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October 31, 2011

The BP Broadside

Tony LaRussa and the Hall of Fame Screw

by Steven Goldman

Tony LaRussa’s retirement points out a real problem with the Hall of Fame’s current procedures on voting in managers. Current managers fall under the jurisdiction of the Expansion Era Committee, an appointed 16-member group. That committee is building up a massive backlog, and there is a real clock on their deliberations: the mortality of the candidates.

The Hall has quite sensibly decided that managerial candidates who are 65 years or older are eligible six months following their retirement rather than having to go through the standard five-year waiting period. All of the recently retired managers who will receive scrutiny—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, and Cito Gaston, all of whom hung ‘em up after the 2010 season, and now LaRussa—meet this criterion. This is a good thing; if they were forced to wait until 2016 or 2017 to receive their nod, they would all be in their early to mid-70s, and the actuarial tables argue that even if these gentlemen had lived long enough to see their names placed before the committee, they might not have gotten to enjoy the honor for very long. While putting a dead man into the Hall satisfies our sense of historical fealty and completeness, it doesn’t really do the enshrinee any good and makes for a rather dull and depressing induction ceremony to boot.

There is, however, an additional complication. The Hall, in its brilliance, has restricted the Expansion Committee (as well as the separate “Pre-Integration” and “Golden” committees) to holding a vote only every three years. It last met in December of 2010 and considered a ballot that included exactly one manager, Billy Martin (Pat Gillick was the only one of 12 former players, owners, and executives to get a nod). The Expansion Committee will next meet in the winter of 2013 to vote on candidates for 2014 induction.

The result of this decision, combined with the backlog of candidates and a narrow ballot, means that someone deserving among the no-doubters—to my way of thinking, Torre, Cox, and LaRussa—may not get in before they join the choir invisible. LaRussa will be 69 going on 70 in the summer of 2014; Cox will be 73; Torre will be 74. If these three don't get in when they're first eligible, it will likely be because the ballot—which must also make room for players, owners, executives, and the ritual snubbing of Marvin Miller—will not have room for all three, pushing off someone until 2017 or 2020.

For anyone who thinks that Billy Martin deserves enshrinement, forget it; he’s not getting another look in the foreseeable future. For those partial to Sweet Lou, he’s also not getting a plaque in his lifetime. The process is designed to be too slow and restricted to effectively deal with a large number of candidates becoming eligible at any one time. Even if the voters clear some of the candidates off the shelf, in the relatively near term they will also be forced to consider Jim Leyland (67 in December) , or perhaps Charlie Manuel (68 in January) will do something next year to add even more luster to his resume, and how long can Davey Johnson go when he’s starting his first full term as Nationals manager at 69?

Again, not all of these managers should be Hall of Famers, but all are at least candidates worthy of discussion, and all will converge on the ballot at roughly the same period of time. Ever since Frankie Frisch commandeered the Veterans Committee and stuffed the Hall with a lot of relatively mediocre players, the Hall’s masters have struggled to restrict that route to a plaque. It appears they have finally succeeded all too well, with the result that someone worthy will probably attend his own funeral before he attends his Hall of Fame induction.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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