Indians, Red Sox and Yankees (and Twins, Pirates and Angels) great Luis Tiant topped out at a little over 30% of the vote his first time on the Hall of Fame ballot. From there he fell pretty sharply, getting as little as 9.2% of the vote within a few years and never again going above 18%, which is what he garnered in his 15th and final year of eligibility.
Since then he has been considered by the Veterans Committee, in its various forms, multiple times, but has again not gained induction. He’s eligible again this coming December. If he doesn’t make it in 2017, Tiant could be inducted years from now, even after his death.
“I already told my family, ‘They put me after I die, don’t go anywhere. Don’t go to the Hall of Fame, don’t go to Cooperstown, don’t go no god— place,’” Tiant said. “’Cause I think it’s wrong what they do.”
Tiant doesn’t see the benefit of posthumous induction.
“What good is that they put you after you die?” Tiant said, adding, “You can’t do nothing with your family and your friends.”
A lot of veterans feel similarly due to the fact that, as Womack notes, the Veterans Committee has hardly inducted anyone in years. All of the living inductees have been executives and managers. The few players have long since died. To some, it feels like a slap in the face.
As for Tiant: I’m not sure it would be an objective injustice if he did not make it in. He was great when at his best. He was always entertaining and he played a key part on a few very memorable clubs. On the other hand, when he was bad he was not so great, resulting in career numbers that aren’t nearly as close to his peak as other Hall of Fame pitchers’ career numbers are close to theirs. He also pitched in pitcher-friendly era in which there were many, many better pitchers than he. That low vote total he received is mostly due to the fact that, for most of his years on the ballot, he was up against guys like like Seaver, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton, Jenkins, Niekro and Fingers. There is no real argument to be made that Tiant was the best or even one of the handful of best pitchers of his era, and that makes one’s Hall of Fame case really hard.
Still, it’s hard not to agree with Tiant’s sensibility about all of this. Whether he is owed a plaque or not may be an open question, but there is no doubt that the Veterans Committee, in whatever form it has taken, has been unduly harsh in judging player qualifications. More players in the Hall of Fame is not a bad thing, but the VC seems uninterested in doing so. In light of that, why give them the satisfaction of your relatives on the stage if the Hall decides to change its mind years after you’re in the ground?