Friday, December 2, 2011

Tony-O, Kitty Kaat and the Hall of Fame

One of the myriad happenings next week at the Winter Meeting will be the balloting by the current version of the Veterans Committee.

The Hall of Fame's grand poo-baas keep tinkering with the Veterans Committee, trying to achieve a system that

  • actually elects somebody
  • without succumbing to the cronyism that has periodically infected the VC.

It's probably a hopeless mission. The biggest problem here is that the most obvious candidates get swept in by the writers and never reach the Veterans Committee, which winds up trying to split the hairs between Jim Kaat and Tommy John. There are plenty of HoF inductees I consider mistakes; almost all of them came courtesy of the VC.

The panel next week will be picking from a specific, prescreened, list of players and executives from a specific era of the game. Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times website predicts that Ron Santo will get in, and thinks it likely that at least one of Tony Oliva and Kaat will as well, although Jaffe is quick to concede that it's difficult to make a good prediction on the VC when the rules keep changing.

Santo, Oliva, Kaat, Gil Hodges --- these are the most likely choices. My sense of it is that there are several worse players at their positions already inducted, I wouldn't whine much if these four remain out, and I won't complain at all if any get in.

Well, Santo ... I'm about 95 percent sure he should be in. Third base is rather unrepresented in the Hall, and there are only about five or six third basemen in history with better credentials. (Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Eddie Mathews ... Bill James puts Santo ahead of Brooks Robinson, but it's clear that their contemporaries thought Brooks was much the better player.)

My only issue with putting Santo in the Hall is that the Cubs of his era have Billy Williams at the top of his game, they have Ferguson Jenkins at the top of his game, they have a fading but still useful Ernie Banks, they have solid regulars in Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley, Jim Hickman, Johnny Callison, they have Ken Holtzman, Milt Pappas and Bill Hands backing Jenkins in the rotation, they have a HofF manager in Leo Durocher -- and what did they win? Nothing. Not even a divisional title. How many legit Hall of Famers can you assemble without winning anything?

The Twins of Oliva and Kaat's era are a bit of a disappointment too, but they have a pennant and a pair of divisional titles to show. They had the misfortune to be up against an historically great Baltimore Orioles assembly.

I wrote a column long ago about Oliva and Kaat and the Hall. They symbolize a dual approach to HoF voting on the part of the electorate. The writers like career length from hitters and really high peaks from pitchers. Oliva had an eight-year span in which he was about as good a hitter as you'd find. The writers felt that wasn't enough. Kaat had a great season and a lot of good ones and lasted a long time. The writers felt that wasn't enough.

Kaat's candidacy is hurt a bit by the fact that in his prime years there was only one Cy Young awarded for the two leagues, and when he won 25 games in 1966 Sandy Koufax got the award. They started giving out two Cy Youngs the very next season. Put a Cy Young on Kitty's resume, and I think the writers would have given his candidacy more play.

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