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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

This Club Tougher to Join Than Augusta

March 02, 2003|Ross Newhan

As a member of the Hall of Fame's new veterans committee by virtue of my 2001 inclusion in the writers' wing at Cooperstown, I know two things:

It is far better to have your mug displayed in a museum than a post office, and I don't need a second election cycle to conclude that the committee is unlikely to elect anyone -- ever.

A premature evaluation?

Perhaps, but it appears that a committee now largely made up of Hall of Fame players has retained the rigidly high standards of the balloting baseball writers compounded by an unwillingness to let even a degree of indebtedness interfere with their selectivity.

Indeed, the rejection of the 26 names on the players ballot might not have been the surprise (the eligible players, after all, had previously endured 15 years of rejection from the writers) that the dismissal of former union leader Marvin Miller was.

Among 15 former executives, managers and umpires on the composite ballot, Miller received only 35 votes (25 shy of what he needed) from a committee that included 53 former players, 41 of whom were active for a time during a tenure in which Miller made his union the strongest in the country, pumped up his constituents' salaries and pension plan to a point where the union's benefit package may be the country's strongest as well, and significantly affected the game's history.

Said a Hall of Fame pitcher who refused to be identified: "I think a lot of players were just getting a feel for the process this year. Some may think that non-players don't belong in the Hall at all, but most recognize what Marvin has meant. He should be elected eventually. You also have to remember that it's not just players who are voting."

As a non-player (unless over-the-line counts), how could I forget? The committee includes four Hall of Fame managers, a Hall of Fame executive (Lee MacPhail), 25 writers and broadcasters who have received Hall associated awards and two members of the previous committee.

Nevertheless, if Miller had received all or even a larger percentage of the player votes, he would have been elected. Many of those players are living off the fruits of Miller's labor, but he finished only third in the composite ballot voting behind umpire Doug Harvey and former Dodger owner Walter O'Malley, who also created a financial legacy for the players (in addition to his family) through his pioneering migration to the West Coast, ultimately leading to widespread expansion and the creation of hundreds of jobs.

The deserving O'Malley, however, needed 22 more votes to be elected, and now he and Miller must wait four more years until the composite ballot goes to the committee again, and it seems evident they may not receive any more support from this player-dominated committee than they did from its smaller predecessor, a committee dominated by former executives who may have harbored long festering antipathy regarding Miller's union role and O'Malley's influence on the game's power structure.

Much, of course, had been made about the changing form and format of the committee, raising expectations among those on both the composite and, particularly, the player ballots that there was a greater opportunity for election with peers voting.

The expectations proved unfortunate and unfounded, compounding the disappointment for players such as Ron Santo and Maury Wills, as well as the family of Gil Hodges. In retrospect, the process probably should have come with a warning, because there was no realistic reason to think the committee would weigh the players' credentials any differently than the writers had during their initial 15 years of eligibility. Similarly, there is no realistic reason to think there will be a groundswell of support when the players come up for vote again in two years.

Putting personal preferences aside (I voted for and believe that Hodges, Santo and Wills deserve to be elected), the committee simply validated -- and is likely to continue validating -- the conscientious and selective approach that eligible members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America have brought to the privilege of serving as the Hall's primary locksmiths.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, a member of the Hall's board of directors and an architect of the new committee, alluded to the committee's rejection of players previously rejected by the writers and said:

"Maybe not as many [players have fallen] through the cracks as people think. We think there have been some, but maybe there haven't been any. Maybe the writers have done a pretty good job."

Maybe? Well, as ESPN's Jayson Stark put it in his Internet column: What the writers have done (over the years) is what writers are supposed to do: get it right.

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