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McGwire, Steinbrenner, Selig among Hall of Fame candidates for new Veterans Committee

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The Baseball Hall of Fame has revamped its Veterans Committee many times in the past several years. Mostly because its committee of veterans has had a bad habit of, you know, not electing anyone, and what’s the point of having one if no one ever makes it in?

And yes, this is a bit of a problem. There are twice as many players in the Hall of Fame who debuted before 1950 as compared to afterward, despite there being nearly double the eligible candidates after 1950 than prior. So, no, this is not a matter of folks wanting to hand out participation trophy versions of a Hall of Fame induction. It’s a matter of electors baselessly raising the standards of induction far too high compared to past precedent, most likely because they misguidedly believe that players from the sepia-toned “Golden Age” of baseball were more worthy than players of a more recent vintage. Which is pure poppycock.

So, last summer, the Hall of Fame’s board of directors tweaked the era-based system the Veterans Committee had been using for several years, adding a couple of separate, era-based dedicated committees. Now there are separate committees for Today’s Game (1988-2016), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Golden Days (1950-69) and Early Baseball (1871-1949). As befitting their underrepresentation, Today’s Game and Modern Baseball will vote twice every five years, Golden Days once every five years and Early Baseball once every 10 years. Committees consist of 16 people, with a vote of at least 75 percent needed for election. Committee members can vote for 10 candidates per ballot.

This year the Today’s Game candidates will be up for consideration. Here are the candidates who will be considered when that committee meets next Monday at the Winter Meetings:

  • Harold Baines
  • Albert Belle
  • Will Clark
  • Orel Hershiser
  • Mark McGwire
  • Davey Johnson
  • Lou Piniella
  • John Schuerholz
  • George Steinbrenner
  • Bud Selig

Yes, some of these guys straddle the Today’s Game and Modern Baseball eras. The Hall just makes a choice with ’em, so we’ll let it slide.

Given that it’s likely to be a slow week, news-wise, I’m going to deal with these guys in two ways. First, here, I’ll give a kneejerk vote based on no new research and only the impressions I’ve formed of them over the years. Then, between today and Friday, I’ll look at each of the candidates in greater depth and with a more open mind. On Friday, we’ll talk about who the committee likely will vote in and see how that compares to our assessment of merit.

The short, kneejerk answer for me, doing no new research, would be to vote for McGwire, Schuerholz, Steinbrenner and probably Davey Johnson. Bud Selig, who I once called Baseball’s Greatest Commissioner, is a super complicated case. At the moment I’d lean no for a lot of political reasons, but we’ll deal with him separately.

What say you? And why?

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.