Taking a closer look at the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee candidates
SAN DIEGO -- It may leak before then, but at 2pm Eastern time today, the official announcement of which of the ten nominees before the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee will be inducted goes down. The nominees represent the so-called “Golden Era,” which is a designation worthy of about 5,000 angry words in and of itself, but let us save that for another occasion. For now, let’s look at the nominees and consider their worthiness:
Dick Allen: National League Rookie of the Year in 1964 and the 1972 AL MVP, Allen was a feared slugger who, at his peak, was every bit the equal of any number of Hall of Famers. His prime came at a time, however, where his excellent on-base percentage was not as appreciated as it would be today and, of course, he was a famously prickly personality who made no friends in the media or in baseball’s front offices. On the baseball side, his past Hall of Fame chances fell short due to his case being all peak, really. He played “only” 15 seasons and never amassed the kind of counting stats you tend to see in Hall of Famers, finishing with 351 homers and fewer than 2,000 hits.
Ken Boyer: The 1964 NL MVP and one of the best defensive third basemen of his era. Another guy with a tad of a short career by Hall of Fame standards, he was 24 before making the bigs and was basically done as an everyday player at 35. His 282 home runs sticks in many people’s mind as too light a total for a Hall of Fame third baseman, but then again, there is no position more maligned and underrepresented in the Hall of Fame process than third base.
Gil Hodges: Maybe the most argued over and talked about Hall of Fame case in living memory. If you’re from the New York area and you’re over, say, 50, you tend to have very strong opinions about the awful, awful people who have slighted Hodges over the years and likely believe they should be imprisoned. If not, he’s the ultimate borderline candidate. And his case is a hard one. As a player alone it’s hard to make the case as, yes, he was a notable power-hitting first baseman, but he was also frequently the fourth or fifth player on his own team. His managerial exploits, however, add to his case -- he helmed the Miracle Mets of 1969, of course -- and his tragic early death at age 47 in 1972 colors his case with no small amount of emotion, and justifiably so. If he’s elected, expect an awful lot of joy among people who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers and the old Mets teams.
Bob Howsam: The executive who built the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati which, man, is more than just about anyone else has done. Really, you build that team today and they’re erecting statues of you all over the place. I was surprised to learn he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame already, frankly. One wonders if him being overlooked in the past has anything to do with his effort, in the late 50s, to build a third major league -- the Continental League -- which was aimed at exploiting untapped demand for baseball west of the Mississippi and which, eventually, led to the expansion of the early 1960s. Maybe some old dudes held a grudge over that? Old baseball dudes often held grudges about smart guys who were ahead of their time.
Jim Kaat: Maybe the best defensive pitcher of all time. That’s not something people think about too much -- pitcher defense -- but if you’re the best at something you’re the best. Also: Katt pitched FOREVER. Twenty-five years, in fact, amassing 283 wins. Or, if you will, “compiling” them, which is usually the case made against Kaat. He had a 25-win season in 1966, but even then at his best he was not a dominant pitcher, and that often hurts guys in the Hall of Fame game. However, the word “compiling” should not be an epithet as longevity, health and reliability has real value in baseball, especially among pitchers. It’s just that we have yet to really appreciate that over the course of careers as much as we do during the course of a single season or too.
Minnie Minoso: One of the best players of the 50s and the first notable Cuban player after baseball’s color line fell (there were many light-skinned Cuban and other Latin players who played before then, but they “passed” as white, which is a whole ‘nother conversation). Minoso had a fun power and speed mix, was a a beloved player on some fun White Sox teams and then, later, came out of retirement for some gimmick at bats in 1976 and 1980, making him -- technically speaking -- the only guy to hit in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, if you care about such things.
Tony Oliva: Dick Allen’s Rookie of the Year counterpart in the AL in 1964 and the winner of three batting titles. While Allen had an excellent but under-appreciated on-base percentage, Oliva’s value came via the perhaps over-appreciated batting average and, as such, has been someone many, many people have considered to be a Hall of Fame oversight for years. Like Allen and Boyer, his career was relatively short. Unlike those two, however, it’s hard to look at him and say that, even for a little while, he was one of the best in the game while he played.
Billy Pierce: A two-time 20-game winner. His best season came a year before the Cy Young Award was elected. If it happened today, it’d be like a Felix Hernandez-level Cy Young argument too, as he had “only” 15 wins but posted a staggering 1.97 ERA which, adjusted for era, was more impressive than Clayton Kershaw’s 2014 ERA (Pierce’s ERA+ was 200, Kershaw’s was 197). He never had the sort of support around him that a lot of other Hall of Fame pitchers had, as he pitched for the White Sox during his best years. But if he was on a lot of other teams he would’ve been in Cooperstown years ago.
Luis Tiant: A four-time 20-game winner, an amazing character. He was also a 20-game loser once, too, a year after winning 20. Which is to say the dude was erratic. At his best, an easy Hall of Famer, but that worse made for an overall career that is borderline.
Maury Wills: There was a time, probably in the late 60s and early 70s, where a lot of people probably thought of Wills as a sure Hall of Famer. He was an amazing bunter and a base stealer when no one stole bases and really helped usher in a new era in the game. But he wasn’t actually a great base-stealer -- he was caught stealing a lot -- and the rest of his game was not terribly remarkable. Also hurting him was that he didn’t make the bigs until he was 26, and was gone after 14 seasons. His stormy and, frankly, insane stint as the Mariners manager in 1980-81 didn’t help matters.
If I had to choose, I’d put Allen, Boyer, Howsam and Minoso in the Hall. Maybe Pierce too. I have this feeling however that we’ll see Hodges, Oliva and Hoswam make it in.
We’ll know at 2pm.