Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Veterans Committee Post-1942 Players Electorate

The results of the latest Baseball Hall Of Fame Veterans Committee ballots was announced on Monday, and no one was elected from the post-1942 players ballot. Ron Santo, once again, was the top vote getter, with a promisingly high percentage but short of election.

Who votes on this ballot, anyway?

After the 2007 VC ballots (one for former players, one for non-players) elected no one for the third consecutive voting cycle, the Hall revamped the Veterans Committee. The VC's purview was divided into four ballots. Three of these -- managers & umpires, executives, and pre-1943 players -- are voted on by different selected committees of 12 or 16 individuals, some of whom are HOFers, others associated with baseball (writers, executives, historians...). The fourth ballot addresses players who debuted in 1943 or later, and this ballot has by far the largest electorate -- the living Hall Of Fame honorees. This year, the population is 64, almost completely former players.

Standing before an electorate almost entirely composed of his peers -- fellow players -- Santo still fell short.

Here's Santo's VC returns since the 2003 revamp (as always, 75% is necessary for election; no one was elected during the 2003, 2005, or 2007 voting cycles), and remember that the 2009 electorate is constituted differently (though largely similar):

year -- votes (of ballots) -- percentage -- rank
2003 -- 46 (of 81) -- 56.8% -- #3 (behind Hodges & Oliva)
2005 -- 52 (of 80) -- 65.0% -- #1 (tied with Hodges)
2007 -- 57 (of 82) -- 69.5% -- #1
2009 -- 39 (of 64) -- 60.9% -- #1

Wow. Santo lost 18 votes in 18 fewer ballots. That's a tough pill to swallow. (Note, I recognize that other candidates on this VC ballot have their vocal proponents. I'm using Santo as my case study because (a) he's the one I do support and (b) he's been the top finisher for three straight ballots. But I'll talk about other candidates in due course, particularly Hodges. I won't discuss Torre because I consider him best served when he gets someday placed on the managers ballot, which he will, and from which he probably will be quickly elected. And deserve it.)

So, who are these electors? First, the 2007 VC college, which was composed of four groups:
1. Living Hall Of Fame Honorees -- Hank Aaron, Sparky Anderson, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Lou Brock, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Steve Carlton, Gary Carter, Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Doerr, Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Monte Irvin, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, Al Kaline, George Kell, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Lee MacPhail, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Bill Mazeroski, Willie McCovey, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Red Schoendienst, Tom Seaver, Ozzie Smith, Duke Snider, Bruce Sutter, Don Sutton, Earl Weaver, Billy Williams, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount (61).
2. Living Ford C. Frick Award winners (for announcing excellence) -- Marty Brennaman, Jerry Coleman, Herb Carneal, Gene Elston, Joe Garagiola, Ernie Harwell, Milo Hamilton, Jamie Jarrin, Harry Kalas, Felo Ramirez, Vin Scully, Lon Simmons, Bob Uecker, Bob Wolff (14).
3. Living J. G. Taylor Spink Award winners (for baseball writing excellence) -- Murray Chass, Charley Feeney, Peter Gammons, Jerome Holtzman, Jack Lang, Hal McCoy, Ross Newhan, Tracy Ringoslby (8).
4. Members of the pre-2003 VC whose term had not expired -- John McHale (1).

That's a total of 84 voters, and in 2007, 82 ballots were returned (we don't know who did not vote). Of the 82 who voted, 57 supported Santo. There were 27 candidates on the ballot, which had no time restrictions for qualification.

Of the 61 HOFers, 57 were former players, three were managers (Anderson, Lasorda, and Weaver, though Sparky and Tommy had been major league players briefly), and one was an executive (MacPhail). Among the 14 announcers, three had also been players (Coleman, Garagiola, Uecker). And for good measure, McHale had been a player as well, back in the 1940s. Of 84 electors, 63 were former major league players (although that distinction is not what got all of them into the electorate). If all 84 had voted, 63 votes would have granted the 75% needed for election to the Hall.

Moving to the 2009 electorate, McHale's term had expired (immediately after the 2007 vote), and the Frick and Spink Award winners had lost the voting franchise, so that accounts for -23 voters immediately. Among the HOFers, Rizzuto had died, and four new living members had been elected -- Goose Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, and Dick Williams (as a manager, but he also was a player for a while). A total of 24 votes removed and four added, a net of -20 and a final count of 64 -- of which 62 were, most primarily but each at least to some degree, former major league players.

And Santo lost 18 votes in the process. It was worse for Hodges -- he lost 22 votes.

Wow. Did the writers and announcers in the 2007 election account for that much of the support behind Santo and Hodges?

Or did many of the voters in both elections change their votes, deny Santo their support this time? That's actually quite fair, but that sort of inconsistency is annoying. (Or, some voters may simply have forgotten how they voted in 2007. It happens.)

I cannot explain it, other than that some of the voters who cast ballots in both elections changed their votes against Santo. It's either that, or he had near-unanimous support amongst the bloc of voters who were removed -- possible, sure, but the less likely option, it seems to me. Occam's razor.

Note also that the ballot was much smaller, 10 candidates on the 2009 ballot versus 27 on the 2007 ballot. Voters in 2009 were limited to four votes maximum, but still, the smaller ballot should have concentrated votes. But not so; Santo's percentage dropped along with his raw vote total.

The electorate had a net turnover of -20. A total of 24 voters were removed -- the writers, the announcers, Rizzuto, and McHale -- and four were added -- Gossage, Gwynn, Ripken, and Williams.

And Santo lost 18 votes. And Hodges lost 22!

I can accept that the living HOFers are exclusionary, tight-fisted elitists who don't want to expand the Hall's roster and dilute (however slightly) the honor they hold, and hold dearly. But that's not universally true -- Santo got 39 votes, a majority. Kaat and Oliva also got majorities. Most of the votes were cast (213 of a possible 256). There simply was insufficient agreement, despite (a) the smaller ballot and (b) the more concentrated, peer-biased electorate.

It's not a new thought, but there is really little reason to think that the living HOFers are a particularly well-chosen or well-qualified electorate. It's a feel-good method, but given the obvious consensus reluctance to open the doors to anyone else, it might be in the Hall's broader interests to dump this particular VC subcommittee. A committee that elects no one, and does this consistently, is serving the same purpose as having no committee at all, and having no committee is the easier and more economical option.

Further, if this committee will not elect Santo (or Hodges), then there likely is no potential candidate qualified for the post-1942 ballot who could be elected. From this I draw three possible next actions -- drop the electorate constituting this committee; drop this ballot category; or drop candidates from future consideration. The Hall loathes ever taking this last choice, and probably isn't going to do anything, certainly not soon (this VC format is still quite young), about the first two.

So we're stuck with this state of affairs for now -- a post-1942 ballot classification, a stingy and/or fractured electorate, and a likely repeat of this apparently pointless exercise in late 2010.

Some electors, almost certainly more than one, changed their minds between the 2007 ballot and the 2009 ballot. And I wonder why.

Rob Neyer has similar thoughts.

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