Earlier this week, while I was still sleeping off a red-eye flight from hell, the Hall of Fame announced the members of this year’s Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, which on Sunday will convene in San Diego to discuss the 10 candidates and cast their ballots (each voter can list up to four names). The voting results will be announced that evening live on MLB Network’s MLB Tonight at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, and any candidates elected will be inducted alongside those from this year’s BBWAA ballot cycle (whose results will be announced January 21) next July 21 in Cooperstown.
The makeup of the 16-member committee is news unto itself due to the small committee process’s long history of questionable results tied to cronyism. I’ve long documented the ridiculous selections by the Frankie Frisch– and Bill Terry-led Veterans Committees of the late 1960s and early ’70s, first at Baseball Prospectus and then in The Cooperstown Casebook. Last year’s shocking election of Harold Baines added to the litany; let Dan Shaughnessy, with whom I rarely find agreement on baseball matters, singe your eyebrows with this description from earlier this week: “It turned out to be a Richard Daley-esque, back-channel, Cook County bag job orchestrated by Baines’s former White Sox bosses, Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony LaRussa, who were part of the 16-voter committee.”
Shaughnessy changed gears without noting that La Russa managed Baines in both Chicago and Oakland; that general manager Pat Gillick, who acquired Baines in Baltimore, was also on the committee; or that fellow honoree Lee Smith had connections to three voters as well, namely former manager Joe Torre and former teammates Ozzie Smith and Greg Maddux, but the point stands.
While connections between candidates and voters are an inescapable fact of longevity — one that could be offset by enlarging the committee and then mandating that those with obvious conflicts recuse themselves from the actual vote on particular candidates — this year’s committee doesn’t have ones nearly so glaring. If you’re prepared for some real inside baseball, here’s a breakdown of each group, listing the teams that each one was associated with, some of which were fleeting:
Candidates: Marvin Miller (MLBPA), Dwight Evans (Red Sox, Orioles), Steve Garvey (Dodgers, Padres), Tommy John (Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels, A’s), Don Mattingly (Yankees), Thurman Munson (Yankees), Dale Murphy (Braves, Phillies, Rockies), Dave Parker (Pirates, Reds, A’s, Brewers, Angels, Blue Jays), Ted Simmons (Cardinals, Brewers, Braves), Lou Whitaker (Tigers).
Hall of Famers: George Brett (Royals), Rod Carew (Twins, Angels), Dennis Eckersley (Indians, Red Sox, Cubs, A’s, Cardinals), Eddie Murray (Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Indians, Angels), Ozzie Smith (Padres, Cardinals), Robin Yount (Brewers).
Executives: Sandy Alderson (A’s, Padres, Mets), Dave Dombrowski (White Sox, Expos, Marlins, Tigers, Red Sox), David Glass (Royals), Walt Jocketty (A’s, Rockies, Cardinals, Reds), Doug Melvin (Yankees, Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox, Brewers), Terry Ryan (Mets, Twins).
Media/historians: Bill Center (San Diego Union-Tribune), Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Jack O’Connell (Hartford Courant), Tracy Ringolsby (Inside the Seams).
While all of the Hall of Fame players on the Committee competed against the nine ex-players on the ballot, not many were actual teammates. Carew and John were together in Anaheim from mid-1982 to mid-’85. Eckersley played with Evans in Boston from 1978-84, and with Parker in Oakland in ’88-89. Yount teamed with Simmons in Milwaukee from 1981-85.
Exec-wise, Alderson, who spent 1981-’83 as the A’s general counsel and then ’83-97 as their GM, acquired John and Parker. Jocketty worked in Oakland from 1979-93, albeit on the minor league side; as the assistant GM of the Rockies in ’94, he just missed Murphy, who played there briefly the year before. Dombrowski, for all of his movement, doesn’t appear to have overlapped with any of the candidates, though he surely crossed paths with Whitaker given both mens’ long connection to the Tigers. Melvin pitched in the Yankees’ farm system from 1975-78 (when he might have crossed paths with Munson) and then served in their front office from 1983-85, near the start of Mattingly’s big league career.
Media-wise, Center covered Garvey during his 1983-87 stint with the Padres. O’Connell joined the Yankees beat in 1989 and thus covered the second half of Mattingly’s career with the team; he later worked nationally as well. The well-traveled Ringolsby, the committee’s lone Spink Award winner, began working nationally with the UPI wire service in 1971 and later served on the beats of the Angels, Mariners, Royals, Rangers, and Rockies, though he appears to have only Murphy as a primary connection. Also of note is that Hirdt, O’Connell, and Ringolsby were among the 11 BBWAA members who served on this year’s Historical Overview Committee, which built the ballot.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that all of the Hall of Fame players on the panel were part of the players union during the 1981 strike led by Miller, and all except Brett passed through free agency at least once. Meanwhile, Glass is the only owner on this year’s panel, a marked change from the previous times during which Miller’s candidacy has been considered. Those committees were rife with legacies of Reserve Clause era owners and execs, as well as participants of late-80s collusion and 1994 strike hard-liners. Reinsdorf and Glass, who bought the Royals in 1993, were on the 2010 panel, for example. While the other five executives on this committee got their starts in front offices near the tail end of Miller’s 1966-82 tenure as the union’s executive director, only Alderson was a GM, and that was during Miller’s blink-and-you-missed-it stint as interim executive director in late ’83.
So who gets elected? After the Baines wild card last year, I’m reluctant to hazard a guess, but via the Detroit News‘ Lynn Henning, who wrote at length about Whitaker’s case for today, I’m on record as saying, “It’s tough to imagine them electing three people Sunday, but I’m vaguely optimistic that there will be at least one person, possibly two.”
To expand upon that… This may be the most favorable panel Miller ever gets. It could be a favorable one for Simmons, who missed election by one vote on the 2018 Modern Baseball ballot, which elected Whitaker’s double-play partner, Alan Trammell, as well as another longtime Tigers teammate, Jack Morris. Brett, Carew, Eckersley, Yount, Alderson, Glass, and Hirdt all served on that committee, though nobody knows exactly how any of them voted. Their presence could help Whitaker’s cause as well, as Tony Paul of the Detroit News tweeted this earlier this week:
George Brett and Dave Dombrowski are on the 16-person committee that will vote on the Veterans Committee ballot this week. That’s great news for Lou Whitaker, particularly Brett, who has been quite outspoken on Lou’s candidacy for a long time.
— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) December 2, 2019
Looking at the 16-member voting HOF committee, I see no fewer than eight *yes* votes for Lou Whitaker just from my interactions with and public comments from members. Needs 12. Power of persuasion is real here. It’s looking damn good.
— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) December 2, 2019
Finally, the Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker team’s Anthony Calamis mined past years’ BBWAA balloting to note that Center did vote Trammell from 2014-16, and perhaps earlier (those are the ballots he published). Whitaker hasn’t been on a ballot since 2001, so at best, we’re working from inference here. My own Tracker perusal tells us that Ringolsby did vote for Murphy (and Trammell) multiple times as well.
None of which guarantees that any of the 10 candidates will gain entry. While Era Committees have elected four players in the past two years, we’re only three years removed from an epic stretch (2003-17) where no living ex-player was honored by such panels, and where at times the cruelty of the proceedings seemed to be the point. Miller is on record as saying he didn’t want to be elected posthumously (though I do believe other considerations trump that), Ron Santo died a year before being elected on the 2012 ballot, and Minnie Miñoso passed away in 2015, shortly after missing out via that year’s voting. This stuff can be heartbreaking. Nonetheless, I do believe that the most likely honorees come from the Miller-Simmons-Whitaker group, and will add that I’ll discuss the final outcome comes on Monday’s MLB Now around 4:15 PM ET/1:15 pm PT.
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.