Earlier today the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum announced the names of 10 men who are candidates for the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 via the “Modern Game” Eras Committee. The Eras Committee, which for decades was known as the Veterans Committee, is tasked with inducting players who were overlooked on the writers’ ballot and also with inducting managers, pioneers or executives.
In all of its forms, what today is called the Eras Committee has elected 165 men to the Hall of Fame: 96 MLB players, 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires and nine Negro League players (an additional 26 Negro League players, pioneers or executives have been inducted by committees designed specifically to honor the Negro Leagues).
The 10 nominees for the Modern Game ballot (which covers people whose primary impact occurred between 1970-1987) are first baseman Steve Garvey, starting pitcher Tommy John, first baseman Don Mattingly, former Players’ Association head Marvin Miller, starting pitcher Jack Morris, center fielder Dale Murphy, right fielder Dave Parker, catcher Ted Simmons, starting pitcher Luis Tiant and shortstop Alan Trammell.
A not yet named panel of 16 members (living Hall of Famers along with a few other executives and one or two members of the media) will be tasked with voting for up to four out of the ten candidates. In order to be elected to the Hall, a candidate needs 12 votes (75%). The 16 members of the committee will meet at December’s Winter Meetings and the inductees (if any) will be announced on Sunday, December 10th.
Let’s take a brief look at the 10 candidates on the Modern Baseball ballot, listed alphabetically (by last name). For each player, we’ll show some basic statistics, some advanced ones, their accolades and history of Hall of Fame voting. If you’re not familiar with WAR (Wins Above Replacement), OPS+ (ballpark and era adjusted OPS) or ERA+ (ballpark and era adjusted ERA), please visit the Glossary.
Before going through each candidate, I’ll just put this out there: each and every one of these ten men are more worthy of the Hall of Fame than many others who are already enshrined (mostly from the first half of the 20th century). All nine players listed had excellent careers. Some were better than others but not a single one would be an “embarrassment” to the Hall. The challenge for the 16 voters will be to determine which men are the four most worthy of the immense honor.
Steve Garvey (1B): 19 Seasons (1969-1987)
- The basics: .294 BA, .329 OBP, .446 SLG, 272 HR, 1,308 RBI, 2,599 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 117 OPS+, 37.7 WAR
- The accolades, 1974 NL MVP, 10-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series ring
- HOF vote: max 43% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 3rd time on Vets/Eras ballot
Gut reaction: Garvey was the Iron Man before Cal Ripken. From September of 1975 to July of 1983, he played in 1,207 consecutive games, the fourth longest streak of all time. During his playing career, he was the kind of player that most people assumed would be in the Hall of Fame. He got 200 hits six times, over 100 RBI five times, won an MVP and was a 10-time All-Star. He debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1993 and got 42% of the vote. Normally, an opening salvo that high would result in a plaque in Cooperstown but Garvey never got any traction.
Greater awareness of statistics beyond hits and batting average have likely hurt Garvey’s chances, both with the BBWAA and the Veterans Committees. From 1974-80, when he averaged 201 hits per season, he only walked 38 times per year. He had an excellent career but he’s not one of the four best on this ballot.
Tommy John (SP): 26 Seasons (1963-1989)
- The basics: 288-231 W-L (.555), 3.34 ERA
- Advanced metrics: 111 ERA+, 62.3 WAR
- The accolades: 4-time All-Star, 2 runner-ups in Cy Young voting
- HOF vote: max 32% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 3rd time on Vets/Eras ballot
Gut reaction: while he was pitching, I never felt that John was a Hall of Fame pitcher but I never expected him to pitch until he was 100. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration but thanks to his bionic arm (and the career-saving surgery that still bears his name), John pitched until the age of 46. His 288 wins are the most for any 20th century pitcher who is not in the Hall. I’m not sure he’s in the top four on this list but Tommy John probably deserves a Hall of Fame plaque.
Don Mattingly (1B): 14 Seasons (1982-1995)
- The basics: .307 BA, .358 OBP, .471 SLG, 222 HR, 1,099 RBI, 2,153 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 127 OPS+, 42.2 WAR
- The accolades: 1985 AL MVP, 6-time All-Star, 9 Gold GLoves
- HOF vote: max 28% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 1st time on Eras ballot
Gut reaction: I grew up in New York City and was a fan of the cross-town Mets and the Boston Red Sox but that didn’t stop me from having immense admiration for the great first baseman on the New York Yankees. Donnie Baseball was one of those young players who looked like an absolute no doubt first ballot Hall of Famer. From 1984-1989, he was one of the top players in the game. Unfortunately, back woes slowed Mattingly down and he was not the same player in his final six seasons. Mattingly retired after the 1995 season, shortly after his 34th birthday.
Mattingly’s the kind of popular player that might do very well with committee members that just vote on instinct and whether they considered someone a Hall of Famer while they were playing. His six-year peak, while superb, was not “all time great” superb. For me, he’s not one of the top four candidates on this list.
Marvin Miller: Executive Director of the MLB Players Association (1966-1982)
- HOF vote: 7th time on Vets/Eras ballot
Gut reaction: if the Hall of Fame has space for former commissioners and executives, it should have a space for Marvin Miller. Every player earning millions or tens of millions of dollars to play a child’s game today owes a bit of that salary to the work that Miller did back in a day when baseball players were legitimately underpaid.
Miller has been on different versions of Veterans Committee ballots six times before and he’s always fallen short. His support has been mostly from the Hall of Fame players; his detractors have mostly been from among the MLB executives on those committees. Miller died five years ago at the age of 95, about two years after he finished just one vote shy of induction into the Hall of Fame.
I don’t really like it that he’s on the same ballot as players who were members of the union while he was its Executive Director because it makes the math harder for any of those players to make the cut. The Hall of Fame should keep players separate from managers and executives. He deserves to be in the Hall but he deserved to be inducted while he was still alive. All of the players on this ballot are still alive and would feel an immense amount of pride if they were to get the Hall call.
Jack Morris (SP): 18 Seasons (1977-1994)
- The basics: 254-186 W-L (.577), 3.90 ERA, 175 CG
- Advanced metrics: 105 OPS+, 43.8 WAR
- The accolades: 5-time All-Star, 3 World Series rings (1991 WS MVP)
- HOF vote: max 68% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 1st time on Eras ballot
Gut reaction: I’ll have more on Morris in the next month or so but, to me, he’s a Hall of Famer. Yes, I know his WAR is low, I know his ERA is high.
For me, Morris is one of those rare players who transcend those metrics. In fifteen torturous years on the BBWAA ballot, Morris topped out at 68% in 2013. There is no player in history who got that high a percentage of the vote and was not later inducted by one of the previous versions of the Veterans Committees. Morris has that old-school grit that will likely play well with the former players on the Eras Committee.
Much more to come about Jack Morris in the upcoming weeks but I’ll be rooting for him hard.
Dale Murphy (CF): 18 Seasons (1976-1993)
- The basics: .265 BA, .346 OBP, .469 SLG, 398 HR, 1,266 RBI, 2,111 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 121 OPS+, 46.2 WAR
- The accolades: 2-time NL MVP, 7-time All-Star, 5 Gold Gloves
- HOF vote: max 23% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 1st time on Eras ballot
Gut reaction: Murphy’s story is essentially the same as Mattingly’s story.
In their primes, if you asked 100 baseball writers whether Dale Murphy or Don Mattingly were future Hall of Famers, you probably would have gotten nearly 100 positive responses for both. Unfortunately, after the 1987 season (his last of 7 All-Star appearances), Murphy’s offensive numbers fell off dramatically. As a player who was functionally finished as a productive offensive player after his 32nd birthday, he fell short of many counting stats that BBWAA voters like.
Murphy was very well liked and respected, one of the ultimate “good guys” among players. I’d be happy to see him rewarded for his peak performance. Whether he’s one of the top four on this list is an open question deserving further study.
Dave Parker (RF): 19 Seasons (1973-1991)
- The basics: .290 BA, .339 OBP, .471 SLG, 339 HR, 1,493 RBI, 2,712 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 121 OPS+, 39.9 WAR
- The accolades: 1978 NL MVP, 7-time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 2 World Series rings
- HOF vote: max 24.5% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 2nd time on Eras ballot
Gut reaction: as it was with Garvey, Mattingly and Murphy, Dave Parker is one of those players who absolutely exuded Cooperstown in his early years. With 2 batting titles and an MVP trophy in 1978, the 6’5″ Cobra looked like a no doubt Hall of Famer.
In 1979 at the Kingdome in Seattle, Parker made one of the most famous throws in the history of the All-Star Game. With two outs and the score tied at 6 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Graig Nettles hit a single to right field. Brian Downing raced from 2nd to try to score and Parker threw a strike to home plate to throw him out. The N.L. won 7-6 in 9 innings. A few months later, Parker won his first World Series title with the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates.
With the exception of a renaissance campaign in 1985, Parker was never the same player again after 1979 and thus fell quite a bit short on some milestones that might have put him into Cooperstown already.
Ted Simmons (C): 21 Seasons (1968-1988)
- The basics: .285 BA, .348 OBP, .437 SLG, 248 HR, 1,389 RBI, 2,472 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 118 OPS+, 50.1 WAR
- The accolades: 8-time All-Star
- HOF vote: 3.7% on 1 BBWAA ballot, 3rd time on Vets/Eras ballot
Gut reaction: while he was playing, I never thought of Ted Simmons as a Hall of Famer but I was comparing him to Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Thurman Munson. Simmons had the bad luck of playing at the same time as three of top four catchers in MLB history, at least according to WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Simmons’ WAR is 11th best all-time and only Ivan Rodriguez has more than Simmons’ 2,472 hits among catchers. Simmons is a favorite of MLB Network’s Peter Gammons and Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe.
Simmons was a really good player but the BBWAA had no use for him. He only lasted one year on the ballot. He has a lot of support in the sabermetric community which may or may not help depending on who is on the 16-member panel.
Luis Tiant (SP): 19 Seasons (1964-1982)
- The basics: 229-172 W-L (.561), 3.30 ERA, 187 CG
- Advanced metrics: 114 ERA+, 66.1 WAR
- The accolades: 3-time All-Star
- HOF vote: max 31% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 6th time on Vets/Eras ballot
Tiant led the A.L. in ERA twice, 1.60 in 1968, 1.91 in 1972. He won 20 games four times. Unfortunately for his Hall of Fame candidacy, he pitched in an era with multiple 300-game winners, overshadowing him. I would absolutely love to see Luis Tiant in the Hall of Fame; he was briefly my favorite baseball player when I was a fickle eight-year old kid.
Tiant’s had a lot of chances on previous Veterans/Eras ballots and never gotten much support. He’ll be 77 years old when the voting occurs, which makes him the oldest living candidate on this ballot. With so many younger candidates to choose from (including four popular players who are on their first Eras Committee ballot), I can’t see it happening for El Tiante.
Alan Trammell (SS): 20 Seasons (1977-1996)
- The basics: .285 BA, .352 OBP, .415 SLG, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 2,365 Hits
- Advanced metrics: 110 OPS+, 70.4 WAR
- The accolades: 6-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 1 World Series ring (WS MVP)
- HOF vote: max 41% on 15 BBWAA ballots, 1st time on Eras ballot
Gut reaction: I never understood why Alan Trammell didn’t get more love from the BBWAA voters. The only explanation I can think of is that he was overshadowed by Cal Ripken (his contemporary) and by the trio of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, who all debuted in the mid 1990’s just as Trammell was wrapping up his career. Because he wasn’t a big power guy and didn’t have the speed of Barry Larkin (who sailed in to the Hall in 2012 on his third ballot), Trammell has been overlooked.
He’ll have a lot of support in the blogosphere, from both the sabermetric community and from those who value his old school traits. Even as he competed on a super crowded ballot, Trammell’s BBWAA support climbed from 13% in 2007 to 41% in 2016.
The Detroit Tigers haven’t had a Hall of Famer inducted since Al Kaline in 1980 and it’s about time. (Sorry, Ivan Rodriguez’ four seasons in Motown don’t count; he’s a Hall of Famer for his work in Texas). If any players at all get elected through this Eras Committee, I would guess that Trammell and Morris are the most likely to make it.
The recent history of the Eras/Veterans Committee
In its history, the Veterans Committee has inducted a couple of dozen players who really are not worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. Bill James (in his landmark 1995 book The Politics of Glory) and Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe (in his excellent book, released this year, The Cooperstown Casebook) go through a great amount of detail about some of the unworthy players (almost all of whom played in the first half of the 20th century). We won’t cover that ground today but, suffice it to say, there was a lot of cronyism in the 20th century versions of the Veterans Committee.
With the feeling that perhaps the Veterans Committees were a little too generous with their inductions, the Hall of Fame has revamped the process multiple times in the last 16 years. If it was the Hall of Fame’s goal to slow the flood of unworthy candidates, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In the last 16 years, the various versions of the committees have elected just 3 players. All three players were dead at the time of induction.
In 2009, second baseman Joe Gordon, who won four World Championships in New York and one in Cleveland, was inducted by the Veterans Committee, 31 years after his death.
In what was perhaps the cruelest posthumous election induction of all-time, the beloved Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo was inducted in 2012. The announcement came in December 2011, about a year after he passed away. Jaffe described the announcement, made by Jane Forbes Clark, the chairwoman of the board of directors for the Hall of Fame, this way:
“Her words (Clark’s) were meant to confer baseball’s highest honor, but they hit the floor of the Hilton Anatole with a resounding thud. The room fell silent for four seconds, a pause that felt like an eternity, before the polite applause began, as those gathered struggled to digest the sad irony of what had transpired.”
— Jay Jaffe, The Cooperstown Casebook
Santo, an excellent third sacker for the Cubs who won 9 Gold Gloves, made 5 All-Star teams, and hit 342 home runs during a pitchers’ era, was tortured for decades by a lack of support from the writers of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) and also by four different versions of the Vets’ Committees who, in 2003, ’05, ’07 and ’09 kept the doors of the Hall closed to Santo.
From 2003-2009, the Hall of Fame decided to open up the process to all Hall of Fame players, managers and executives as well as broadcasters (Ford C. Frick Award winners) and sportswriters (J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners). Four times the collective body did not choose to admit any new members to its exclusive club. Santo was the top vote-getter in 2005 (when he got 65% of the 80-man vote), 2007 (68% of 84 voters), and 2009 (61% of 64 voters). The 2009 vote was limited to players only.
Incidentally, Gordon was inducted in 2009 by a separate 12-person committee tasked with evaluating players from the 19th century and first half of the 20th century . That version of the Veterans Committee also almost elected another Yankee, pitcher Allie Reynolds, a crucial cog in 6 World Championships; Reynolds finished one vote short of a Cooperstown plaque. Since the inductions of Santo and Gordon, the committees have only voted in one other player, Deacon White (in 2013), who last played over 100 years earlier and died in 1939.
Anyway, the Hall of Fame board scrapped the process of having all living Hall of Famers vote on their peers and created the “Eras Committees,” which include players but also Hall of Fame managers or executives and non-Hall of Fame executives and one or two media members.
With respect to inducting worthy players, the Eras Committees haven’t done a whole lot better. In 2011, the Expansion Era committee elected long-time front office executive Pat Gillick but failed to confer more than 50% of the 16-person vote on any players. In that same vote, Miller, one of the most important figures in baseball history and the man most singularly responsible for creating millionaires out of baseball players, fell one vote shy of induction.
In 2012, as we’ve seen, Santo was posthumously inducted into the Hall. The 2013 committee was the Pre-Integration Committee and inducted White along with umpire Hank O’Day and former Yankees’ owner Jacob Ruppert. In 2014, the Expansion Era Committee had an easy job: Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox were all on the ballot. All three were obvious and unanimous selections. Since the committee members were limited to four votes, this made it impossible for any players on the ballot to have a chance. This is another flaw of the current process, the mixing of players and managers/executives on the same ballot.
In the 2015 vote, the Golden Era Committee (tasked to look at players from 1947-1972) really laid an egg and produced groans from the assembled media when Clark announced that no player had been granted a Cooperstown plaque. The groans occurred when Clark said that Dick Allen and Tony Oliva had fallen one vote short (with 11 votes each) and that Jim Kaat had gotten 10 votes out of the needed 12. Maury Wills got 9 votes and Minnie Minoso, a terrific Cuban-born player whose MLB career was delayed a few years by the slow pace of integration, earned 8 votes. (The discrimination against Minoso was because he was black, not because he was Cuban).
In 2016, the Today’s Game Committee elected former Commissioner Bud Selig and longtime Royals and Braves General Manager John Schuerholz. Once again, with two obvious non-players on the ballot, there was no chance for any of the players or managers who were also candidates.
The 2015 shutout, which did not have an obvious never-before-eligible manager or executive but just 9 solid players and one executive, revealed a flaw in the process. Because the players on these ballots were not inducted by the BBWAA, they are by definition second-tier candidates. There’s nothing wrong with being a second-tier Hall of Famer; there are over 100 such players already in the club. The problem is that the members of the 16-person committee were limited to 4 selections each and with 9 or 10 players who are all kind of in the same second-tier bucket, the votes got split and everyone fell just a bit short.
The Brighter Future of the Eras Committee Ballots
Although I’m optimistic that the Modern Baseball Committee will finally elect a living player this year, the same mathematical forces that produced the 2015 shutout could very well be in play again. Marvin Miller’s going to have a lot of support from the players on the committee but not necessarily from the executives for whom he was an adversary. If Miller gets a significant amount of votes but falls short again, the net impact will be to make it harder for any of the players on the ballot to get the 12 votes they need to be inducted.
Again, as it was in 2015, there’s not a single player who will be an obvious candidate to the 16-member panel. Once again, the votes may be split just enough for the top three or four vote-getters that several players fall just shy of 12 votes.
In general, the players of the second half of the 20th century are vastly underrepresented compared to players from the first half of the century and the Hall of Fame board members seem to be sensitive to this fact. In the summer of 2016, the committee rotation was revamped to focus more on players who played after 1950 and in particular those who played in the LCS era (1969 and beyond). Here’s how it lays out for the next nine years:
- Class of 2018 (voting December 2017): Modern Baseball Era Committee (focusing on players whose primary impact was from 1970-87).
- Class of 2019: Today’s Game Era Committee (players from 1988 and beyond)
- Class of 2020: Modern Baseball (1970-87)
- Class of 2021: Golden Days Era Committee (players from 1950-1969)
- Class of 2021 (also): Early Baseball Era Committee (players before 1950)
- Class of 2022: Today’s Game (1988 and beyond)
- Class of 2023: Modern Baseball (1970-87)
- Class of 2024: Today’s Game (1988 and beyond)
- Class of 2025: Modern Baseball (1970-87)
- Class of 2026: Golden Days (1950-1969)
The good news is that are many upcoming opportunities for previously overlooked players who played after 1950 to get a another chance at the ultimate honor in sports.
But let’s remember, once again, that in the last 16 years not one living player has been inducted to the Hall of Fame. Hopefully we’ll see one or more of the game’s passed-over stars from the ’70’s and ’80’s finally get their day in the Cooperstown sun next July.
Thanks for reading.