A Hall of Fame Review

First the good news: Three managers, all deserving and perhaps even overqualified, were elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday. If you are going to have managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and you are — then Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre are all obviously deserving Hall of Famers.

– Cox managed the Atlanta Braves to an astonishing 14 consecutive division titles (not counting the 1994 strike year), which is one of the great accomplishments in the history of baseball. His great strength, it always seemed to me, was his ability to keep his team focused and looking forward all the time. Losing streaks, winning streaks, major injuries, big trades — you walked into that Atlanta clubhouse and it was always the same. Sure, the Braves were fortunate to have Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz healthy for years, but they won before Maddux, they won after Glavine, they won before Chipper Jones, they won after David Justice, they won with a bunch of different closers. And yet, somehow, that team was always the same in some overriding way.

– La Russa led three different teams to division championships, managed the Oakland A’s to three consecutive pennants from 1988 to 1990 and won two World Series in St. Louis. La Russa’s great strength was different from Cox’s; he was a strategist, first and foremost, and while his constant tinkering and pitching changes could become annoying for observers — he used to drive me nuts as a fan sometimes — I think it inspired a deep confidence in his players. They knew La Russa would never rest on them. If the team was up five, he would still match-up lefties in the eighth to protect the lead. There’s something powerful in knowing that your manager is trying harder to win than anybody else.

– Torre led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships in five years and two more pennants beyond that. Torre’s great strength, I think, was just being Joe Torre. He was a borderline Hall of Fame player, he is an extremely likable man, he commands respect. Torre was famously canned three times before he got the Yankees job — he did some decent work with those three teams (particularly in Atlanta, where he led the Braves to a division title) but he was certainly not viewed as a great manager. Nobody in New York was too thrilled when he got the job. But it turned out to be one of the great three-way marriages in sports history — Torre’s modesty and decency combined with an extraordinary collection of young talent combined with George Steinbrenner’s uncontrollable competitiveness proved to be unbeatable for a half decade. They didn’t always get along, things didn’t always seem to be going smoothly, but they won in the end. Torre also was an excellent postseason manager, always willing to grab the moment, something I think Bobby Cox sometimes did not do.

So all three of them are in the Hall of Fame, and that’s absolutely right. Congratulations to the Veteran’s Committee for getting the obvious ones (and apparently all three were elected unanimously).

Sadly, though, that’s all the Veteran’s Committee did this time around. The obvious. And while managers are important, the Hall of Fame is mainly about baseball players. Once again, no baseball players were elected.

Ever since a different format Veteran’s Committee controversially elected Bill Mazeroski in 2001 — we’re taking a dozen years ago now — the Veteran’s Committees have been gun shy. They have elected exactly one player rom the last 70 years. One. They have elected:

- Long ago Pirates owner Barney Dreyfus.
- Famously ineffective commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
– Manager Dick Williams.
– Second baseman Joe Gordon, who retired in 1950.
– Umpire Doug Harvey
– General manager Pat Gillick
– Umpire Hank O’Day
– Long ago Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert
– 19th century catcher Deacon White
– Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.

That’s it. Only Santo is a baseball player from from the last seventy years. I’m not saying the others don’t belong — well, I am saying that about Kuhn, but the rest all have their case — I’m saying: Who cares? Well, maybe thats harsh. People care about the Baseball Hall of Fame for a whole bunch of reasons, and maybe one of those is to learn about all these people who influenced the game without playing.

But, I’m betting, a bigger reason is that the Hall of Fame validates our memories of great baseball players. Was my childhood hero a great player? Well, look, he’s right there in the Hall of Fame. This is why so many people travel to little Cooperstown to see their heroes get inducted or to see their plaque on the wall. Doug Harvey was a fine umpire, and he might belong in the Hall of Fame, but who but his family will go to the Hall of Fame to have their photo taken with that plaque? Where are the players?

This year’s crop of Expansion Era players could have been better. It could have included Dwight Evans and Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich and Graig Nettles and Dale Murphy and Rick Reuschel and David Cone and others. But, as it was, there were some really good players on the ballot. Dan Quisenberry. Tommy John. Dave Parker. Ted Simmons. I think Veterans Committees in general are afraid to add baseball players to the Hall. And because of it, I think the Hall is stagnating.

And … a few words on Marvin Miller. It goes without saying that if you are going to elect people into the Hall of Fame who were not players or managers — people like Jacob Ruppert and Barney Dreyfus and, ugh, Bowie Kuhn — then leaving Marvin Miller out is probably the greatest Hall of Fame injustice. His influence on the game was so titanic that people STILL argue about it.

That said, I thought Bill James made a great point: He pointed out that at the end of his life Miller was so embittered by the whole Hall of Fame experience that he said, on numerous occasions, he did not want to be elected. In a way, it would be disrespectful to vote him into the Hall of Fame against his wishes shortly after his death. Marvin Miller was the ultimate outsider — that’s what allowed him to change the game. Maybe it’s a more fitting tribute, in an odd way, for him to NOT be in the Hall of Fame.

One more thing: This year Joe Garagiola won the Buck O’Neil Award — the Hall of Fame’s award, given every three years, to the person who best represents the baseball values of Buck. Garagiola is the third person to win it, after Buck himself and scout, general manager and baseball lifer Roland Hemond. There’s a little bit of noise here, but I think in the end Buck would be proud that Garagiola won the award.

You might know that Garagiola lived a bit of a checkered baseball life. He famously stepped on Jackie Robinson’s foot in 1947, Robinson’s first year, leading to a major argument and questions about Garagiola’s character. He testified against Curt Flood in a trial (he has often talked about how wrong he was). He has, at times, seemed on the wrong side of arguments.

But Buck always said that it is the man you become after you make the mistakes that matters. Garagiola brought great joy to people’s lives as a baseball announcer. He is a powerful voice against chewing tobacco. He was not a great player — he was famously traded four times in an eight-man league — but he dedicated his life to the game. Whenever someone would talk about Garagiola stepping on Robinson, Buck would say, ‘No, no, no, Joe’s a good man. There was a lot of tension back then. Joe’s a good man.”

32 thoughts on “A Hall of Fame Review

  1. bellweather22

    I think the lesson from this, is that they had the wrong list of players. Most players on their list are not in the Top 5 of “Best Players not in the HOF” argument. Dwight Evans, Dick Allen, Lou Whitaker and others were ommitted. So, they were, in effect, working from a second tier list. Some, like Garvey and Tommy John already had a fair hearing. So, regurgitating players through a Tier 2 process, and then hardly ever voting any player in, is a waste of time.

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  2. Nate

    Regarding LaRussa – his time as A’s manager was successful in large part to the PED players leading the way. Why isn’t this held against him for the HOF like is is for the players themselves?

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    1. Geggse

      Because that would be stupid, because every manager in baseball has managed players on PEDs and it seems pretty likely that every team that’s won a World Series has had PED users on it.

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      1. ingres77

        By this same token, many people already enshrined in the Hall cheated or used performance enhancing drugs, so how can the denial of Clemens’ and Bonds’ elections be justified?

        It’s a fair point. If someone is going to keep Clemens out of the Hall for steroids, then it’s fair to argue that La Russa should be kept out for benefiting from this same cheating.

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  3. Jason

    Joe,

    Just to point out, Whitaker and Murphy and Cone and Reuschel were not eligible because of the rules — you have to be retired 20 years (the five-year waiting period plus the full 15 years) before getting on the expansion ballot. Murphy just missed by a year.

    If Morris doesn’t get in this time, he is eligible for the expansion ballot the next time.

    Whittaker isn’t eligible until the next round as well. Cone has to wait until 2025

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  4. bellweather22

    LaRussa was quite the PED apologist, even hiring Mark McGwire as his hitting coach. But, in the end, it wasn’t his responsbility to police PED users…. especially when it was rampant through out the league and there was no testing. I don’t like LaRussa, but if you think he should have rooted PED usage out of his locker room, then you need to say the same about Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and every other manager of their era. The Managers job, in my opinion, is to assure a cohesive clubhouse, manage the media, put the right players on the field (from the ones his GM gave him to choose from) and make strategic moves on the field. It’s not their job to fix an issue that the commissioner, the union, owners and GMs refused to deal with.

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  5. MtheL

    Joe: I understand and completely agree with your point about the veterans committee, but you need to correct your math. If Joe Gordon retired in 1950, that means it has only been 63 years since he played – which would mean two guys from the last 70 years have been elected.

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  6. tombando

    If you wanna hear Garagiola in his prime, go to You Tube and catch the ’75 WS or ’74 All Star Game, it’s great to hear him and Tony Kubek together. He was a def. shill for all things Cardinals and Gussy Busch, but I’ll not not hold that against him too much.

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  7. Jabdad

    To be traded 4 times in an 8 “man” league would be an accomplishment. Should it be 8 “team” league? Bty, love your writing.

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  8. norme

    The MLB rules committee should revisit the rule on pitching changes in order to speed up the game. LaRussa and his competitive nature helped to slow the game down. Somehow the rules committee should look at alternatives to move games along, and the LaRussa pitching change strategy should be examined in that light.

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    1. brian

      I’ve always thought that warmup throws on the pitcher’s mound should be eliminated for relief pitchers brought in mid-inning. They can warm up in the bullpen. You want the pitcher in right now? Let him deal with whatever difference there is between the bullpen and pitcher’s mounds.

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      1. Richard Aronson

        Bullpens don’t have mounds, and if they did, it would still be different from the game mound. I don’t want high heat tossed at hitters with the reliever unfamiliar with his footing.
        .

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  9. Phil

    This is not meant to excuse the committee for its reluctance to elect players, just an attempt at an explanation:

    1) Many of the more questionable picks in the HOF, especially the surfeit of hitters from the ’30s, were put there by earlier Veteran’s Committees. Not all, but many. Awareness of that has really grown in the past 10-15 years (possibly kicked off by Bill James’s HOF book), to the point where I think “Veteran’s Committee” has become synonymous with “bad pick.” I imagine that perception gives them pause.

    2) The players who are most deserving second time around are very likely players (e.g., Lou Whitaker) who look better and better in the light of new metrics like WAR. The thing is, the veteran players and managers who make up the committee seem even less likely to value those metrics than the sportswriters who passed them over the first time.

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  10. Veggie Jackson

    Marvin Miller deserves all the recognition, but the deck is stacked against him: 4 of the 16 votes on the Veterans’ Committee are held by executives, who will always, always resent labor and Miller and will vote against him as a bloc. Of course election by Veterans Committee requires at least 12 votes out of the 16 cast, so Miller will need unanimous support from writers and players.

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  11. Adam

    I expect to be a minority but I disagree with both points in your opening paragraph. I don’t really think we should have managers in the Hall except for the truly elite or game changing (Mack, Weaver). Sort of on a par with the way we elect (or don’t elect) closers, who actually have a lot more impact. We’ve been right that a lot of saves doesn’t make you a Hall of Famer while deciding a lot of manager wins does.

    And then I disagree about Torre, per your own description — “Torre was famously canned three times before he got the Yankees job. (H)e was certainly not viewed as a great manager. Nobody in New York was too thrilled when he got the job.” He had great success as Yankees manager by being in the right place at the right time. The Yankees had a payroll that was 100% more than 26 of the other teams most of his years. Of course they won and they won often.

    Ultimately we don’t have a good way to evaluate managers other than “he didn’t do so badly that they fired him”. Essentially career length is the only factor.. Can you imagine evaluating players that way?

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    1. bellweather22

      Connie Mack was the owner, so he didn’t fire himself despite a sub 500 record. I don’t know that his contributions were any greater than other managers in the HOF. I don’t know that I’d put Weaver in a special category above Torre or a lot of other managers either.

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    2. Ian R.

      To be fair, career length also plays a huge role in how we evaluate players for the Hall of Fame. So many guys are there because of the magic numbers – 3000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 wins. Even the closers you mentioned built their cases in large part by racking up saves, which is a longevity-based argument – it’s just that the game has changed since Gossage, Sutter et al.retired, and their raw save totals don’t look as impressive compared to today’s closers.

      Also, Torre managed under George Steinbrenner. Not getting fired under those circumstances was a real skill.

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    3. DavidJ

      “Essentially career length is the only factor.. Can you imagine evaluating players that way?”

      I know you mean this as a rhetorical question, but career length, in the absence of all other data, would actually be one of the better proxies one could use in evaluating a player’s Hall worthiness. If you just look at the all-time leaderboards in plate appearances or innings pitched, you’ll find very, very few players with extremely long careers who are not, at worst, borderline Hall of Famers or Hall of Very Good types. If all I knew about a player was that he came to the plate 11,000 times or pitched 4,500 innings, I would actually feel pretty comfortable voting for him, knowing that the chance is very small that he’d be completely undeserving based on his other numbers. Worst case scenario is that a few guys like Jim Kaat or Rusty Staub or Omar Vizquel would slip in among a pool of otherwise overqualified players. I could live with that, and it wouldn’t be that much worse than the Hall we already have.

      That said, I don’t have a strong opinion about how to evaluate managers, and I agree with your overall point.

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    4. Section 405

      “And then I disagree about Torre, per your own description — “Torre was famously canned three times before he got the Yankees job. (H)e was certainly not viewed as a great manager. Nobody in New York was too thrilled when he got the job.” He had great success as Yankees manager by being in the right place at the right time.”

      You realize that what Joe said about Torre would work, almost verbatim, if you replaced “Torre” with “Stengel” (Casey was only canned from two prior major league jobs, not three). I would be happy to argue for Casey Stengel as one of the all-time great managers, and I would be happy to have Torre in that discussion.

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  12. Triston

    In addition to many of the players listed (Whitaker, etc) actually not being eligible for the VC yet, I think two other factors are important in explaining why only one player from the last 50 years has been elected by the VC.
    First is essentially wasting eight years when all living HOFers voted, every other year. I really think this just couldn’t have worked. There were too many really good candidates, and none of them were obviously better than the rest, or locks (if they had been, they’d have been elected by the BBWAA). It’s just like what happened with the BBWAA ballots in 1945 and 1946. It’s no coincidence that Ron Santo was the most popular candidate in 2005 [well, tied with Gil Hodges], 2007 and 2009 but wasn’t elected, but was elected on the first “Golden Era” ballot when there were only ten candidates, half of whom were weak enough to not even receive three votes.
    The second is, the committee is still pretty old-school. For this year’s ballot, they probably took the 7 most popular candidates from the last election (maybe everybody with X votes or more; they didn’t release the actual totals for anyone with less than 50%), and then may have chose some weaker candidates to make it 12 as needed without turning it into a 1945/1946 too-stacked type ballot. Cox, LaRussa and Torre were all eligible for the first time, while any player would, by definition, have been eligible before, on the BBWAA ballot anyway. If they had literally taken the ten “best” candidates, they might have had no one get elected again. After all the flack the VC got for not electing anybody for those eight years above, and the huge kerfuffle over no one being elected by the BBWAA last year plus the VC selecting three who’ve been dead for decades [though that was the era they were voting on, they couldn't elect anybody recent], the VC may have wanted to play it safe.

    By the way; if Morris isn’t elected this year, then he and Whitaker would be eligible for the VC for the first time in 2017, so we could see Morris and Whitaker get elected together. (….Maybe.)

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      1. Triston

        Hadn’t realized Trammell would ALSO be eligible. Trammell/Whitaker being inducted together would be insanely awesome. And if Morris was added, can you imagine the reaction of Tigers fans?

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        1. Ian R.

          True. I’m not a huge fan of Morris for the Hall of Fame, but I can see how much Tigers fan would love that. Of course, there’s still a chance that Trammell will get in on the BBWAA ballot, but given how stacked it is I tend to doubt it.

          As a Red Sox fan, I’d love to see Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant go in together. Not as poetic as the double-play combo of Trammell and Whitaker, admittedly, but they were still teammates for seven years. More to the point, they were both tremendous, overlooked players.

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  13. CT Bold

    Joe,

    I can’t find “GTM” in Baseball Prospectus. If there is any substance or definiton – or any meaning whatsoever – to the words “grab the moment” (as in “Torre was always willing to grab the moment, something I think Bobby Cox sometimes did not do”), please provide some substantive examples and the numbers and comparable acts from superior moment-grabbing managers..

    David Eckstein grabbed a moment (perhaps, depending on what it menas), but that’s not what you’re talking about. Or is it?

    CT Bold

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  14. Michael Green

    The Veterans Committee should elect players who really are deserving and have been overlooked. Mazeroski’s election caused a lot of the criticism that led to changes, but people I respect have said that he played second like he invented the position. I can’t imagine a better shortstop than Ozzie Smith, but I don’t think his hitting justifies his inclusion, so we do rely on a variety of standards.

    The three managers inducted are eminently deserving (including Torre; if we are going to point to his previous firings before taking over the Yankee machine, we need to boot Stengel out). The point about PED’s is one to consider, though, because the manager DOES police the clubhouse. To return to Stengel and Ralph Houk (and some would consider him possibly of HoF caliber), they benefited and suffered from Mantle’s hangovers, but they also may have benefited from their players taking amphetamines. How DO we settle this?

    I’ll also echo Joe that people aren’t necessarily going to the Hall of Fame to see Doug Harvey’s plaque. But since he was the greatest and most influential umpire to come up after World War II, he should be in there, just as Bill Klem and other early umpires belonged in there: they played an important role in baseball history, and they were at or very close to the top of their field. In his area, Harvey strikes me as far less debatable than the players on this year’s ballot.

    As for Miller, Murray Chass spoke with Miller’s children, who agreed that they didn’t support his induction because the whole thing was and is a sham. That would bring me back to Bowie Kuhn ….

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  15. Bruce M

    I fail to see how you can argue that no one would care to see an umpire’s plaque but would like to see Marvin Miller’s. Bogus.

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    1. Breadbaker

      I’d go to Cooperstown just for the Marvin Miller induction. For one thing, because the players who would be standing up for him would all be pretty awesome. Tony Clark, now head of the players union and a former player, foremost amongst them.

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