Last week, with little fanfare and virtually no attention, the Hall of Fame announced the 10 candidates placed on its Golden Era ballot, where the 16-member committee will consider candidates from the 1947-1972 period (whether this was actually baseball's golden era is a subject for another debate).
This year's candidates include nine players and one executive: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.
In the previous Golden Era ballot in 2011, Ron Santo was the lone inductee, a long controversial Hall of Fame candidate whose election may have been helped by his death a year earlier. Twelve of 16 votes are required for election, and Kaat (10), Hodges (9), Minoso (9), Oliva (8), Boyer and Tiant (both with fewer than three) appeared on the previous ballot.
This year's committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Pat Gillick (a Hall of Famer), Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.
In my opinion, there is one clear Hall of Famer in this group and maybe a second strong candidate, but let's review each candidate.
Career WAR: 58.7
10-year peak (1963-1974): 54.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 18.9
Similar players: Lance Berkman, Reggie Smith
Allen was one of the most feared hitters of his day, three times leading his league in slugging percentage and hitting .292/.378/.534 in a pitcher's era and winning the AL MVP Award with the White Sox in 1972. His career adjusted OPS of 156 is 19th all-time -- the same as Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, just ahead of Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez. So the dude could hit. The knocks against him are that he had a relatively short career (354 home runs, 1,119 RBIs), and he was blamed for a lot of the failures of his teams.
One of things I like to consider for a borderline candidate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? Allen played mostly first base but a lot of third early in his career, which complicated the question for him, but I'm not sure he's a better candidate than guys such as Keith Hernandez or John Olerud, let alone guys still on the ballot such as Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.
My call: No.
Career WAR: 62.8
10-year peak (1956-1965): 56.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 25.5
Similar players: Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Ron Santo
A consistent 90-RBI guy for the Cardinals, Boyer was also an outstanding third baseman and the 1964 NL MVP when he led the league with 119 RBIs. Like Allen, Boyer suffers from not doing much outside of his 10-year peak. In Boyer's case, he didn't reach the majors until he was 24 -- but that was in large part due to missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while serving in the army. What if he had reached the majors two years sooner and added 30 home runs and 150 RBIs to his career totals of 282 and 1,141?
My call: Just outside. I'm surprised he didn't fare better in the BBWAA, as he was well-liked and a respected player. There are a lot of third baseman in this area -- Boyer, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Cey. Santo was certainly a notch above them. Scott Rolen is similar, and he'll be on the ballot in a few years.
Career WAR: 44.9
10-year peak (1956-1965): 42.2
Top percentage from BBWAA: 63.4
Similar players: Norm Cash, Boog Powell
The much-beloved first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Hodges has, I believe, the highest vote total from the BBWAA for a player who never eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. He also earns bonus points for managing the 1969 Mets to a World Series title.
Bill James just wrote this on his site about Hodges:
You mentioned an eight-year run for Hodges ... he posted an OPS+ of 132 over that period, with the good defense and team success. Is that kind of success particularly rare? It doesn't seem that it is. Actually, you can find a guy like that in almost every era. Starting with Garvey ... Steve Garvey had an eight year run with an OPS+ of 129 (1973-80) ... he was a good defender. His teams won. Keith Hernandez had eight years at a 139 OPS+ (1979-86). He was a good defender who played on good teams, too. Will Clark had a ten-year run at a 143 OPS+ ... 1986-95. John Olerud has a ten-year run with an OPS+ of 137, 1993-02. Mark Teixeira picks up after Olerud ... he clocks a 136 OPS+ for eight years, from 2004-2011. Don't know about his defense, but he was on a lot of winners. Just taking a quick look, I was able to find a player like Hodges active from 1973 to 2010.
My call: No.
Howsam's claim to fame was building the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine dynasty of the 1970s. He was the Reds' general manager from 1967 to 1977. He hired Sparky Anderson as manager and made two major trades in acquiring Joe Morgan and George Foster, although guys such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez were already in the organization when he came over from the Cardinals (where he had acquired Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris, who helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series). Howsam was, interestingly, also one of the founding owners of the Denver Broncos, along with his brother and father, although they sold the franchise after its first season.
My call: No. Is he the most deserving executive not in the Hall of Fame? He certainly built a powerhouse in the Reds, but he was also extremely disliked by players in both St. Louis and Cincinnati (although you can argue his job wasn't to be liked by the players). He was a hard-liner against the Players Association, but then again most execs from that period were. In the end, we probably have enough executives and managers in for now. Let's get more deserving players in there before worrying about GMs.
Career WAR: 45.4
10-year peak (1966-1975): 36.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 29.6
Similar players: Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, Bert Blyleven
Kaat won 283 games, including 20 games three times. He finished fifth in the MVP voting the year he won 25 games and finished fourth once in the Cy Young. He was a good pitcher, but not really in the same class as Blyleven, who has a career WAR of 96.5. Kaat ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR for pitchers just five times.
My call: No. Kaat, of course, has hung on in the game forever as a broadcaster, still doing games for MLB Network at 75 years old. Considering he had 10 votes last time, it wouldn't surprise me if he gets in.
Career WAR: 50.1
10-year peak (1951-1960): 50.1
Top percentage from BBWAA: 21.1
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Enos Slaughter, Tony Oliva
Here's what I wrote three years ago:
Minoso's first full season in the majors came in 1951, when he was 25 years old. He hit .326, scored 112 runs, led the league in triples and stolen bases and finished fourth in the MVP vote. From 1951 until 1962 (when he fractured his skull and wrist running into a wall, and later fractured his forearm when hit by a pitch) Minoso had the seventh-highest WAR among all major league position players, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. In other words, for an 11-year span, he was one of the best players in baseball.
Minoso did everything well: He hit for average, drew walks, had speed, hit for some power, was durable and was regarded as a good outfielder (the Gold Glove award wasn't created until he was 31, but he won three). The writers of his time knew he was an excellent player -- he finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, an impressive achievement considering he never played for a pennant winner.
Of course, his career numbers may not look impressive, but remember: His career didn't start until he was 25 because of the color barrier. He was the first black player for the White Sox. Considering he was already a star as a rookie, what if he had reached the majors when he was 21? Now you're adding another 700 hits or so, 400 runs and 350 RBIs to his career totals and 15 seasons as one of the best players in baseball. It seems to me more than unfair to discount Minoso's totals simply because he got a late start in the major leagues due to racial circumstances.
Minoso is 85 years old and still going strong. Put the man in Cooperstown. He deserves it.
My call: He's now 88 years old and still deserving of Cooperstown.
Career WAR: 43.0
10-year peak (1964-1973): 42.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 47.3
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell
I got an email from Jessica Petrie, communications director for the VoteTonyO campaign, a grassroots organization trying to help get Oliva elected to the Hall of Fame. Oliva was a terrific pure hitter who won three batting titles with the Twins but had his last good season at age 32 because of knee problems. In some ways, Oliva's career is similar to another former Twins outfielder:
Oliva: .304/.353/.476, 222 HR, 947 RBI
Kirby Puckett: .318/.360/.477, 207 HR, 1,075 RBI
Puckett sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He had some advantages over Oliva: He played center field and led his team to two World Series titles. But as hitters, they were similar. But Puckett is a weak Hall of Famer, not a strong one, so that one comparison shouldn't help Oliva's case too much.
My call: No.
Career WAR: 53.1
10-year peak (1950-1959): 43.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 1.9
Similar players: Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Catfish Hunter
I'm glad to see Pierce's case get some consideration. An underrated star of the 1950s, Pierce had a career record of 211-169. The left-hander wasn't big (5-foot-10) but had a good fastball. The White Sox were overshadowed in the '50s by the Yankees but had a winning record every season from 1951 through 1967, and Pierce was one of the mainstays, helping the White Sox win the pennant in 1959. From 1951 to 1958 he had a 2.89 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 134, an eight-year peak better than many Hall of Famers. (Kaat, by comparison, never had an ERA+ that high in one season where he pitched at least 162 innings.)
My call: No. A stronger candidate than Kaat, however, despite the fewer career wins. (Pierce, by the way, is 87 and still alive, as well.)
Career WAR: 66.1
10-year peak (1967-1976): 45.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 30.9
Similar players: Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale
I wrote about Tiant's case back in July, when he was elected to the Hall of Very Good. He had a career record of 229-172, similar to Hunter and Drysdale. I think he was every bit the pitcher whom Drysdale was and better than Hunter -- trouble is, Tiant's best years were separated by a 20-loss season and two years of arm problems, which makes his timeline look a little odd (and he didn't play on World Series winners like those two).
My call: Three years ago I said "no" on Tiant. Again, he was a better pitcher than Kaat, even though he received much less support from the committee last time. I'm torn here, but would lean to "yes" now. Not that I have a vote.
Career WAR: 39.5
10-year peak (1960-1969): 36.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 40.6
Similar players: Luis Castillo (hey, that's his No. 1 comp on Baseball-Reference), Larry Bowa, Steve Sax
Hey, Bruce Sutter made the Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the game with his split-fingered fastball, so maybe Wills can make it for helping return the stolen base to the game in the early '50s. He stole 104 bases in 1962, which got him the MVP Award ahead of Willie Mays. That looks silly in retrospect. Anyway, Wills was a good player for a decade after not reaching the majors until he was 26, but he's not a serious Hall of Fame candidate.
My call: No.
It's a good ballot. I'd love to see Minoso get elected. My guess is that Kaat gets those extra two votes, however, and is the only guy who gets in. Which opens the door for Tommy John. ...