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    Monday, December 4, 2023

    Jim Leyland Inducted to the Hall of Fame, Plus Breaking Down the Rest of the Veterans Committee Results!

    We officially have our first Hall of Famer for the 2024 Election: manager Jim Leyland, who received 15 out of 16 votes from this year’s iteration of the Veterans Committee. Fellow manager Lou Piniella fell one vote shy of joining him, while executive candidate and general renaissance man Bill White missed by two votes.

    Leyland is the first manager elected to Cooperstown in a decade, and he’s a very deserving choice. His 1769 wins are seventeenth all-time (most of those ahead of him are enshrined), he was the head of the Marlins when they won the World Series in 1997, his three total pennants ties him for twenty-fifth all-time (again, behind mostly other inductees, and tied with several more), he’s currently the only manager to win both a World Series and a World Baseball Classic (2017), and he even wound up winning three Manager of the Year awards. (All stats from Baseball-Reference, by the way.)

    Really, the biggest knock against him was relatively low win rate for his career, but a lot of that could be chalked up to bad luck; getting stuck with the 1998 Marlins after their post-Championship firesale alone dropped his winning percentage from .514 to .508. If you want to go even further, you could also point out how long he stuck with the Pirates into the start of their firesale era, sticking around for four seasons after their 1992 NLCS upset even as the team shedded talent with no sign of replacing it (if you want to be extra-generous and chop off the last two of those Pittsburgh seasons, he reaches a .523 rate). Either way, when not being shoved into hopeless situations, it was clear that Leyland was talented as a manager, and sometimes he could even make some of the seemingly-hopeless situations work out (like the 2006 Tigers reaching the World Series, or those 1992 Pirates).

    If you missed it, I put up a preview of this vote a few days ago, and I figured it would be a good time to revisit it while comparing the results.

    The Expected Good News

    I predicted that the sixteen-person committee would love Leyland; I called him the strongest of the four manager choices, and he was the only one to make both my hypothetical ballot and my predicted slate of inductees. Sometimes predicting first-year candidates can be tricky, since the strongest evidence for these things is usually past results and comparable players, neither of which we really had. But sure enough, he got nearly-unanimous support. There’s really not much more to say than it’s always nice to see a deserving candidate cruise in on the first try, and even better when it means the VC didn’t totally fumble the election.

    The Pleasant Surprise

    The VC did not go for Joe West’s candidacy very much. I thought for sure that they would be all-in for the all-time leader in Games Umpired, despite how often he seemed to drag focus to himself (which, like I said in my first article, strikes me as the antithesis of the role), but it didn’t happen, and West landed below the 5 vote reporting margin. Like I said, guessing on first-time nominees can be tough, and extra so since umpires feel pretty underrepresented in Cooperstown, limiting our comparisons even further. I feel a little bad reporting on someone not getting in this way, but it also doesn’t feel terribly undeserved based on West’s history, and his potential votes went to far better causes.

    The Expected Bad News

    I mentioned, like I do almost every VC election, that the vote limit would make things tough, and that once again proved to be true. Voters were limited to 3 votes each, meaning there were 48 total to go around, and each candidate needed 12 for induction. What we got was:

    15 - Jim Leyland
    11 - Lou Piniella
    10 - Bill White
    (Less than 5 for the other five candidates).

    Add the confirmed totals up and you’ll see 36 of our 48 votes accounted for. If you want, you can assume 4 votes going to whoever our unknown fourth-place finisher is (based on the 5-vote threshold they used), which would leave just 8 votes going to the other half of the ballot (assuming every voter used all three votes).

    That actually feels pretty harsh, given how solid some of these candidates are and how desperately the Hall could use most of them (but especially the executives and umpires; as I mentioned in my first piece, there are only 10 umpires inducted, and only 6 executives who topped out as General Managers, rather than owners or league presidents/commissioners). It’s certainly a far cry from two years ago, when the Golden Days committee managed to swing a 10-candidate, 4-vote ballot into four (nearly five) inductees. I suppose it’s closer to last year, when Fred McGriff went in and nobody else was close, although that ballot was loaded with controversial steroid era figures. I’m not sure what the excuse here is.

    The narrow misses for Lou Piniella and Bill White are especially confusing; like, I could imagine Dick Allen missing by one vote two years ago, because he was a prickly personality and there was zero room for error in that vote. Bill White clearly doesn’t have that issue; my guess would be that based on his past results,* several candidates held off to use their votes elsewhere? Theoretically, the discussion prior to the voting should give voters an idea of the candidate building the most support, but maybe that’s not how it works in practice.

    *Based on Adam Darowski and Graham Chapman’s site tracking Veterans Committee ballots, this is the fourth time White has appeared, and the first time since 2010; he had never topped 30% of the vote until today.

    The Piniella miss is even more baffling. As I noted in my preview, I wasn’t sure that Piniella was the second-best choice on this ballot, but heading into it, the voters sure seemed to think he was; he had finished one vote shy last time, after all. It’s weird to see a case like that stall out, and I’m not sure I have an explanation for it? Did Piniella irritate a lot of people on the committee? Was it just other voters in my position, who thought their slots were better served elsewhere? Was no one willing to be that last mover for him, or did they not even realize he was that close. I suppose we won’t know unless someone in the process comes forward to explain in greater detail, but that hasn’t ever happened before.

    Expecting the Next News?

    So, what are the future ramifications from this ballot? Well, the good news is that none of these men will need to wait a long time until their next shot. The next ballot focusing on non-players from the modern era should meet in 3 years, or December 2026 (for the 2027 Ceremony; that will also be the one where Buster Posey becomes eligible, if you’re trying to line it up with the BBWAA ballot). This is especially crucial because by that year, Piniella and White will be 83 and 92, respectively. Electing them on their first posthumous ballot would be extraordinarily on-brand for the Hall of Fame, and I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

    Of course, even that might prove difficult. Remember how crowded this ballot was? Well, the next one will almost certainly be adding Dusty Baker and Terry Francona, which sure sounds like two first-ballot managerial selections to me. And if even one of them are unanimous, that would mean it would be mathematically impossible for both Bill White and Lou Piniella to make it alongside them; our only hope is that they go back to a ten-person, four-vote ballot (or something like that).

    Really, even that might not be enough if the voters don’t coordinate their votes properly. It would take a major shakeup, like everyone getting distracted and jumping some other candidate ahead of both of them,* but that’s clearly not out of the question for this group (just look at White’s surprising jump this year). And of course, this is just looking at the candidates that we know could appear. If we have another big name appear on the ballot (just to spitball ideas, say, if Dave Dombrowski or Bruce Bochy retires? Or Theo Epstein gets included?), then this moves from a possibility to a near-certainty.

    *Or something like the nominating committee outright forgetting to include them for no stated reason, which… seems unlikely, but sadly not outright impossible.

    And even if it doesn’t happen, then we’re still basically looking at the most likely outcome for 2030, aka the next time White and Piniella will both be up for election. And while we’re thinking ahead to those elections, it’s maybe worth observing that most of those selections (outside of the very-hypothetical Dombrowski/Epstein cases) won’t actually change the wildly underrepresented GM (six inductees) or Umpire (ten inductees) classes in Cooperstown,* which was supposed to be a major reason for making this special non-player ballot in the first place! I thought Hank Peters was a solid candidate on this ballot, and I don’t even know if we can fit him in on these upcoming ballots, let alone any number of other GMs from the back half of the 20th century who might have also gotten overlooked.

    *And this isn’t even getting into the idea of reviving the Pioneer class for guys like Curt Flood or Tommy John or Bill James, which mostly remains just a pipe dream on my end.

    For as dire as this all sounds… the Hall of Fame has adjusted their rules on the fly before, often with less than zero warning. So maybe this will get resolved on its own. But as long as the problem is active, I’m going to keep beating this drum: stop making these small ballots with extremely low vote caps, and maybe try to have a manager and a player election in the same year, so we don’t need to go three years between seeing some of these names again. This is especially vital while some of these men are still alive, albeit up there in age! It would be amazing if they could get inducted while they’re actually alive to enjoy it!

    But to return to the positive, at least we know Jim Leyland will get to bask in his success next summer, and I expect there will be several people up there on stage with him. Stay tuned as we turn our attention here to the upcoming BBWAA ballot!

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      1 comment:

      1. Great article.
        the best comment
        "This is especially vital while some of these men are still alive, albeit up there in age! It would be amazing if they could get inducted while they’re actually alive to enjoy it!"
        The Baseball HOF doesn't seem to like to honor many while they are alive! Unlike other professional sports they are too selective. I would like to see a HOF not operated by a media sponsered group.