Occasionally, baseball does respond to the winds of change. One area that needed it the most is finally getting a makeover. Welcome the Modern Era Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame process.
The Veterans Committee attached to the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) had long outlived its time and most of its members. Major League Baseball responded to reformation calls this year by disbanding the old committee and introducing the Modern Era Committee.
Some had feared the change would follow the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” pattern baseball sometimes fosters. But as it turns out, the new committee is a far cry from the old one, and already has made its mark on baseball when they selected Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, amounting to (finally) a formal recognition of that great team the Detroit Tigers fielded in 1984.
The Modern Era Committee is aptly named. Its members, among others, include Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson, and former players, including Hall of Famers George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Don Sutton, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. That both Morris and Trammell were peers of many of these players should not go unnoticed.
Seemingly, MLB has purged the internet of any reference or search to find members of the old committee. From 2003, however, I did locate a story by Leonard Koppett, a respected writer contributing to ESPN Classic, in which he names the following members:
“The five-player members are Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron and Juan Marichal. The five executives are Joe Brown (chairman), Bill White, Hank Peters, John McHale and Buck O’Neil. There are three writers (Jerry Holtzman, Allen Lewis and myself) and two broadcasters (Ken Coleman and Ernie Harwell). Our average age is well over 70, as it should be: we’re considering oldtimers, not recent stars.”
Notably, Koppett unabashedly points out the average of the committee at that time was over 70. With no disrespect, for example, to Buck O’Neill, who last played in 1949 and was 91 when Koppett’s article was written (O’Neill passed in 2006), it would have been a stretch if he had lived and was still a member of the committee. What are the odds, he would have recognized the names of Jack Morris, or Ted Simmons, Willie McCovey, or any of several names which could be listed here.
The United States Constitution has been altered twenty-six times since its inception in 1787. On each of those occasions, an amendment was passed which “adjusted” the original document to the American culture of the times. Those changes have kept our democracy alive and responsive to “times that are a-changin’.”
But here’s the kicker, because with any change there’s usually a rebound that may or may not have been predicted.
That change will increasingly be affected by and reflect the changes going on in baseball today with the heavy reliance on analytics to determine a player’s “actual” value. It’s a change I don’t particularly like, but all we can say is “Amen.” No longer, for instance, will 500 home runs be held as a standard for entry in the HOF for power hitters.
Coming soon will be how many of those home runs were hit with men on base, and two strikes, from the seventh inning on, and led to the game-deciding run scored. All of this will be at our fingertips if it isn’t already.
Overall though, and I’m just picking two names out of the blue in Bill Mazeroski, who made the HOF with a career batting average of .260 and Pee Wee Reese, at .269 with a fielding percentage of only .962 – what message was being sent by the old way of doing things when it comes to election to the HOF?
Jack Morris should have been installed in the HOF last season when he fell just short of the required 75 percent vote by the Baseball Writers committee. That committee should be next in line for a serious overhaul if MLB indeed intends to get this thing right.
Too many writers see their vote as a right instead of a privilege. Murray Chass, for instance, who is all of 70 years-old, turned in a blank ballot for this year’s balloting. He needs to go along with a host of other writers for whom time has passed them by.
Let him and all the others file suit for age discrimination. I’ll speak for the defense as one who is 70, but also someone who can see the landscape of baseball changing – for the better.