial. Selig belongs in the Hall of Fame, and my only objection to his being elected on this ballot is that it is too soon after his retirement. I don't like playing the contingency game, because I think that if a candidate proves to be a Hall of Famer, then it doesn't matter when he is elected. But I do believe that waiving the waiting period does not allow for greater reflection.

To recap:

Mark McGwire is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. However, he will most likely not be elected this year because it is too soon after his tenure on the BBWAA ballot that was shrouded with opprobrium.

Albert Belle is a classic threshold candidate. I do not think he is solid enough to move over the threshold, but if he is elected, it is not as if he is completely unqualified.

Lou Piniella is the only eligible manager within the top 15 in career wins among all-time managers who is not in the Hall of Fame apart from Gene Mauch, who had a losing record overall and never won a World Series. Piniella may not be elected, but if he is, he is among strong company.

George Steinbrenner may not be elected simply because of his persona, but he did revive the Yankees and form a dynasty. He will be in the Hall of Fame at some point.

Bud Selig is a Hall of Famer. A controversial one, but he made a lasting impact on baseball.

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Last modified on Saturday, 03 December 2016 16:10

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