Out of the Frying Pan
by Jessica Polko
In addition to the standard voting carried out yearly by the Baseball Writers Association of America, this year the Veterans Committee can elect players from a 26-man ballot and elect managers, umpires, and executives from a 15-man composite ballot. Those ballots were compiled in several steps, which are explained at the Hall of Fame website.
Although the Veterans Committee votes this month, Cooperstown will not announce the results until February 26th. However, we wanted to continue our Hall of Fame discussion now, after examining the player ballot in yesterday's article.
Upon preparing for this article, I took another look at the rules for the Veterans Committee. After doing so I believe I was mistaken in reprimanding the Hall of Fame for not considering a person's entire lifetime of contributions, as the following guideline seems to indicate that voters do take everything into account:
Those whose careers entailed involvement as both players and managers/executives/umpires will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball; however, the specific category in which such individuals shall be considered will be determined by the role in which they were most prominent. In those instances when a candidate is prominent as both a player and as a manager, executive or umpire, the BBWAA Screening Committee shall determine that individual's candidacy as either a player (Players Ballot), or as a manager, executive or umpire (Composite Ballot). Candidates may only appear on one ballot per election. Those designated as players must fulfill the requirements of 6 (A)."
However, I do not think I am the only one who finds this stipulation a bit ambiguous, and I think they could further emphasize the point by combining the Veterans Committee player and composite ballots.
Below, in alphabetical order, is our commentary on the managers, umpire, and executives on the Veterans Committee ballot. We have used the lives of those people already in the Hall of Fame in these categories as a standard by which to judge the candidates on this ballot. Committee members may vote for a maximum of 10 people on the ballot. Following the commentary, I have listed those for whom we would vote if eligible.
Buzzie Bavasi worked his way up the ladder from traveling secretary and publicity director of the 1939 Brooklyn Dodgers to partial owner of the San Diego Padres. He was General Manager of the Dodgers when they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles between the 1957 and 1958 seasons. As the Dodgers' GM, he oversaw Brooklyn's only World Series win as well as three World Series victories in LA. He also served on the Veterans Committee in its previous format from 1978-1999. Bavasi belongs with the other executives honored in the Hall of Fame.
August Busch, Jr. owned the St. Louis Cardinals from 1953 until his death in 1989, during which time he also served as chairman of the board, president, and Chief Executive officer of the club. Under his oversight, the Cardinals won three World Series. He also presided over the building of Busch Memorial Stadium, home to the Cardinals since 1966 and host for football's St. Louis Cardinals from 1966 through 1987 as well as the newly-relocated St. Louis Rams for four games in 1995. Nevertheless, we do not believe he meets the same standards as the owners and executives currently in the Hall of Fame.
Harry Dalton's first General Managership was with the Baltimore Orioles. In his rookie season, he led the team to their first World Series win in franchise history. They won a second in 1970 before he moved on to the Angels for the 1972 season. He was not able to replicate his Baltimore success in either his six years with California or his fifteen seasons with Milwaukee. We do not believe he's earned Hall of Fame membership.
Charles Finley purchased the Kansas City A's in 1960, and in 1967 moved the team to Oakland. During his time as owner, he served as GM of the team, which won three consecutive World Series after moving. Among the changes he pushed for as an owner were night games in the World Series and the addition of the DH rule in the American League. While initiatives including a switch to orange baseballs and a designated runner slot failed to win adoption, Finley also introduced ball girls to baseball and among other promotions, held a Moustache Day, for which Catfish Hunter grew his trademark handlebar facial hair.
Owners can blame Finley for speeding the onset of free agency due to his failure to pay an insurance annuity in Hunter's 1974 salary, leading an arbitrator to declare Hunter a free agent. He foresaw the consequences of free agency and immediately began to deal players likely to demand high salaries or leave as free agents. These actions further irritated Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who invoked the "best interests of baseball" clause to void player sales to the Red Sox and Yankees. Finley sold the A's in 1981 when he felt he could no longer compete financially. He may be more infamous than famous, but the composition of the team in the early 70's alone qualifies him as a Hall of Famer.
Doug Harvey earned the nickname "God" as well as virtually unanimous respect from players and coaches while an umpire. Over the course of his career, he umpired 4,888 games, including four All-Star games, eight League Championship Series, and five World Series. He certainly appears to belong with the umpires already in the Hall of Fame.
Whitey Herzog managed the Texas Rangers for one season, the Oakland A's for four games, the Kansas City Royals for five seasons, and the St. Louis Cardinals for eleven years, finishing with a .523 winning percentage over 2,409 games managed. The Rangers were a poor team when he controlled them as a rookie manager in 1973, and the Oakland job was an interim position between Bobby Winkles and Dick Williams. With Kansas City his teams finished first in the division three times and second in the other two seasons, but he failed to advance in the playoffs. When he joined the Cardinals, he also served as GM for his first two seasons with the club, and as their manager he would win his only World Series, though he made two other attempts. Prior to becoming a manager, Herzog played portions of eight seasons of major league ball as a journeyman outfielder. While his career was certainly distinguished, we do not believe it matches Hall of Fame standards.
Bowie Kuhn may have served as the Commissioner of Baseball from 1969-1984, but his actions during that time do not qualify him for a place in the Hall of Fame. His responses to the onset of free agency and squabbles with the union and owners caused significant damage to the game. The fact that attendance tripled and baseball signed big television contracts during his term seems coincidental.
Billy Martin was fired many times in his career, mostly by George Steinbrenner, but only rarely for a lack of on-field success. Martin finished under .500 in only two seasons, won four division championships, three American League pennants, and two World Series. Many of the teams over which he took command experienced big gains in the standings after his arrival, and he concluded his career with a .553 managerial winning percentage. Unfortunately, in addition to his love-hate relationship with Steinbrenner, his temperamental style, abetted by a history of heavy drinking, led to many feuds with players, umpires, and even a marshmallow salesman, culminating in far too many physical confrontations. His death in a one-car accident on Christmas Day in 1989 prevented him from returning for a scheduled sixth stint as the Yankees' manager in 1990. Prior to managing he played major league baseball as an infielder for portions of eleven seasons, which included four World Series wins with the Yankees. At this time we are not prepared to vote for Martin, as his character does not seem to fit with the Hall of Fame's ideals.
Marvin Miller spent 18 years as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. During that time, he built a union often called the strongest in the world out of a work force previously unconcerned with labor rights. He ushered in free agency, an enormous positive for the world of sports not the negative bemoaned by the unenlightened, and he fought for pension benefits and better working conditions for the players. His influence on the game cannot be ignored, and he absolutely deserves recognition in the Hall of Fame as one of twentieth century baseball's three most influential off-field presences, along with current members Commissioner Landis and Branch Rickey. I cannot imagine a former player on the Veterans Committee citing any logical justification for not giving Miller their vote.
Walter O'Malley, as an attorney to the Brooklyn Dodgers, presided over their transformation from a successful club in the red to a profitable franchise. He then acquired a partial ownership of the team, which he eventually expanded into a controlling ownership. Once in control, O'Malley moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to accompany him on his transcontinental journey. He was a real pioneer, moving major league baseball west and finally making it a truly national sport. O'Malley certainly deserves to be memorialized in the Hall of Fame.
Gabe Paul had an illustrious career as a general manager, during which he not only guided his clubs to on-field success but also initiated many innovative practices. In addition to supporting the splitting of both leagues into two divisions each and adding the DH, Paul deserves credit for overhauling the minor league draft system from a process using a random draft order to one based on reverse order of standings finish. He spent many years with Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Houston, but he's most known for supervising the construction of the Yankees' back-to-back World Series championship teams in the late 1970's. Paul's contribution to the game of baseball definitely deserves acknowledgement in the Hall of Fame.
Paul Richards was not an offensive-minded catcher during his eight seasons in the majors, but his real career in baseball began after his retirement as a player. Following several years as a minor league manager, he took his first big league managerial job with the White Sox in the early 1950's. He then moved on to a bigger challenge with Baltimore, successfully handling the "Kiddie Korps" rotation of five 22-year-old pitchers by establishing pitch counts and limits. Richards next assumed the position of General Manager for the then new Houston franchise, staying for the first five years of the organization. After Houston, Richards spent seven years as Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Braves. At that point he returned to the White Sox for a final season as their manager before becoming Director of Player Development for Chicago. He finished his managerial career with a .506 winning percentage. If he'd been more successful in spreading the word about pitch counts, we would put him in the Hall in a minute, but overall he seems to fall just short.
Bill White had an extremely solid thirteen-season career as an outfielder and first baseman, during which he won seven Gold Gloves, appeared on five All-Star teams, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice. After retiring, he began a career in radio broadcasting which eventually led to seventeen years in the Yankees' booth. After declining the Yankees' general managership in 1978, he accepted the Presidency of the National League in 1979, becoming the first African-American league president. His playing career would have earned him consideration if it were a little longer, so when you consider his broadcasting and tenure as NL President, he certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Dick Williams spent thirteen seasons in the majors as a mediocre utilityman before moving on to a managerial career. After a couple of seasons managing in the minors, he led the Red Sox to their first pennant in twenty years as a rookie Major League manager, though Boston lost the World Series in seven games to Bob Gibson's Cardinals. The Red Sox finished over .500 the next two seasons but missed the playoffs both years, and with friction growing between Williams and his players, the Red Sox let him go at the end of 1969. Following a season under Gene Mauch in Montreal, Williams took over Oakland and led them to a division win followed by back-to-back World Series victories. However, he clashed with owner Charlie Finley and departed after his third year. He then spent three seasons with the Angels, six with Montreal, and two with the Padres before returning to the World Series in 1984 during his third season with San Diego, though he again lost. Williams managed one more year with the Padres and three with Seattle before retiring after eighteen seasons with a .520 winning percentage. While he had his ups and downs, his longevity and the heights of his successes merit a place in the Hall.
Phil Wrigley owned and stewarded the Cubs from 1932 until 1977, playing an active part in the operation of the franchise and the general affairs of Major League Baseball. In addition to his work with the Cubs, Wrigley also founded the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League, memorialized in "A League of Their Own", which began in 1943 during World War II and lasted six years. His service to baseball deserves recognition in the Hall of Fame.
1. Bill Bavasi
2. Charles O. Finley
3. Doug Harvey
4. Marvin Miller
5. Walter O'Malley
6. Gabe Paul
7. Bill White
8. Dick Williams
9. Phil Wrigley
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