The 2003 Hall of Fame Veterans Committee Vote

In August 2001, the National Baseball Hall of Fame overhauled the Veterans Committee and its voting procedures. Of particular interest to this Committee are the changes affecting the ballot for managers, umpires and executives. As the players' ballot has been argued to death elsewhere, this article will concentrate on the non-players in general, and the owners/executives in particular.

The former 15-member Veterans Committee met once a year. Only those attending the meeting were eligible to vote, and vote totals were never released. The new system expanded the Veterans Committee to include all living Hall of Famers; all living recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award (broadcasters); all living recipients of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers); and two members of the former Veterans Committee whose terms would not expire before 2003, Ken Coleman and John McHale. The new Committee, which for 2003 contained 85 eligible voters, would cast two separate ballots by mail: one for up to 10 of the 26 players ultimately selected for the Players Ballot, the other for up to 10 of the 15 managers, umpires and executives chosen for the Composite Ballot.

To qualify for the Composite Ballot, a nominee had to have been retired from baseball for five years. This waiting period was reduced to six months for candidates over 65. The rules expressly provided that those who both played and served as a manager or executive would appear on only one of the two ballots, but should be judged by their total contribution, and that "voting shall be based upon the individual's record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the game."

The process of creating the ballot began with a 10-member Historical Overview Committee appointed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Board of Directors. The Committee (Bob Elliott, Steve Hirdt, Rick Hummel, Moss Klein, Bill Madden, Ken Nigro, Jack O'Connell, Nick Peters, Tracy Ringolsby and Dave Van Dyck) took the first cut at reducing the pool of eligible candidates, compiling lists of 200 players and 60 non-players potentially worthy of consideration.

The original list of 60 managers, umpires and executives included 17 managers or coaches (Roger Craig, Charlie Dressen, Fred Haney, Whitey Herzog, Ralph Houk, Fred Hutchinson, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Steve O'Neill, Paul Richards, Billy Southworth, George Stallings, Chuck Tanner, Birdie Tebbetts, Patsy Tebeau and Dick Williams); 10 umpires (Bill Dinneen, Larry Goetz, Doug Harvey, Hank O'Day, Steve Palermo, Babe Pinelli, Beans Reardon, Cy Rigler, Bill Summers and Lee Weyer) and 33 executives.

The 33 executives can be further subdivided into 17 who were primarily owners or owner/GMs (Gene Autry, Sam Breadon, Charles Bronfman, Gussie Busch, George W. Bush, Barney Dreyfuss, John Fetzer, Charles O. Finley, John Galbreath, Calvin Griffith, Ewing Kauffman, Walter O'Malley, Joan Payson, Alfred Reach, Ben Shibe, Charles Somers, Chris Von Der Ahe and Phil Wrigley); nine who were primarily GMs (Buzzie Bavasi, Harry Dalton, Bob Howsam, Frank Lane, Paul Owens, Gabe Paul, John A.R. (Robert) Quinn, Bill Rigney and Cedric Tallis); five who were primarily major league officials (Chub Feeney, Garry Herrmann, John Heydler, Bowie Kuhn and Bill White), and one who was a labor leader (Marvin Miller).

On balance, the list of 60 looks solid. The candidates presented by the Historical Overview Committee span more than a century of Major League Baseball, from the 1880s through the 1990s. Although it would be easy to trim a dozen names from this roster, the only real clinker is George W. Bush, whose nine years as an owner of the Texas Rangers hardly qualify him for induction. Indeed, under the Hall of Fame's rules Bush shouldn't even have been considered: Bush didn't officially sell the Rangers until June 1998, less than five years before the election.

A BBWAA Screening Committee consisting of two writers from each major league city (four from two-club cities) then pared the original list of 60 down to a final 15. These included four managers (Herzog, Martin, Richards and Williams); four owners (Busch, Finley, O'Malley and Wrigley); three general managers (Bavasi, Dalton and Paul); two league officials (Kuhn and White); one umpire (Harvey) and one labor leader (Miller).

At this stage of the process, unfortunately, the Screening Committee functioned much like the old Veterans Committee, with a marked bias toward the writers' contemporaries. All of the fifteen finalists were active in 1976 or thereafter. It's difficult, verging on the impossible, to come up with any other explanation for preferring Phil Wrigley or Harry Dalton to Barney Dreyfuss or Garry Herrmann -- and if the beer money Gussie Busch brought to MLB was a factor in his nomination, what about Charles Somers, who bankrolled half the American League in 1901?

The fifteen names on the final list were then submitted to the 85-member electorate. With 79 of the 85 voting on the composite ballot, 60 votes were needed to elect any candidate. None of the fifteen received the necessary votes. Indeed, none came close, with only umpire Doug Harvey winning even a majority. Marvin Miller failed to become the first recipient of this newsletter elected to the Hall of Fame, while Buzzie Bavasi did become the first person known to have received votes for the Hall of Fame while a dues-paying member of SABR.

The totals:
Doug Harvey was a deserving candidate. Anyone who umpired for more than 30 years, earning so much respect that the players nicknamed him "God," has my vote. So does Walter O'Malley, clearly the strongest of the owner nominees. How could the old Veterans Committee have inducted Tom Yawkey but not O'Malley? And how could Marvin Miller receive fewer than half the votes -- even being left off the ballots cast by a number of modern Hall of Famers who owe their entire standard of living to Miller? (Meanwhile, Miller's nemesis Bowie Kuhn received 20 votes. Voting for Kuhn but not Miller is like voting for the Washington Generals but not the Harlem Globetrotters.)

After just one election, it is already clear that the structure of the Composite Ballot must be overhauled. Although the Players Ballot similarly failed to produce an inductee, there is a fundamental difference between the two ballots. All of the candidates on the Players Ballot have already been reviewed and rejected by the regular BBWAA electorate, but for candidates on the Composite Ballot, the Veterans Committee is their only chance for induction. The current Veterans Committee is unlikely ever to elect a candidate from the Composite Ballot. Marvin Miller probably stands the best chance, but not until the players, writers and broadcasters whose careers predate free agency leave the electorate. Since members of the current Veterans Committee serve for life, that may not happen until about 2020...the year Miller will turn 103.

The Composite Ballot also suffers from a lack of historical perspective. Although the Historical Overview Committee did a fine job of presenting a field of candidates, the writers on the Screening Committee devalued all contributions occurring before their own era -- and even if they hadn't, the electorate as currently constituted will never muster a three-fourths majority for any pre-1970 candidate. Fixing this would require two significant changes.

First, the two-stage process of creating a ballot should be reduced to one. Let the Historical Overview Committee prepare a ballot with 25 or 30 names, to be presented directly to the voters with no winnowing from a Screening Committee. Second, limit the Composite Ballot to voters willing to study the qualifications of the candidates -- and to put them in the context of the Hall of Fame as it currently exists. That doesn't mean lowering the standard to that of the worst inductees, but neither does it mean allowing current Hall of Famers to impose an artificially high standard on those deemed worthy of joining them.

Since 1960 the Hall of Fame has inducted eleven "pioneers or executives": Branch Rickey (1967), Ford Frick (1970), George Weiss (1971), Will Harridge (1972), Larry MacPhail (1978), Warren Giles (1979), Tom Yawkey (1980), Happy Chandler (1982), Bill Veeck (1991), William Hulbert (1995) and Lee MacPhail (1978). Hulbert's induction was the long-overdue correction of a mistake made in 1937, when the Hall erroneously credited Morgan Bulkeley with founding the National League. Rickey, Weiss, Larry MacPhail, Chandler and Veeck were inducted primarily for their accomplishments, while for Frick, Harridge, Giles, Yawkey and Lee MacPhail, election to the Hall of Fame was baseball's version of a super-gold watch presented for long and meritorious service.

Among the leading votegetters, Marvin Miller is in Branch Rickey's class as a nominee: if he's not in, something is seriously wrong with the category, the electorate or both. Walter O'Malley's not far behind. Depending how much credit for the Dodgers' success one gives to O'Malley, Buzzie Bavasi is either George Weiss or, at worst, on a level with Giles and Lee MacPhail. As MLB's first African-American league president, Bill White earns symbolic points, but like Happy Chandler, his candidacy for the Hall ultimately hinges on the value one places on symbolism. Bowie Kuhn and Ford Frick are quite comparable -- Kuhn served longer as Commissioner, but without Frick's prior years as a league president. And although he languished toward the bottom of the ballot, Charles O. Finley has much more in common with Bill Veeck than many of Veeck's admirers would care to admit.

Reggie Jackson recently told Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, "I just feel the Hall of Fame itself should be for only players. The executives, managers, umpires and the others should be separate." That's not Reggie's decision to make, any more than an MVP voter should be free to disregard the explicit directive that pitchers are eligible for the award. A properly redesigned Veterans Committee would require its electorate -- whether players, writers, broadcasters, executives or some combination thereof -- to study the historical record before voting, and would provide that electorate with a ballot designed to present the best possible cross-section of nominees from all eras of baseball history.

Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Winter 2003 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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