In the grim and desolate landscape of baseball’s lockout, a brief glimpse of sunlight arrived last week with the announcement that six new members would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Never mind that they got in through the Hall’s back door of committee votes. They got in. That’s what matters to the custodians of Cooperstown.
There are about 400 baseball writers certified to vote in the annual Hall of Fame elections. Candidates need 75 percent of the voters for admission. It is a tough hurdle, which explains why there are years when the writers elect no new members.
To allow for oversight, the Hall established second look committees to consider candidates that failed in their BBWAA eligibility. Those committees have 16 voters which means 12 affirmative votes is enough for election. That’s a far cry from the 300 or so needed in the regular BBWAA vote.
That said, players like Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso had Cooperstown worthy careers and finally had their tickets punched by the Golden Eras Committee, which also certified Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil, both stars before blacks were allowed in Major League Baseball.
Oliva won three batting titles before injuries shortened his career. Kaat won 283 games. Hodges hit 373 home runs, the third most for a right-handed hitter when he retired and then managed the Miracle Mets to baseball’s unlikeliest World Series championship in 1969. Minoso was a trailblazer when blacks were just starting to change the face of baseball. So why did these men have to wait so long to make it to Cooperstown?
Well Cooperstown’s committees are notoriously political with pals rewarding old teammates. Frankie Frisch saw to it that Long George Kelly made it. Tony LaRussa and Jerry Reindorf lobbied for Harold Raines to be inducted.
Perhaps the most outrageous snub was Hodges, who was elected a mere 50 years after he died. He should have and would have made it sooner except for the Hall’s arcane rules. Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, confined to a wheelchair, was unable to get to the committee’s meeting one year but wanted to vote remotely for his teammate, Hodges. No dice said the proprietors of the Hall. Hodges fell one vote short – Campanella’s vote – that year.
Right now, BBWAA voters are studying this year’s ballot that includes a 10th and final year of eligibility for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, both suspected of steroids’ abuse during their careers. They have been rejected by the writers nine times.
Not to worry, if they don’t get elected this time. The back door to Cooperstown is down the road.