By Tyler Maher
Six men were elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this month, which is unquestionably a good thing. The Hall is meant to honor people, after all, and it’s always sad when voters decide nobody is worth honoring.
But as usual, when it comes to Cooperstown, the selections are tinged with sadness, frustration, and downright hypocrisy.
Take, for instance, the long-overdue elections of Minnie Minoso and Buck O’Neil. Minoso was a tremendous all-around player and a pioneer, regarded as the Latino Jackie Robinson. His case should have been a slam dunk, but instead, he was repeatedly passed over for election, including the year before his death. Despite living a long life that lasted for at least 89 years (his true birthdate remains in question), he passed away before belatedly getting the call.
Ditto for Buck O’Neil, a Negro Leagues legend and one of the most important figures in baseball history. He lived an extraordinary life on and off the field in a variety of roles, and also should have been an easy selection. Instead, he was cruelly omitted from the 17-person class of Negro Leagues luminaries in 2006 – the year he died at age 94.
Both were clear-cut, obvious Hall of Famers, and yet they were left out in the cold for decades. There were plenty of chances to induct both while they were alive, but instead, they died on the outside looking in. It’s great that they’re finally getting the recognition that they deserve, but it’s also too late.
The same could have been said about Gil Hodges, had he not prematurely died of a heart attack at age 47 in 1972. He was spared the half-century of near misses and heated debates surrounding his candidacy, which made him perhaps the most-discussed candidate in Cooperstown history. Even if he had lived as long as Minoso and Buck, however, he also would have passed away several years before his belated induction.
While the elections of Minoso, O’Neil and Bud Fowler (the first known African-American player in organized baseball) are all no-brainers to me, the cases of Hodges, Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat leave me somewhat befuddled.
Hodges was a great two-way first baseman for many years, but his overall numbers – 1,921 hits, 370 home runs, 1,274 RBIs, 43.9 bWAR – are a bit light for someone who played in great lineups and hitters parks for most of his prime. If Hodges is a Hall of Famer, then why isn’t Dale Murphy, who has similar career stats but won two MVPs and played the much tougher position of center field? What about Carlos Delgado, a modern-day first sacker who was dropped from the ballot after one year despite compiling much more impressive numbers, or Fred McGriff and his 493 career dingers?
Kaat was the ultimate compiler who pitched for 25 years and won 283 games, which is certainly impressive. He was a great fielding pitcher who had several big years, but also many seasons where he was basically a .500 pitcher with a league-average ERA. His career 108 ERA+ suggests he wasn’t much better than average throughout his career, which makes sense given that he was rarely considered one of the best pitchers in the game. If Kaat is in, then Tommy John should be, too.
Oliva’s selection is also suspect. While he was unquestionably a Hall of Fame-caliber player during his peak before knee injuries ruined his career, the same can be said of countless other players. If we’re going to elect Oliva, then why not Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, Don Mattingly, Denny McLain, or Steve Garvey?
And what about Dick Allen, Oliva’s direct contemporary and fellow ballot-mate who was a far better hitter and for longer? What logic was used to elect Oliva but not Allen, who won an MVP and was a better player in every way? I’m guessing Allen’s controversial nature may have been a factor, but it is nonetheless disappointing that he fell one vote short for the second time in a row, especially after his passing late last year. While Allen will likely get in when his name comes up again next time around, it’s already too late for him.
There are many problems with the Hall of Fame, but one remains the most glaring to me. It’s great that we finally get to celebrate guys like Minoso and O’Neil, but it would have been a lot better if they’d still been here to enjoy it.
Tyler Maher is a Content Editor for The Game Day who is still upset that Dick Allen got snubbed for the Hall of Fame again.