The selections came across two separate ballots. The Golden Days vote (covering 1950 to 1969) voted to induct Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva,* while the Early Baseball vote (everything pre-1950) selected Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler. I have long been critical of the Veterans Committee as an electoral process (for a fairly comprehensive list of reasons, this two-part series from earlier this year is a good starting place), so I want to congratulate them here: this is definitely a good result, in my opinion, even if it’s not perfect.
*Since I always talk about Retired Numbers, I will note here that Miñoso and Oliva are already honored by the White Sox and Twins, respectively. The Dodgers have a policy that a player must be in the Hall to be honored, which has long been the stumbling block for Hodges’s case. Either way, it’s worth noting that the Dodgers’ #14 and the Twins’ #36 were both absent from their rosters this past season, so maybe expect some movement there soon.
If you didn’t go back and re-read my old pieces, one major problem was that contrary to its reputation, the Veterans Committee had generally become too stingy in its inductions. For the last few years, they’ve started to reverse that trend and let in a number of players, including some strong snubs (and non-player Marvin Miller certainly fits into that category as well). Sure, not every induction was an overwhelming win, but I’ll take “correcting some errors and maybe inducting a few too many players” over “never inducting anyone” any day.
This year’s induction is firmly in that category. I even mentioned Miñoso and O’Neil as long-overdue snubs in that older piece that I linked. I am less familiar with Fowler’s case (pre-1900s baseball, especially the earliest days of the sport, is not my strongest sub-topic), but he also seems like a very strong choice. And I don’t know that Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva were my top choices on the Golden Days ballot, but I also think they’re all fine choices, and there are plenty of people who have long considered them snubs.
Perhaps the biggest key for Kaat and Oliva: they were two of the three candidates under consideration who were still alive (the other being Maury Wills). I am not surprised that either was inducted, as both long seemed to be the sorts of candidates who would make it eventually, for a variety of reasons. And if that’s going to be the case, it’s much better to honor them while they’re alive to enjoy it. Unfortunately, that might have been a factor that hurt Dick Allen, who fell one vote short of election following his death last year.
Which kind of gets us into the second half of this topic: this year’s veterans committee really did the best that they could working around the limitations of the system, but those limits were still very present, just out of sight.
For one example, let’s go back and look at the ballot math again. I feel like I break this example out all the time, and I’ll stop beating this drum once it stops being relevant. From the Hall’s press release, we have:
Golden Days Ballot
Minnie Miñoso: 14 votes
Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva: 12 votes
Dick Allen: 11 votes
Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce, Maury Wills: less than 4 votes
The voting body was comprised of 16 people, so to reach the 75% needed for induction, a player needed 12 votes. Also keep in mind that the voters met and discussed the ballot prior to casting their votes; I wouldn’t be shocked if there had been some discussion of maximizing votes in this year’s discussion.
Because it is genuinely difficult to achieve a result like this in the current system absent that, especially when none of the candidates were unanimous. Voters only get 4 votes, so between 16 voters, there are only 64 total ballot spots to go around. The four inductees this year plus Allen combined for 61 of them. We fell one stray vote shy of the maximum possible inductees.
Which kind of just highlights what’s frustrating about the process. It’s really dumb that Allen falls one vote short again.* It’s also really dumb that the next chance anyone will have to adjust this problem is in five years, the next time the committee will tackle this era (which only serves to underline the importance of getting the living players in this time). And it’s really dumb that the only way to avoid this problem would have likely come at the expense of Hodges, Kaat, or Oliva, since I imagine there were some potential Allen voters who had him as their fifth choice, and would have had to cut someone else to make that happen.
*It last happened on the 2015 ballot. I will also take a brief moment to publicize this new and amazing tool by Hall of Fame experts Adam Darowski and Graham Womack, which is the most complete record of Veterans Committee ballots that exists.
The other ballot faced similar issues, but more extreme:
Early Baseball Ballot
Buck O’Neil: 13 votes
Bud Fowler: 12 votes
Vic Harris: 10 votes
John Donaldson: 8 votes
Allie Reynolds: 6 votes
Lefty O'Doul: 5 votes
George Scales: 4 votes
Bill Dahlen, Grant Johnson, Dick Redding: less than 4 votes
Even with all of those frustrations still present and looming over the proceedings, it’s hard to not take this as a win. Some great and deserving players finally got their due, that’s really the most important part; and the Veterans Committee seems to be moving far away from its worst instincts. Hopefully, things keep trending in the right direction and the Hall itself finally institutes some fixes to its process, but at least in the meantime, the voters seem to have recognized some issues and how they could work around them.