March 3, 2005
It irks me no end, as someone who has been a Hall of Fame voter since the 1980s, to see a Wade Boggs get a whopping 91.9 percent approval rating and instant induction in the same year that baseball's shrine continues to ostracize men like these:
Allen, Hodges, Kaat, Maris, Minoso, Oliva, Santo, Torre, Wills â€|
I had nothing to do with the shutout thrown Wednesday, when not a solitary "old-timer" mustered enough support from the 2005 Hall of Fame Veterans Committee to join their exclusive club. So don't blame me.
A few media types did take part, but most of the 83 eligible voters on this biennial panel were former major-leaguers. And once again these gentlemen made it crystal clear they like their society being extremely exclusive. They act as aristocratically as a board from a private school or a homeowners association in the Hamptons.
I am honored to vote in the regular yearly process and do my level best to be selective yet fair. There are news organizations "the Los Angeles Times, for one" that of late have dictated a ban on employees' participation in award bestowals of this kind. The Tribune is considering doing likewise.
That would be a sad day for me, yet, in all frankness, also a relief. It is not that I feel woefully unqualified so much as I find too many of the Ryne Sandbergs, Dennis Eckersleys and Gary Carters of the profession to be, while superior to a degree, inseparable in too many ways from a Ron Santo, a Jim Kaat, a Joe Torre or a Tony Oliva.
As you can see, however, if the vote were left strictly to former players, they might not let another soul in. You think we're hard to impress â€|
It is a mystery how some of these men could linger 15 years on a ballot without gaining acceptance. I wonder how many said to themselves it was typical of the media's know-nothings, being incapable of recognizing greatness when it stares them in the face. I wonder what they think now, having been thumbs-downed by their peers.
Santo fell eight votes shy this time. He and old Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges came as close as anyone did to clearing the bar. Hodges played more years than Santo and hit more home runs, in case you believe that just one of them got robbed.
And while Chicago's fans sift through the debris of the veterans' vote, keep in mind that our man Minnie Minoso hit a career .298 to Santo's .277 and that Dick Allen played as long as Santo did and topped him in batting average and homers. So it wasn't just a Cub who was snubbed.
I believe if Roger Maris had hung around the majors more than a dozen seasons or hit better than a so-so .260, a case for him would be a lot stronger than it is. Then again, in this steroid age of ours, I almost have a new appreciation now for a man who trained on Camels and Budweisers.
Kaat's longevity, on the other hand, was his one exceptional asset. He pitched twice as long as, say, Bruce Sutter did. Yet the fact is, Kaat still won just 283 games. That's fewer than the 288 of Tommy John or the 287 of Bert Blyleven, two other Hall of Fame rejects.
If men who batted against them can't find it in their hearts to vote for Kaat or Luis Tiant or Mickey Lolich, who am I to call them wrong?
I am left to wonder: Will the Veterans Committee a few years from now tab Jim Rice so he can thumb his nose at those who shunned him? Once, I thought yes, maybe so. I seriously doubt it now.
And soon will come a time when Rickey Henderson is on the ballot for the first time. A red carpet will be rolled out for him, in part for "revolutionizing" the art of stealing bases. Yet the wonderful Maury Wills, 20 years past his prime, still can't amass a third of the vote.
It is an exercise in futility, this Hall of Fame thing. So subjective, so perplexing.
If I had been handed a ballot with Mark McGwire's name on it a year ago, I would have made my "X" in a flash. Now, upon further reflection, if I am still a voter when this day comes, I might require a long pause. Because perceptions change. Doubts, no matter how unfair or unfounded, do exist
Be nice if nobody got left out. If a Hodges could be where a Tony Perez is. If a Santo could feel what a Robin Yount felt.
The Veterans Committee will meet again in two years. I can tell you right now, though, who is a sure thing for the Hall on this group's list.
Copyright © 2005, The Chicago Tribune