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    Friday, December 13, 2019

    Recapping the 2020 Veterans Committee Election, and What it Means Going Forward

    [Also published over at The Crawfish Boxes!]

    On Sunday, we finally got our first Hall of Fame results for the 2020 Election cycle: the Veterans Committee has elected a pair of long-neglected candidates, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller. Simmons received thirteen of sixteen possible votes, while Miller hit the twelve he needed for induction exactly. Both were long-overdue, as I covered in my full breakdown of the ballot three weeks ago, and each represented a massive breakthrough in different respects.

    Ted Simmons was one of the best offensive catchers in the game, and had not just good advanced numbers, but also the type of traditional numbers that voters usually go for: he retired as the all-time leader in hits by a catcher (he has since been passed by Iván Rodríguez, who debuted three years after he retired), and second in RBI for the position behind just Yogi Berra (Berra and Simmons are still one-two in that ranking). Despite that, he didn’t even reach the 5% necessary to stay on the BBWAA ballot a second year back in 1994.

    After a handful of Veterans Committee ballot appearances, including falling one vote shy in 2018 when Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were inducted, Simba finally broke through. This makes him the first player in history to make the Hall of Fame after not making a second writers’ ballot, something that bodes well for a number of other players who suffered the same fate, despite their worthy numbers.

    Past voters overlooking Simmons might have been baffling, but that wasn’t at all the case with Miller. Few people have reshaped the game more than Marvin, the first head of the Players Association and a key figure in the end of the reserve clause and beginning of free agency. Of course, owners were somewhat less thrilled with his contributions, and they have an outsized impact on the Veterans Committee process. And as a non-player, Miller didn’t have a chance to face an all-writers electorate before facing the Veterans Committee.

    But after years of missing, 2020 finally came up with an electorate in his favor: there was only one owner among this year’s sixteen voters. And so, at long last, Miller has made it in. There’s still controversy involved, as Miller himself was against the possibility of being inducted posthumously, and his family agreed with his opinions on the matter. That makes this honor a little more awkward, as Miller absolutely deserved to be inducted years ago, well before his death in 2012. But on the other hand, the Hall of Fame is as much a historical institution as anything else, and Miller is a massive part of baseball’s history; the Hall looks a lot less incomplete now that it’s not missing him.

    Beyond the inductees, my next instinct is to look down the ballot for what might be down the road for the Hall. The rules and trends of the Veterans Committee are much less stable than the ones we see for the writers’ ballot, but it’s better than nothing. Also unfortunately, looking for long-term trends is hard to do for most of the candidates, since the committee tends to withhold vote totals below a certain threshold, but more on that in a second; let’s focus on what we do know for sure.

    Dwight Evans, making his VC debut, was the first runner-up, picking up eight votes. I called that this year’s voters might be favorable to his cause, but as I said in my ballot preview, he’d make for a pretty solid selection, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That type of performance should probably guarantee him a second appearance the next time the Committee focuses on his era three years from now, and it may set him up for a Simmons-like run (Simmons debuted on the 2011 ballot and took four tries for induction, although we don’t know the exact vote totals from his first two tries). Maybe if the votes coalesce right and the ballot isn’t overly-packed, he even turns it into a quick election?

    Lou Whitaker also debuted decently, with 6 votes to his credit. Like Evans, modern evaluation has shown that Whitaker would be a very strong addition to the Hall, so finishing with a publishable vote total is a good start. He’s probably behind Evans in line, but two votes isn’t a ton of ground to make up, so who know if he catches up. It sounds like he at least had some strong supporters in the voting body (I heard George Brett mentioned as such once or twice, but nothing more than rumors), but at the very least, he should secure a second ballot appearance as well. Like with Simmons, that can be the start of something, even for a player who was originally one-and-done.

    Also in the six-to-eight vote range were Dave Parker (seven) and Steve Garvey (six). I’m curious how both do going forward, since the advanced numbers aren’t quite there in the way they are for Evans and Whitaker (or Alan Trammell last time, and even Simmons), but it’s hard to deny that they made progress. How much is still a question, since all we know about their 2018 and 2014 vote totals is “less than seven or six votes, respectively”. Going from, say, five votes those years to seven and six this year is a lot less impressive than going from something like two or three. I wouldn’t call either of them likely future inductees just yet, but finishing with a publishable vote total means we will probably see them next time, so we’ll see then if they’re making progress or just in a relative holding pattern.

    Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Thurman Munson all finished in the “less than three votes” category, and I honestly don’t know how many of them will be back next time. Munson at least was making his VC debut, and a better player at his position was cleared off the ballot in Simmons. He could easily come back next time and do better, although maybe the VC will just decide he didn’t get enough support in his first appearance and they should just try someone else in his slot next time. It’s hard to tell right now.

    In contrast, Mattingly, Murphy, and John have all appeared on multiple ballots, and still haven’t had a vote total that’s been releasable. I wouldn’t be shocked if Murphy and Mattingly return, since guys on this ballot tend to hang around for a while and their 2018 debut was relatively packed, but this is now four times John has appeared on the ballot without getting his total revealed, so you have to wonder how long he has until the nominators just decide to try someone else out.

    The one thing that will be interesting, beyond the potential for other ignored stars of the era like Bobby Grich or Graig Nettles to appear in the two open slots (plus any other slots that open up), is that it will be only our second really open VC ballot for this era. The constant restructuring of the VC in the last decade or so means this was really just the third chance most of these players had at induction (after 2018 and 2014), as the last two Modern Baseball ballots have made votes hard to come by.

    Much like the BBWAA, the VC ballot caps how many choices a voter can support, in this case, at four. This means that, with sixteen voters, there are 64 votes to go around, with candidates needing at least twelve of those to go in. Every surefire inductee on the ballot makes things harder for everyone else by taking up extra votes, and the last two Modern Baseball ballots have included the debuts of Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Alan Trammell, and Jack Morris. All of those were very much in the mold of traditional Veterans Committee picks, meaning that they ate up a lot of votes that the more overlooked candidates could have used (in the extreme case of 2014, when all three managers went in unanimously, it meant the other nine people on the ballot had just sixteen votes to split between them).

    I have no idea if these freed up votes will distribute evenly, cluster at the top runners-up from last time, go to similar candidates to recent inductees, or something else entirely. It’s difficult to know, with so much of the last ballot and even this one obscured, but it’ll be a thing to watch for in 2023, at least. I hope that one day, the constant tinkering on the vote process leads to an unlimited ballot (probably with a larger voting body acting as a counteractant to the resulting increased vote totals, since smaller ones are easier to sway), but seeing how the BBWAA has rejected an even modest increase from ten ballot spots to twelve, I don’t know how likely it is to expect an overhaul to the Veterans Committee process like that. For now, we’ll just have to live with what we’ve got.

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