The Hall of Fame just announced the nominees for this year’s Veterans Committee ballot. Well, they don’t call it the “Veterans Committee” anymore, but it basically is. It’s now done with an era-system which rotates every year, and this year’s era is the “Today’s Game” era, covering candidates who made their mark from 1988-on. Or, at the very least, made the biggest part of their mark given that there will always be some overlap.
The nominees: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershisher, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Lee Smith, and George Steinbrenner.
We will give each of these candidates a more in-depth review as we get closer to the Winter Meetings where the elections, if any, will be announced. For now, here’s my general overview.
Harold Baines: He had a long career and some good counting numbers, but did not have the sort of peak most defensively-limited Hall of Fame hitters have.
Albert Belle: He was on the road to Cooperstown, putting up dominant year after dominant year before injuries ended his career. In the end, it was too short a run — and even if it wasn’t, he was so reviled a figure — that the BBWAA would’ve never voted him in anyway, even if I’d consider throwing him a vote. I doubt the Veterans Committee will either.
Will Clark: The Thrill too was, for a while anyway, considered one of the best in the game, but his career tailed off and ended a bit too quickly for most voters.
Orel Hershiser: Hershiser was excellent for three or four seasons — transcendent for one of them — but merely above average, and not necessarily substantially above average for most of the rest of his career. There’s a fun mental game to play regarding why he’s on the outside and Jack Morris is in, but we’ll leave that for our longer treatment of him.
Joe Carter: He had a signature moment in the 1993 World Series but was generally overrated throughout his career. He was a star in an age where people looked at home run totals and RBI and not much else. Today he’d not have anywhere near the stature he had in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Lee Smith: Smith was on the BBWAA ballot for years and, early in that process, many thought he’d eventually make it. He was surpassed in the estimation of most as time wore on and superior relievers like Mariano Rivera became the gold standard for a closer. Today’s dominant, triple-digit relievers may reduce voters’ estimation of him even more. The only way I can see him getting in is if the Committee engages in revisionist history and decides to cast Smith as some sort of early influence on today’s crop of fireballers. I have a hard time buying that when they do that to some classic rocker who gets adopted by a later generation of musicians. I’ll have a harder time buying it when it comes to baseball players.
Davey Johnson: Johnson was one of the few managers, along with Billy Martin, who made an immediate positive impact on every team he took over. Like Martin, however, he wore out his welcome pretty quickly and, in the end, did not have as gaudy a win total as some other managers. I’d vote for him, but a manager usually needs to be more of a ~Respected Baseball Man~ to make the Hall. Johnson always seemed like a maverick and I doubt many voters will go out of their way to do him any favors.
Lou Piniella: Piniella does not have the resume of his contemporaries who easily made the Hall like Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, but he was always considered to be close to that group. He won a ring in Cincinnati and led a very talented Mariners team to its first real taste of success and had an outstanding playing career as well. His managerial career didn’t end particularly well — his stints in Tampa Bay and Chicago were lackluster — but, after years of working with Major League Baseball since he stopped managing, he’s become the sort of baseball man that the Veterans’ Committee tends to reward eventually.
Charlie Manuel: Cholly has a ring, won in two cities and has the respect of everyone who has ever played for him or employed him. It was a relatively short managerial career by Hall of Fame standards, however, lasting only ten years.
George Steinbrenner: It’s hard to tell the history of baseball from the 1970s through the turn of the century without talking about George Steinbrenner, but he was a deeply unpopular figure with a very checkered tenure as Yankees’ owner. I’ve argued in the past that he probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame given his historical stature, but I would bet a large sum he never makes it.
Like I said, we’ll go over these guys — almost all of them super interesting! — in greater depth in early December. In the meantime, how would you vote?