Who for the Hall?by THT Staff
November 17, 2010
The Hall of Fame has struggled for years with the question of what to do with potential members who didn't get voted in at first opportunities.
The latest incarnation of what was known as the Veterans Committee is divided into a three-part cycle, by era. This year, the vote is on "the Expansion Era." Eligible are managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players whose most significant career impact came since 1973. Players must have played in at least 10 major league seasons and have been retired for 21 or more seasons. Managers and umpires have to have been out of the game for at least five years or be at least 65 years old. Executives must have been retired for at least five years or be 65.
It takes the votes of 75 percent of the voters—12 of the 16 listed at the end of this article—to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The results will be announced Dec. 6.
On the ballot:
- Vida Blue, pitcher whose best years were with Oakland;
- Dave Concepcion, shortstop with Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine";
- Steve Garvey, part of the Dodgers' longstanding infield of the 1970s;
- Ron Guidry, whose 14 seasons for the Yankees produced a .651 winning percentage;
- Tommy John, pitcher best known for the eponymous arm surgery;
- Al Oliver, outfielder for 18 seasons, originally a Pittsburgh Pirate;
- Ted Simmons, best remembered as a St. Louis catcher;
- Rusty Staub, outfielder who spent the first and best of 23 seasons with expansion teams Houston and Montreal;
- Billy Martin, onetime infielder being considered as a manager, many times fired by....
- George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the Yankees;
- Pat Gillick, general manager of four teams, most recently the Phillies;
- Marvin Miller, former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Today, four Hardball Times writers with a strong sense of baseball history weigh in on the candidates.
A towering error of omission
Leadership is a function not of accomplishing deeds oneself, so much as it is guiding, persuading or inspiring others to accomplish deeds for themselves. In this regard, Marvin Miller was among the very greatest leaders ever to work within the context of Major League Baseball.
The Major League Baseball Players Union (MLBPA) had been in place for two decades before Miller was hired as its executive director in 1966. But its solidarity and vigor were marginal. Many players scarcely paid it attention. The union’s effect had been limited to negotiating issues such as safety padding on outfield walls, standards of hotel accommodation, meal money and an extremely modest old-age pension plan.
Free agency had never been on the agenda, basically because the MLBPA didn’t have nearly the strength—or didn’t believe it had nearly the strength—to pursue such a significant objective. Before Miller's arrival, ownership had regarded the milquetoast MLBPA in a bemused, condescending, paternalistic manner.
Diminutive, dapper, with a calm demeanor that belied an intensely competitive drive, Miller brought erudite professionalism and a sense of focus and clarity to the union that it had never known. He refused to be patronized, and while for his first several years in the job Miller achieved little of substance, his mature, persistent presence was a key to fostering a palpable change in the temper of the players. They became far less compliant and satisfied with their status. The owners sincerely felt that the players simply had no right to behave in such a manner, and thus ownership very bitterly resented Miller.
For their part, the players became increasingly resentful that modest and reasonable proposals invariably prompted bombastic reactions. Ever-more solidly unifying around Miller, the players became fed up with having affordable suggestions rejected as catastrophic, and more importantly they became fed up with not being treated with basic decency and respect. With this newfound sense of grievance, for the first time the players began to see free agency not as an impossible dream, but as a fundamental necessity.
The path to free agency was circuitous, and the progress slow. It would never have been completed without both the passion Miller inspired and the acuity he provided. Curt Flood’s direct legal challenge—undertaken distinctly against Miller’s advice—was unsuccessful. It was only with Miller’s patient yet forceful navigation through the perplexities of arbitration and collective bargaining that the MLBPA harnessed its frustrated energy and captured, once and for all, the Holy Grail.
The business of Major League Baseball was transformed forever. Miller was not enriched, but his employers were. In Miller’s 16-year tenure as executive director, the average ballplayer’s salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has long seen fit to honor with induction the executives whose work far from the playing field has greatly influenced the sport, and made it what it is. Among the executives so honored has been Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner through nearly all of Miller’s time.
Kuhn was Miller’s adversary. As shrewd, resourceful and effective as Miller was in achieving his clients’ objectives, Kuhn was in every way not. Kuhn was a well-meaning bumbler, a Wile E. Coyote to Miller’s Road Runner. That Cooperstown has inducted Kuhn and not Miller is laughable.
In the words of Jackie Robinson, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” The work of Marvin Miller for the MLBPA was staggeringly impactful. His absence from the Hall of Fame is a towering error of omission.
He wasn't Bench, but...
In the beginning, Ted Simmons was a prodigy. Simmons was drafted out of high school in the first round by the Cardinals in 1967, 10th overall, and his minor league career was short and spectacular. At the age of 18, he played a full year in the California League and batted .331 with 28 home runs, a staggering performance. If bloggers had lived in those prehistoric days (or if we'd had Baseball America), he would have received national attention. After a year of settling into his major league role, he batted .304 as a full-time catcher when just 21 and finished 16th in Most Valuable Player voting.
By the time Simmons turned 30 in 1980, he had played in 10 full seasons and 1,564 games for the Cardinals, batting .298 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage. He had finished in the top 10 of MVP voting three times and the top 20 six times. He played in the All-Star game six times and won a Silver Slugger award. He was a catcher in most of those games, though he also played first base and some outfield.
Whitey Herzog evidently didn't like Simmons' attitude or the way he fit in the lineup, or something, and the White Rat dealt him to Milwaukee during an offseason binge of Strat-O-Matic-like dealing. Still, Simmons' second-half career was decent. His bat was league-average until his retirement at the age of 38. He did continue to catch for several years, then eventually moved to first base and DH (though the Braves put him back behind the plate toward the end).
The bottom line is that Simmons had a long, productive career and was one of the best catchers in the history of the game. Sean Smith's system considers him the 11th-best catcher of all time. He's 162nd among all position players, just behind Hall-of-Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane and just ahead of Hall-of-Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett. Yet he didn't make it past the first round in Hall of Fame voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Simmons' reputation has been hurt by a couple of things. One, he played at the exact same time as (and was just two years younger than) the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench. The fallout wit Herzog probably didn't help. And the fact that he was sometimes moved to other positions probably hurt the perception of his defense.
But we can take a closer look. In the 2008 Hardball Times Annual, Tom Tango applied his WOWY (With and Without You) method to catchers and found that Simmons was about an average catcher overall, based on those things we can count (stolen bases, pickoffs, passed balls, etc.). And in the 2009 Annual, Tom found that Simmons was the second-least rested catcher since 1956 (Mike Piazza was the least rested). The guy played a lot, and his performance probably suffered for it.
Is Simmons' Hall of Fame case a no-brainer? No, he's no Bert Blyleven. He's more of a Ron Santo, someone whose appropriateness for the Hall requires viewing his career in the context of the position he played and ignoring the fact that he never won an MVP or had a monster season. Unlike Santo, by the way, Simmons' stats suffered from playing at Busch Stadium. Simmons' OPS was .770 at home, .798 on the road. Most players bat better at home (Santo did so to a great degree, due to playing day games at Wrigley). One other factoid: Simmons was a clutch hitter, as his career batting average in high-leverage situations was .313.
You can read more about Simmons' Hall of Fame credentials in this THT article by Geoff Young. There is also a great discussion of his career at the Hall of Merit.
Three for the Hall
The only player I’d vote for is Ted Simmons. He’s no Gold Glover, but he hit like a corner outfielder at a defensive position. His 2,472 hits are second only to Ivan Rodriquez among backstops. He had pretty good power, too, with 483 doubles and 248 homers. There’s a reason why he made seven All-Star teams and received some support in MVP voting six times.
Of the other players, Tommy John just misses my cut. His value was (at best) ninth-best of the 1960s holdovers who were still around when I was a kid. (I’d put him behind the six 300-game winners, Jim Palmer and Fergie Jenkins). That generation benefited from a great pitching environment in their young tender-armed days, and from expansion when they aged, keeping their careers going. I don’t give John any surgery credit toward the Hall.
Among the non-players, I support Marvin Miller and Pat Gillick. Miller should’ve been in long ago. His influence on the game is tremendous. Does anyone really support abolishing free agency or arbitration?
Gillick has a very impressive resume. His teams won wherever he went. In his 27 seasons as GM, he had seven losing seasons—and five were his first years running the barely-past-expansion Blue Jays. Once the Jays turned the corner, they remained consistent winners from 1983 to 1993 despite a complete turnover of all the key players on the team. From 1982 onward, Gillick teams never finished worse than five games under .500 in 23 seasons. In that same span his clubs made the playoffs 11 times and claimed a trio of world titles.
What’s more, Gillick teams often won because he was very good at tapping into new resources. Toronto was one of the first clubs to invest heavily in the Dominican Republic and his Mariners heavily engaged themselves in the Pacific Rim. Others tapped those markets before Gillick, but he really involved himself in those lands to a greater degree than most competitors.
Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner are both on the cusp but not quite for me. Martin was great at winning now. He did a better job improving teams on arrival than anyone, but couldn’t keep a job longer than three years anywhere. His problem: For someone whose case is entirely based on winning now, his trophy case is rather slender. His Twins, Tigers and A’s lost in the playoffs and his Rangers just missed it. That just leaves two pennants and one world title with the Yankees. That’s not enough.
Steinbrenner has enough success—seven world titles—and his team’s success clearly stemmed from his desire to win. But I still have problems with him. First, he was twice suspended, a factor that should be noted. Second, the Yankees' best period under Steinbrenner (1996-2000) was a result of his second suspension. After that, he took a step back, and allowed his baseball people to build up a quality team through the farm system. Steinbrenner had been too impatient for that throughout the 1980s. That allowed Generation Jeter to come of age, and the Yankees to return to glory.
I wouldn’t mind the inductions of John, Martin or Steinbrenner, but Simmons, Miller and Gillick are the ones I support.
The executive class
The nominating board for the Veterans’ Committee did excellent work in coming up with a list of executive candidates for the so-called Expansion Era to the current day. In fact, all three nominated executives deserve a place in the Hall of Fame’s plaque gallery.
As Steve Treder so articulately and logically argues, Marvin Miller is an obvious and deserving choice for the Cooperstown shrine. Much like Miller, but on a smaller scale, Pat Gillick also qualifies easily for Hall of Fame election. As the general manager of the Blue Jays, Gillick took a youthful expansion team, building it from scratch into the best team in the American League East and then into a two-time world champion in 1992 and 1993. As the general manager of the Mariners, Gillick acquired half a dozen All-Star players during a two-year stretch, providing the framework for a 116-win team in 2001. Gillick then took his formula to the National League, where he made solidly effective trades for Jamie Moyer and Brad Lidge, helping to assemble the Phillies’ first world championship after nearly a three-decade drought.
These accomplishments, which amount to three world championships with two franchises, are enough to put Gillick in the Hall, but his Yankees influence only adds to the impressive body of work. While serving as the Yankees’ scouting director in the mid-1970s, Gillick provided general manager Gabe Paul with input on potential trades.
According to Bill Madden’s new book on George Steinbrenner, Gillick was a driving force behind two deals that shaped the Yankees dynasty of the late 1970s. He encouraged Paul to trade Bobby Bonds, whose life in the fast lane concerned Gillick. In trading Bonds, the Yankees netted Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers from the Angels. Gillick also assisted Paul in making the blockbuster that brought Willie Randolph, Ken Brett AND Dock Ellis from the Pirates for Doc Medich. Without those deals, it’s doubtful that the Yankees would have won three straight American League pennants from 1976 to 1978.
General managers are heavily underrepresented in Cooperstown; the addition of Gillick would make for a worthy addition to a group that includes such folks as Larry MacPhail, Branch Rickey and George Weiss.
A far more controversial choice than Gillick is George Steinbrenner, who is making his debut on a Hall of Fame ballot just a few months after his passing. Steinbrenner is not as definitive of a choice as Gillick or Miller, if only because of his endless controversies, punctuated by two suspensions at the hands of two different commissioners. Yet, I believe Steinbrenner managed to overcome those embarrassing episodes by taking a Yankees franchise mired in mediocrity and reviving it within three short seasons, both financially and artistically.
As the game’s most active owner from 1973 through the early 2000s, Steinbrenner expanded the size of the Yankee front office and the farm system, influenced trades, and took the lead in signing free agents, making him a successful pioneer of checkbook baseball. Steinbrenner’s teams won seven world championships and 11 pennants during a 37-year span, more than any other owner—or team—of the era. Almost as significantly, Steinbrenner promoted and enhanced the Yankees brand, making it by far the most valuable franchise in North American team sports. Those accomplishments, affecting franchise fortunes both on and off the field, are sufficient to make The Boss a deserving part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011.
References and Resources
Participants in the Expansion Era vote are Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).