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    Saturday, December 2, 2023

    Hall of Fame Season Kicks Off This Weekend with the 2024 Veterans Committee Ballot!

    This weekend, the Winter Meetings will take place, and with it will come the first big moment of Hall of Fame discussion season: the Veterans Committee vote. As per usual, the sixteen voters will come together, discuss the candidates, cast their ballots, and announce anyone who receives 75% of the vote as the first inductees of 2024.

    And there will be something extra to this year’s process: back in April 2022, the Hall changed their rules on the Veterans Committee process once again (for reasons that were really never clarified, but whatever). The 2024 Ballot will mark the first instance of the big change from those announcements, the non-player ballot. Yes, that’s right, all eight of this year’s nominees are managers, umpires, or executives: we have Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston, and Davey Johnson from the first group; Joe West and Ed Montague from the second; and Bill White and Hank Peters from the third.

    If you went back and read that piece I wrote at the time, I feel like I was kind of harsh on the rule change. I still think there’s a lot of dumb things about it, but I’ve softened a little on the idea of a special ballot for non-players. In all honesty, it’s probably been necessary for a little bit, and this might help to rectify that, not to mention that the original method of making these candidates compete directly against players for spots in the Hall was just really weird on a conceptual level. I do still think it’s dumb that they couldn’t do this ballot in the same year as a separate player ballot, but whatever, small steps are always necessary when discussing the Hall. We’ll take it for now.

    With managers and especially umpires and executives, we don’t always have the most objective or statistical evidence, unlike how player stats have been quantified here and back again. Even still, I don’t think it’s unsupported to say that these categories have been a little too ignored by the Hall. At this moment, we have just 22 managers in the Hall, with the earliest one (Ned Hanlon) having started way back in 1889; so we have those 22 managers covering 134 seasons of baseball history. That feels maybe a little light?

    But at least there are some mitigating factors there, like the long careers of the most successful managers (even this year’s candidates are largely guys who started in the role back in the 1980s and early 90s, so the span of time the Hall covers is “really” probably only 100 years). Also, we have two more obvious inductees on the immediate horizon (Dusty Baker and Terry Francona), plus I have a strong feeling one or two of this year’s nominees make it (but more on that in a bit). There are much fewer extenuating circumstances for the other half of the ballot. Only ten umpires in history have made it to the Hall. One the one hand, arguably the role shouldn’t be one seeking out focus… but if we are going to find some of them Hall worthy (which we seem to have), that total definitely seems fairly light.

    Executives are an even more extreme case, depending on how you look at it. The Executive/Pioneer category has 40 elected members at the moment, but it is a very broad category. Owners make up the bulk of the group, with five more primarily being Commissioners* and another six having served as either the American League President or National League President, back when those roles meant something.

    *This may not seem too extreme on its face, but it’s worth noting that there have only been ten Commissioners, counting Rob Manfred. You basically get a free induction to Cooperstown for serving in the role, barring a disaster; the four to not make it right now are Bart Giamatti (who died after one season in the role), Pete Uberroth (who was let go after five years for ring-leading a major collusion scheme against players that got the owners in legal hot water), Fay Vincent (who was overthrown by team owners after three seasons for being critical of their stances on things like the owners’ collusion scheme), and William Eckert (who was selected largely being a respectable blank slate as a former general in the 1940s and ‘50s, but who was notably detached from baseball on the whole, and lasted just three rough seasons as a result).

    Meanwhile, there are just six executives who made it to Cooperstown while serving only as general managers: Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail, Ed Barrow, George Weiss, Pat Gillick, and John Schuerholz. Granted, a lot of early managers or owners would serve a role similar to GMs, but that also largely hasn’t been the case for, what, sixty or seventy years? Maybe more? If you include GMs who would also spend time as league presidents, you can add Warren Giles and Lee MacPhail, but still… this role just seems criminally underrated by Hall voters, just in comparison to its importance.

    So, with all of that acknowledged, this ballot does feel kind of important! So, what do the cases for these candidates look like, and how do I think the voters will see them? I’ll look at the ballot in two halves.

    The Managers: Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, and Lou Piniella

    These are the guys with actual numbers to discuss, plus the VC has generally been more willing to consider managers than other roles, so arguably it makes more sense to group them together.

    Two of them, Piniella and Johnson, have appeared on these ballots before; Johnson over a half-dozen times, Piniella just twice, overlapping with Johnson both times (in 2017 and 2019). I actually covered them both times (here’s my 2017 recap, and here’s my 2019 one), and honestly I don’t know that I have much to add. Both of them are worthy candidates without being overwhelming choices, with just 1 World Series and no other pennants. They both were successful across multiple teams though, and they each picked up a few Manager of the Year awards (3 for Lou, 2 for Davey), Lou won a lot of games (1835, seventeenth all-time and behind basically just Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers*) but Davey was better on a rate basis (301 games above .500, seventeenth all-time and basically just behind Hall of Famers and Future Hall of Famers). Both were colorful characters in the game. If you want extra credit, Johnson had a solid playing career, while Piniella had a 116-win season to point to (and his own decent playing career). You can go back and re-read those older pieces for more stats and trivia if you want.

    *And Gene Mauch, who won 1902 games while actually carrying a losing record.

    Let’s instead talk about the other two candidates, since they’re both making their first ballot appearance. Jim Leyland is right behind Lou Piniella in the wins column, at 1769-1728.* It’s also worth noting that, while he only matches Lou and Davey with one World Series title (the 1997 Marlins), he adds two more pennants to that (with the 2006 and 2012 Tigers). And while it’s not a World Series, I think Leyland deserves some extra credit for managing Team USA to its only World Baseball Classic title to date, back in 2017.

    *That makes for a rough winning percentage, but keep in mind the Marlins followed up that 1997 title with their historic fire sale that saw them ship off over half the winning roster in a single winter, landing at 54-108 the next season. Leyland would leave after 1998; take that one disaster season out, and his career winning percentage rises from .506 all the way to .514. And this isn’t even getting into his misfortune of being at the helm of the Pirates right as they started their multi-decade fire sale, back from 1993 to 1996 (although cutting out multiple slowly sinking seasons like that feels harder to justify than the sudden, one-year implosion in Miami).

    Cito Gaston has an advantage on the other three managers here, in that he actually has two World Series titles (from the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays), although historically, that still hasn’t been a guarantee of induction (Ralph Houk, Danny Murtaugh, and Tom Kelly all fall into that category just in the expansion era, as have several early deadball-era and Negro League managers who have gone overlooked on VC ballots). Gaston also has a solid .516 winning percentage off a 894-837 record, but that’s a little light on games managed (1731, 77th all-time).

    Gaston also deserves some credit as a trailblazer, as just the fourth Black manager in AL/NL history (and just the second one to manage a full season, after Frank Robinson), and it’s also not hard to wonder if that status might have played into his relatively short career in the dugout, in a number of ways. Jay Jaffe’s rundown of his candidacy goes more in-depth with the history there, and I think it’s a good read (as is the rest of his series on the candidates, as always). That aside, his candidacy largely does come down to those two titles and his trailblazer status; there aren’t many other extra credit points to note here, no awards, no success across multiple teams or eras, not even another playoff appearance in his final six seasons.

    I think my verdict here is that Jim Leyland is the best of the bunch, and I would probably vote for him before the others. I’m also fine with all of Gaston, Johnson, and Piniella, but none of them particularly stands out above the rest, and that complicates things a ton. Because you see, the Veterans Committee ballot is perpetually in a state of ballot crunch, with not enough votes to go around (I’ve talked about it so many times, to just scratch the surface). This year will be no different, with each voter getting just three spots to use on their ballot. So even if you decide to not use any of your votes this time on Executives or Umpires (that’s half the ballot, and arguably the half that needs those votes more), you’re still going to have to make a hard cut here.

    I think Leyland is going to do pretty well here, between his slightly stronger case and his standing among his peers, although it can be difficult to peg new debuts to an exact number. Piniella is the other big beneficiary here; in his two elections so far, he’s gone from 7 votes to 11, literally one shy of induction. VC Voters just really seem to like him. I’m going to hold off on hard predictions until the end of this piece, but I will say that I don’t know that Gaston or Johnson (who literally finished below the reporting threshold on that same 2019 ballot) has a strong argument for why they’d finish ahead of him this year.

    The Non-Managers: Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Joe West, and Bill White

    The lack of numbers means this section will probably be shorter. I have no idea how to measure umpires, and neither West nor Montague has shown up on a ballot before, so there’s no history here to go off of. Bill West is the all-time leader in games umpired, with 5460. But Montague is no slouch himself, with 4369 (thirteenth all-time), and even setting that aside, that’s clearly not some overwhelming factor in umpire election, as only four of the twelve umps ahead of him are enshrined (although West and fourth-place Gerry Davis only just retired after 2021).

    The old adage is that the best umps are the ones that you forget are even there, which pushes me towards Montague over West, who seemed to take every opportunity to make himself known. But… that sort of thing is probably going to serve West well here, making him a very notable figure, not to mention all of the late-career publicity he sought through things like interviews, profiles, and so on. What can I say, his publicist did a pretty good job here (no joke, he did actually have a publicist, a fact that is not making me feel any different about my initial judgment on whether he deserves induction).

    That just leaves the two executives. We’ll start with the more traditional case of the two, which feels a little strange since the candidate topped out at General Manager, a role we already mentioned is pretty uncommon for inductees. Hank Peters served as the GM for three different teams, the Kansas City Athletics (in 1965, after years of running their scouting), the Baltimore Orioles (from 1975 to 1987), and the Cleveland Indians (from 1987 to 1991). In addition to leading scouting and other player development things several times in between, he also had a few years as the executive in charge of Minor League baseball, and his run there is generally considered a pretty big success.

    That Orioles run obviously represents the bulk of his Hall case, a successful extension of the 1960s and ‘70s run that saw the drafting and debut of Cal Ripken Jr., as well as the acquisition of several other stars. The team won a World Series and a second pennant under his watch. His runs outside of Baltimore may seem like duds, but there are some major asterisks there. His short time leading the A’s (which ultimately ended after several clashes with volatile owner Charles Finley) served as an extension of his successful years of leading scouting and player development, and the total scope saw him bring in a lot of pieces (Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace…) that would lead to the team’s ‘70s dynasty. It was a big rebound from the dumpster-fire that was most of their time in Kansas City.

    And it actually closely resembled his time in Cleveland, where he came into a decade-plus of disastrous failure and laid a strong foundation (Charles Nagy, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr.…) for the next decade of major success. Peters was already 67 at that point, and retired on his own terms, appointing a handpicked successor. Maybe he should have stayed on and claimed the credit for one or two of their upcoming pennants, but I can hardly begrudge a man for deciding to retire at that age. Besides, we can all pretty plainly see the hand he played in those successes, it’s not like he was denied credit (really, the biggest regret might be Cleveland fans, wondering if Peters could have gotten them the rest of the way over the hump).

    In comparison, Bill White has a much more complicated career. I have long maintained that the Hall needs to do a better job of recognizing figures with cases that span multiple facets of the game, people like Curt Flood or Tommy John (Dusty Baker would have been another good example, had he not picked up the World Series that long eluded him). And maybe the Hall voters have been getting better about it? Buck O’Neill, Gil Hodges, and Jim Kaat all have claims to being this type of hybrid case, at least.

    If so, White would be a strong continuing of that change. A World Series champion with 7 Gold Gloves at first base and five All-Star seasons, he reached 34.0 career fWAR and 38.6 bWAR. It was a good enough career to get him into the Cardinals’ team Hall of Fame, but maybe not to Cooperstown by itself. Except that’s not all; White was also influential behind the scenes, even from his playing days. He played a key role speaking out against the Jim Crow laws that were still in place, particularly the ones in Florida that affected every team during Spring Training.

    After his playing days were over, White would move into the broadcasting booth, spending nearly twenty years as part of the Yankees’ broadcast team while also sometimes moonlighting covering other major events (including the World Series and Winter Olympics). After that, he would move to the league offices, becoming the President of the National League from 1989 to 1994. It goes without saying that he was a trailblazer in both roles, both areas where Black people had either been underrepresented or totally absent (again, Jay Jaffe has a more complete rundown on the specifics). And again, neither of those roles are things that can be quantified to the extent that managers or even general managers can, but by most accounts, he was very good in both positions.

    Putting It All Together

    All of that leaves just two questions: Who would I vote for, and Who do I think will get in? I get three spots, and that will probably also serve as our limit on the induction class size (we could get as many as four, but it would require some exact coordination on the part of the voters, and I don’t expect to see that).

    As I mentioned in the manager section, Jim Leyland gets my vote for best manager. I have a hard time picking a second-best choice, but given our strength in the other half of the ballot and how underrepresented those roles can be, I’m fine not picking a second manager. For the other slots, I’m inclined to go with Hank Peters and Bill White, although I’m not sure how much of that is my bias against the very nebulous standards for umpires.

    Of those two, I’m probably more inclined to drop Peters? I think his case stands up, but I also haven’t done a ton of research into other GMs outside of the Hall, and I feel like there might be better ones not yet in Cooperstown? It kind of doesn’t matter, my ultimate guiding principle is usually “vote for them if they’re worthy, ignore whatever dumb choices past voters might have made”. But it’s also of note that Peters is the one deceased man on the ballot, so his case is slightly less urgent if it would mean someone else actually getting to give their own induction speech.

    How do I think the voters will go? As mentioned, I think they’re going to love Leyland as a candidate, even if we don’t have past results to base that off of. I have a hard time imagining Lou Piniella falling short again after missing by one vote last time; maybe I think he's pretty similar to the other managers here, but the voters generally don't seem to agree. And I still don’t really have much to base this off of, but I bet they fall hard for Joe West’s Games Umpired record and general persona. Overall, I don’t think that makes for a bad set, given that all three of these roles are pretty underrepresented and none of these candidates is clearly undeserving… but I would find it a moderately disappointing result, I guess. We’ll just have to wait and see how close I am, though.

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