Tommy John leads Vets Committee ballot

From the Hall of Fame on this winter's Veterans Committee ballot:

    Every candidate receiving votes on 75 percent of the 16 ballots cast will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be honored during Hall of Fame Weekend 2011, July 22-25 in Cooperstown, New York.

    The 12 individuals who will be considered by the Expansion Era Committee in December for Hall of Fame Induction in 2011: Former players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub; former manager Billy Martin; and executives Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner. Martin and Steinbrenner are deceased; all other candidates are living.

I've already written about George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller. Billy Martin is an exceptionally tricky case, but my inclination is to support his candidacy because he won wherever he went. Pat Gillick's not tricky at all. He's the Billy Martin of general managers, except with more staying power and without the baggage. As I've mentioned many times, GMs have been terribly neglected by the Hall of Fame, and electing Gillick would be a great first step toward redress.

Here's the list of eight players on the ballot, with an additional piece of information for each: their highest level of support in the BBWAA's Hall of Fame balloting ...

Steve Garvey (42.6%), Tommy John (31.7%), Dave Concepcion (16.9%), Ron Guidry (8.8%), Vida Blue (8.7%), Rusty Staub (7.9%), Al Oliver (4.3%), Ted Simmons (3.7%)

Same thing, this time with Wins Above Replacement (one version of it, anyway) ...

Tommy John (59), Ted Simmons (50), Rusty Staub (45), Vida Blue (48), Ron Guidry (44), Al Oliver (39), Steve Garvey (36), Dave Concepcion (34)

Garvey's No. 2 in previous support, but No. 7 in WAR. Ted Simmons is No. 2 in WAR, but No. 8 in previous support. Tommy John's obviously got the strongest combination, No. 1 on one list and No. 2 on the other.

OK, this is the part where I strenuously object to relying solely on WAR when evaluating a player's Hall of Fame candidacy. But it's not a terrible starting point, right? Maybe WAR is missing some of the value in Concepcion's defense at shortstop ... but is WAR missing much about Steve Garvey or Al Oliver? I think probably not. Ditto for Rusty Staub (but you're surprised, aren't you, by how well he does score?).

We do have to make allowances for certain things. Great seasons. Postseason performance. The fact that catchers don't last as long as first basemen (that's how Ted Simmons ranks ninth in WAR among players who spent more than half their careers as catchers). And yes, the distinct possibility that we don't have a great read on Concepcion's defensive value.

I do think that Simmons was the best player in this group. But it's hard to imagine these voters -- eight ex-players, four executives, and four writers -- straying so far from the BBWAA's original judgment. When you have a 16-member electorate, anything is possible. But it helps if you've got a bunch of friends in there, and I don't see a single name who figures to be particularly disposed toward Simmons.

Tommy John's probably got the best shot. He did win 288 games, and also went 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 14 postseason games. The real knock against John is that he was never the best pitcher in his league, probably wasn't ever the second-best pitcher in his league. He was never really a dominant pitcher. And of course most Hall of Fame pitchers were dominant, at least for two or three seasons.

John wasn't. And you wonder what separates him from Jim Kaat, who's also still waiting for the call from Cooperstown.

Granted, there are people who want to give John extra credit for the surgery that's named after him.

I'm not one of those people. As I've written before, if you're going to put somebody in the Hall of Fame because of a surgical technique, you should probably put in the guy who actually invented the surgical technique.

But the Hall of Fame, with all the changes in the voting procedures in the last decade, still hasn't figured out a way to do something truly interesting, like seriously consider Frank Jobe as a "pioneer" ... let alone Bill James. The Hall of Fame is all about politics, and all of those changes have been designed to address political considerations rather than actually upholding the best standards of the institution.

None of this is surprising. It is disheartening.