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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

It's a Hall New Ballgame for Voting on Veterans

January 03, 2003|Ross Newhan

One Baseball Hall of Fame election ended last week, and another began this week.

In the holy name of Cooperstown, that's two elections, three ballots -- with candidates ranging from Eddie Murray to Marvin Miller -- and two basically different electorates.

Confusing?

Well, who needs the wearying Pete Rose debate clouding the process when even the most devout Cooperstown followers are having trouble sorting out the reorganization of the Veterans Committee and its voting system?

This revamped phase of the election should ultimately lead to a fairer examination -- and reexamination in many cases -- of a larger number of former players, executives, managers and umpires who would not otherwise have received a first or second shot at admission.

It's an admirable goal, but in the initial year of the new system, a significant number of perplexed readers keeps asking, "Who's voting for whom, and when?"

In the interest of clarity -- if possible -- and with full service in mind, here's how it works:

* There were no changes in the annual December election of eligible players by eligible members -- 10 years or more of membership -- of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. Those players who received 75% of the votes in balloting that ended last week will be announced Tuesday and inducted at Cooperstown in midsummer.

The ballot that is mailed to eligible writers in early December is determined by a screening committee of the BBWAA and the subsequent results of the annual elections. A player must be retired for five years before becoming eligible and can stay on the ballot for 15 years if he receives 5% of the vote each year. The five-year rule has been waived when a player dies while still active, such as Roberto Clemente or Darryl Kile, who was among 33 players on the December ballot.

Among the players who appeared on that ballot for the first time and were considered the leading candidates for election were Murray, who compiled 3,255 hits and 504 home runs during his 21-year career; Gold Glove second baseman Ryne Sandberg, whose 16-year credentials -- besides a glittering array of defensive records -- include 2,386 hits, 1,061 runs batted in and 277 home runs, the major league record at his position, and closer Lee Smith, whose 478 saves are a major league record.

The leading candidate among players who remained on the ballot by receiving at least 5% of 2001's 472 votes is Gary Carter. The former catcher, in what was his fifth year of eligibility, just missed the required 75%, receiving 343 votes or 72.7%. Carter should have cleared the threshold this time if his total continued to improve, although it remains a mystery why some voters conclude that a player becomes more deserving in his later years of eligibility than his first, as if somehow he'd enhanced his career credentials in that time.

* The Hall mailed two ballots to each of the 84 members of the new and expanded Veterans Committee this week. One ballot included the names of 26 former players, the other the names of 15 former officials, managers and umpires -- well, one umpire, Doug Harvey. Similar to the BBWAA December election, committee members can vote for up to 10 people on each ballot. Voting ends Jan. 24, with those receiving 75% of the vote announced Feb. 26 and inducted with the BBWAA winner or winners in midsummer.

A former Committee on Baseball Veterans was established in 1953, met annually from 1961 until 2001, and elected 101 members to the Hall. In its last meeting in March 2001, the committee elected Bill Mazeroski, from the category of former players, and Hilton Smith, from the special ballot for Negro League stars. It did not elect anyone from the composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and Negro Leaguers, nor did it elect anyone from the special ballot for 19th century players.

That committee comprised 15 former players -- such as Ted Williams and Yogi Berra -- executives and writers, met in closed-door sessions, and, in the view of many close to the process, was vulnerable to old-boy friendships and relationships when it came to voting.

Said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communications, "I don't think anyone felt the elections were fixed, but there was definitely the perception at times of bias. There were no specific calls for change, but it was something we had looked at for several years.

"We wanted to create a much more open process that would maintain the higher standards, mimic the BBWAA election and bring back the eligibility of a number of players who had forever lost it or were never considered. The fan response has been terrific."

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