For the last 11 seasons (almost as long as Billy-Ball has been around) John Shiffert has producing an outstanding on-line publication called “19 to 21,” which provides an insightful slant on baseball today seasoned with an historical perspective. John is the author of four baseball history books, including the acclaimed “Base Ball in Philadelphia” (McFarland).
Subscriptions are just $25 for a full season and you can receive it in your inbox, or gift it to a friend or loved one, simply by subscribing to “19 to 21” for the 2013 season by sending a check for $25, (made payable to John Shiffert), to:
- John Shiffert
- Clayton State University
- 2000 Clayton State Blvd.
- Morrow, GA 30260
Here is John’s latest piece, with my compliments.
A Hall Update
While waiting for Jan. 9, and the other shoe to drop, let us pause for a moment to assess where the Hall of Fame stands, maybe not on the edge of a fiscal cliff, but at least edging up to a precipice.
Before the BBWAA, et all, plunge o’er the cliff represented by the big names of the Juiced Era coming on the ballot, a review of just what has transpired thus far might be of value.
First, let’s talk about the Veterans Committee, which is composed of some very heavy hitters. In point of fact, it is a far more distinguished group than the main Hall electorate taken as a whole; and they voted in three new members from the early days of baseball… Deacon White, Jacob Ruppert and Hank O’Day. While it may be possible to quibble with these selections, particularly the lastly-named, there’s no quibbling with the 16 individuals who did the voting. Even the causal fan is easily familiar with, at the very least, a majority of the committee; which included Hall of Fame members Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton, plus four top-flight executives (in addition to Gillick); Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gary Hughes and Bob Watson. And the media and historian reps: Jim Henneman, Steve Hirdt, Peter Morris, Phil Pepe, Tom Simon, Claire Smith, T.R. Sullivan and Mark Whicker. (OK, so I would add current Historian of MLB John Thorn, and David Voigt, and a few others, but, nothing’s perfect.)
And yet, there was quibbling on adding White, Ruppert and O’Day. The argument, which was made in more than one place, and by people who should know better, went something like this… there are now more individuals in the Hall of Fame from the 19th Century than there are from the 1970s and 1980s. This line of reasoning is not only disingenuous, it’s just plain dumb. On the most basic level — do the math. There was a period of approximately 50 years wherein baseball was played in a currently-recognizable form during the 19th Century. Unless basic arithmetic has changed recently, the 70s and 80s only saw baseball played for 20 years. In which case, there should be at least twice as many Hall of Famers from the 19th Century as there are from the 1970s and 1980s.
Part two of the bogus “there are too many 19th Century HOF members” argument states that, if these guys, e.g., the Deacon White’s of baseball, were any good, they would have been voted in a long time ago. No, that’s not it at all. The correct statement would be, if some of the previous Vets Committees were made up of the caliber of people on current committee, and if they were given the facts about these 19th Century greats; the Deacon Whites, Al Reachs, Jim Creightons, Chris Von der Ahes, O.P. Caylors, Pete Brownings, Bill Dahlens, etc. etc., then they all would have been in the Hall decades ago.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, in part because there is something to be said for Lee Allen, the Hall of Fame historian who died in 1969, being the first true baseball historian. Back in the early sixties (19, not 18) it was Allen who was feeding the Vets Committee the facts on such outstanding Hall members as John Montgomery Ward, Amos Rusie and Sam Thompson. Sadly, Allen died too young, and the Hall largely stopped inducting 19th Century greats shortly thereafter. Hopefully, there is still time to catch up before the Philistines one again take control of the field, and forget what the Hall is supposed to be – an historically accurate portrayal of the best of baseball over the years. A Hall without Jim Creighton or Al Reach or the great pioneers of the Knickerbockers, is not historically accurate.
After the Vets Committee did its work, the BBWAA was heard from for the first time this season, at least in terms of getting one award absolutely, dead-center, right over the plate, and up off the left field wall, correct. That would have been the voting for the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the yearly winner of which is recognized during the following summer’s Hall induction ceremony. No, it’s not being named to the Hall of Fame, but it’s the highest honor a baseball writer can obtain, and this year, it went to one of the best, Paul Hagen.
Over the past 35 years or so, Hagen has made a name for himself as both a prime storyteller and an excellent reporter — and they are most certainly not the same thing. For example, Charles Dryden was a great storyteller, but, you couldn’t be sure if his stories were true. Rube Waddell setting off an explosion in a Boston baked bean factory, indeed!?
In both Dallas and Philadelphia, Hagen spun his stories while also keeping his readers informed. Although, like several of his peers in recent years (Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark come to mind first), he has since switched to e-reporting (in his case for MLB.com), he’s still as good as ever, as was proven by his overwhelming victory in this year’s voting. In fact, he gets the highest accolade in the non-voting division – the man can write.
Well, that’s where we are right now. Heaven only knows what the BBWAA balloting will show next month, although it’s tempting to guess that Messrs. Bonds, Clemens and Sosa won’t fare any better in the balloting than Raffy and Big Mac have made out in past elections. Will any of these guys ever get in? Such an event that would be historically accurate, though not very popular, partly because these individuals are perceived as cheaters, and partly because, like Richard Nixon, they tried on some level to cover it up… and that’s almost a worse sin.
Of course, players have been cheating, or going around the rules, since Creighton first introduced the wrist snap to pitching and Candy Cummings threw the first curve ball, both of which were very clearly against the rules at the time. Gaylord Perry is the best example of a cheater in the Hall, followed by – that’s right, current Vets Committee member Don Sutton. However, there is one difference between these four guys, and, at least; Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire. Creighton, Cummings, Perry and Sutton, as well as, for instance, any of the players who have corked or altered bats (George Sisler was one of those, although so was Sosa), made a mockery of the game and the record book. It’s tempting to speculate that that level of cheating also brings character into play, and it seems unlikely that Bonds and Clemens, neither of whom was beloved by the electorate, will score many points with the voters on that metric.