Making a case for and against candidates considered by Hall of Fame Veterans Committee

Dec 4 2011 - 5:57pm

Too many strong candidates. Not enough votes.

That's the situation, as I see it, regarding the Hall of Fame's Golden Era election process.

At some point Sunday, after a weekend spent reviewing the candidates, the 16 members comprising the Hall's Veterans Committee (including former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond and the Chicago Tribune's Dave van Dyck) will cast their votes on the 10-player ballot Ron Santo, Minnie Minoso and Gil Hodges head.

Each can vote for a maximum of five players or executives (former Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi and A's owner Charlie Finley are under consideration), and a 75-percent approval is required for election.

This marks the third year for this election format, with candidates divided by the period they were in the game, and the first two elections suggest someone will be picked. Joe Gordon and Pat Gillick were placed in the Hall through this process the last two years. But precedent suggests more disappointment than joy.

I could see voting for five of the 10 candidates if I was on the committee. But it's possible some of the members won't vote for anyone, and if there are two or three such hard-liners no one could be elected. After all, with the exception of Bavasi and Finley, these are all guys who have been bypassed many times before. Fingers crossed for your favorites.

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Top tier

Ron Santo

Rogers' rank: No. 1.

Cap he would wear: Cubs.

The case for: Bill James considers him the sixth best third baseman of all-time, behind only Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs and Home Run Baker. ... A two-way player who won five Gold Gloves, Santo was also one of the most respected hitters of his era, driving in 93-plus runs in eight consecutive seasons (1963-70). During that stretch, only Henry Aaron was more consistently productive. ... Turned a .277 career batting average into a .362 on-base percentage by understanding the strike zone and being willing to take a walk (led NL four times). ... Finished his career with only 235 more strikeouts than walks. ... Succeeded as a hitter while playing in an era dominated by Hall of Fame pitchers, including Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts. ... Santo held up physically at a position where few do. He ranks eighth all-time in games played at third base (2,130), and his average of 142 per season is by far the best figure among the top 50 all-time in games at the position. ... His career WAR (wins above replacement) of 66.4 is the best among the eight players on the ballot. ... Nine-time All-Star. ... A natural athlete, he got to the big leagues at age 20 and stayed there.

The case against: Many of his contemporary players thought he was a hot dog, resenting the post-victory ritual of clicking his heels at Wrigley Field at victories. ... Played on a team that never won a pennant and already has produced three Hall of Famers (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins). ... Relatively low career totals in home runs (342) and RBIs (1,331) because he played only until age 34. ... Never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting.

Extra credit: Played his entire career as a diabetic, a fact that wasn't disclosed during his career. ... Did that playing only day games at home, when he gritted his way through summer heat waves. ... Terrific ambassador for the game as a Cubs broadcaster on WGN-AM.

Voting quirks: Never was reviewed by the old Veterans Committee because he was dropped off the BBWAA ballot for four years before being reinstated after a rule change. He should have gone to the Veterans Committee in 2000 but had to wait until '05, and by then it was comprised of living Hall of Famers who never elected a player before rules were changed again '07.

Best season: In 1964, hit .313 with a .962 OPS that included NL-highs in on-base percentage (.398), triples (13) and walks (86). Yet the Cubs were 76-86.

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Minnie Minoso

Rogers' rank: No. 2, tie.

Cap he would wear: White Sox.

The case for: Bill James ranks Minoso as the 10th best left fielder of his time, between Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Williams. ... Was an All-Star seven times, including his first four seasons with the White Sox. ... Ted Williams, the American League's best left fielder of Minoso's era, had such respect for Minoso that he said he could hit .400. ... Career .389 on-base percentage (the same as Frank Robinson and one point higher than Tony Gwynn). ... Was a difficult hitter to strike out, finishing his career with 230 more walks (814) than strikeouts (584). ... An all-around player with charisma, Minoso was known for crowding the plate and running the bases hard, taking out fielders when he had to. ... He could hit long home runs but led the AL in stolen bases three times and triples three times. ... Hit a career-high 24 home runs but drove in 100-plus runs four times. ... After hitting .310 in 1957, he was traded for Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn and outfielder Al Smith, who took his place in the lineup. The trade shows how he was valued. ... Loved baseball so much that he kept playing in Mexico long after leaving the big leagues. He hit .265 with 12 homers in 120 games in Mexico in 1973, when he was listed as 50 but may have been 53.

The case against: Career totals aren't his friend, as he compiled only 186 homers, 1,023 RBIs and 205 stolen bases. ... Led the AL in caught stealing six times. ... Never made it to the World Series. ... Allowed Bill Veeck to diminish his legacy by coming out of retirement in 1976 and '80 to become a fourth- and fifth-decade player. Never won an MVP (but did finish fourth four times).

Extra credit: Like Jackie Robinson, Minoso was a pioneer. Because of his dark skin, the native Cuban was discriminated against like African-Americans of his generation but had a more difficult life than most because he could speak only a little English. He blazed the trail for Cubans like Tony Oliva, Luis Tiant and Orlando Hernandez. ... He lost three-six big-league seasons because he began his career in Cuba and originally came to the United States to play in the Negro leagues (for the New York Cubans). Officials records show him as 25 in 1951 when his career took off after a trade from the Indians, who had kept him in Triple-A three seasons. He was probably 28, as most biographers add three years (and some more) to his age.

Voting quirks: It was shocking when Minoso wasn't among 18 players voted into the Hall by a special committee (known as the Committee on African-American Baseball). He and Buck O'Neil were the biggest names on that review committee's ballot but were left out. In Minoso's case, it was apparently because he played in the Negro leagues only briefly and had been on the BBWAA ballot. ... Because Minoso twice came out of retirement, he appeared on the BBWAA ballot only once before 1986, which was 22 years after his last real season.

Best season: In 1954, he hit .320 with a .411 on-base percentage, scored 119 runs and tied for second in the AL with 18 steals. He struck out only 46 times in 675 plate appearances.

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Luis Tiant

Rogers' rank: No. 2, tie.

Cap he would wear: Red Sox.

The case for: Bill James ranks him as the 52nd best pitcher in history, and ranks him ahead of Catfish Hunter, a contemporary who went into the Hall on his third ballot (adjusted for ballpark effects, Tiant's ERA is 40 points better than Hunter's). Tiant, who began his career in the Mexican League, spent 19 years in the big leagues, including four 20-victory seasons. He used his trademark pirouette motion to lead the American League in shutouts three times and in ERA three times.

The case against: Tiant, who led the AL with 20 losses in 1969, won only 229 games. He never ranked higher than fourth in Cy Young voting.

Extra credit: Tiant easily could have won the Cy Young in 1968, as he went 21-9 with an AL-leading 1.60 ERA. But that was the year Denny McLain won 30 games, and because the BBWAA used a one-player ballot at the time he didn't get a single vote; McLain was unanimous. Also, he was at his best in big games, going 3-0 for the Red Sox in four postseason starts in 1975, including two World Series victories over the Reds.

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Gil Hodges

Rogers' rank: No. 4.

Cap he would wear: Dodgers.

The case for: As a first baseman, Hodges has been a near miss for BBWAA voters. He got 63.4 percent in his last year on the ballot. But the Golden Era Committee is instructed to consider candidates' "overall contribution to the game," which opens the door to consider Hodges as both a player and a manager. Hodges not only managed the 1969 Mets to an out-of-nowhere World Series championship but was ahead of his time in using lineup platoons, a five-man rotation (despite having the opportunity to lean on the young Tom Seaver) and a deep bullpen.

The case against: A .273 career hitter, Hodges' career numbers aren't especially high. He simply didn't have the talents of the superstars from his era (although he did win the MVP in 1948).

Extra credit: Hodges, who was only 39 when he was hired to manage the lowly Washington Senators, was one of the game's most respected managers when he died in spring training, 1972, at age 47.

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Jim Kaat

Rogers' rank: No. 5.

Cap he would wear: Twins.

The case for: Kaat was remarkably consistent and durable, getting to the big leagues at age 20 and staying until he was 44. He won 20 games three times (Bill James argues he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he recorded two more victories in both 1962 and '65, when he won 18 games, as that would have made him a five-time 20-game winner.).

The case against: Kaat was an accumulator who didn't get to the 300-win plateau, and never appeared to dominate. He never won a Cy Young, was an All-Star only three years and had a career ratio of 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Extra credit: Kaat is almost universally considered the best fielding pitcher of all-time, winning 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards. He worked notoriously quick, saying "if the game goes over two hours, my fastball turns into a pumpkin."

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Second tier

Ken Boyer

Rogers rank: No. 6.

Cap he would wear: Cardinals.

The case for: Bill James ranks him as the 12th best third baseman of all-time. His career WAR (wins above replacement) of 58.4 is third among these candidates, behind only Santo and Tiant. He won the 1964 MVP and was an All-Star six consecutive seasons. He won Game 4 of the 1964 World Series with a grand-slam homer and delivered in Game 7, helping the Cardinals upset the Yankees.

The case against: He's haunted by pedestrian career totals -- 282 home runs and 1,141 RBIs over a 15-year career. He led the league in a Triple Crown hitting category only once, with 119 RBIs in '64.

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Tony Oliva

Rogers rank: No. 7.

Cap he would wear: Twins.

The case for: The third Cuban on the 10-man ballot, Oliva was a great pure hitter. He hit .320-plus in five of his first nine full seasons with the Twins, leading the league in 1964, '65 and '71. He had a throwing arm in right field that rivaled Roberto Clemente's cannon.

The case against: It's hard to get past his low career totals (220 homers, 947 RBIs over only 15 seasons). He was cursed by genetically weak knees and needed seven surgeries to play as long as he did. He spent his last four seasons limited to designated-hitter duties, hitting the first ever homer by a DH.

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Allie Reynolds

Rogers rank: No. 8.

Cap he would wear: Yankees.

The case for: The Game 1 starter for Yankee teams that won four World Series, Reynolds made a career out of pitching to Yogi Berra on baseball's biggest stage. He was 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 771/3 innings in the World Series, and the Yankees won all six in which he pitched.

The case against: Back injuries, caused by a Yankees' bus accident in 1953, caused him to retire after '54, which was only his 13th season in the big leagues. He had only 182 career victories.

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Executives

Charlie Finley

The case for: A Chicago insurance magnate, Finley turned the stumble-bum Kansas City A's into the Oakland team that won three straight World Series (1972-74) and five consecutive AL West titles. He was an innovator who pushed for the designated-hitter rule and World Series games at night, with prime-time television audiences. He pushed MLB to try orange baseballs and added sprinter Herb Washington to the A's roster as a "designated runner."

The case against: Total Baseball's "Biographical Encyclopedia" refers to him as a "a promoter who specialized in self-promotion." Finley contributed more than his share to baseball's ownership problems in the 1970s, regularly clashing with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. He went through 10 managers in 16 years and tried to use his team to help his personal finances, once trying to "trade" Vida Blue to the Reds for $1.75 million, a move that Kuhn blocked.

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Buzzie Bavasi

The case for: Taking over for Branch Rickey in 1951, Bavasi was the Dodgers' general manager for 18 seasons. During that time his teams won four World Series and eight pennants. He spent 10 years as a part owner of the expansion before ending his career as vice president of the Angels.

The case against: Bavasi was more of a caretaker than a creator, inheriting a great situation from Rickey. He benefited from the work of scouting director Al Campanis and manager Walt Alston. With the Angels, he notoriously said he would replace departing free agent Nolan Ryan "with two 8-7 pitchers."

 

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