By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report
The Baseball Hall of Fame lost a friend on Monday. Thanks to its arrogant, shortsighted vision, it won’t miss me or the many thousands who were stunned by another goose egg turned in by this year’s Golden Era Committee vote. But then the Hall never did get it right.
No one gets 100 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote? A joke. But no one on a strong ballot of nine players and one executive (Bob Howsam) gets even 75 percent? Far worse and thus my decision to never again justify the Baseball Hall of Fame’s existence by entering its doors.
In particular, there is no joy in Mudville, where Gil Hodges has been emphatically shut out (receiving three or fewer votes of the 12 required), quite possibly forever, by a committee that seems to be applying 21st Century standards to a 20th Century icon.
You remember Hodges, right? The manager of arguably the most remarkable turnaround in the history of the game, the 1969 New York Mets?
As a Brooklyn Dodger, Hodges was, at one point, late in his career 10th all-time in homers (370), with seven years of 100 or more and eight All-Star appearances. He was one of the rocks of the Boys of Summer, part of seven pennant winners and three world championships (two as a player and one as manager).
But what makes Hodges’ omission particularly galling is that he represents everything in terms of character that baseball claims to be about, while far transcending the numbers you might find in a media guide or on a website.
Hodges was a World War II hero, who lost two of his formative years to the game. At the time of his service (1944 and 1945), he was 19 years old and had already played in one game for Brooklyn in 1943.
After not stepping on the field for some 30 months because he was in the Pacific serving his country, he had to start all over again in 1946 and by the next year was stuck in a situation where the Dodgers (who had gone on with life while he was away) had to figure out what to do with him. So by the time he became a regular in 1948, he lost arguably 1,000 plate appearances and the kind of counting statistics that Veterans Committee members appear determined to use to keep him out of Cooperstown.
‘Determined’ is the operative word here given the great injustice that befell Hodges in the early 1990s when committee chairman Ted Williams disallowed a 12th vote by Roy Campanella on the basis that Campy was sick and not present at the committee meeting.
With Campanella’s vote, Hodges was a Hall of Famer, earning the required 12 of 16 votes. Without it, Hodges was left with 11 of 15 votes or just shy of inclusion (a similar predicament to Tony Oliva and Dick Allen yesterday, only they didn’t have any votes nullified).
Add that to the highest number of votes ever received by a player not voted into the Hall of Fame (over 1,000) and one has to wonder what Hodges did to antagonize people over the years.
One vote shy. And it appears as if the man who drove in the only two runs in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series will never get that vote.
How could a figure who received 50 percent or more of the BBWAA vote 11 times (of a possible 15 tries), not have his day in the sun, while so many who finished behind him eventually get included?
And it only gets worse if you look at his defensive legacy, which is greatly understated.
Hodges won three Gold Gloves at first base with the Dodgers at a point when baseball only awarded one for all of baseball (1957-59).
This was the beginning of the award and the twilight of Hodges being an elite player, which raises the question: How many Gold Gloves might he have won had the current rules of the award applied?
If we are going to punish the man for being part of the pre-steroid era (he has dropped to 75th all-time in homers in the last half-century), what is the other side of the coin?
Hodges became an elite first baseman defensively in 1949, when he led the National League in putouts, fielding percentage and double plays and was second in assists. He was first in at least one major defensive category six more times before the creation of the Gold Glove meaning he could have won as many as 10 Gold Gloves with at least a half dozen extremely likely.
Undeniably, any conversation of the 10 greatest defensive first basemen of all-time must include Hodges. But technicality, rather than accomplishment, rules the argument against him.
Then again Hodges never was a master of timing.
He died two days before his 48th birthday, a year before a Mets team he largely made relevant won its second pennant under Yogi Berra. With Hodges as manager would the 1973 Mets have won a second world title? More importantly in this discussion, with Hodges in the public eye, might he have gotten those few extra votes to have made this a moot point?
Sadly, we will never know the answers to any of these questions and as the likelihood that Hodges is ever inducted begins to become extremely remote, we are left to ponder this: What good is a Hall of Fame without celebrating its game?
Every year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts a minimum number of candidates. The powers that be in that sport lock themselves in a room until they come out with at least four people (and usually more). They build on the legacy of the past, refresh our love for the game, all without cheapening the award. Included on that list are Veterans Committee choices
Baseball, long ago stunned by cronyism and possible over-induction of candidates, has swung far too wide in the other direction, not only applying new statistical analysis to keep older players out, but suspicion of wrongdoing (see steroids) to create a backlog of worthy candidates that cannot be rectified.
Dick Allen? Should have been in long ago. Tony Oliva, one of the great hitters of the 1960s and a three-time batting champion? Same thing. And don’t get me started on Luis Tiant (a four-time 20-game winner, who has the most career shutouts of any non-Hall of Famer) or Jim Kaat (winner of 283 games and a 16-time Gold Glover) or Ken Boyer.
Once the BBWAA fails (which it has often this decade by not resolving the steroid argument) and the Golden Era Committee fails (which it has done twice consecutively by applying more difficult standards than it ever has in the past) then we arrive at this sad epitaph for the Hall of Fame itself.
Any shrine too snobbish or indecisive to celebrate itself is not worthy of our recognition and even more sadly, not worthy of the game we call our National Pasttime.
Today, there is no joy in Mudville because Cooperstown itself has struck out.