I blame myself for caring so much. No one forced me to love baseball, baseball history and going to Cooperstown. No news directors or producers ever forced me to dig deep into my Total Baseball encyclopedia every year in the early 90s to do my Hall of Fame research and engage in debates on TV. Even at MLB Network, no one ever told me to come up with a segment called "Cooperstown Justice." This is the business I've chosen.
So today in San Diego, I ambled downstairs to the lobby ballroom of the Grand Hyatt to see the announcement for this year's Veteran's Committee. I ran into Rob Neyer (Fox Sports) and Jay Jaffe (Sports Illustrated), two other hardcore Hall of Fame analysts, and knowing their passion for the subject, jokingly asked, "You guys aren't going to bust this place up, are you?" I told both of them that while I had issues with the makeup of the committee, there really was no wrong outcome on this ballot.
There wasn't one single bad call on this ballot. I might not be as big on Tony Oliva (batting average driven) or Gil Hodges (aura driven), but the Hall would not be diminished by any one of those great players getting inducted. Dick Allen and Minnie Minoso are both locks for me, and I'm easily swayed by any decent pitch for Jim Kaat or Ken Boyer. A deeper look at Billy Pierce reveals a great pitching career in a hitter's era. Luis Tiant was both great and legendary. Bob Howsam built the Big Red Machine? I'm listenting. What I'm saying is YOU CAN'T MISS UNLESS YOU DON'T BOTHER TO VOTE ANYONE IN.
And they completely whiffed.
You do not empanel a Veterans Committee each year to remind us that the Hall of Fame is an "exclusive club." You empanel it because you recognize that there are a good number of greats who not only deserve another look, but deserve to be inducted.
If you have too many candidates and not enough votes, fix the process. The Historical Overview Committee sent over an excellent list (they did a good job -- have I mentioned that? I'd like to not blast every committee I come across today), but if it needs to be whittled down to six to ensure you vote someone in, ask them to do that. (I'm sorry, I'm getting worked up again).
If you get two candidates both one vote shy, you can call for another vote and give the voters another chance to put one or both over the top. You can do anything you want. To paraphrase Monty Python, we're making this up as we go along. Don't let the process block your goal, which is inducting an overlooked Hall of Famer.
Here's something that needs to be changed; the composition of the committee. This was easy to see coming, and I commented on MLB Now throughout last week. I know it's nice to have some Hall of Fame player input into this process, but have we learned nothing?
In 2001, the existing Veterans Committee was blown up. The committee had just elected Bill Mazeroski (an excellent call), but some within the Hall of Famer constituency were rankled with a supposed lowering of standards. The vote was then given to the "Living Hall of Famers" (the dead ones, understandably, couldn't vote), along with the Spink and Frick Award winners. No more cronyism! No more sportswriters! What could go wrong?
Well, they voted three times -- 2003, '05, and '07, and didn't vote in a single player. Nobody. OK, so lesson learned, right? Sure. They blew that up, knowing that the players had little incentive to allow anyone else into their circle of greatness. Now they have three different committees, each representing a separate era, each one voted on separately.
So what do they do with this "Golden Era" committee? They stacked it with eight players -- half of the 16-man panel. It became seven of 16 when Dave Dombrowski subbed for Bob Watson. I have nothing against any of these players, or anything against committee members like Pat Gillick or Roland Hemond, whose baseball acumen is unmatched. But come on, with an entire industry devoted to comparative analysis in baseball, you have just one actual historian/analyst on the panel? We have Bill James, John Thorn, and Rob Neyer churning out volume after volume on baseball history and the Hall of Fame, and the only historian that finds his way onto the committee is Steve Hirdt of Elias? Really?
Baseball is changing. There is video replay. There are no more needless collisions at the plate. This all changed in one year. It hasn't made sense to not have Sabermetricians on these Hall of Fame voting panels for the past 25 years. It is absolutely ludicrous and unacceptable now. Buck O'Neil had a chance to get in while alive. So did Ron Santo. O'Neil was denied his plaque. Santo's widow accepted for him one year too late. In the last "Pre-Integration Era" vote, the committee found a way to get in four new inductees. All four were dead by the end of 1939, the year the Hall of Fame and museum opened.
Minnie Minoso is 89 years old. Billy Pierce is 87. Kaat, Allen, Oliva and Tiant are all in their 70s. These committees have been good at getting in players long dead and honoring their memories. Today they missed a chance to honor one while still alive. And it's altogether avoidable.
Brian Kenny is the host of MLB Now and a contributor to Sports on Earth.