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Friday, November 19, 2010
New HOF ballot eyeing those left behind

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

They say that baseball at its finest, with its rich tradition, easy pace and all its nuances, makes time stand still. Yet in these complicated days, there can be no standing still for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The best Hall of Fame in any sport has been in constant evolution since voting for inclusion in Cooperstown began in 1936, all in the name of finding the best way to improve its voting system, finding the best way to make it as fair and equitable as possible.

Tommy John
Tommy John was 288-231 with a 3.34 ERA in 26 seasons in the major leagues.

Hence, a new voting system will be instituted at the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., from Dec. 6-9. Eight players, three executives and a manager from the expansion era -- that's defined by the Hall of Fame as 1973 to the present -- will be considered for Hall of Fame election. A 16-member electorate, which includes eight former players, four executives and four baseball writers, will do the voting; anyone that receives votes on 75 percent of the ballots will be inducted in the Hall of Fame in July 2011. The results will be announced on Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. ET.

The expansion era ballot was devised by the Baseball Writers Association of America, which votes annually for players eligible for the Hall of Fame. The BBWAA formed an historical overview committee, comprised of 11 veteran members, most of them writers, which determined the 12-man ballot. The players included had to have played 10 years in the major leagues, and had to have been retired for 21 years or more. The managers had to have worked for 10 years in the major leagues, and have been retired for five years. The executives had to have been retired for five years, or were at least 65 years old.

Another voting committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the golden era, which was from 1947-1972. The voting on that ballot will take place at the winter meetings in 2011. Another committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the pre-integration era (1871-1946). The voting on that ballot will take place at the 2012 winter meetings. Previously, special voting committees appointed by the Hall considered classifications as opposed to eras. Some of those committees had voting members from age 47 to 90, and were responsible for voting for players, managers, umpires and executives from 110 years of baseball history. The new era format allows for voters of similar age to vote on contemporaries.

"At the end of the day, we wanted the voters to compare apples to apples,'' said Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "By taking those eligible from an era, with these specific 12, the voters can ask themselves, 'Is this era incomplete without their inclusion?' ''

The 12-man ballot this year includes former players Ted Simmons, Al Oliver, Vida Blue, Tommy John, Ron Guidry, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey and Rusty Staub, former manager Billy Martin and former executives Marvin Miller, George Steinbrenner and Pat Gillick. The 11-man historical overview committee (Dave Van Dyck, Bob Elliott, Rick Hummel, Steve Hirdt, Moss Klein, Bill Madden, Ken Nigro, Jack O'Connell, Nick Peters, Tracy Ringolsby and Mark Whicker) poured over hundreds of names from the expansion era, which is defined as those who had the most significant impact from 1973-present. The eight players selected were all on the Hall of Fame ballot, but were not elected by the BBWAA. Martin and Miller have been included on ballots for special committees, and have not been elected. The 16-man electorate includes former players Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith, executives Andy MacPhail, Bill Giles, David Glass and Jerry Reinsdorf, and baseball writers Bob Elliott, Ross Newhan, Tom Verducci and myself.

This new electorate for 2010 replaces a veterans committee that in 2003-2007 was constituted of writers, broadcasters and Hall of Fame players, then in 2008 was comprised only of Hall of Fame players voting on players who played after World War II. Those committees voted three times and didn't elect anyone to the Hall of Fame. So, to get a fresh look at candidates, and to ensure the fairest system possible, the Hall formed three new committees that will examine candidates by era.

It wasn't that the old system was broken, this is just a new and different system. The Hall has been experimenting with a veterans committee, in one form or another, starting in 1953. The new committees are not designed to get more players, managers, umpires and executives in the Hall; lowering the standards for Cooperstown is not the goal. The new committees are not, as some suggest, a way to give Marvin Miller -- the executive director of the Major League Players Association from 1966-1982 -- a better shot at being elected, nor is it a way, as others suggest, to get George Steinbrenner into the Hall. The new system is designed to make sure no one got left behind in the voting process.

Former catcher Ted Simmons was left behind. In his first year eligible (1994), he received only 17 votes, or 3.7 percent. Players who don't receive at least five percent of the vote are removed from the ballot. Now he gets a second chance at the Hall. Simmons retired in 1988 with more hits than anyone whose position was primarily a catcher (77 percent of his games were as a catcher); only Pudge Rodriguez has since passed him. The only players in baseball history with more hits as a catcher are Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk and Jason Kendall, and they all caught at least 280 more games than Simmons.

Over the past 50 years, of catchers who caught at least 1,500 games, only Mike Piazza and Rodriguez have a higher career batting average than Simmons (.294), and only four have a higher OPS -- Piazza, Jorge Posada, Bench and Fisk. What separates Simmons from so many other catchers in baseball history is that he hit in the middle of the order for most of his career. He hit fourth in 56 percent of his starts, and fifth in 30 percent. You can bet that all catchers who hit in the middle of the order as often as Simmons (1,600 of 2,067 starts) are in the Hall of Fame. That's where Simmons belongs because, by most any statistical measure, Piazza, Bench and Simmons are the best offensive catchers of the past 50 years.

Maybe Simmons will get in. Maybe Tommy John will get in with his 288 career wins, most of any pitcher who has been eligible for the Hall but is not in. Maybe Marvin Miller will make it, or George Steinbrenner, or Pat Gillick. Maybe they won't, but at least they will have a chance, and in some cases, another chance.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.