The Hall of Fame ballot has arrived and this corner has the whole month of December to ponder who deserves to get the call to Cooperstown with Derek Jeter. There's your one sneak peek. You'll have to wait until around Christmas to get the full reveal.
But we're going to get some Cooperstown news at the Winter Meetings that open this weekend in San Diego. The "Modern Baseball" committee has some interesting choices to make among players from the period of 1970-1988 who were overlooked on previous ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The committee is meeting Sunday and has some legitimate Hall-worthy candidates to consider on its 10-man ballot. Longtime Boston outfielder Dwight Evans and Detroit second baseman Lou Whitaker are appearing for the first time on a veterans-era ballot while late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson is appearing on a fourth veterans list but is a first-timer on the "Modern Baseball" chart.
Also on the ballot who got consideration in 2018 are Ted Simmons, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Tommy John, Dave Parker and former MLB Players Association chief Marvin Miller.
Miller deserves to be in the Hall but died in 2012 at 95 and wrote the Hall before his death that he should no longer be considered. His family has publicly said they would not attend any ceremonies if he was chosen. So given that, let's assume he does not get voted in.
All of these players certainly deserve a look but one problem with the '80s is the era of big cookie-cutter ballparks cut into statistics and they now really look flimsy when put up against those from the Steroid Era and modern players who thrive in hitter-friendly parks.
From this view, Evans and Simmons clearly stand out as the two most worthy of induction.
Evans was an eight-time Gold Glove winner who was one of the game's most feared right fielders in the '70s and '80s. He had 2,446 hits, 1,470 runs, 385 home runs, 1,384 RBIs and 1,391 walks. How different were stats then? Evans had 256 home runs during the 1980s, and that led all AL players for the decade. So did his 605 extra-base hits.
Simmons had 2,472 hits, 248 homers and 1,389 RBIs in a 21-season career with the Cardinals and Brewers. Among those who played at least 50% of their games at catcher, Simmons ranks second in hits (behind Iván Rodríguez), second in doubles (Rodríguez), second in RBIs (Yogi Berra) and fifth in runs (behind Rodríguez, Carlton Fisk, Berra and Johnny Bench).
After that? It would be appropriate for Whitaker to join his longtime double-play partner Alan Trammell in the Hall. Whitaker won three Gold Gloves at second base and had 2,369 hits for the Tigers. Murphy was a back-to-back NL MVP winner in 1982-'83 in Atlanta and had 398 home runs in 18 seasons, but only had a six-year window of elite stats from '82 to '87. Same for Garvey, who starred from 1974-80. He 2,599 hits, but only 272 home runs with his one MVP award and four Gold Gloves).
Injuries derailed Mattingly's sure-fire Hall career and Munson's death at 32 in a 1979 plane crash left questions forever unanswered about where he would have finished. John had 288 career wins and lives on by name association to the elbow surgery named after him, but he pitched 26 seasons and never won a Cy Young Award. Parker seems tainted by the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials despite a career otherwise worthy of a good look.
You have to get 12 of the 16 committee votes to get inducted and this group may need to fill the stage at Cooperstown in July with two or three inductees, because it's possible Jeter could be the only player on the BBWAA ballot to get the required 75% of the vote this year.
The 16 committee members doing the voting are Hall members Dennis Eckersley, George Brett, Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Robin Yount and Ozzie Smith; MLB executives Dave Dombrowski, Sandy Alderson, David Glass, Walt Jocketty, Doug Melvin and Terry Ryan; and media members Bill Center, Tracy Ringolsby, Jack O’Connell and Steve Hirdt.
O'Connell is the longtime secretary/treasurer of the BBWAA who tallies the writers' votes and makes the calls informing the newly elected members of the Hall that they have earned enshrinement.
When the committee last met in 2018, seven of those men were members. The group inducted Jack Morris and Trammell to the Hall and Simmons missed by one vote, getting 11 of the 12 votes required.
Huckaby does turnaround to Herd
The Bisons are planning an introductory press conference next month with new manager Ken Huckaby while he's en route to Toronto for the Blue Jays' annual winter development program, and the former big-league catcher rates as an unusual choice.
For one thing, he's never managed higher than Class A and that came in 2015 at Dunedin of the Florida State League. For another, he's been the Blue Jays' minor-league catching coordinator the last three years and coordinators often like the schedule of visiting a team for a week or two and then going home, rather than being locked into one team on a day-to-day basis.
Huckaby is familiar to the Buffalo staff because of his visits the last couple of years to work with Danny Janssen and Reese McGuire, so Buffalo GM Mike Buczkowski was surprised to learn Huckaby had inquired with the Jays about the position to replace the departed Bobby Meacham.
"When I talked to him on the phone and asked him, he said, 'I miss it,' " Buczkowski recounted. "He said, 'It's strange to say, but I miss the ups and the downs, the whole thing of being with a lot of the same guys for a year and everything a team goes through.' I thought that was pretty impressive.
"He talked to me a lot about environment and culture and how the minor-league front office can fit into that and how he has some ideas, and it was great to hear that. It's the whole process we need to work together on to have the best possible place for these guys."
Huckaby joins an impressive line of former big-league catchers to manage the Herd, a list that includes Jeff Datz, Joel Skinner, Eric Wedge and Gary Allenson.
"I'm partial toward catchers being managers," Buczkowski said. "I just think they see the game differently than everybody else. It's always been fascinating for me to be down in that room anytime there was a catcher as a manager like Jeff Datz or Eric Wedge. I would be like, 'I thought I knew baseball' and you listen to these guys talk about what was going on, what should have happened, why we got the guy out or why we didn't get the guy out and it's so much fun."
Prince-ly choice in Toledo
Another former Bisons catcher, Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Prince, will be on the Herd's opponent list this season as he was named manager of the Toledo Mud Hens on Tuesday.
Prince had served as Pittsburgh's bench coach the last three years but was released in the organizational purge that included manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington. Prince was hired in Toledo by former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, now Detroit's vice president for player development.
Prince played 400 games for the Bisons from 1988-1992 and is best remembered for the solo home run that provided the margin of victory in Buffalo's 1-0 win over Denver in the inaugural game at then-Pilot Field on April 14, 1988.
Prince will bring the Mud Hens to Sahlen Field for a three-game series on July 31 and Aug. 1-2.
Buczkowski to accept IL honor
Before heading to San Diego, Buczkowski went to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the local Congressional delegation about the minors' ongoing negotiations with MLB over a new working agreement. The headline proposal is MLB's desire to pare back the minors by 42 teams, including the contraction of franchises in Batavia, Binghamton and Erie, Pa.
Once he arrives at the meetings, Buczkowski will accept his International League Executive of the Year Award that the league announced last month. It certainly rates as one of the biggest honors of his career with the Bisons that dates to 1987.
"I was surprised," Buczkowski said. "We were in the league meeting right at the end where you're packing up ready to go and (IL president) Randy Mobley does a presentation where he says 'And the winner is ... Mike Buczkowski' and I was like, 'Whoa, I'm not leaving now. I have a few thank-yous to give everybody.'
"I was surprised, but anytime anybody wins these awards, it's not one person. You represent your organization and your community and I very much feel like that here. It's an award that I share with everybody on our staff, certainly our owners and fans and everybody that makes the Bisons what they are."
Boston's Triple-A club moves to Worcester, Mass., for the 2021 season and will officially be known as the Worcester Red Sox. But in terms of all practical naming, logos, etc., the team announced this week it will simply be called the "WooSox."
The WooSox unveiled two logos, one smiley face slugger dubbed Smiley Ball and posing in what the team said was the “classic home run swings of Red Sox legends Ted Williams and David Ortiz, among others.” The other is a script W, with a heart in the middle as an ode to the city's nickname as the "Heart of the Commonwealth."
The 2020 season will be the final one in Rhode Island for the Pawtucket Red Sox, as state leaders did not come up with a ballpark plan to replace aging McCoy Stadium and the parent club moved on. Worcester is building a $101 million stadium to be known as Polar Park as part of a $240 million redevelopment.
— Worcester Red Sox (@WooSox) November 26, 2019
Around the horn
• The Giants were the only team to win three World Series titles in the 2010s and they did it under the stately leadership of GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, the latter of whom retired after last season. But it's hard to figure what they're doing now.
Gabe Kapler, a failure in the dugout in Philadelphia and still tainted by two alleged assaults by some of his minor leaguers when he was the farm director in Los Angeles, is an utterly bizarre choice as manager. It was clearly made because of his relationship with Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' president of baseball and former Dodgers GM.
And the team announced Monday it was non-tendering outfielder Kevin Pillar after one season in which he made many of the same highlight-reel plays he made in center field in Toronto and earn the franchise's coveted Willie McCovey Award for the team's most inspirational player. Pillar led the Giants in homers, RBIs and stolen bases but was also going to make $10 million and the Giants are going young.
So who should make a move on Pillar? We'll see. The ex-Bisons MVP would have looked good patrolling the big grounds of Citi Field for the Mets but they traded Thursday for Houston's Jake Marisnick to fill that spot.
• Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Cole Hamels, Zack Wheeler. Good to see some early free-agent signees after last year's stalemate that sure smelled of collusion. Let's see where big fish like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg end up.
• The Pirates might be terrible this year but Derek Shelton is a nice choice as manager and he should help groom their young players. Shelton, Minnesota's bench coach the last two years, drew raves as hitting coach in Cleveland (2005-2009) and Tampa Bay (2010-2016).
• The Red Sox want to bring the All-Star Game back to Fenway Park, which has been heavily renovated since it last served as host in 1999. That was the game best remembered for Ted Williams' appearance on the mound with the All-Century Team.