The Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee used to be a bastion of old-boyism, gleefully electing their friends into the Hall while snubbing more deserving candidates they didn’t get along with. After several years of this, the committee had elected so many undeserving candidates that baseball finally had to step in and make the rules a lot more stringent.
But now the Committee is going in the opposite direction, from electing too many people to electing none. Denied the ability to shoo in their old pals, the vets seem bound and determined to make sure nobody at all gets in.
If you ask me, the problem is the whole idea of letting the “Veterans” (ie living HOF members) choose. Just because you are in the Hall of Fame yourself doesn’t mean you necessarily have any idea who deserves to be in the Hall. Back when the committee had a license to put in anyone they wanted, they overwhelmingly chose people they knew personally or had seen play, because man, remember that one time he hit that one home run? That was awesome!
The Baseball Writers Association of America, for all the criticism it gets, has been far, far more judicious and fair in its selections.
Three perennial HOF snubs stand out as being especially worthy:
First is Ron Santo, who just about everyone thinks should be in, except for the Vets. The face and co-captain of the Cubs along with Ernie Banks in the 1960s, Santo is probably one of the three or four most beloved Cubs ever. Oh yeah, and he was also a 9-time All Star, twice led the National League in on-base-percentage, and won 5 gold gloves at third base. Santo fell just 5 votes short this year, so he is likely to get in next time, but at age 67, with his body ravaged by type-1 diabetes, and already on two prosthetic legs, we can only hope he can make it two more years until the Committee votes again.
Next on my list is Gil Hodges. One of the core members of the mighty “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers dynasty, the soft-spoken Hodges was the beloved first baseman and cleanup hitter of a Dodgers squad that went to 7 World Series in a 13 season stretch. More than any other player, Hodges defined that team – his first full year in 1947 marked their first trip to the World Series, and his last full season in 1959 marked their last World Series. In the intervening years, Hodges had 7 seasons in a row in which he banged out at least 100 RBI, and 11 seasons in a row in which he hit at least 22 homers, including two seasons over 40. Although Hodges’ career numbers are sometimes seen as falling short, he did lose 4 prime years to service in the Marines in World War II, and he also deserves commemoration for his role as the manager of the 1969 “Miracle” Mets.
Finally, there is Maury Wills, who is so well-known for skills as one of the greatest leadoff batters of all time, that most people I’ve ever talked to about him assume he must already be in the Hall of Fame. The speedy shortstop for a Dodgers team that went to 3 World Series in the 1960s, Wills single handedly reinvented the stolen base as a weapon that could win games, pennants, and World Series. His 104 stolen bases in 1962 shattered Ty Cobb’s decades-old Major League record of 96, and earned Wills an MVP award. So forgotten was the stolen base, that the runner-up that year was Wills’ teammate Tommy Davis, who only swiped 32! Wills was also a master bunter, one of the greatest of all time, who was so feared that opposing teams would water the dirt around home plate and first base to the consistency of mud whenever the Dodgers came to town, in a futile attempt to slow his legendary first step. Another lasting impact Wills had on the game was his revolutionary way of leading off second base, toward the outfield rather than directly toward third. This not only allowed him to round third and score faster, but let him get back more quickly to second on a pickoff. The lead is now used by all baseball players everywhere. On a pitching-rich, hitting-poor Dodgers squad, a Wills run was often the difference in a 1-0 victory for Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale.