March 13, 2007

The HOF Veterans Committee Whifs on Two

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced on February 28 that the Committee on Baseball Veterans, what we know colloquially as the "Veterans Committee", had once again chosen to elect none of the candidates under consideration.

This Committee, under the rules redefined in 2001 after the election of Bill Mazeroski, an election that many within baseball viewed as one in which sentimentality outweighed Hall of Fame-merit, now votes every two years. It works out that these votes take-place in odd-numbered years. The Committee considers players who had not been elected by the Baseball Writers´ Association of America during the player’s 15 years of eligibility following his retirement and the requisite five-year waiting period.

As has been the past few years, frontrunners were Gil Hodges and Ron Santo. The 2005 publication of Thomas Oliphant's Praying for Gil Hodges and Santo's battle against diabetes and the 2005 DVD This Old Cub only increased the din of support for these men. But, they have not been sufficiently popular to win election. In the 2005 vote, they each missed by eight votes. Last month, Santo missed by five votes and Hodges by 12. We will see them again as candidates in 2009.

Managers, umpires, executives, and pioneers are only considered in every-other election. They were voted on this year and will next be subjects of the poll in 2011.

The Veterans Committee is viewed by some, including Hall of Fame chairperson Jane Clark, to be a "second chance" for players denied election by the BBWAA. [See Ms. Clark's statement of March 2, 2005 following the release of the 2005 Vet Committee vote]. More than merely a second-chance, the Veterans Committee gives the player, judged and passed-over by the journalists, the chance to be judged by his peers, retired players, who now compose approximately 75% of the Committee. It is an appeals court.

For umpires, managers, general-managers, and other MLB executives, the Veterans Committee is the only gateway into 25 Main St. (An exception has been the special committees to consider and elect Negro League candidates. These congresses were exceptions to address oversights born of historical-system bias.)

For these non-players, the Veterans Committee is their 15-year BBWAA player-eligibility. Two candidates, one of whom was considered and not elected, deserve induction under these categories. They are Marvin Miller and Buck O'Neil.

Marvin Miller revolutionized Major League Baseball in the 1960s and 1970s. He was Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association from 1966 through 1982. Miller pioneed the very idea of collective-bargaining in pro sports when the Players' Association negotiated their first agreement in 1968. There had been no collective bargaining prior to this time. Under Miller's leadership, the players raised the minimum salary from $6,000 [Approximately $35,000 in 2006-dollars adjusted for inflation] to $10,000 [$58,000 in inflation-adjusted 2006-dollars]. You can read more about the players claiming more of the MLB-revenue pie in the post from December 26, 2006, "The Players Strike Back and Gil Meche Wins Big".

Miller helped the players break the Reserve Clause to gain the ability to choose their own employers after playing out a contract. Prior to, players were bound to their team which could renew their contract at-will. We like to gripe about how much the players make in free-agency. We often forget that the owners are no more entitled than the players to retain MLB revenue. More so, most all of us desire or would desire the chance to negotiate for ourselves the best terms of employment possible.

Living Hall of Fame players who played after at least 1976 and the advent of Free Agency, if not 1968 and the first collective bargaining agreement, should have voted for Miller this year. Miller received 51 of the 61 votes necessary this year for election. Let us hope he is given his due in 2011.

Buck O'Neil was not on the Committee's ballot this year and he deserves election - not as a player - as a pioneer in the Hall's Executives and Pioneers category. He did play for the Kansas City Monarchs, was the first Major League coach of color when he joined the Chicago Cubs' field-staff for the 1962 season, and a long-time scout for the Cubs and Kansas City Royals. He excelled in these positions and we are not electing him for these accomplishments. He deserves election for his work on behalf of the Negro Leagues, their memory, and the players who came before Jackie Robinson integrated the American League and National League in 1947.

O'Neil was the Negro Leagues' de facto Chief Marketing Officer for the past 20 years. He was instrumental in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City which opened in 1990 and of which O'Neil was Chairman of the executive board until his death last year. The NLBM runs a museum in Kansas City, supports educational programs, and serves as the licensing arm for Negro League team merchandise. When one purchases a cap for any of the 30 MLB, a portion is paid to MLB as a royalty. MLB is a profit-making business. When one purchases a Homestead Grays t-shirt or New York Black Yankees cap, a portion goes to the Museum which is a not-for-profit org.

O'Neil's most prominent work came with Ken Burns in Burns' nine-part series Baseball. Burns devoted "Inning 5", which he called "Shadow Ball" to the Negro Leagues. We saw and heard O'Neil tell a great deal of the story. This work opened the story of the leagues - the Negro National League, Southern Negro League, Eastern Colored League, East-West League, and Negro American League - and its teams and players to baseball fans born after World War II who had never seen the players in person.

The Baseball Hall of Fame had been considering and electing players from these leagues since the early 1970s. O'Neil was part of the group in the 1980s that considered such players.

We have come a great ways in integrating the history of these great teams - the Monarchs, Atlanta Black Crackers, Detroit Stars, Homestead Grays and on and on - into our current cycles of commemorations and celebrations. The Royals now have a yearly tradition of wearing KC Monarchs uniforms for a Turn Back the Clock game. The Detroit Tigers often wear Detroit Stars uniforms.

The Negro League history has increasingly become our collective baseball history. O'Neil was an activist story-teller and historian's subject. He was a baseball giant and for this work alone has earned his plaque in the Hall of Fame gallery.

Santo has his Cubs-loyalists to remind us of his merits and Hodges the legions of Brooklyn fans. Philadelphia Phillies fans long had a bumper-sticker that they displayed with pride on behalf of Richie Ashburn which read “Richie Ashburn: Why the Hall Not?!” Miller wore a suit and was the public-face of labor stoppages and owner complaints. There are no fans to sing his praises.

O’Neil is thought to have had his last opportunity with last year’s special committee on the Negro Leagues which elected 17 individuals who were not Buck O’Neil. With his passing departed the urgency to see him in while he was with us in the land of the living.

2011 will not be too late for either O’Neil or Miller who both led critical changes in Major League Baseball.


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