NEW YORK — In two weeks, a committee of 16 Hall of Fame players, managers and executives will assemble in Orlando to debate the worthiness of 10 former players from the Golden Era of baseball (1950s and ‘60s) for long-awaited plaques in Cooperstown.
For Brooklyn and Queens fan favorite Gil Hodges, this will be his 20th turn at-bat with various Veterans Committees after failing to reach the necessary 75% needed for election in 15 years on the Baseball Writers Association ballot. The highest percentage he ever achieved with the writers was 63.4 in his last year on the ballot and his 3,010 votes in 15 years from the writers are the most of any player not elected to the Hall of Fame. Similarly, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and Dick Allen, the other leading candidates on the 10-player ballot, each have been on five or more Veterans Committees ballots.
Full disclosure here: I was formerly a member of the Historical Review Committee that made up this ballot, and in terms of selecting 10 players for which you could make a legitimate Hall of Fame case, I think we met that objective. At the same time, being as I don’t have any further vote on them, I feel free to offer my views on whether they belong in the Hall or not. My first and foremost criteria for the Hall of Fame has always been dominance. Did this player dominate in the game for a substantial period of time? And the best benchmark in that regard is the amount of bold face (as denotes led league) in his record.
This, in my opinion, is where Hodges falls short and is probably the reason he has been rejected so many times by the Hall of Fame voters. In 18 years in the big leagues, he never once led the league in any offensive category. His supporters will note that he drove in 100 or more runs seven straight seasons from 1949-55 but that was also while hitting fifth or sixth in arguably one of the greatest lineups of all time, with three Hall of Famers — Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese — plus a lifetime .300 (actually .299) hitter in Carl Furillo mostly all hitting ahead of him. He obviously gets big points for managing the Mets to their miracle world championship in 1969 but his overall managing record was 660-753 with no other first place or even second place finishes. Another benchmark I have always had for position players other than catchers (though it’s not entirely hard and fast) is 2,000 hits — and in that too Hodges (1,921) falls short. By contrast, Oliva (1,917) also didn’t attain 2,000 hits in a career cut short by injuries but his 10 prime seasons with the Twins from 1964-75 were loaded with boldface, as in three batting titles, five times leading the American League in hits, four times in doubles and once each in runs and total bases. I’d say that was pretty dominant.
So if Hodges is to finally be elected, it will not be on his stats. It could, however, be on something more intangible. For if any player in history has epitomized the Hall’s “character, sportsmanship and integrity” clause (which has played such a big part in the voting in recent years), it’s Gil Hodges. When it came to character and universal respect, Hodges surely dominated.
But getting back to the stats, a long held opinion by many writers, fellow players and scouts who saw him in his prime is that the best player not in the Hall of Fame is Minnie Minoso. If nothing else, the stats would certainly bear out Minoso being the best player on the Golden Era ballot. Dominance? In 13 seasons from 1951-63, Minoso, a .299 lifetime hitter whose prime tool was his speed, led the American League in triples and stolen bases three times, and hits, doubles and total bases once while batting third in the lineup most of the time. From 1951-61, his 1,078 runs, 579 extra base hits and 2,879 total bases were second only to Mickey Mantle in the AL. An eight-time All-Star, Minoso finished fourth in the MVP voting four times. Like many players of color during that era, Minoso was subjected to his share of racial abuse, both verbal and otherwise. It was no accident he led the AL in hit by pitches 10 times.
Dick Allen was another player who endured his share of racial intolerance, particularly early in his career with the Phillies (1963-69), and that has been a major tenet of the organized Hall of Fame campaign for him out of the Philadelphia in recent years. The Allen campaign has also cited numerous former teammates and foes who maintain that, even in the absence of exit velo in those days, nobody hit the ball harder than he did. And maybe he did. But in terms of being a dominant player for a substantial period of time, Allen falls short. He did have three fairly dominant seasons with the Phillies — in 1964 when he hit .318 and led the National League in runs, triples and total bases and was Rookie of the Year, and ‘66 and ‘67 when he hit over .300 and led the NL in OPS — and two more for the White Sox, in 1972 when he led the AL in homers, RBIs, walks, slugging, OBP, and OPS and won the MVP award, and 1974 when he led the AL in homers, slugging and OPS in only 128 games. But overall, Allen had only seven seasons in which he played over 140 games, had only 1,848 hits, and was traded five times.
Keeping in mind the 16 voting members can only vote for four candidates, some thoughts about the rest of the ballot:
This is Jim Kaat’s fifth appearance on a Veterans Committee ballot and in light of the analytical emasculation of modern day pitching, maybe it’s time to finally recognize his 283 career wins, 180 complete games, 31 shutouts and 4,530 1/3 innings — totals that will never come close to being reached by any pitcher again. Had there been a Cy Young award in both leagues in 1966 he most surely would have won the American League’s version when he led the league in wins (25), complete games (19) and innings (304 2/3).
Billy Pierce, the only other pitcher on the ballot, was a seven-time All-Star (and three-time starter) for the White Sox in the ‘50s and, along with Whitey Ford, the dominant lefty in the AL for over a decade, with 211 career wins, 38 shutouts and a 3.27 ERA, again career pitching stats we will never see again.
Ken Boyer was probably the best all-around third baseman in the National League with the Cardinals from 1955-64, a solid hitter and better fielder than Eddie Mathews. He won an MVP award in ‘64 when he hit .295 and led the NL in RBIs and finished with 2,143 hits, but his career was short and, aside from his 119 RBIs in ‘64, there is no boldface in his record.
Maury Wills, the Dodgers’ base stealer extraordinaire, really had only six elite seasons. ... Though he is still the American League’s single-season home run record holder, Roger Maris is not going to Cooperstown with arguably only two Hall of Fame caliber seasons. ... Danny Murtaugh won two world championships in three stints as manager of the Pirates from 1957-76, but health issues limited his career and his 1,115 wins rank 56th on the all-time list.