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February 2, 2012 9:00 am

Overthinking It: The Overlooked Overlooked Hall of Famers

28

Ben Lindbergh

Why have two of the top 30 position players since 1950 been ignored by BBWAA voters and bloggers alike?

The last thing I want to do is create another Bert Blyleven.

I don’t mean Blyleven the pitcher or Blyleven the person. The world could probably use more of those. I’m talking about Blyleven the Overlooked Hall of Fame Candidate. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be. His induction was a triumph of critical thinking over snap judgments, of evidence over empty arguments, of the hard work and research of writers like Jay Jaffe and Rich Lederer over the bluster and baseless self-assurance of others in the mainstream—an infinitesimal triumph, in the grand scheme of things, but a triumph nonetheless.

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Joe has a suggestion regarding what to do about a body that has long since served its purpose.

There was a considerable hue and cry when the results were announced. This rejection of all the candidates was interpreted as a failure by the committee. That it was the third in a row inspired calls for a new process, one that would lead to someone being honored each time through. This is nothing new; the loudest voices in criticizing the Hall and its processes have generally been the supporters of players not yet enshrined. The discussion is driven by people who want a larger Hall, if only by one.

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Almost from the day it opened, the Baseball Hall of Fame has had some form of a Veterans Committee to supplement the player selections voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In fact, Cy Young, who finished sixth behind the first five inductees, also received the fourth-highest 1936 vote total from the Old-Timers Committee.

Almost from the day it opened, the Baseball Hall of Fame has had some form of a Veterans Committee to supplement the player selections voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In fact, Cy Young, who finished sixth behind the first five inductees, also received the fourth-highest 1936 vote total from the Old-Timers Committee. That Committee was supposed to choose five 19th-century players for the initial HOF class, but couldn't achieve consensus in support of anyone. A year after the Old-Timers Committee's failure in 1936, a newly constituted six-man Centennial Commission - including Commissioner Landis and the presidents of both leagues - elected five pioneer/executives and managers, one of whom (Connie Mack) was still active and would remain so for another 13 years.

Over the years, the title of the group has changed, as has its composition, as has its charge, as has the quality of its choices for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. As Bill James details in The Politics of Glory (1994), while the BBWAA could elect only Rogers Hornsby between 1939 and 1947, the Committee on Old-Timers picked Judge Landis immediately after his death in 1944, then chose 10 men the next year and 11 more the year after that. That immense crowd included such (un)worthies as Roger Bresnahan, Tommy McCarthy, and the trifecta of Tinker-Evers-Chance.

The Veterans Committee began to take its now-familiar form in 1953. At first it had 11 members, split between baseball executives and media leaders. Both league presidents were there, as was J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News. Detroit GM Charlie Gehringer was the only Hall of Famer on the first VC, though Branch Rickey, then running the Pirates, would be elected some years later. Those two were the only former players on the Veterans Committee in 1953. Over the succeeding decades, the Committee's size and composition fluctuated. In its most recent form, there were 15 members. Among them were several high-profile Hall of Famers, distinguished longtime baseball writers and broadcasters, and retired executives.

Meeting in secret, voting only face-to-face, not revealing vote totals or even the identities of the men under consideration, the Veterans Committee came to resemble a College of Cardinals - the ones in the Vatican, not those in Busch. One almost expected to see puffs of white smoke rising from the chimneys of Cooperstown as their selections were announced. There were, it has been reported, intrigues, alliances, and domineering personalities on the Veterans Committee over the years that would have impressed a Borgia or a Medici. Frankie Frisch invited many of his Giant and Cardinal teammates into the Hall of Fame in the 1970s. The Veterans Committee enshrined the likes of Lloyd Waner, Harry Hooper, and Rick Ferrell.

More recently, Ted Williams held sway over the VC, pushing hard for teammates like Dom DiMaggio while opposing the selection of Bill Mazeroski. It's telling that Williams was recovering from open-heart surgery and unable to attend the VC meeting when Maz was chosen in 2001, and perhaps equally telling that DiMaggio isn't on this year's Veterans Committee ballot. Finally, there's the story (probably apocryphal) of Yogi Berra calling Phil Rizzuto to inform the Scooter of his election in 1994 and exulting "We got you in!"

The new Veterans Committee

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