NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One thing that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame so baffling is that, through the years, there have been several different ways for someone to get inducted. There's the front door, of course, which has been guarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Everybody who cares knows those rules: To be inducted, a player needs 75% of the BBWAA vote. This is straightforward, and it's a very high standard, and the vast majority of talk and arguing about the Hall of Fame builds around that vote.
But here's something pretty amazing: Of the 298 people in the Baseball Hall of Fame, only 113 were voted in by the BBWAA. That's quite striking, if you think about it. That's less than 40%. There are only 113 players in baseball history who received 75% of the writer's vote; but those 113 -- and those alone -- are what most people consider when they think about the standards of the Hall of Fame. They think the Hall of Fame is Willie Mays … and not George Kelly. They think the Hall of Fame is Sandy Koufax … and not Amos Rusie. They think the Hall of Fame is Babe Ruth … and not Ross Youngs.
But the Hall of Fame, as constructed, is all of them. As mentioned: There are actually 298 people who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. These include:
• 113 voted in by the Baseball Writers.
• 37 voted in by The Old Timer's Committee, formed by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis originally to recognize pre-1900 players and executives. The committee, over time, expanded its reach and scope and even voted in Landis himself after his death.
• 13 voted in by the Committee on Baseball Veterans, which met in odd-numbered years from 1953 to 1961.
• 48 voted on by an 11-person Veteran's Committee, which met every year from 1962-1977. This committee was fairly dominated by Frankie Frisch, who used the opportunity to get several of his former teammates and players he liked into the Hall of Fame.
• 9 voted in by a Negro Leagues Committee in the 1970s.
• 51 voted in by a 15-person Veteran's Committee, which met every year from 1978-2001. This committee had a subcommittee which drew up a ballot. Buck O'Neil was a prominent member of this committee, which inducted seven former Negro Leagues players.
• 10 voted in by a new Veteran's Committee which includes all living Hall of Famers, including those writers and broadcasters who were awarded the Spink and Frick Awards.
• 17 voted in by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues in 2006.
Or you can break it up even more simply:
• 152 voted in by various forms of Veteran Committee.
• 113 voted in by baseball writers.
• 33 Negro Leaguers voted in through various committees.
So, most people in the Hall of Fame did NOT come through the front door. Most came in through various committees that were structured any number of different ways. I'll get back to this in a minute when discussing the whole PED thing.
But first the news you probably heard: A whole new Veteran's Committee -- this time called the "Pre-Integration Panel" -- voted three more people into the Hall of Fame today. The idea that there are really a bunch of worthy Hall of Famers in that picked-over time before integration seems to me dubious at best, but it's not my Hall of Fame and I don't get to make those decisions. The committee inducted three people, all long dead. They are:
• Umpire Hank O'Day, who died in 1935. He is best known for calling Fred Merkle out on a force play when someone found a ball (which might or might not have been the game ball) and tagged second long after the winning run had seemed to score. O'Day ruled the Merkle had not run to second (this is not disputed) and so the force out nullified the run and the game ended in a tie. This tie cost the Giants dearly, as they ended the season in a tie with the Cubs, and Chicago won the one-game playoff. Anyway, O'Day also is the only umpire in history to stop in the middle of a career so he could manage a team (the Reds and then the Cubs). I cannot even begin to say how awesome it would be if Derryl Cousins or Country Joe West just quit this year and became manager of the Blue Jays or something. Anyway, after that he went back to umpiring again.
• Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert Jr., who died in 1939. Ruppert owned the first Yankees dynasty teams. He and fellow owner Cap Huston were behind the purchase of Babe Ruth and the building of Yankee Stadium. He then took the team over himself and owned them through their dominance in the 1920s and 1930s. Ruppert was also a Tammany Hall politician, owner of a brewery before and after Prohibition (which he fought intensely), and he, like other owners of his time, was notoriously cheap. He famously offered Joe DiMaggio $25,000 the year after he hit .346 with 46 homers, 167 RBIs, 151 runs and 418 total bases (which is more than Babe Ruth had in 1927, when he hit 60 homers). DiMaggio held out for more, but eventually came back because he had no choice. DiMaggio wrote that he did not blame Ruppert or hold it against him.
• Catcher Deacon White, who also died in 1939. White played ball from 1871 to 1890 – so long ago now that White was renowned for being a bare-handed catcher. He literally retired one year before catchers wore padded mitts. For much of his career, pitchers threw underhand (which is why they are called pitchers, they pitched the ball like horseshoes) and it took eight or nine balls for a walk. A season was 60 to 80 games. It was a different time.
White was a good player in his era -- a two-time batting champ, three times he led the league in RBIs (the last 33 years before RBI was an official stat). He was called Deacon because he was deeply religious and a regular churchgoer in a time when baseball was more Wild West than Sunday Choir. But perhaps his most wonderful quality is that Deacon White, apparently, was convinced that the world was flat. According to Lee Allen's "The National League Story," the good Deacon tried to convince his teammates of the world's flatness using the impeccable logic that the world obviously doesn't move because, if it did, how could an outfielder catch a fly ball? Allen did not report any players that converted based on this sales pitch.
Well, I'm not here to argue whether any of the three should go into the Hall of Fame. My point is that you have a Tammany Hall brewery owner, an umpire who became a manager midway through his career and a flat earther going into the Hall -- all three dead at least 70 years -- and nobody is likely to get too worked up about it. That's because all three slipped through the back door. Meanwhile, people will get into verbal rampages over players who may (or may not*) have used steroids and their character and their affect on the game and whether they should get into the Hall of Fame and so on.
*I don't know if you ran across this column by Hall of Fame voter Pat Caputo, but I bring it up because in it he says he will leave Craig Biggio off his ballot because … well, I had a hard time coming to grips with his precise reasoning. I'll quote what seems to be the key paragraph:
"Biggio is far less suspected [than teammate Jeff Bagwell] because of his smaller frame, but he was on those [Houston] teams and reportedly close to those players [admitted PED users Ken Caminiti and Andy Pettitte and suspected user Roger Clemens], and his power numbers did suddenly and magically rise at one point of his career (not just home runs but doubles) and before the Astros moved into a more hitter's friendly ball park. Again, I am very skeptical about there being any 'magic' involved."
OK, a few things. Biggio's "jump" in doubles and homers happened between 1992 to 1993, more than a decade before Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte came to Houston, and two or three years before Ken Caminit's power surge and the time when he admitted using steroids. So that bit of logic seems just a little bit specious. It also happened when he turned 27, which is precisely when A LOT of people make a big power jump -- George Sisler, Buddy Bell, Al Simmons, Joe Rudi, Stan Musial (From 19 to 39 homers? What's up?), Brooks Robinson, etc.
But perhaps more to the point: Do you know who else played with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens? Yeah. Derek Jeter. And he also played with Jason Giambi. And he also played with Alex Rodriguez. And he also played with Gary Sheffield. Hmm. And between 1997 and 1999, his home runs more than doubled, his slugging percentage was 150 points higher, very interesting, very interesting indeed ...
… or no. Actually not interesting. At all. Terrible. Shameful. Not interesting. Look: If you don't want to vote for Craig Biggio, don't vote for him. If you don't want to vote for him because you suspect him of something that you have absolutely no proof, hey, it's your vote, and you have a right to cast it your way as long as you have it. But to publicly charge someone with something without even the slightly bit of evidence beyond counterfeit timelines and amateurish statistical analysis should be beneath a Hall of Fame voter … or anyone else.
The more this PED argument rages on, the more I think that what will happen is this: There will be a glut of players with Hall of Fame numbers who will not get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame through the front door because of their admitted or suspected drug use. The Veteran's Committees, unless they too change dramatically, won't vote those players in either.
And so, in time, the Baseball Hall of Fame will put together a special "Steroid Era Committee" that will look hard at the cases of players from the pre-drug-testing era, and those players will get into the Hall of Fame through the back door. When will that happen? Well, it took more 70-plus years for a committee to figure out that Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White belong in the Hall of Fame. These things take time.