Golden Era vote shutout is disappointing result for Hall of Fame
Once again, a group of Hall of Fame voters has pitched a shutout. On Monday in San Diego, the results of the Golden Era Committee voting were announced, and none of 10 candidates received the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the 16-member panel of Hall of Fame players and managers, writers and former executives. It's a frustrating result, particularly given the amount of energy and attention devoted to the process, to say nothing of what it must be like for the former players who weren't elected during stays on the BBWAA ballot that lasted as long as 15 years, not to mention multiple times in front of various Veterans Committees.
Two candidates, Dick Allen and Tony Oliva, received 11 votes (68.8 percent) apiece, missing by a single vote, while Jim Kaat received 10 votes, Maury Wills nine, and Minnie Minoso eight. The other five candidates — Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam (the lone executive of the slate), Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant — received fewer than three votes apiece; the Hall of Fame did not release the exact totals of that group. I won't rehash the credentials of those players — you can read about them here and here — except to say that via my JAWS process and consideration of the candidates' historical merit, I concluded that Allen, Boyer, Howsam and Minoso were worthy of votes, though none of them represented the level of glaringly obvious omission from Coooperstown that Ron Santo, who was elected by the Golden Era committee in 2011, did.
Separate from the BBWAA ballot to consider recently-retired players, the Golden Era is one of three periods defined by the Hall when it split the Veterans Committee into three subcommittees in 2010. It covers those candidates whose careers had their greatest impact between 1947 and 1972, while the Pre-Integration Era Committee considers those up to 1946, and the Expansion Era Committee considers those from 1973 onward. Candidates from each era are considered on a triennial cycle. In last year's Expansion Era vote, managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre were tabbed, but no players. Santo was the only candidate elected in the last Golden Era vote, albeit almost exactly one year after he had passed away.
That splitting of the VC into three separate committees was one of several changes in format amid a particularly dry stretch of honorees. After Bill Mazeroski was elected by a similarly small VC process in 2001, the voting rolls were expanded to incorporate all living members of the Hall of Fame proper, the surviving Ford C. Frick Award and J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipients, and a couple of old VC members whose terms hadn't expired. The enlarged group didn't elect a single candidate in 2003, 2005, or 2007, and after those zeroes, the process was again revamped. Managers, executives and pre-1943 players were placed on small-committee tracks that added just one player (pre-war second baseman Joe Gordon) but several managers and executives in the three years before the current format was adopted.
The 16-member committee met Sunday and Monday in San Diego. On it were Hall of Fame players Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; executives Dave Dombrowski, Jim Frey, Pat Gillick (a Hall of Famer himself, elected in 2011), David Glass and Roland Hemond; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.
In the eyes of many, voting shutouts are appropriate via this process, at least when it comes to the former players, given that the BBWAA has elevated most of the worthy honorees over the years. Some feel that this alternative route to enshrinement should be eliminated, its purpose long-since served and its results often dubious (managers, executives and umpires, however, need such process, since they aren’t voted on by the writers).
I'm not one of those people who feels that way, particularly given how advanced statistics such as Wins Above Replacement and my own JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) methodology can shed light upon candidates who were unjustly overlooked. Furthermore, many of those candidates — such Santo, Minoso and Expansion Era candidate Ted Simmons — were quickly banished from the writers' ballot without a fair hearing from the writers.
Former Baseball Prospectus colleague David Laurila, now of FanGraphs, took the words out of my mouth when he asked the committee representatives, "When looking at statistics, what extent do you use advance stats? For instance, do you adjust the stats to era and ballpark?"
Committee member Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau who serves on both the 11-person Historical Overview committee that winnows a field of over 200 candidates down to 10 for the ballot, and as one of the four media members on the Golden Era committee itself, replied, "The exact nature of the deliberations is always kept confidential. So the discussion of what the particular methods were would have to remain somewhat confidential. But I would say this: There was a wide-ranging discussion of all of the statistics of a particular player, including some that may not have existed when that player was playing, and I think having been on a couple of these panels, it was as thorough a discussion as any that I've ever been involved with."
The committee's lone representative with any kind of statistical background, Hirdt refused to characterize the actual nits that the voters (himself included) had to pick with any candidate.
Given two player shutouts in a row, it's fair to ask — and reasonable to expect — a change in format to be considered again. After all, a lack of honorees decreases the traffic to Cooperstown, both for induction day ceremonies and for visits to the museum. Asked by various media members about the possibility of change, Hall of Fame chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark said, "As you can imagine, our voting processes, systems and procedures are always under review by the board of directors with our senior staff. We're always talking about it. We never think that we have it right going forward into the future. … I think we need to take the results of not only this year but the past elections in this format and go back and have time to look at it and see if it addresses the purposes of the Veterans Committee as it's laid out by era and by group."
Added Hirdt with regards to the shutout, "Disappointed would be a good word, because after all, those of us who voted, voted with the belief that the people we voted for are worthy of the Hall of Fame. … That disappointment is mitigated to some degree by the fact that there will be another day for the candidates, and that the overriding issue of who represents the Hall of Famer in the 75 percent qualification is absolute. The integrity of the process and the integrity of the institution demands that at times there will be near-misses. Near-misses can be disappointing, but we hope that the candidates will again get a full airing the next time they're eligible."
Those candidates may get another day for consideration, but there's hardly a guarantee that they'll live to see it. Minoso, for example, is 89 years old, and as the Santo debacle showed, the both the VC and BBWAA processes have a long and cruel history of bestowing baseball immortality on all-too-mortal candidates. As someone who believes that he and at least a few other candidates were unjustly snubbed, I can only hope they live to enjoy the fruits of election the next time around.