It may be time for the Baseball Writers Association of America to take a long, hard look at its participation in the Hall of Fame vote.
Cooperstown has found a work around for players who never garnered much support when they were on the writers’ ballot. Where once there was a single Oldtimers Committee to consider candidates from an earlier era, now the Hall of Fame has myriad committees offering one more chance for entrance into the shrine.
Last year, Alan Trammell, longtime shortstop with the Detroit Tigers was elected by the Modern Era Committee. He was a very nice player but when he was on the writers’ ballot he never got more than 40.9 percent of the vote. Players on the writers’ ballot need 75 percent for election.
A year later, the side door opened again when the committee with the catchy name of Today’s Game Era swept designated hitter Harold Baines and relief pitcher Lee Smith into the Hall.
Like Trammell, Baines belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame. Where 500 home runs or 3,000 hits was once considered automatic tickets to Cooperstown, Baines fell short of both benchmarks despite playing 22 seasons, finishing his career with 384 homers and 2,866 hits. He never hit .300 and made the All-Star team just six times in 22 seasons and finished in the top 20 of MVP voting just four times and never higher than ninth.
Smith, an intimidating character who often arrived at the mound with a scowl on his face and a high volume fastball, had 478 saves in 18 seasons with a 2.93 earned run average. His save total is third highest in history behind Mariano Rivera (652) who is expected to be elected in this year’s vote and Trevor Hoffman (601) who went in last year.
Baines never received more than 6.1 percent of the writers’ vote, a mere 69 percent short of election. He was pulled from the ballot when he failed to reach the five percent cutoff in 2011. Smith, who was an unanimous choice with the Today’s Game Era voters, topped out at 50.6 percent in 15 years on the writers’ ballot.
So what is the point of asking the writers’ opinions and then, when a player fails to get in there, turning around and letting him in anyway a few years later? That’s a slap in the face of the BBWAA voters.
So now Harold Baines and Alan Trammell are in the Hall of Fame and Gil Hodges remains out. Hodges was the best first baseman of his time and engineered a miracle Mets championship in 1969. He has plenty of worthwhile company on Cooperstown’s sidelines including Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Steve Garvey , Tommy John and Luis Tiant from last year’s ballot and Lou Piniella (who was one vote short), Will Clark, Joe Carter and Orel Hershiser (all with fewer than five votes this year).
The Today’s Game Era folks did get one thing right. They passed on George Steinbrenner again. Being suspended from the game twice probably causes the committee members to think twice about the Yankees owner who thrived on creating a climate of calamity around his team..