Friday, June 2, 2023

Baseball Hall of Fame committees provide feel-good moment during MLB lockout, and give hope for others

As we move closer to the New Year — especially with the owner-mandated lockout — there will be much focus on the 2022 BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. As we sift through that, there will be much hand-wringing, arguing and negativity. We’ll likely hear myths and outright lies (hi, Mr. Schilling) along with the inevitable and misguided looping in of “The Hit King.” 

It’s gonna be so fun, right? 

Sunday, though, provided the Baseball Hall of Fame with some very welcome news in feel-good fashion. The Early Baseball and Golden Days committees elected six new members

Negro Leagues icon Buck O’Neil finally got in, as did Cuban legend Minnie Miñoso. Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler joined them, meaning we’ll have at least a six-person class this coming summer in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, there was one glaring, negative takeaway for me and that was Dick Allen coming up one vote short again (here’s why I think he merits induction). 

Still, it was overall a positive outcome. A well-deserved one for six new Hall of Famers. 

In the aftermath of the news, I let the feel-good nature of the moment wash over me. I was just happy for the living inductees and the families of all six without feeling the need to analytically dive into their individual Hall cases. I also remembered back to when Harold Baines was enshrined and how I took part in the outcry over him not deserving induction. Then I saw how he reacted and how much it meant to him to be a Hall of Famer. 

I’ll continue to argue the merits of Hall of Fame cases for players I believe to be deserving — and that will intersect with arguing against players — while squaring up how Baines the person felt about his induction and what we saw from Oliva and his family Sunday night…

For this group of committee selections, I’d rather only focus on the positive. After all, we’re talking about human beings with feelings and the Hall of Fame is ultimately a museum. Hanging a plaque of a player you might not believe is worthy to sit beside some others doesn’t actually “tarnish” anything. We’re smart enough to know that Walter Johnson was a better pitcher than Jack Morris, after all. It doesn’t hurt Hank Aaron’s legacy to have a Ross Youngs plaque in the vicinity. 

So let’s say congratulations to the O’Neil, Miñoso, Hodges, Oliva, Kaat and Fowler families and look ahead. The committee ballots provide opportunities for many people in the baseball world to get into the Hall, even if it is players who once fell off the BBWAA ballot, even in just one try. 

Allen might well get his due one day. Hopefully. Others from the committee ballots might get another shot and next time could be the charm. 

The “Today’s Game” ballot (biggest contribution 1988-present) comes next year with “Modern Baseball” (1970-87) coming in the 2023 Winter Meetings. Don’t expect the committees to go away, either. This is a fruitful avenue to get baseball contributors in. Might we see some of the following players get into the Hall in the near future? 

Fred McGriff should already be in, it says here (I made his case many times, but here was my 2019 last-ditch effort). 

Kenny Lofton had 2,428 career hits, 1,528 runs, 622 stolen bases, was a six-time All-Star and was one of the best leadoff hitters for generations. He also fell off the ballot after his first shot. 

Braves legend Dale Murphy was a seven-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves in addition to two MVPs. He lasted a full 15 years on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, but never got more than 23.2 percent of the vote. 

A career .303 hitter, Will Clark didn’t compile enough for the liking of BBWAA voters (2,176 hits, 440 doubles, 284 homers, 1,205 hits, 1,186 runs) and he fell off the ballot after just one shot. His four top-five MVP finishes show what a huge deal he was. 

Dave Stieb only got 1.4 percent of the vote in his only shot, but he’s very underrated. In JAWS, he’s in similar territory to Hall of Famers Early Wynn, Rube Waddell and Don Sutton. 

Bernie Williams won four rings in his 16 years with the Yankees. He hit .297 with a 125 OPS+ with 2,336 hits while topping 1,250 runs and RBI. 

Johan Santana‘s peak was short lived, but he was the best pitcher in baseball for a small handful of seasons. He won two Cy Youngs, finished third twice and fifth once. He led the league in ERA three times, strikeouts three times, WHIP four times and innings twice. He didn’t stick around long enough, but few had his peak. 

Don Mattingly was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career when his back caused a quick and drastic decline. His six-year prime was certainly Hall-worthy. In 15 years, he never got more than 28.2 percent of the BBWAA vote, though. Now we can factor in his managerial career. Would his three division titles and Manager of the Year award boost him? Speaking of …

Dusty Baker was a two-time All-Star as a player who hit .278 with a 116 career OPS+. He had 1,981 hits, 242 homers and 137 stolen bases. He’s the only manager to ever lead five different division winners, he’s won both pennants and is 12th in career wins. Surely he’ll get a look. 

Thurman Munson was killed at age 32. He’d made seven of the previous eight All-Star teams and had an MVP. He didn’t get the chance to compile, but his peak was good enough, right? 

Dwight Evans was overshadowed during his career by Jim Rice and it happened in Hall voting, too. But Dewey racked up 2,446 hits and 1,391 walks — he’s 57th all-time in times on base — good for a .370 career on-base percentage. He also had 483 doubles and 385 homers. 

Lou Whitaker‘s double-play mate, Alan Trammell, got in via a committee vote and Sweet Lou should follow. Hopefully soon. 

Tommy John won 288 games and logged 4,710 1/3 innings (20th all-time). And perhaps the most important medical procedure in sports is named after him. Shouldn’t that count at least a little? 

What about those currently on the ballot? 

Will Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens eventually get in via a committee vote (and, if so, might Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa soon follow?)? Curt Schilling (if he doesn’t make it this time around)? The induction of Lee Smith via a committee vote probably gives a lot of hope to Billy Wagner and Joe Nathan (perhaps even Jonathan Papelbon). Scott Rolen (though I think he gets there via BBWAA), Todd Helton and Jeff Kent are exactly the types of candidates who get there via a committee vote (think Trammell). Andruw Jones seems similar to Dale Murphy and Bobby Abreu is an excellent committee candidate. Torii Hunter? Maybe! Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson and Andy Pettitte seem destined to have their names on committee ballots down the road. 

It’s hard to say exactly how the next 25 or so years will play out regarding the Baseball Hall of Fame. Any or all of the above mentioned names could make it. A good number of them will. None of them will “tarnish” anything and we’ll all be much happier as fans if we just embrace the feel-good nature of induction. It’s a museum. Every player getting discussed had an amazing baseball career, otherwise we wouldn’t even be talking about them. 

In short, good for the newbies in the Hall and here’s to many more for decades to come. I’ll be over here celebrating all of them. 

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