SAN DIEGO — To the extent that the Hall of Fame’s Era Committees exist to right past electoral wrongs — a debatable proposition given some of the results over the years, to say nothing of those from its late and unlamented predecessor, the Veterans Committee — the Modern Baseball Era Committee in one fell swoop fixed the Hall’s most glaring and embarrassing omission on Sunday while also giving hope to candidates squeezed off the writers’ ballot before their cases could get a full airing. By electing former MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller, the voters finally enshrined the most important non-player and one of the most impactful figures in the game’s history. By electing eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons, they finally honored a candidate who quite shockingly received less than 5% of the vote from the BBWAA in his first ballot appearance and was thus ineligible for future consideration in that context.
Miller and Simmons were the two honorees elected from among a slate of 10 candidates who made their greatest impact upon the game during the 1970-87 period. Each member of the 16-voter panel consisting of Hall of Fame players, executives, and media members/historians was allowed to vote for up to four candidates, with 75% needed for election. Simmons received 13 votes (81.3%), Miller 12 (75%). This was the third election cycle of the new staggered Era Committees — via which more recent eras are considered with greater frequency — since a 2016 reorganization. Each one has selected two honorees, and five of the six have been living ex-players — which is five more than were elected by the expanded Veterans Committee and the older Era Committees from 2003-16.
As executive director of the MLBPA from 1966 to ’82, Miller revolutionized the game, overseeing its biggest change since integration via the dismantling of the reserve clause and the dawn of free agency, thus shifting a century-old balance of power from the owners to the players. Miller helped the union secure a whole host of other important rights as well, from collective bargaining to salary arbitration to the use of agents in negotiations. During his tenure, the average salary of a major league player rose from $19,000 to over $240,000, and the MLBPA became the strongest labor union in the country.
Yet both in his lifetime and since his death at the age of 95 in 2012, petty politics prevented him from receiving proper recognition via enshrinement in the Hall of Fame — so much so that in 2008, Miller, still feisty well into his 90s, took the unprecedented step of asking voters not to consider him on another ballot. In a letter to the BBWAA, whose Historical Overview Committee constructs the ballots, Miller wrote:
“Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again. The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining.”
Before Miller passed away in 2012, his son Peter ruled out the family’s participation in any posthumous honor by the Hall:
“No one in our family will attend or speak at any HOF ceremony regardless of the outcome of the HOF vote. It’s important for union members and the media to understand why, so that the story does not get misrepresented as ’sour grapes,’ personal pique, or anything of the sort.”
When Miller was included on the 2014 Expansion Era ballot, his children repeated their stance, with daughter Susan calling the committee “cowards [for] doing it after he died.” How exactly the Hall will handle his induction next July 26 remains to be seen.
While I don’t begrudge the family its permanent boycott of the institution, one simply can’t credibly tell the story of major league baseball without the man who revolutionized the game and its business practices. Both his accomplishments and the stain of the institution’s failure to honor him during his lifetime are now part of that story, and while his plaque will be the same size as all the others, its presence will stand as a towering middle finger aimed at the small men who conspired against him during his lifetime and after, and who colluded against the players in efforts to break the union. No plaque will seem smaller in the presence of Miller’s than that of former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who wound up on the short end virtually every time the two sparred during Miller’s tenure, yet was elected in 2008; upon that occasion, the Associated Press declared, “At last, Bowie Kuhn beat Marvin Miller at something.” The induction speech that Miller never got to give would have been epic, but even without it, his legacy will long outlive those of his foes.
Simmons, who spent the first 13 years of his career with the Cardinals (1968-80) before moving on to the Brewers (’81-85) and Braves (’86-88) was one of the game’s elite offensive catchers, hailing from an era with a bounty of them; Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk are already enshrined, while Thurman Munson was on this ballot as well. When he retired, Simmons held the record for most hits as a catcher (1,908, since surpassed by five players), and even today his total of 2,472 hits is second among all players who spent the majority of their careers behind the plate. That total ranked fourth among all switch-hitters at the time of his retirement; Simmons is now 10th in that category.
Simmons was also one of baseball’s true iconoclasts. He denounced the Vietnam War and wore his hair long (yielding the nickname “Simba” for his leonine mane). In 1972, his age-22 campaign, he played more than half the season without signing a contract, setting up a potential challenge to the reserve clause that was quelled when the Cardinals signed him to a two-year, $75,000 deal in late July (he had sought $30,000 for one year but was unilaterally renewed at $25,000). Not known as a great defender, he was traded away from the Cardinals by manager/GM Whitey Herzog, and while he helped the Brewers to the 1982 World Series against Herzog’s Cardinals, he had trouble transitioning to other positions. Nonetheless, he’s a career .285/.348/.437 hitter (118 OPS+) who ranks 10th in both WAR (50.3) and JAWS (42.6) among catchers.
Simmons is the first player to be elected after going one-and-done on the writers’ ballot and the second to be elected after falling victim to the Five Percent Rule, which took its current form in 1980. He owns the second-lowest peak voting percentage of any Hall of Famer whose career took place after World War II, behind Larry Doby:
|Player||MLB Career||Peak %||Vote Year|
|Joe Kelley||1891-1906, 1908||0.4%||1939|
|Satchel Paige||1948-1949, 1951-1952, 1965||0.4%||1951|
|Rick Ferrell||1929-1945, 1947||0.5%||1956|
|High Pockets Kelly||1915-1917, 1919-1930, 1932||1.9%||1960|
|Kid Nichols||1890-1901, 1904-1906||2.7%||1939|
|Amos Rusie||1889-1895, 1897-1898, 1901||3.1%||1939|
Both Miller and Simmons had previously fallen one vote short in past elections. Miller, who was considered in various contexts six previous times (2003, ’07, ’08, ’10, ’11, and ’14), missed by one vote via the 2011 Expansion Era Committee ballot. Simmons, who after 1994 wasn’t considered again until that same 2011 ballot, fell one vote short via the ’18 Modern Baseball ballot. As I noted on Friday in analyzing the makeup of the 16-member committee — a necessary chore given the small committees’ long history of cronyism, which extended to last year’s Today’s Game panel, when White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and White Sox and A’s manager Tony La Russa were said to have significant impact on the proceedings that resulted in the election of Baines — this panel appeared to be a favorable one for both while avoiding such obvious conflicts.
All six Hall of Fame players on the committee (George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount) were among those who participated in the seven-week 1981 players’ strike led by Miller, and five of them (all but Brett) went through free agency at least once. Additionally, only one owner (David Glass) was among the six executives on the committee, but he didn’t buy the Royals until 1993, well after Miller’s tenure as executive director. None of the five other execs (former GMs Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, Walt Jocketty, Doug Melvin, and Terry Ryan) were in upper management during Miller’s run nor were they legacies of labor skirmishes like so many Gileses and MacPhails; Reinsdorf, who was pivotal in both the game’s late-1980s collusion scandal and the 1994 players’ strike, as well as on last year’s Today’s Game Era Committee, was not involved in this vote. Additionally, Brett, Carew, Eckersley, Yount, Alderson, Glass, and media member Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau were on the aforementioned 2018 Modern Baseball panel, where Simmons fell just short.
Media members Bill Center, Jack O’Connell, and Tracy Ringolsby rounded out the panel. Hirdt, O’Connell, and Ringolsby also served on the 11-member Historical Overview Committee that built this ballot.
The crossover from the 2018 panel appeared as though it might favor Lou Whitaker, whose longtime double-play partner Alan Trammell was elected that year along with another former Tigers teammate, Jack Morris. Whitaker, who came in at just 2.9% in 2001, his lone BBWAA ballot appearance, was making his first Era Committee appearance and probably received the most publicity of any candidate in the run up to Sunday’s results. He received six votes, a middle-of-the road total that should by no means quash the dreams of those hoping for his eventual enshrinement (this scribe included). Both the fact that his candidacy is back in circulation, and that a precedent for a one-and-done candidate to be elected in this format has been set, bode well for him down the road.
Here are the full results as announced by the Hall of Fame:
Evans was also making his first appearance on an Era Committee ballot; he had gone even longer than Whitaker without being considered, having slipped below 5% in 1999, his third year on the writers’ ballot. Munson had not been considered since 2003-07, via the biennial ballots of the expanded Veterans Committee that failed to elect anyone. Garvey and John, like Simmons, had appeared on the past three Era Committee ballots (2011, ’14, ’18), while Parker was on the past two, and both Mattingly and Murphy were on the 2018 ballot. While this era is chock full of other good candidates — manager Billy Martin and players Bobby Grich and Keith Hernandez stand out — if history is a guide, all will have other chances in the future.
Via the 2016 reorganization of the Era Committees, the Modern Baseball panel won’t meet again until the 2023 ballot, to be voted upon in December 2022. At next year’s Winter Meetings, both the 2021 Early Baseball (covering those whose greatest impact occurred from 1871 to 1949) and Golden Days (1950-69) Era Committees will meet and consider separate 10-candidate slates. The 2022 ballot will be devoted to Today’s Game candidates, those whose greatest impact occurred since 1988.
Postscript: Here’s my Monday afternoon MLB Now appearance discussing the voting results with Brian Kenny, Dan O’Dowd, and the great Peter Gammons.
Meanwhile, as somebody who has written about Simmons at length both here at FanGraphs and previously in The Cooperstown Casebook, it was gratifying to hear him acknowledge the role of sabermetrics in reviving his candidacy. This is from Sunday night’s conference call:
New HOFer Ted Simmons: "If it weren't for the analytics people, my career as a potential Hall of Famer probably would have been shut down and forgotten a long time ago."
— Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) December 9, 2019
And this from Monday’s press conference:
I’ve said it for a while. It was really the metrics people who revived my candidacy. The comparisons that come from the statistics in general is what makes this game part of what it is, so exciting to so many people. The controversies and the discussions just abound, especially around the numbers.
So when I was essentially, you know, one and done, for lack of a better phrase, people started examining that and looking at the numbers and making the comparisons, and then discussions started. Pretty soon people were walking up to me saying things like, Well, did you know? And I just said, I got a body of work here. It’s not something I think about day and night. I’ve done what I can do. Pretty soon people were coming up a lot, and then they started talking to each other and then they started talking to everybody and it just grew.
Now there have been a lot of people who had a lot to do with this, but the Sabre Metrics [sic] people brought me back to life.
Regarding Miller, Simmons said, “I couldn’t have hand-picked anybody I would rather be going in with,” and he told a few stories about the late exec as well. The full transcript of his presser is here.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.