Pre-Integration Era Committee Releases 2016 Candidates For Baseball Hall of Fame: Sorry, There’s No Room in the Inn
First, let me state categorically that I love the Baseball Hall of Fame; love the history, love the tree-lined streets of Cooperstown in the summer, love the beauty of Lake Otsego, love everything about the place. Most of all, I love the reverence of the hall of plaques, appropriately presided over by life-size statues of The Babe and Mister T. Ballgame.
There is nothing more sublime than watching the face of an excited young kid, oversized baseball cap hanging over his ears, with eyes as big as Dodger Dogs, as his dad points out the plaques of immortals like Stan the Man, Hammerin’ Hank, Joltin’ Joe and Rapid Robert.
But it is also very disappointing to watch teenagers glance at a name and walk right by while muttering the difficult-to-answer questions of “Who the hell is that guy?” and “Why is he here?” Unfortunately, there are getting to be so many people on the hallowed walls that only someone with great baseball knowledge can answer the first question and, often there is no answer for the second other than something like, “Well, he was a crony of Frankie Frisch who got ramrodded in through a bogus committee.”
And now the 2016 Pre-Integration Era Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame has released its list of ten candidates for selection for baseball’s ultimate honor. The candidates, who will be voted on by a special committee December 7, include Doc Adams, Bill Dahlen, Sam Breadon, Wes Ferrell, Garry Herrmann, Marty Marion, Frank McCormick, Harry Stovey, Chris von der Ahe and Bucky Walters.
Now I’m sure all of these guys made a great contribution to the game, either as players or executives, and I have no doubt that the committee members are experts who have done research and really know their subject. I concede that they know much more about baseball history than I do.
But I feel compelled to say this, as respectfully and forcefully as I can:
Enough is enough.
Yes, they were all very good at times, but my problem is this is the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Pretty Good, or even the Hall of Great-For-Several-Seasons. This is the resting place of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, The Yankee Clipper, the Say Hey Kid, The Mick, The Iron Horse and The Rajah. These greats are the reason the Hall of Fame was created and the reason tons of people make the pilgrimage each year.
We now have 310 members of the Hall of Fame, with 244 players (including those from the Negro Leagues), 28 executives and 10 umpires among those selected as the greatest immortals of the game’s long history. While all have had their supporters, some of the 310 obviously do not belong. And the more mediocre candidates who are admitted, the murkier the standards for inclusion become.
I know in this day and age of all-inclusiveness and participation-trophies-for-every-kid-who-shows-up we don’t want to leave anyone out, but for this, just this one thing, we need to resolve to be very exclusive. We need to make the tough decisions, regardless of who’s feelings get hurt and stand our ground. The sanctity of the Hall deserves it.
As far as the specifics, very few fans will recognize the names Dahlen, Adams, Stovey or von der Ahe. They were all guys from the 1800s. I agree that all fans should tip their hats and recognize those pioneers who made great contributions to what would eventually become the National Pastime. But do we really need to keep adding guys to the Hall of Fame who very few fans have even heard of? Doesn’t the definition of “fame” sort of include something about maybe, perhaps, being famous or at least remotely known?
And how exactly do you determine if players from that era really deserve to be in the Hall of Fame now? Because of the great difference in some of the most basic rules, the game often bore little resemblance to that of the 20th century, making numbers from that era are virtually impossible to evaluate and understand. In 1880, for example, a pitcher could take several steps before flinging the ball–from 50 feet, a foul ball caught on one bounce was an out, eight balls was a walk and the batter could call for a high pitch or a low pitch if he so desired. How would a mid-20th century slugger, someone like Mickey Mantle, fare if he could ask for a high or low pitch? Ask Denny McLain.
Sure, you can compare them with their peers, but that doesn’t give you an idea of whether or not they are more deserving than some guy who played great in the 1960s but is still on the outside?
And these guys have had their chances, often by voters who were 80 years closer to their careers than those of today. The second class of voters, in 1937, selected Ban Johnson, who got his start in baseball in 1893, George Wright, who played from 1871-1882 and 1800s league executive Morgan Bulkeley.
Incidentally, Bulkely was one of the first men to gain admission to the Hall for less than stellar credentials, setting a precedent for future men who do not belong. Bulkeley was the first president of the newly formed National League in 1876–fine and dandy. But does that alone merit inclusion in the same room as The Babe? Bulkely only served one season, leaving baseball work in 1877 for politics. His only other baseball involvement was participation on the infamous 1905 Mills Commission that erroneously–some think intentionally erroneously–credited Abner Doubleday with inventing baseball in Cooperstown (a conclusion that, of course, made the inhabitants of Cooperstown eternally grateful but did not exactly endear him to proponents of truth).
There have been many more chances. A Centennial Commission selected old-time players in 1937 and 1938, then a renamed Committee of Old Time Players and Writers voted on old-timers in 1939 and a similar committee added old-timers in 1944, 1946, 1949. Starting in 1953 a new Committee on Veterans began adding people regularly for the next few decades. So these guys have had their chances. Files and papers and records have been combed and mined and now the only names left from the 19th century are those that excite no one except researchers and hard-core historians.
I’m not suggesting that these guys weren’t important; they are. The efforts of all of these men helped in the evolutionary process to make the great game what it is today. Particularly Dahlen appears to have been a very good player in his time and Adams made some very important contributions to rules and positional play. But we don’t have room for any more of them as Hall of Famers. I think a better solution would be to enlarge a special section of the museum as a tribute to the pioneers. Have an exhibit to celebrate their accomplishments and educate fans of their contributions. But please do not include any more of them in the Hall.
As far as the players selected who played more recently, again, I’m sorry. They were all very good for a time, but none could be even remotely considered among the greatest of their era. None of them got any support when they first had the chance to be voted in by the people who actually watched their careers. It used to be that Hall of Fame credentials included nearly 3,000 hits, 500 home runs or 300 wins. And it was routinely felt that unless there were very special circumstances–like retiring early due to severe arm pain after absolutely dominating for 5 or 6 years–a guy needed to prove his worth for maybe 15 or so great years.
Now we are selecting 1,700-hit guys? Really? Do you know how many major leaguers have accumulated 1,700 hits? I don’t. And I don’t care because I know it’s a lot. I would go so far as to say that it’s a veritable plethora. And we don’t need a plethora of guys in the Hall.
First, there’s Marty Marion, according to old-timers one of the best fielding shortstops of his era. He was a one-time MVP and a seven-time All-Star. He was really good. I don’t dispute that. But his career batting average was only .263; and he hit 36 home runs (in his career, not just one year folks) and had only 624 RBIs and only 1448 total hits. His best season, the MVP season of 1944 (when most good players were off saving the free world), he hit .267 with 6 homers and 63 RBIs. These are not Hall-worthy numbers by any stretch, even for a great-fielding middle infielder on a championship team.
My biggest problem with Marion is that if we let him in, then what the heck do we do with the much, much better shortstops who have garnered few votes in the past 40 years?
Alan Trammell, who hit better than .300 seven times in a career in which he had 2365 hits, a .285 lifetime average, 185 homers and 1003 RBIs and Dave Concepcion, a nine-time All-Star who had 2326 hits, a career average of .267, and 950 RBIs as well as 321 stolen bases were each superlative fielding shortstops and had much better careers than Marion.
Those two are a lock if Marion gets in, but what also do we do with Bert Campaneris, Dick Groat, Maury Wills or even Don Kessinger? Campaneris was the spark plug for 3 consecutive World Championship teams, a six-time All-Star, had 2249 hits and 649 stolen bases. Groat was a five-time All-Star, had one MVP and hit .286 in his career with 2138 hits. Wills hit .281 with 2134 hits and 586 stolen bases, made five All-Star teams and played on four pennant-winners. Kessinger has received very little Hall consideration from the people who watched his career, but he was a six-time All-Star and one of the best fielding shortstops of his generation. He had a .252 average–not too far below Marion’s and compiled in a much more hitter-unfriendly era–and 1931 career hits. If Marion gets in the slippery slope of comparables will lead to an avalanche of mediocrity in the halls of the Hall.
I have the same problem with the other candidates: they were good, but not great.
Frank McCormick was a solid first baseman and an eight-time All-Star. He had three great years, from 1938-1940, but dropped off very fast after that. And he only had about 9 complete years and parts of 4 others. He ended up with only 1711 career hits and a .299 career average with 128 homers and 954 RBIs. Looks an awful lot like Fred Lindstrom and nobody wants anymore of those in our Hall. And first basemen of McCormick’s era were leviathans with names like Gehrig, Greenberg and Foxx–he wasn’t close to those guys. Also, to be considered, like Marion, he played through the war, when a lot of the good comp was off in the armed services.
McCormick’s career pales drastically when compared with a recent guy who has had trouble garnering votes: Don Mattingly. Mattingly had 13 years–and the most frequent complaint apparently has been that he didn’t have enough good years for a HOF career. He had a .307 career average, 2153 hits, 222 home runs and 1099 RBIs. By any comparison, Mattingly trumps McCormick and at this moment Mattingly is probably hoping that McCormick gets in as that will give his fans plenty of ammo to mount campaigns in the coming years.
Bucky Walters was a quality pitcher who, like McCormick, had some very good years and helped the Reds to pennants in 1939 and 1940. He won 20 games three times, had a career record of 198-160 and a lifetime ERA of 3.30. For six years, Walters was very good, winning 121 games from 1939-1944. But again, I think his overall career was not Hall-worthy. He compares unfavorably to Luis Tiant, who hasn’t been able to gain much Hall traction. Tiant had an identical 3.30 career ERA, won 20 games four times and was 229-172 for his career. People howled when Don Drysdale lowered the bar by getting in with a 209-166 record, albeit with an excellent 2.95 ERA and an impressive postseason resume. Letting Walters in would be another significant step in lowering the bar.
Wes Ferrell appears to be possibly the one forgotten gem, but even he falls short. He won 20 games six times and had a career record of 193-128 for an impressive .601 winning percentage, more impressive since he pitched for some mediocre teams in Cleveland and Boston from 1929-1941. His career ERA was a pedestrian 4.04, but that was affected by the hitter-friendly era in which he played. But only 193 wins? He barely had a good decade and had no postseason heroics to add luster.
And if Ferrell gets in, what does that mean for Jack Morris, sitting at home each July with his 254-186 record and 3.90 ERA? What does that mean for all the pitchers who have won 190 games in the last 40 years? Does anyone realize that 141 pitchers have won 190 games or more in their careers? One hundred and forty-freaking-one! They’re going to need a bigger Hall.
The final two, Breadon and Herrmann, were executives. I have to admit that I don’t like executives or umpires being in the Hall of Fame with players. Virtually no one pauses for even a second to look at the plaques of the umpires or executives. As a great philosopher once said, “If they were so great, why didn’t they slap their picture on a card and sell it in packs of bubble gum?” Because those would have been the first cards put in spokes of bicycle wheels to make motor noises, and everybody knows it.
Sure, there is a long list of owners whose contributions have been great and who have added to the color and history of the game. Wrigley, Yawkey, Griffith, Finley, Stoneham, Ebbets, Steinbrenner, Reinsdorf, Crosley, Veeck, O’Malley, Busch, DeWitt, Turner, Navin, the list is endless and they should all be celebrated. But one man’s beloved iconic owner is another man’s skinflint, conniving, egotistical tyrant–it all depends on who you root for. I can’t seem to come up with a uniform set of criteria for an owner to get into the Hall of Fame. Owning a team for a long time? Being popular with writers and fans? Keeping players happy? Owning a team that wins a lot of pennants? Maybe. But, really, few fans care. Of course, a few guys like Branch Rickey or Connie Mack were giants, but otherwise, all executives and umpires should be in a separate wing like writers.
On this years ballot is Garry Herrmann who was the president of the Reds from 1902-1927 and chairman of the three-man National Commission that ran the game from 1903-1920. But was wielding that influence enough to make him Hall-worthy. Sure, he was the Grand Poobah for those years, but under his watch the game was lousy with gambling–and he even appeared to look the other way or whitewash the openly egregious gambling sins of the notorious Hal Chase while Chase was on his team. An argument could be made that Herrmann may have almost allowed the game to be ruined or wind up with the public confidence and relevance of jai alai or modern heavyweight boxing.
In summary, there’s a good reason none of these guys have previously been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Please, no more committees. Someone has to stand up and say it, “We’ve got too many already. The doors are closed.”
Doug Wilson is the author of four baseball biographies, including Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk, to be released October 20, 2015. Visit him at Doug Wilson’s Baseball Bookshelf.