30 Nov
Not in Hall of Fame


F. Scott Fitzgerald may have said that American lives had no second acts, but some former baseball players can get a second chance: Even if a player finds no success for the Baseball Hall of Fame on the ballot voted on by the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), he may get a second look from the Veterans Committee to see if he had been unfairly passed over previously. But do any of the candidates on this year's ballot deserve that second chance?

(And if the reference to novelist Fitzgerald sounds like irrelevant pretense, recall that in The Great Gatsby he alluded to the gambler who put in the fix for the 1919 World Series and thus destroyed "the faith of fifty million people," while that phrase became the title of the third "inning," or episode, of Ken Burns's celebrated documentary series Baseball.)

The Current Structure of the Veterans Committee

Actually, since 2010 the "Veterans Committee" has comprised three separate committees: the Pre-Integration Committee, which covers the period from 1876 to 1946; the Golden Era Committee (1947–1972); and the Expansion Era Committee (1973–present). Each committee meets annually on a rotating basis to evaluate and vote on a roster of candidates selected by a Historical Overview Committee for that particular era. That roster may contain individuals who had been managers, umpires, executives (which includes team owners, general managers, and major league officials), and long-retired players, and just as with the BBWAA balloting, a candidate who receives at least 75 percent of the vote from that era's committee is thus elected to the Hall of Fame.

Last year, the Expansion Era Committee chose three inductees—Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre—all managers, although Torre's record as a near-Hall of Fame player was likely another factor, and all are worthy choices. The previous year, the Pre-Integration Era Committee also chose three inductees: Hank O'Day, who, elected as an umpire, also had careers as a baseball player and manager; Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the New York Yankees responsible for bringing Babe Ruth to the franchise; and Deacon White, a Deadball-era player who retired more than a decade before the Wright Brothers flew their first successful airplane.

In 2012, the Golden Era Committee elected one player to the Hall of Fame: Ron Santo, whose initial snubbing by the BBWAA voters had been criticized for years as his case for why he should be in the Hall became stronger every year. (I too championed Santo in my very first column for this site.)

Santo's was an oversight that the Committee corrected—but are there any other players from the "Golden Era" whose careers have been unjustly overlooked?

The 2015 Golden Era Ballot

This year's Golden Era Committee has ten candidates to consider, nine players and one executive. The nine players are Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, and Maury Wills. The sole executive is Bob Howsam.

Six of those players were on the 2012 ballot, with Allen, Pierce, and Wills being new for this year. Kaat was the top vote-getter in 2012, garnering 10 of the 16 possible votes for a 62.5 percent showing; Hodges and Miñoso each got nine votes (56.3 percent) while Oliva polled eight (50 percent). Boyer and Tiant received less than three votes each.

All nine players appeared on ballots voted on by BBWAA voters when they were first eligible following retirement—although the fates of three players, noted in the table below, took some interesting wrinkles.

Dick Allen was one-and-done in 1983, but he was returned to the ballot in 1985 and remained on it until 1997, which was his 15th and final year on the ballot—and it included his "missing" year of 1984, when he was not on the ballot.

Ken Boyer spent five years on the ballot beginning with his first year of eligibility in 1975, but he never received five percent of the vote during that time and was dropped following 1979. However, he re-emerged on the ballot in 1985 and remained on it for ten more years, giving him the full 15 years commonly granted (barring election or falling below the five percent threshold) until 2014, when it was announced that the maximum allowable time on the ballot will be reduced to ten years starting with the 2015 vote.

Minnie Miñoso was also a one-and-done in 1969, following his seeming retirement from Major League Baseball in 1964, but then he made brief returns to the Majors in 1976 and again in 1980—more on Miñoso's surprising longevity later—which restarted his eligibility clock, as it were, and he remained on the ballot for 14 more years starting in 1986.

The table below summarizes the nine players' experience on the BBWAA ballots, listing their first year of eligibility (including the anomalous situations described above), the number of years they were on a BBWAA ballot, the percentage of the vote they received in the first and last years of eligibility, and the highest percentage of the vote they received during their entire run on the ballot.

2015 Golden Era Candidates, BBWAA Voting Summary


First Eligible

Years on Ballot

Debut Percentage

Ending Percentage

Highest Percentage

* Allen, Dick






* Allen, Dick






** Boyer, Ken






** Boyer, Ken






Hodges, Gil






Kaat, Jim






*** Miñoso, Minnie






*** Miñoso, Minnie






Oliva, Tony






Pierce, Billy






Tiant, Luis






Wills, Maury






* Dick Allen did not meet the five percent of the vote on his first BBWAA ballot in 1983 to remain on the ballot, but he was returned to the ballot in 1985. Allen's return to the ballot in 1985 took into account his "missing" year, however, as his final year in 1997 was considered his 15th and final year on the ballot.

** Ken Boyer did not meet the five percent of the vote on his first ballot in 1975, but he remained on the ballot until 1979. However, he was reinstated to the BBWAA ballot in 1985.

*** Minnie Miñoso did not meet the five percent of the vote on his first BBWAA ballot in 1969, which followed his last year in the majors in 1964, and he was dropped from subsequent ballots. However, Miñoso returned to the majors briefly in 1976 and in 1980, which reactivated his eligibility starting in 1986.

Seven of the nine Golden Era player-candidates had been on the BBWAA ballot for the full 15 years then established as the maximum number of years allowed on the writers' ballot; Dick Allen was on the ballot for 14 years all told, having lost a year of eligibility between his first year of eligibility and his reinstatement two years later, and Billy Pierce was on the ballot for only five years even though he never reached the two-percent mark in voting during that time. Gil Hodges had the best showing, netting 63.4 percent of the vote in his final year of 1983, which is significant because no other candidate even reached the 50-percent mark in voting during his time on the writers' ballot.

In other words, BBWAA voters of the time did not consider any of the 2015 Golden Era player-candidates to be Hall of Fame-caliber players when each had the opportunity to be voted in by the writers. They did ask for Ken Boyer to be reinstated after his first stint, and his ballot performance was much better during his second term although his best showing was about 25 percent; significantly, though, Ron Santo was also a reinstatement at this time, and the Golden Era Committee did elect Santo to the Hall in 2012. Dick Allen, too, got a new lease of life although he never reached the 19-percent mark in any year on the ballot.

So, are any of the nine players on the 2015 Golden Era ballot secretly Hall of Famers just waiting to be recognized? Will today's advanced statistical analysis help to reveal that fact? That is our purpose here, but before we begin to analyze the players and speculate upon their fate, let's look at the current Golden Era Committee and at a brief history of the Veterans Committee.

The 2015 Golden Era Committee

The 2015 Golden Era Committee comprises 16 members, eight who are currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame (seven players and one executive), four executives, and four media figures. The committee composition differs significantly from the 2012 committee that elected Ron Santo to the Hall; only four members of the 2012 committee are on this current committee.

The Hall of Fame members of the current committee are Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, and Don Sutton. Only Gillick was not a player, and he and Bunning were elected by the Veterans Committee. The executives are Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond, and Bob Watson. Watson is a former general manager, notably with the New York Yankees, with whom he won the 1996 World Series and became the first African-American GM to win a world championship, and was also a Major League Baseball official as vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations until he retired in 2010; Watson was also a former player with a respectable 19-year career primarily with the Houston Astros, with whom he was thought to have scored MLB's one millionth run in 1975, although that has been disputed subsequently. The media members of the committee are Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe, and Tracy Ringoldsby.

Kaline, Sutton, Hemond, and Kaegel were members of the 2012 committee.

Brief History of the Veterans Committee

Before evaluating the ten candidates for the 2015 Golden Era ballot, it is useful to review a brief history of the post-BBWAA Hall of Fame voting that has been the task of baseball's various Veterans Committees since 1939. That action in 1939, by the Old Timers Committee, came just three years after the very first elections by the BBWAA in 1936 with the intention of recognizing 19th-century players, including Cap Anson, Candy Cummings, Buck Ewing, and Old Hoss Radbourn.

It indicated early on that baseball was keenly invested in its legacy, and in ensuring that a mechanism existed to memorialize players who may have escaped the notice of the writers; it also ensured that non-players integral to the history of the game also got proper recognition, which in fact began in 1937 with the induction of executives, pioneers, and managers (specifically, Connie Mack and John McGraw). This attention to the game's legacy continued to be felt as, beginning in 1971, a separate Negro Leagues Committee began inducting players (for example, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck Leonard) and non-players (Rube Foster) whose careers were primarily or exclusively in the Negro Leagues prior to baseball's integration in 1947.

Since then the various and sundry committees have been criticized either for inducting too many players, or else players of lesser caliber, or not inducting anyone. Adding to the confusion and criticism are the various names of committees tasked with specific duties, and the rules and mandates committees labored under, which over the years have changed as often as have the names of the committees.

For example, in 1945 the Old Timers Committee selected ten inductees as had been requested by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had died in late 1944 and was himself almost immediately inducted into the Hall; in addition, his mandate lived on as the Old Timers Committee did indeed induct ten players whose careers were primarily in the 19th century, including Dan Brouthers, Jimmy Collins, and King Kelly. This was done also to break up the logjam on the BBWAA ballot, as the BBWAA, which had been meeting every three years at this time, had not elected anyone in 1945. (And does a "logjam" sound similar to our current situation with the BBWAA ballot?)

And even though the Committee was later criticized for inducting too many players, it returned the following year to select eleven more players, including Jesse Burkett, Eddie Plank, and the Cubs' famed double-play team of Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, and Joe Tinker. And while Burkett and 325-game winner Plank seemed reasonable, the Cubs' trio has since been regarded as a sentimental rather than a substantive vote. Moreover, even though the 1945 vote drew criticism only retrospectively, the 1946 vote drew complaints almost immediately, not only for the Committee's choices (right fielder Tommy McCarthy, chosen in 1946, is often regarded as the worst player in the Hall of Fame; his Wins Above Replacement, from, admittedly a retrospective value, is 16.1—with the average value of all 24 right fielders in the Hall being 73.2), but for infringing on the responsibilities of the BBWAA, which had been unable to elect candidates at this time.

Thus the Committee scaled back its scope and operations, waiting until 1949 to elect only two players (pitchers Mordecai Brown and Kid Nichols), then waiting four years to elect six candidates (only two of whom were players), and then electing just two candidates every other year until 1961. By now the Committee had renamed and reconstituted itself as the Committee on Baseball Veterans, shortened as the Veterans Committee, and that name has stuck as the catch-all term for any non-BBWAA body evaluating potential Hall of Famers even if the name itself is not actually in use.

In 1962, the Committee (and we are using the catch-all term for simplicity's sake) resumed annual operations, and it remained that way until the end of the century, although names, scope, and members have changed significantly over the last half-century; for instance, the Committee began evaluating Negro Leagues personages for the Hall.

Not that the Committee then became immune to criticism. In the early 1970s, the Committee, with Hall of Fame players Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry prominent members, selected several players, including Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, High Pockets Kelly, and Rube Marquard, whose credentials are hardly up to Hall standards—more suspiciously, they were also one-time teammates of either Frisch's or Terry's. Thus the Committee's reputation took a serious hit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Committee elected no one in 1988, 1990, and 1993.

But even following the suspected Frisch-Terry collusion, the Committee still elected players whose credentials did not seem substantial enough for the Hall of Fame. For every Johnny Mize or Ron Santo or Hoyt Wilhelm elected by the Committee, players whose records and impact were overlooked by the BBWAA, there are a host of marginal players whom the Committee has also deemed worthy of the Hall, including George Kell, Chuck Klein, Bill Mazeroski, Phil Rizzuto, and Hack Wilson.

By the turn of this century, the Veterans Committee instituted a radical reform, greatly expanding the pool of members, including all living Hall of Famers, and creating a Historical Overview Committee to nominate 260 candidates, including 200 players and 60 managers, umpires, and executives. Such an ambitious undertaking resulted, not surprisingly perhaps, in no elections of former players—although the top three vote-getters were Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, and Ron Santo. In 2005, the Historical Overview Committee offered voters a much-trimmed ballot of 25 players, although voters were still unable to deliver at least 75 percent of the vote required for election to any candidate; again, though, Hodges, Oliva, and Santo were the three highest vote-getters, with first-timer Jim Kaat close behind. The results were the same in 2007—three shutouts in a row—and criticism of the Committee's methods and standards was becoming widespread.

Thus the Committee tried again in 2007, splitting the composite ballot of all candidates into two separate ballots for non-players, one for managers and umpires and one for executives, while reducing the voting membership to a handful of Hall of Famers and adding a small contingent of executives and media members. The Committee would also vote on the non-player ballots only in even-numbered years starting in 2008; meanwhile, the players ballot in 2008, which was limited to players whose careers began after 1943, did not see any elections (although the top finishers remained Santo, Kaat, Oliva, and Hodges), but a separate election in late 2008 for the Class of 2009 for those players whose careers did begin before 1943 yielded the election of second baseman Joe Gordon.

Following a final, non-players vote in late 2009 for the Class of 2010, which saw the election of umpire Doug Harvey and manager Whitey Herzog, the old Veterans Committee was sundered. It was replaced by the current configuration of three separate committees—the Pre-Integration Era (1876 to 1946) Committee, the Golden Era (1947 to 1972) Committee, and the Expansion Era (1973 to the present) Committee—that would vote in turn every year, meaning that each committee would vote every three years. The Historical Overview Committee would continue to select the candidates for each ballot, with that ballot now including players and non-players alike. And a select number of members—players, executives, and media figures—would staff each committee, with most members joining for one session before being replaced.

First up for the Class of 2011 was the Expansion Era Committee, which voted executive Pat Gillick, who as a general manager won world championships with the Toronto Blue Jays (1992, 1993) and Philadelphia Phillies (2008), into the Hall. The Golden Era Committee voted Ron Santo into the Hall for 2012. In 2013, the Pre-Integration Committee elected three candidates, umpire Hank O'Day, executive Jacob Ruppert, and catcher/third baseman Deacon White, in a year that saw the BBWAA unable to muster a 75-percent vote for any player on its superstar-packed ballot that was also laced by players with known or suspected performance-enhancing drug involvement (this was the first ballot for left fielder Barry Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens, for instance)—leading to sardonic remarks about how the only Hall-worthy candidates in 2013 were those who had been dead for more than seven decades. The Expansion Era Committee, in its second showing for the Class of 2014, did manage to elect three managers, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre, who are all living; they joined the three candidates the BBWAA managed to elect for 2014, pitcher Tom Glavine, pitcher Greg Maddux, and first baseman/designated hitter Frank Thomas, at Cooperstown, New York, for the induction ceremonies earlier this year.

Which brings us to the Golden Era Committee's turn at bat for the Class of 2015. But although the changes instituted from 2011 on seem to be viable, a vital question remains unanswered: Are there really any Hall of Fame players left unselected from the Pre-Integration and Golden Eras?

Of course, cases can still be made for a few players from the Pre-Integration Era (I would make one for shortstop Bill Dahlen), and we will soon find out whether any of the player-candidates for the 2015 Golden Era Committee ballot are truly Hall of Fame-caliber. But the point is this: After three-quarters of a century of baseball second-guessing itself—or at least the Baseball Writers Association of America—about the legacy of its players and non-players alike, haven't these candidates been examined and re-examined enough already?

A re-examination using current advanced metrics may reveal a Ron Santo or a Bill Dahlen, a "sleeper" Hall of Famer whose anecdotal tales of greatness are validated by his statistical record. (Conversely, those same metrics can reveal that existing Hall of Famers may not be as good as their tales initially advertised them to be.)

Will the Historical Overview Committee keep sending the same candidates to the ballots until it finds a voting committee that will finally elect them? Or, as with the BBWAA ballot, should there be a statute of limitations, a maximum number of times a candidate can appear on a "Veterans Committee" ballot before being removed permanently? (Keeping in mind that this year the BBWAA rules were amended to shorten the time allowed on its ballot from fifteen years to ten years.)

For our purposes, these are rhetorical questions, but they are ones to keep in mind as we examine these well-examined nine players on the 2015 Golden Era ballot.

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Last modified on Saturday, 13 June 2015 13:33

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