Last week, lost among all the Pete Rose hullabaloo -- to which we here at ESPN Land quite happily contributed -- the National Baseball Hall of Fame issued some important news that didn't have anything to do with Charlie Hustle, with the announcement of the first Veterans Committee ballot under the new rules.
What are the new rules? Instead of a dozen old men getting together in a smoke- and blarney-filled room in Cooperstown every winter and playing politics, now a greatly-expanded Veterans Committee will operate much as the BBWAA voters do, with ballots filled out and mailed from home. The new Committee consists of the 58 living Hall of Fame players (58), the 11 living writers who have won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the 13 living broadcasters who have won the Ford C. Frick Award, and the two former Veterans Committee members whose terms haven't expired.
Clearly, it's the ex-players who will control the voting. And the ruling principle, I think, is that baseball players are generally not baseball historians. They know about the players of their era, and most of them know about the players since, but most of them know very little about what came before them. If, for example, you asked the 58 living Hall of Fame players for which team Ken Williams played, you'd get about 50 blank stares.
Which is relevant, because Ken Williams is on the Veterans Committee's Players Ballot, and yet he doesn't stand a snowball's chance in Haiti of getting elected.
Which is fine, because while Ken Williams was a very good player, he wasn't one of the 30 greatest left fielders in major-league history. The problem with Ken Williams isn't that he's going to be elected to the Hall of Fame (he's not), it's that somehow he's got a slot on the ballot instead of Frank Howard or Sherry Magee (if there has to be another old left fielder in the Hall).
Which brings up the question, what is a Hall of Famer? The easy answer, of course, is that a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer; that is, the institute defines itself. And it does. But if we elect every player to the Hall of Fame who's better than the worst half-dozen guys already there, then every player on the current Veterans Committee ballot would belong. And I don't think that many of us believe that.
The problem, of course, is that everybody's got their own idea of who belongs in the Hall of Fame and who doesn't.
That said, I think there are a couple of standards upon which most of us might agree.
One, a new Hall of Famer should rank among the top dozen or 15 players at his position.
Two, a new Hall of Famer should be the best player at his position who's not already in the Hall. Or at least close to the best.
By those standards, a number of the players on the Veterans Committee ballot should, with all due respect, be eliminated from serious consideration: Rocky Colavito, Curt Flood, Elston Howard, Ted Kluszewski, Marty Marion, Roger Maris, Bob Meusel, Vada Pinson, and Ken Williams.
That leaves 17 players, including six pitchers. The best of the six pitchers is Carl Mays. Well, him or Wes Ferrell. But not a single living Hall of Famer ever saw Mays pitch, and very few of them saw Ferrell, so it's very unlikely that either will get any support at all. The other four pitchers on the ballot are Mickey Lolich, Mike Marshall, Don Newcombe, and Allie Reynolds. Actually, Newcombe's got a decent case if you give him credit for the two seasons he spent in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, but he's not going to get that credit. Lolich, Marshall, and Reynolds were all excellent pitchers, but none of them scream out "Hall of Fame" in either reputation or deeds.
All of which is to say, it'll be a major upset if a pitcher gets elected by the Veterans Committee. So that leaves 11 candidates with a decent argument and a viable chance: Dick Allen, Bobby Bonds, Ken Boyer, Joe Gordon, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Thurman Munson, Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, and Maury Wills.
Not necessarily a good argument, but a decent argument.
Gordon, who played second base for the Yankees and Indians in the 1940s (mostly), isn't going to get many votes because most of his peers are no longer with us (and Gordon himself died in 1978).
And what of the others? When the current system was first announced a year or so ago, I predicted that the new Veterans Committee wouldn't elect anybody at all, that not even one candidate would draw support from 75 percent of the voters. I still believe that's right, though I'm not nearly so sure as I was then. Each voter can vote for as many as 10 players, and even if we assume that Curt Flood and Roger Maris will get some votes for sentimental reasons, the list of viable candidates is roughly 12 names long.
Once you realize that most of those 12 players were active in the 1960s and/or 1970s, and that most of the voters -- the 58 living Hall of Famers, plus the 26 other voters, most of them old writers and broadcasters -- were also active in the 1960s and/or '70s, it's not hard to see at least one of those 13 players getting that 75 percent.
Ah, but there's a complicating factor. Before the days of cable TV and now interleague games, a great player in one league might go his entire career and not see another great player in the other league. Did Harmon Killebrew ever see Ron Santo play a regular-season game? Did Hank Aaron ever see Elston Howard play?
If we could see each voter's ballot after the election, I'm sure we'd find that players tend to vote first for their teammates, second for their opponents, and third for their contemporaries in the other league.
In the end, it's going to come down to who you know and what your reputation was. The numbers, which we all like to analyze until we're blue in the fingers, aren't going to carry an ounce of weight with the guys who are already in the Hall of Fame. Knowing what we know, then, I think we can predict that Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, and Tony Oliva will fare well in the voting, with Roger Maris and Maury Wills decent dark-horse candidates. And what if nobody gets elected? After the first or second time it happens, the Hall will change the rules again. Because no winners is bad for business.
Finally, not that anybody asked, but if I were a living Hall of Famer I'd vote for Santo, Minnie Minoso, Carl Mays, and Wes Ferrell. And I'd try to find out why Elston Howard and Thurman Munson appeared on my ballot, but Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons did not.
Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published next spring by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason. His e-mail address is email@example.com.