Half a Dozen Era Committee Honorees for the Hall of Fame… But Not Without Heartbreak by Jay Jaffe December 6, 2021 Sunday evening’s announcement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball and Golden Days Era Committee voting results brought a mixture of elation and sadness, as well as some measure of closure. Six candidates were elected to the Hall via the two ballots for long-retired players and managers, including three of its most famous omissions (Early Baseball’s Buck O’Neil, and Golden Days’ Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso), two of the three living candidates (Golden Days’ Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva), and a pioneer who stands as the first professional Black player in history (Bud Fowler). But as a bracing reminder of near-misses and the collision between baseball and human mortality, Dick Allen — who died on December 7, 2020, one day before his candidacy would have been considered if not for the coronavirus pandemic — fell a single vote short of election for the second time in a row. The voting by the two 16-member panels took place on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, where the MLB Winter Meetings would have been held this week if not for their cancellation due to MLB’s decision to lock out the players following the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (the MiLB portion is still taking place). Each voter was allowed to include up to four of the 10 candidates on their ballot, and the voting was done in secret. By far the most popular candidate up for election on either ballot was O’Neil, whose career as a player began in 1937 with the Kansas City Monarchs. O’Neil played alongside Hall of Famers such as Satchel Paige, Willard Brown, Bullet Rogan, and Hilton Smith, then managed the Monarchs, but it was his post-career work that elevated him into the pantheon. He was a pioneering scout who connected Ernie Banks to the Cubs and Elston Howard to the Yankees, signed Lou Brock, and scouted Lee Smith. He was the first Black coach in the AL/NL majors. And finally, he was an ambassador for the Negro Leagues, playing an outsized role in raising awareness of Black baseball and in recognizing its greats. O’Neil spent 21 years on the Veterans Committee, offering eyewitness testimony on his cohorts; served as subject and narrator in Ken Burns’ nine-part documentary series Baseball; co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City; and crusaded for Negro Leagues players deserving election to the Hall. O’Neil himself came up short in the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues election, which produced 17 honorees, all deceased. That ballot, for which he was one of just two living candidates (Miñoso was the other), was the last time that Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues Black baseball candidates were considered for election until this one. O’Neil died on October 6, 2006, less than eight months after being snubbed, but not before delivering an impassioned speech on behalf of the deceased honorees, “people who helped build the bridge across the chasm of prejudice,” to use his words. The Hall introduced the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and a bronze statue of him now greets visitors in the museum lobby. At last, he’ll have a bronze plaque to go with it, and the institution will be all the richer for it. Frankly, the Hall needed him more than he needed the Hall, more on which below. After that 2006 election, the Hall considered the book closed on the Negro Leagues pending more information from the research community. That research has since come forward as part of a massive, ongoing effort to flesh out the statistical record for Black baseball, the fruits of which are now available at Seamheads and Baseball Reference. Meanwhile, last December Major League Baseball announced its decision to officially recognize seven Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and ’48 as major leagues, making the statistics and accomplishments of some 3,400 players part of the major league record. That momentum certainly carried over into the construction of this ballot, which was aided by five historians with expertise in Black baseball. Six of the 10 candidates either played in the Negro Leagues or its predecessors, with an additional one, Fowler, carving out a career in white leagues before (and after) the color line was drawn. That subset of seven candidates produced four of the top five vote-getters, including the two who received the requisite 75% necessary for election: 2022 Early Baseball Era Committee Voting Results Player Votes % Buck O’Neil 13 81.3% Bud Fowler 12 75.0% Vic Harris 10 62.5% John Donaldson 8 50.0% Allie Reynolds 6 37.4% Lefty O’Doul 5 31.3% George Scales 4 25.0% Bill Dahlen ≤3 ≤18.8% Grant Johnson ≤3 ≤18.8% Dick Redding ≤3 ≤18.8% Fowler, who was born John W. Jackson Jr. and who was raised in Cooperstown, was Black baseball’s original pioneer, its first acknowledged professional, with a career that’s believed to have spanned from 1878 to 1904. An exceptional hitter, pitcher, and fielder who could play any position (sometimes catcher, but mainly second base), he was believed to be of major league-star quality, and is recorded as having hit .308 in over 2,000 at-bats in 10 seasons of organized baseball. Alas, the color of Fowler’s skin and the prejudice that accompanied it prevented him from ascending to the majors. Playing on integrated teams before the color line was fully entrenched — even captaining some — he traveled a hard road, unable to stay in one place for long before the objections of teammates or opponents forced him to move on, even given his considerable talents. In the latter stages of his career, he became one of the game’s first significant Black promoters, involved in forming leagues and teams. Fowler didn’t get further than the 94-member preliminary ballot in 2006, the first time he was considered in a Hall of Fame context. Even given his Cooperstown roots, he had gone largely unrecognized until 2013, the centennial of his death, when the street leading to Doubleday Field was renamed in his honor. Last year, SABR’s Nineteenth Century Committee voted Fowler as its 2020 Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend. Interestingly enough, the next-highest finisher in the voting was Harris, the only other Black candidate on this ballot who didn’t make it past the preliminary stage in 2006; Donaldson, Johnson, Redding, and Scales were among the 39 finalists, as was O’Neil. As a fiery All-Star outfielder and manager with the Homestead Grays, Harris achieved levels of success unparalleled in the annals of the major Negro Leagues, winning seven pennants and compiling a .663 winning percentage while overseeing Hall of Famers such as Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. To these eyes, one of the bigger surprises in the results was the low standing of Dahlen, a turn-of-the-century shortstop who excelled on both sides of the ball, and who helped the Brooklyn Superbas and New York Giants to two pennants apiece. The owner of the fourth-longest hitting streak in major league history (42 games in 1894), he ranks 11th among shortstops in JAWS, between Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin. I included Dahlen on my four-man virtual ballot; O’Neil, Fowler, and Johnson were the others. But with so many white major leaguers from that era already inducted, and so many strong Black candidates finally getting long-overdue opportunities for consideration, it’s hard to get too worked up over Dahlen slipping below the radar. The 16-member panel that considered the Early Baseball ballot consisted of Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Fergie Jenkins, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major league executives Bill DeWitt, Ken Kendrick and Tony Reagins; and veteran media members/historians Gary Ashwill, Adrian Burgos Jr., Leslie Heaphy, Jim Henneman, Justice Hill, Steve Hirdt, Rick Hummel and John Thorn. Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark and Hall of Famer Bud Selig served as non-voting co-chairs. Ashwill, Burgos, and Heaphy were three of the five experts on Black baseball who served on the Special Early Baseball Overview Committee that constructed this ballot; Hennemen, Hirdt, and Hummel were part of that process as well. Jenkins, Schuerholz, Smith, Torre, DeWitt, Kendrick, Regins, Burgos, and Hirdt all pulled double duty in this process, serving on the Golden Days panel as well, as did Selig as a voting member. They were joined by Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Mike Schmidt, executives Al Avila and Kim Ng, and media members/historians Jaime Jarrin and Jack O’Connell. Clark served as the non-voting chairman. Remarkably, the Golden Days panel allotted 61 out of the 64 possible votes to the top five candidates: 2022 Golden Days Era Committee Voting Results Player Votes % Minnie Miñoso 14 87.5% Gil Hodges 12 75.0% Jim Kaat 12 75.0% Tony Oliva 12 75.0% Dick Allen 11 68.8% Ken Boyer ≤3 ≤18.8% Roger Maris ≤3 ≤18.8% Danny Murtaugh ≤3 ≤18.8% Billy Pierce ≤3 ≤18.8% Maury Wills ≤3 ≤18.8% Miñoso “was the Jackie Robinson for all Latinos,” as Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda once said, referring to the fact that the Cuban Comet was the first Black Latino player in either the National or American Leagues when he arrived in 1949. Blocked first by the color line, he starred in a three-year stint with the Negro National League’s New York Cubans, but even after being signed by the Cleveland Indians, he bumped up against an informal quota system, as the team already had Larry Doby, Luke Easter, and Paige on its roster. Thus Miñoso spent the better part of the 1949 and ’50 seasons tearing up the Pacific Coast League. An early 1951 trade to the White Sox opened a path to playing time, and he spent that season and the next 10 as one of the AL’s top players, making the All-Star team in seven seasons, winning three Gold Gloves, outproducing every other AL player except Mickey Mantle in WAR, and becoming an icon on the South Side of Chicago. Miñoso never generated much heat on the BBWAA ballot, in part because his late-career cameos in 1976 and ’80 reset his five-year waiting periods and moved him further from the voters who saw him play; he peaked at 21.1% in 1988, and never topped 20% again in 11 more turns. While his career in the Negro Leagues made him eligible for consideration via the 2006 election, he fell short. The belief later expressed by Burgos, who was on that committee as well, was that voters were only allowed to consider his Negro Leagues career in that context, and not his long and successful career in the AL and NL. That injustice, and the overall excellence of his career, cast him as the single most deserving candidate outside the Hall of Fame, at least to these eyes. After missing election by three votes on the 2012 Golden Era ballot, Miñoso missed by four votes on the next one three years later. “Don’t tell me that maybe I’ll get in after I pass away,” he said in his final interview. “I don’t want it to happen after I pass. I want it while I’m here, because I want to enjoy it.” Alas, Miñoso died on March 1, 2015, somewhere in the general vicinity of his 90th birthday. As is the case with O’Neil, that he’s not here to enjoy his election makes the honor a particularly bittersweet one. Hodges has been dead for nearly 50 years, having collapsed due to a heart attack on April 2, 1972 at the age of 47. An eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, he was the first baseman for six pennant-winning Dodgers teams, including their 1955 and ’59 champions. When he retired, his 370 home runs stood as the NL record for a right-handed batter, though the mark was quickly surpassed by Willie Mays. He later managed the Senators and the Mets, overseeing the latter’s rise from a ninth-place finish in a 10-team league to surprise World Series winners in 1969. From an electoral standpoint, Hodges stands as the ultimate hard-luck candidate. He surpassed 60% of the vote three times on the BBWAA ballot, peaking at 63.4% in 1983, his final year of eligibility. Considered at least 10 times by the old Veterans Committee, he allegedly fell one vote short in 1993, when, according to biographer Danny Peary, committee leader Ted Williams would not allow the ailing Roy Campanella to vote by phone and cast what would have been the vote to put him over the top. Hodges later led all candidates via the 2003 and ’05 expanded VC voting before slipping in ’07 and ’09. After receiving 56.3% from the Golden Era Committee in 2012, he finished in the “less than three votes” boat in ’15, so it’s fair to say his rocketing to election here was unforeseen. With his election comes my ability to retire what I call the Hodges caveat. Outside of currently eligible candidates, he stood as the only one even to cross the 50% threshold without eventually getting elected via either the Veterans or Era Committees, an exception of which anyone who’s followed my work for the past two decades is almost certainly aware. In all likelihood, a much less savory cast of 10th-year BBWAA candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa — will assume that vacated spot when the results are announced on January 25, but for the moment, the dubious honor belongs to Maris, who topped out at 43.1% in 1988. Speaking of retiring one of my well-worn staples, Oliva has broken the “Rule of 2,000.” He collected “only” 1,917 hits in a career shortened by an endless series of knee injuries, and has thus become the first player from the post-1960 expansion era to be elected either by the writers or committees with fewer than 2,000 hits. For the sake of Allen, Bobby Grich and Buster Posey, I’m happy to see this one fall by the wayside. Oliva wasn’t far off from “the Hodges line,” peaking at 47.3% in 1988, his seventh year of eligibility, but only topping 40% once after that. In contrast to the four deceased honorees from the two ballots, Oliva and Kaat — who were teammates on the Twins from 1962 to mid-’73, when the former was traded to the White Sox — are both very much alive at 83 years old, offering hope that even if BBWAA voters pitch another shutout this year, there will be living honorees in Cooperstown next July 24. Oliva, a Cuban-born right fielder, made eight straight All-Star teams from 1964-71 and won three batting titles, including two in his first two full seasons (1964, accompanied by AL Rookie of the Year honors, and ’65). That early run put him on what appeared to be a Hall of Fame path, but an endless series of knee problems caught up to him, costing him most of the 1972 season and turning him into a lesser hitter over the final four seasons of his career. He fell just one vote short on the 2015 Golden Era ballot, tying Allen for the high mark on what was, alas, a shutout. Kaat, who fell two votes short on that ballot, was a lefty who pitched forever, winning 283 games over the course of a 25-year career while adding 16 Gold Gloves and making three All-Star teams. By his own admission more of a second or third starter than an ace — as he said on MLB Network moments after the announcement — he made just three All-Star teams and received Cy Young votes in one season. He received a tepid reception from BBWAA voters, peaking at 29.6% in 1993, his fifth year of eligibility, and only occasionally topping 25% thereafter. For all of my familiar critiques of Hodges, whose numbers when adjusted for the bandbox of Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field simply don’t shine that brightly, it’s the election of Kaat that I have the hardest time grappling with, as he’s 112th among starters in JAWS, and 109th in my experimental, workload-adjusted version, S-JAWS. That Allen, a heavy-hitting seven-time All-Star, MVP and Rookie of the Year winner, fell one vote short for a second time in a row is certainly unprecedented in Era Committee history. It might be unprecedented as far as all of the Hall’s small committees are concerned, but we’ll never know without input from the institution. Prior to the 2003 expansion to allow all living Hall of Famers and award winners to vote, the Hall did not release the vote totals for Veterans Committee elections, so aside from an apparent leak, such as in the case of Hodges circa 1993, we don’t know who just missed by a whisker. For the family and friends of Allen this has to be a particularly heartbreaking blow. He was a controversial and often misunderstood figure throughout his 15-year career, mishandled by the Phillies at the outset; they sent him to integrate professional baseball in Arkansas in 1962 without giving him any idea what to expect, and after an altercation with a white teammate in ’65, he took to wearing a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from projectiles thrown at him. During much of his time in the majors, writers — virtually all of them white — patronizingly called him Richie instead of his preferred name, Dick, and generally assumed the worst about his behavior. His image has since undergone considerable rehabilitation as he’s been viewed in a more sympathetic light (sabermetrician Craig Wright worked hard to undo the damage of Bill James writing that Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball” in The Politics of Glory). Last year, the Phillies retired his number 15 in a socially distanced ceremony, breaking their own longstanding policy of limiting the honor to Hall of Famers. Alas, Allen was suffering from cancer at the time, and did not live to see his candidacy up for review. According to the schedule, it will be another five years, on the 2027 Golden Days ballot, before he is eligible again. If there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that with the election of the other four candidates from this period, his top competition has been eliminated, with Wills the only other candidate who’s received at least 50% from a previous Era Committee. It still stinks. Allen’s supporters — and I count myself as one, in case you’re new to these parts — won’t want to hear it, and likewise for those focused on performance-based standards such as WAR and JAWS, since none of Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva fare well by those metrics, certainly not as well as Allen; their election carries some ramifications regarding current and future BBWAA candidates, though this isn’t another Harold Baines moment, and I don’t want to dwell too much on it here. But putting that aside, Sunday was a very good day for the Hall. As I noted at the end of my Donaldson profile, I believe that O’Neil’s candidacy represented a crucial pivot point for the institution, which has weathered considerable criticism over the past few decades for its exclusions, whether for the likes of Pete Rose and various PED-linked players due to their self-inflicted black marks, or for more popular, higher-character players such as Hodges, Dale Murphy, or Don Mattingly, who from a statistically objective standpoint are harder to justify electing. Another failure to elect O’Neil might have consigned the Hall to irrelevance in the eyes of a great many who might otherwise be on board. His recognition provides some overdue acknowledgement of the whole enterprise of pre-integration Black baseball, and some closure on the pain and drama of his 2006 snub. I’m hopeful that it kindles further interest in setting the record straight and acknowledging more of his peers, ideally without waiting another 10 years (more on that subject soon). Regardless of what happens with the BBWAA voting during this upcoming cycle, the elections of O’Neil, Hodges, Kaat, Miñoso, Oliva, and Fowler ought to guarantee a substantial crowd in Cooperstown next summer. Fans, friends, and family members have waited a long, long time to see these men recognized, and while the absences of the deceased will loom large, their elections ensure that the stories of the roads they traveled will long outlive them.