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Monday, December 6, 2010
Pat Gillick makes Hall better


Over the years, I've come to believe that it's best to focus on who does gain entrance to the Hall of Fame, rather than who does not.

It's just a happier way to get through life, because over the years more deserving candidates will be elected than won't.

Take today's announcement, for example. By the historical standards of the Hall of Fame, Pat Gillick was a highly deserving candidate. He probably wasn't an easy choice. There aren't many non-owner baseball executives in the Hall of Fame -- by my count, Gillick is just the fifth -- so it wasn't easy for the voters, who generally rely on precedent when making their decisions.

Why is Gillick only the fifth? Executives have been neglected over the years, but it's not just that. There just haven't been many baseball executives who have been credited with building a number of champions and had a great deal of staying power as general managers.

Bob Howsam lived to be almost 90 years old. I have argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. But Howsam, though he built the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati that won two World Series, was a general manager for only 13 seasons (two in St. Louis, 11 in Cincinnati). To this point, 13 seasons just hasn't been enough to earn Howsam more than token support from Hall of Fame voters.

Gillick, on the other hand, served as a general manager (or its equivalent) for 27 seasons, during which his teams reached the playoffs 11 times and won three World Series. Among other baseball executives of the last 50 or 60 years, only John Schuerholz has comparable qualifications, and Schuerholz will probably be elected to the Hall of Fame shortly after appearing on the ballot.

Unfortunately, the big story isn't going to be Gillick's election; it's going to be Marvin Miller's non-election. Miller, still going strong, turns 94 next spring. Miller's supporters point to his impact on the sport as the Major League Baseball Players Association's first strong leader. As union head in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Miller fought the owners at every turn, and consistently beat them. The players would eventually have fought for more rights (and money) without Miller. But they did it earlier and more effectively because Miller was on their side.

That said, there's obviously no precedent for electing a labor executive. And the composition of the committee probably didn't help Miller's cause. The 16-man voting committee included seven Hall of Fame players, all of whom benefited from Miller's efforts, all of whom probably voted for him. The committee included Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog; it's hard to guess if he voted for Miller. The other eight voters were four executives (or former executives) and four writers. I would guess that three or four of the writers did vote for Miller, and that three or four of the executives did not.

That's how you get to 11 votes. Miller needed 12.

This makes Miller's fourth failure to be elected. His first two tries, he was voted on (mostly) by living Hall of Famers, and fell just short both times. His third try, he was voted on (mostly) by baseball executives, and fell well short. And now, this fourth try: more players on the committee -- all of them from Miller's era -- fewer executives, and consequently Miller's support skyrocketed from 25 percent to 69 percent.

One more vote. This time, that's all Miller needed.

Miller will be in the Hall of Fame someday. He'll remain on one ballot or another forever, and eventually he'll get that one vote. But as long as there are three or four men on the committee who hated Miller's guts -- and it should be said that he wasn't real fond of them, either -- he's going to fall short. And it's hard to escape the impression that those men, all of them much younger than Miller, figure they can outlast the irascible old union man.

Meanwhile, Dave Concepcion garnered eight votes. As good as Concepcion was, I don't believe he was one of the 20 greatest shortstops in major league history. George Steinbrenner -- along with the other nine candidates, received fewer than eight votes. The Boss might belong in the Hall, but there's no harm in waiting a few years to let his accomplishments sink in a bit more. You could make a real good case for at least five of the other candidates, none fared well on the BBWAA's ballots over the years, and it's obviously difficult for the voters on this committee to distinguish among them.

Yes, maybe Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame. Maybe Billy Martin does, and maybe Tommy John. Miller, probably. But for many years, the Hall of Fame's veterans committees routinely elected candidates who lowered the standards of the institution. Today, the election of Gillick has maintained the Hall of Fame's standards, and perhaps raised them.

If you care about the Hall of Fame, this is a good day.