Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Obstacles Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans Face to be Selected by the Hall of Fame's Historical Overview Committee to Appear on Future Modern Baseball Era Ballots


Whitaker, Grich & Evans were overlooked for the Modern Baseball Era ballot

On December 10, the Modern Baseball Era Committee completed their first election, voting Jack Morris and Alan Trammell into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The Modern Baseball Era is one of four sub-committees of the Era Committee.  Each of these sub-committees are tasked with evaluating candidates from a specified era with the Modern Baseball Era Committee in charge of the 1970 to 1987 time period.  Under the previous Era Committee format, the majority of candidates from this time period were included in a sub-committee known as the Expansion Era which covered the timeframe of 1973-onward.  Each Era Committee ballot is screened and selected by the Historical Overview Committee--a small BBWAA-appointed panel, generally consisting of 11 representatives.  The Modern Baseball Era Committee election generated its fair share of controversy, as did the ballot itself in which several strong candidates who have become causes célèbre for the sabermetric community--namely Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans--were overlooked by the Historical Overview Committee.  The Modern Baseball Era Committee holds elections twice every five years.  Thus, the Historical Overview Committee will release its next three ballots for the Modern Baseball Era in Fall 2019, 2022, and 2024.  The selections for the recent Modern Baseball Era ballot as well as those for previous Era Committee ballots give insights into the preferences, tendencies, and patterns of the Historical Overview Committee.  By examining the practices of the Historical Overview Committee, a better idea is gained of the obstacles Whitaker, Grich, and Evans face to be selected by the screening panel to appear on future Modern Baseball Era ballots.

--The Historical Overview Committee is and will continue to be a constant in the screening and selecting of Era Committee ballots--

The Historical Overview Committee which put together the Modern Baseball Era ballot was made up of 11 veteran BBWAA members:  Bob Elliott (formerly Toronto Sun); Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News); Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary-treasurer); Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Tracy Ringolsby (MLB.com); Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle); Dave van Dyck (formerly Chicago Tribune); and Mark Whicker (Los Angeles News Group).

The Historical Overview Committee has acted as the screening panel for the Era Committee and its predecessor, the Veterans Committee for nearly 15 years.  During that time there have been many changes to the Veterans and Era Committee process.  However, the make-up of the Historical Overview Committee has virtual stayed the same with committee members Elliott, Hummel, Hirdt, Madden, O'Connell, Ringolsby, Whicker, and van Dyck taking part in the selection of almost every Era Committee ballot.  Overall, just 15 members have served on this exclusive screening panel which is and will continue to be a constant in the selection of Era Committee ballots.

--The Historical Overview Committee has a strong preference for candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot--

Below are the Historical Overview Committee's selections for the recent Modern Baseball Era as well as the 2010 and 2013 Expansion Era ballots.  Candidates who lasted their full term in BBWAA voting are highlighted in red.  Final vote percentages by the Modern Baseball Era and Expansion Era Committees are listed next to the candidate with those who reached the 75% of the vote required for election italicized.

Dec '10


Dec '13


Dec '17

Exp Era
Vote %

Exp Era
Vote %

MB Era
Vote %
Gillick
81.3%

Cox
100%

Morris
87.5%
Miller
68.8%

LaRussa
100%

Trammell
81.3%
Concepcion
50.0%

Torre
100%

Simmons
68.8%
Blue
<50.0%

Concepcion
<43.8%

Miller
43.8%
Garvey
<50.0%

Garvey
<43.8%

Garvey
<43.8%
Guidry
<50.0%

John
<43.8%

John
<43.8%
John
<50.0%

Martin
<43.8%

Mattingly
<43.8%
Martin
<50.0%

Miller
<43.8%

Murphy
<43.8%
Oliver
<50.0%

Parker
<43.8%

Parker
<43.8%
Simmons
<50.0%

Quisenberry
<43.8%

Tiant
<43.8%
Staub
<50.0%

Simmons
<43.8%



Steinbrenner
<50.0%

Steinbrenner
<43.8%




As a BBWAA-appointed entity which is made up of longtime BBWAA members--or veteran historians as the Hall of Fame prefers to describe them--it is no surprise that the Historical Overview Committee shows a strong preference for candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot.  In fact, with almost every opportunity the Historical Overview Committee has selected candidates who completed their full term on the BBWAA ballot--choosing Steve Garvey, Tommy John, and Dave Parker for each Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballot they were eligible for.  In addition, first time eligible candidates Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, and Alan Trammell made the initial Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Moreover, with the restructuring of the sub-committees' timeframes, Luis Tiant--who had previously appeared on both Golden Era ballots--became eligible and was chosen for the Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Also, Dave Concepcion was selected for both Expansion Era ballots before missing out on the Modern Baseball Era ballot.  

In stark contrast to those candidates who drew well in BBWAA voting, popular candidates such as Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans have found themselves overlooked by the Historical Overview Committee despite strong Hall of Fame cases:

Whitaker, Grich & Evans were each strong all-around players
Whitaker played from 1977 to 1995, spending his entire career with the Detroit Tigers.  With 244 career home runs, "Sweet Lou" possessed power rarely seen by a second baseman during the era in which he played and also showed patience at the plate with an impressive .363 career OBP.  Whitaker was a solid player on both sides of the diamond, picking up three Gold Glove Awards for his defense at the keystone.  Along with Trammell at shortstop, Whitaker formed the longest running and one of the most dominant double play combinations in the history of the game.  Despite these accomplishments, Whitaker collected just 2.9% of the vote in his initial appearance on the BBWAA ballot in 2001.  Because he failed to garner at least 5% of the vote, Whitaker was thus ineligible to be included on future BBWAA ballots.  The recent Modern Baseball Era ballot represented Whitaker's first chance at the Hall of Fame since falling off the BBWAA ballot.  However, to the surprise of many, when the Historical Overview Committee's selections were released, Whitaker's name was not included on the ballot alongside former teammates Morris and Trammell.

Grich's career ran from 1970 to 1986, splitting time between the Baltimore Orioles and the California Angels.  Similar to Whitaker, Grich was a slick-gloved, power-hitting second baseman with a keen batting-eye.  Grich won four Gold Glove Awards and set the single-season fielding percentage record for second basemen on two separate occasions during his career.  In 1981, Grich became the first keystoner since Rogers Hornsby in 1925 to lead his respective league in home runs.  Moreover, at the time of his retirement, Grich was one of just a handful of sluggers to play the bulk of his career at second base and hit over 200 home runs.  In addition, Grich proved to be one of his era's toughest outs, reaching base at a stellar .371 clip.  Nevertheless, Grich drew just 2.6% of the vote in what would be his only appearance on the BBWAA ballot in 1992.  Grich has been eligible for all three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots but has yet to be selected by the Historical Overview Committee.

Evans was active from 1972 to 1991, with each of those seasons coming in a Boston Red Sox uniform--save for his final campaign in which he played for the Orioles.  Like Whitaker and Grich, "Dewey" was a great all-around player with superb on-base skills.  Well known for his cannon-like throwing arm, Evans was awarded eight Gold Gloves in right field and retired just shy of 2,500 hits and 400 home runs.  In addition, with his knowledge of the strike zone, Evans was a difficult player to get out, as underscored by his fabulous .370 career OBP.  Evans lasted three years on the BBWAA ballot, debuting with 5.9% of the vote in 1997 and peaking at 10.4% the following year, before falling below 5% on the crowded 1999 ballot in which Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk debuted.  Evans was eligible for the second Expansion Era and initial Modern Baseball Era ballots but on neither occasion was his name among the screening panel's selections. 

The passing over of Whitaker, Grich, and Evans by the Historical Overview Committee is almost certainly due to the lack of support picked up by these candidate in their brief time on the BBWAA ballot, as evidenced by the screening panel's repeated selections of candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the writer's vote.  Indeed, for the recent Modern Baseball Era ballot, the Historical Overview Committee not only chose all four newly eligible candidates whose Hall of Fame cases went the distance on the BBWAA ballot (Mattingly, Morris, Murphy, and Trammell) but also selected Parker for a second straight ballot and Garvey, John, and Tiant for a third consecutive time despite none of those four holdover candidates coming anywhere close to election on their previous appearances.

The absences of Grich and Evans from the Modern Baseball Era ballot each drew criticism of the Historical Overview Committee, but the exclusion of Whitaker was met with the most disapproval, as Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe and Lynn Henning of The Detroit News were among those who took the screening panel to task for not including "Sweet Lou" on the ballot.  Jaffe said Whitaker's omission from the ballot "seems like a cruel joke" while Henning remarked that the former Tigers second baseman's exclusion "makes no sense."

Simmons missed HOF election by one vote in Dec
The only candidate to be a regular selection by the Historical Overview Committee who did not perform well in BBWAA voting is Ted Simmons.  Despite being one of the finest hitting catchers of all-time, Simmons suffered the same fate as Whitaker and Grich as he fell off the BBWAA ballot after accumulating just 3.7% of the vote in his one and only appearance in 1994.  Nevertheless, the screening panel selected Simmons for both Expansion Era ballots and even after failing to pick up much support in those elections, he was chosen once again for the Modern Baseball Era ballot.  However, Simmons' continued presence on the ballot is likely owed to the lobbying of Historical Overview Committee member Rick Hummel, who writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  When asked by a reader about Simmons' chances at Hall of Fame election last January, Hummel gave a candid answer that gives an insight into the inner-workings of the Historical Overview Committee, who seem to have humored Hummel by tabbing Simmons for the ballot:

"I'm headed to Cooperstown tomorrow for a special committee meeting to put together the veterans' ballots for the next two elections.  My passionate pleas to include Simmons never have failed to amuse my compatriots and I will raise the flag again this year.  He almost certainly will turn up on another ballot."

Unlike the Historical Overview Committee, the 16-member electorate for the Era Committee vote changes drastically for each election as a different panel of Hall of Fame players, Hall of Fame managers, executives, and veteran BBWAA members are selected to make up the voting body.  After drawing poorly on both Expansion Era elections, it seemed that Simmons would be a throwaway candidate on the Modern Baseball Era ballot with even his most ardent supporter Hummel not holding his breath:

..."Where the rub comes is that when the voters in December ask how many ballots Simmons lasted in the regular BBWAA elections, the answer sadly, unbelievably, is one.  He didn't receive five percent of the vote in his first (only) year on the ballot.  The veterans' voters, then speaking to any BBWAA members on the committee, say, "Well, you must not have liked him very much."...

..."He probably will not get in.  But I will go down trying."

However, in a surprising twist, Simmons drew the third highest vote total on the Modern Baseball Era ballot and came just a single tally shy of Hall of Fame election.  Simmons' unexpectedly strong showing is encouraging for candidates such as Whitaker, Grich, and Evans who struggled in their brief time on the BBWAA ballot.

While it is likely the Historical Overview Committee will continue to favor candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot, it may finally begin to turn its attention toward overlooked candidates such as Whitaker, Grich, and Evans and select them in place of Garvey, John, Parker, and Tiant who have each appeared on two or three ballots but garnered little support on the ensuing elections.  In addition, with the Modern Baseball Era fixed at the 1970-1987 timeline, Whitaker, Grich, and Evans will have a better chance of eventually being included on the ballot since no candidates who completed their full term on the writer's vote will become newly eligible.  This is in contrast to the Modern Baseball Era's predecessor, the Expansion Era, which had a new slate of candidates became eligible for the ballot every three years.  Moreover, the elections of Morris and Trammell also clear up two ballot spaces.


--Advanced metrics have been and continue to be a slow sell to the Historical Overview Committee--

Below are the career WAR marks for the Historical Overview Committee's position players selected for the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots along with the totals of Whitaker, Grich, and Evans for the ballots which they were eligible for.  WAR marks vary ballot to ballot due to changes in Baseball Reference's WAR formula over time:

Dec '10


Dec '13


Dec '17

Exp Era
WAR

Exp Era
WAR

MB Era
WAR
Simmons
50.8

Simmons
50.2

Trammell
70.4
Staub
45.0

Concepcion
40.0

Simmons
50.1
Oliver
38.7

Parker
40.0

Murphy
46.2
Garvey
35.9

Garvey
37.6

Mattingly
42.2
Concepcion
33.8




Parker
39.9






Garvey
37.7








Grich
67.6

Grich
71.0

Whitaker
74.9



Evans
66.7

Grich
70.9






Evans
66.9

In the decade and half since Whitaker, Grich, and Evans fell off the BBWAA ballot, their Hall of Fame cases have become causes célèbre for the sabermetric community.  Also during that time, advanced metrics such as WAR have revolutionized the way players are evaluated while overlooked statistics like walks and OBP have come to the forefront to be viewed alongside hits and batting average.  However, despite their growing acceptance, advanced metrics continue to be a slow sell to the Historical Overview Committee as evidenced by their overvaluing traditional stats such as home runs, RBI, and batting average.

Whitaker, Grich & Evans each have excellent sabermetric HOF cases
Advanced metrics have existed for several decades but they did not start to become mainstream until 2010 when Baseball Reference included WAR on their website.  Part of what made the exclusion of Whitaker, Grich, and Evans from the Modern Baseball Era ballot so egregious was their respective career WAR marks of 74.9, 70.9, and 66.9--which rank them number one, two, and four among position players eligible for the ballot.  The Historical Overview Committee can somewhat be forgiven for overlooking Grich for the initial Expansion Era ballot since WAR and other advanced metrics were just starting to become widely used.  However, today a growing percentage of BBWAA voters reference WAR and other advanced metrics when explaining their Hall of Fame selections.

The Historical Overview Committee's slow acceptance of advanced metrics can best be exemplified by comments made by one of the screening panel's most recognizable members, Bill Madden, during his guest appearance on the MLB Network's Hot Stove in January 2016.  When discussing his voting philosophy for the Hall of Fame, Madden immediately downplayed advanced metrics:  "Well as far as evaluating the candidates, I have one stance and I've always had from day one from my first time got a ballot and it has nothing to do with metrics and all this other stuff.  My criteria is number one, if I'm looking at a ball player on the field for years and years or whatever--do I say to myself:  Am I looking at a Hall of Famer?  Because it's the look test for me."  Later on in the interview Madden dropped a couple of infamous Hall of Fame clichés, "If I have to think about him, he probably isn't" and "I'm not interested in the Hall of Very Good or these borderline guys.  I'm just...I'm not gonna vote for them."

Not to single out or pick on Madden but he is probably the most visable and vocal member of the Historical Overview Committee and his words obviously carry weight within the small screening panel.  Madden obviously uses an old school approach to evaluate candidates, is largely close-minded to advanced metrics, and admittedly is a tougher voter who believes in a smaller Hall of Fame--a combination that does not make him an ally to potential Era Committee candidates looking for a second chance at being voted into Cooperstown who were overlooked on past BBWAA ballots.  While Madden's viewpoints do not necessarily reflect the views of all Historical Overview Committee members, it is fair to say that most of the screening panel share his sentiments on advanced metrics as causes célèbre sabermetric candidates Whitaker, Grich, and Evans have been repeatedly passed over for candidates like Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, and Dave Parker, whose Hall of Fame cases are much weaker when viewed through the lens of advanced metrics.  

Nevertheless, the Hall of Fame cases of Whitaker, Grich, and Evans do not solely rely on advanced metrics or their excellent career WAR marks as each own strong career numbers in traditional categories as well.  With career totals of 2,369 hits and 244 home runs, Whitaker is the only retired second baseman, aside from Jeff Kent, to reach both the 2,000-hit and 200-home run milestones and not be voted into Cooperstown.  Like Whitaker, Grich's power stood out among second sackers with 224 career longballs, though he also spent several of his prime years playing his home games in Baltimore's pitcher-friendly Memorial Stadium during a particularly difficult era for hitters.  Evans put up solid career numbers for a right fielder with 2,446 hits and 385 round trippers.  Though Evans retired just shy of the 2,500-hit and 400-home run milestones--a combination of totals which likely would have guaranteed him eventual election to the Hall of Fame--he is the only slugger eligible for the Modern Baseball Era to come close to reaching both totals.  In addition, Whitaker, Grich, and Evans were each great all around players who contributed to their teams not only with their offense but also their Gold Glove-winning defense.

Undoubtedly, the Hall of Fame cases of Whitaker, Grich, and Evans are each hindered by their adequate but unspectacular respective batting averages of .276, .266, and .272 which played a significant role in their struggling to draw support on the BBWAA ballot.  However, due to their ability to draw walks, Whitaker, Grich, and Evans more than offset their batting averages with excellent career OBP marks of .363, .371, and .370, respectively.  Yet the combination of the Historical Overview Committee's overvaluing of batting average and past BBWAA ballot election results, coupled with their slow acceptance of advanced metrics kept Whitaker, Grich, and Evans from being selected for the Modern Baseball Era ballot.


--Players who specialized at the same position are rarely selected on the same ballot by the Historical Overview Committee--

One of the tendencies the Historical Overview Committee has shown when putting together the Expansion and Modern Baseball Era ballots is a reluctance to select players who specialized at the same position on the same ballot.  Through three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots, there has been just one position player overlap--first basemen Steve Garvey and Don Mattingly appeared together on the recent Modern Baseball Era ballot.  In the five ballots the Historical Overview Committee has selected for the other Era Committees, position player overlaps have been a little more common:  Third basemen Ron Santo and Ken Boyer were each selected for the first Golden Era ballot while first basemen Gil Hodges and Dick Allen both got the nod for the second Golden Era ballot.  None of those Golden Era selections were overly surprising since each spent the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot.  Shortstops Bill Dahlen and Marty Marion each appeared on both Pre-Integration Era ballots.  However, while these two shortstops played the same position, their career peaks were several decades apart--Dahlen was a turn of 20th century star while Marion played during the 1940s and early 1950s.  In addition, Hodges' and Allen's careers took place on opposite ends of the Golden Era epoch and did not overlap.  First basemen Mark McGwire and Will Clark were each selected for the initial Today's Game Era ballot but that era also has the shortest time period to pull player candidates from.

Overall though, having two players who specialized at the same position on the same ballot is not a regular occurrence on Era Committee ballots and there have never been multiple position player overlaps on one ballot.  The reluctance to have two position player overlaps has had no bearing on the overlooking of Whitaker and Grich but is probably some of the reason Evans has been selected for the ballot thus far and likely played a role in the exclusions of other strong bypassed candidates such as Thurman Munson and Keith Hernandez.  Below are the main candidates at each position who have been selected and passed over by the Historical Overview Committee for the Expansion and Modern Baseball Era ballots:

Catcher
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Ted Simmons
December 2013 Expansion Era:  Ted Simmons
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons has appeared on each of the three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots and thus far has been the only catcher selected by the Historical Overview Committee for this particular era.  Thurman Munson has been eligible for all three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots but has yet to be chosen by the screening panel even though his Hall of Fame candidacy lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot.  The selection of Simmons and overlooking of Munson is somewhat surprising since Simmons fell off the BBWAA ballot after just one year while Munson is one of the few candidates who went the distance on the writer's vote who has not been tabbed for one of the Era ballots.  Regardless, three times the screening committee has listened to the pleas of committee member Rick Hummel and chosen Simmons for the ballot--a trend that will almost certainly continue since "Simba" missed Hall of Fame election by a single tally on the most recent Modern Baseball Era vote.  Because the Historical Overview Committee rarely puts players who specialized at the same position on the same ballot, Munson will not likely appear on the ballot until Simmons is elected to Cooperstown.

First Base
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Steve Garvey
December 2013 Expansion Era:  Steve Garvey
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Steve Garvey & Don Mattingly

Like Simmons, Steve Garvey has been selected for all three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots.  Garvey appeared on the maximum number of BBWAA ballots with a peak vote total of 42.6% which was the highest percentage among eligible candidates for both Expansion Era ballots and trailed only Jack Morris' 67.7% among eligible Modern Baseball Era candidates.  Don Mattingly, whose Hall of Fame candidacy also went the distance on the BBWAA ballot, became eligible for and was chosen for the Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Mattingly amassed 28.2% of the vote in his first year on the BBWAA ballot but struggled to draw more than half that total in his remaining years on the ballot.  Due to the Historical Overview Committee's preference for candidates who completed their full term on the BBWAA ballot, having two first basemen on the same ballot was not unprecedented, though it was surprising the screening panel selected Garvey for a third consecutive time after he received little support in the two previous elections.

Keith Hernandez stands out as one of the main exclusions from the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots by the Historical Overview Committee.  Hernandez is widely regarded as the greatest defensive first basemen in the history of baseball and his 11 Gold Glove Awards are the most for anyone at the position.  Hernandez was co-winner of the 1979 NL MVP, has strong career numbers as well as a solid career WAR of 60.0.  Moreover, with his memorable appearances on Seinfeld, and his Just for Men commercials, along with his analyst work for the Mets and during the World Series, Hernandez has more mainstream name recognition and fame than any eligible Modern Baseball Era candidate.  Yet despite all this, Hernandez was passed over for both the second Expansion Era and initial Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Hernandez spent nine years on the BBWAA ballot, topping out at 10.8%.  After appearing on all three Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots but drawing little support, the Historical Overview Committee may pass on selecting Garvey for the next ballot.  However, with the screening committee's strong preference for candidates who lasted the maximum number of years of the BBWAA ballot, it is likely Mattingly will be appear on the next ballot which may result in Hernandez being bypassed once again.

Second Base
The Historical Overview Committee has yet to select a second basemen for the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballot but with the elections of Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, attention now turns to their longtime Detroit Tigers teammate, Lou Whitaker.  If "Sweet Lou" makes the 2019 Modern Baseball Era ballot and happens to get elected, it could then shift the focus towards his keystone peer Bobby Grich, who like Whitaker, was a strong all-around player with solid on-base skills.  Unfortunately for Grich, due to the unlikeliness of the screening panel selecting two second basemen on the same ballot he will likely have to wait until Whitaker is elected before his Hall of Fame case gets its long overdue second chance.

Shortstop
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Dave Concepcion
December 2013 Expansion Era:  Dave Concepcion
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Alan Trammell

Dave Concepcion was selected for each of the Expansion Era ballots.  Concepcion spent the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot, topping out at 16.9% of the vote.  After completing his full term on the BBWAA ballot and peaking at 40.9%, Trammell became eligible for and was chosen for the Modern Baseball Era ballot while Concepcion was passed over.  Concepcion's absence from the recent ballot was notable since he was the only player candidate to amass 50% of the vote on either of the two previous ballots, having picked up 8 of a possible 16 tallies on the December 2010 Expansion Era election.  The exclusion of Concepcion best exemplifies the Historical Overview Committee's reluctance to have two players who specialized at the same position on the same ballot.  With Trammell becoming eligible, it appears the screening panel saw fit to only have one shortstop on the ballot.  It is worth noting that Concepcion struggled in his second appearance on the Expansion Era ballot in 2013.  However, the presence of Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre on that ballot--who were each unanimously elected--made the rest of the candidates an afterthought as the other candidate's support including Concepcion's were listed as "six or fewer votes."

Third Base
The Historical Overview Committee has yet to tab anyone from the hot corner, passing over both Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell, who rank third and fifth highest in career WAR among position players eligible for the Modern Baseball Era ballot at 68.0 and 66.1, respectively.  However, Nettles' and Bell's Hall of Fame cases have never garnered the level of support from the sabermetric community that Whitaker's, Grich's, and Evans' have due to a greater amount of their value coming from advanced defensive metrics which are considered less trustworthy than offensive metrics.

Left Field
Like second and third base, the Historical Overview Committee has completely overlooked the position of left field on the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots.  However, none of the left fielders from this era performed well in BBWAA voting or have a particularly strong Hall of Fame case by traditional or sabermetric statistics.  George Foster drew the most BBWAA Hall of Fame support, lasting four ballots and topping out at 6.9%.  Jose Cruz has the highest WAR at 54.2, a decent enough mark but well behind other overlooked candidates from the era.

Center Field
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Al Oliver
December 2013 Expansion Era:  no center fielder selected
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Dale Murphy

Al Oliver was selected for the initial Expansion Era ballot.  No center fielder appeared on the second Expansion Era ballot.  Two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy became eligible for the initial Modern Baseball Era ballot and was tabbed by the Historical Overview Committee.  The selection of Murphy for the ballot was no surprise since he collected as much as 23.2% of the vote and lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot while Oliver garnered just 4.3% in his lone year being judged by the writers.  As the only center fielder whose Hall of Fame case rode out its full term on the BBWAA ballot, it is almost a certainty Murphy will make the next Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Oliver spent the bulk of his career as an outfielder with 840 games at center and 486 in left while also spending ample time as a first baseman in 733 games so he is not necessarily identified by one defensive position.  However, with Murphy occupying the center fielder slot and several strong first base candidates, it is unlikely Oliver will make another ballot.

Right Field
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Rusty Staub
December 2013 Expansion Era:  Dave Parker
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Dave Parker

Evans seems to be in line behind fellow RFer Parker to make the Era ballot
Rusty Staub was selected for the initial Expansion Era ballot.  Staub appeared on seven BBWAA ballots but his support never rose above 7.9%.  Dave Parker became eligible for the second Expansion Era ballot and was the sole right fielder chosen for that ballot as well as the recent Modern Baseball Era slate.  Parker made the maximum number of appearances on the BBWAA ballot but after peaking with 24.5% of the vote in his second year, his Hall of Fame candidacy stalled and he generally gathered between 10 to 15% for the remainder of his time on the ballot.  Due to the Historical Overview Committee's preference for candidates who rode out their full term on the BBWAA ballot, it was almost a given that Parker would be selected.  Like Parker, Dwight Evans became eligible for the second Expansion Era ballot but since "Dewey" only lasted three BBWAA ballots with a high of 10.4%, he seems to be in line behind "Cobra" to make the ballot.  However, after Parker failed to make any headway with the electorate in his two appearances on the ballot, the screening panel may decide to select Evans instead of or in addition to "Cobra" the next time around.


--The sharing of limited ballot space between player and non-player candidates and the balancing of the ballot between position player and pitcher candidates--

With just ten candidates selected by the Historical Overview Committee for the Modern Baseball Era ballot, each spot on the ballot is at a premium.  While the Era Committee ballots provide another opportunity for player candidates who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA ballot, it also represents the only avenue for non-player candidates such as executives, managers, umpires, and pioneers to gain entry into Cooperstown.  Moreover, to balance the ballot between position player and pitcher candidates the Historical Overview Committee generally selects two or three hurlers for each ballot.  By having player and non-player candidates share the Era Committee ballot as well as the balancing of position player and pitcher candidates, it has created a backlog of overlooked candidates--which includes Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans--who have yet to appear on the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballot.

Below is the make-up of candidates for each Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballot:
December 2010 Expansion Era ballot:  5 position players, 3 pitchers, 4 non-players
December 2013 Expansion Era ballot:  4 position players, 2 pitchers, 6 non-players
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era ballot: 6 position players, 3 pitchers, 1 non-players

Prior to the restructuring of the Era Committee time periods, the Expansion Era used a twelve-candidate ballot instead of the standard ten used by the other sub-committees.  A possible reason for this may have been because the era covered everything from 1973-onwards and had three years' worth new of candidates become eligible for each ballot.  For the Expansion Era ballots, eligible player candidates were in the unenviable position of contending for spots on the ballot with first-time eligible non-player candidates who in some cases had retired barely two years before or were still active in some capacity.  Indeed, non-player candidates made up a large portion of each of the Expansion Era ballots, thus leaving little room for player candidates.  As a result, many strong player candidates--including Grich and Evans, who did not last the maximum number of years of the BBWAA--were passed over by the Historical Overview Committee.  However, with the revamping of the Era Committee time periods, newly eligible non-player candidates now fall into the Today's Game Era's post-1987 timeframe while only non-players from the 1970-1987 timeline appear on the Modern Baseball Era ballot.

Miller drew 43.8% of the vote in December's election
Fortunately for Whitaker, Grich, and Evans, non-player candidates are unlikely to occupy a large portion of the Modern Baseball Era's ballot the way they did the Expansion Era, as it appears that with the creation of the 1970-1987 epoch, the Historical Overview Committee has recognized there are very few strong non-player candidates left from this time period.  Indeed, for the initial Modern Baseball Era ballot, the screening panel selected just one non-player candidate, Marvin Miller, whose Hall of Fame candidacy has been and continues to be one of the most controversial and hotly debated in the history of the Veterans or Era Committees.  After drawing the fourth highest vote total in the Modern Baseball Era election with 43.8% of the vote, Miller is likely to be chosen for the 2019 ballot.  Aside from Miller, there are no other obvious non-player candidate selections for the Historical Overview Committee to make from the Modern Baseball Era's 1970-1987 timeframe.  Bob Howsam, Charlie Finley, and Billy Martin each appeared on one or more Era ballot and could be recycled as candidates, though none drew any notable support in their appearances on the ballot.  In addition, Howsam's career timeline may fit better into the Golden Days time period while Finley's and Martin's Hall of Fame cases are hampered by the many controversies that surrounded them throughout their careers.  Moreover, virtually all non-player candidates eligible for the Modern Baseball Era are deceased while the majority of eligible player candidates are still alive.  In fact, Miller was the only of the ten candidates on the recent Modern Baseball Era ballot no longer living.

The restructuring of the Era Committee time periods, which resulted in creation of the Modern Baseball Era and the moving of newly eligible non-player candidates into the Today's Game Era, undoubtedly increases the chances Whitaker, Grich, and Evans will be selected by the Historical Overview Committee to appear on a future ballot.  Unfortunately, the decreasing of the ballot size from twelve to ten candidates offsets some of the benefits.  As long as all candidates are evaluated on one composite ballot, the presence of non-player candidates will always represent an obstacle for their player counterparts.  Nevertheless, the new format which limits the pool of candidates to the Modern Baseball Era's fixed 1970-1987 time period is a big improvement from the previous one which cluttered the Expansion Era ballot with recently retired or semi-active non-player candidates.

Pitchers selected to appear on the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballots:
December 2010 Expansion Era:  Tommy John, Vida Blue, Ron Guidry
December 2013 Expansion Era:  Tommy John, Dan Quisenberry
Dec 2017 Modern Baseball Era: Tommy John, Luis Tiant, Jack Morris

While the Historical Overview Committee rarely make selections that result in a position player overlap, the screening panel recognizes pitcher candidates should be treated differently than their position player counterparts and generally chooses two or three hurlers for each ballot.  As the only pitcher to have lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot eligible from the 1973-onwards time period, John was an obvious choice by the Historical Overview Committee for both Expansion Era ballots.  John was joined on the 2010 ballot by hurlers Vida Blue and Ron Guidry.  Three years later, the screening panel went with just two pitchers, selecting reliever Dan Quisenberry alongside John.  For the recent Modern Baseball Era ballot, the Historical Overview Committee expanded back to three pitcher selections, once again picking John along with Jack Morris and Luis Tiant.  Like John, Morris and Tiant each rode out their full term on the BBWAA ballot.  Morris was newly eligible for the Modern Baseball Era ballot and his selection was a given for the screening committee, having accumulated as much as 67.7% on the BBWAA ballot.  Tiant had appeared on both Golden Era ballots but had failed to pick up much support in those elections.  However, with the restructuring of the Era Committee timelines, Tiant's career fit more into the Modern Baseball Era's 1970-1987 epoch.  Morris was easily voted into the Hall of Fame on the ensuing Modern Baseball Era election while John and Tiant were non-factors.

Pitcher candidates also present an obstacle for Whitaker, Grich & Evans
With the election of Morris, it will be interesting to see how many hurlers and which ones will be chosen for future Modern Baseball Era ballots.  As candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot, John and Tiant may continue to be the Historical Overview Committee's go-to selections for pitchers.  However, John and Tiant have each appeared on three Era Committee ballots and been an afterthought on each of those elections, which could lead to other pitcher candidates being considered.  With their use of previous past BBWAA ballot results as a guide for Era ballot selections, the screening panel may select Mickey Lolich who, aside from John and Tiant, is the only other pitcher eligible for the Modern Baseball Era ballot whose Hall of Fame candidacy completed its full term with the writers.  Another direction the Historical Overview Committee could go is to recycle Blue, Guidry, or Quisenberry.  Although it seems less likely, the screening panel could also turn their attention toward Rick Reuschel and Dave Stieb whose Hall of Fame cases have been championed within the sabermetric community.  While Reuschel and Stieb would make intriguing choices for the Historical Overview Committee, advanced metrics and WAR for pitchers are an even tougher sell to the old guard that sits on the screening panel than it is for position players.  Also, their lack of any support on the BBWAA ballot undoubtedly works against them as Reuschel received just two checkmarks while Stieb fared only slightly better with 1.4% of the vote in their sole appearances with the writers.

When selecting candidates for the other Era Committees, the Historical Overview Committee has been pretty consistent in selecting two or three pitchers for each ballot.  In fact, only the initial Today's Game ballot has featured less than the customary two or three hurlers with Orel Hershiser being the sole pitcher picked by the screening committee.  However with Morris elected, the support of holdovers John and Tiant floundering, and so many strong position players like Whitaker, Grich, and Evans yet to even appear on the Expansion/Modern Baseball Era ballot, it is hard to see the screening panel selecting more than two pitchers in the future and it's unlikely but not out of the question that they may scale back to as little as one hurler candidate at some point.

The Historical Overview Committee will release its next three ballots for the Modern Baseball Era in Fall 2019, 2022, and 2024.  Yet, with the screening panel's favoring of candidates who lasted the maximum number of years on the BBWAA ballot, their slow acceptance of advanced metrics, avoiding of position players overlaps, along with the presence of non-player and pitcher candidates, there is no guarantee Whitaker, Grich, and Evans will each be selected for one of the future Modern Baseball Era ballots.

With Morris & Trammell elected to the HOF, focus now turns to Whitaker
Following the elections of Jack Morris and Alan Trammell on the initial Modern Baseball Era vote, two spots automatically open up for the ten-candidate Fall 2019 ballot.  As a long-time teammate to both Morris and Trammell, Whitaker faced a unique obstacle which may have played a role in keeping him off the Modern Baseball Era ballot, as the screening panel was likely hesitant to put three candidates from the same 1984 Detroit Tigers championship team on one ballot together.  With Morris and Trammell elected, attention now turns to Whitaker and it's hard to see "Sweet Lou" being passed over for the next Modern Baseball Era ballot.  Moreover, Morris and Trammell have each publicly stated they support Whitaker's Hall of Fame candidacy and are likely to advocate for his selection during their Hall of Fame induction speeches in July. 

While Whitaker is almost certain to make the next Modern Baseball Era ballot, the selections of Grich and Evans are much more in question.  As a second baseman, the focus on Whitaker makes Grich a long-shot to make the next ballot due to the Historical Overview Committee's reluctance to put two candidates who specialized at the same position on the same ballot.  Nevertheless, if Whitaker is elected, it will highlight Grich's Hall of Fame case which--as a Gold Glove-winning keystoner with a keen eye and power bat--is in many ways similar to "Sweet Lou's."  While Grich may become a victim of the screening panel's avoidance of position player overlaps, Evans already has seen himself passed over for the second Expansion Era and initial Modern Baseball Era ballots in favor of right fielder peer Dave Parker.  However, after Parker was a non-factor in both elections, the screening panel may finally look past "Cobra" and give the nod to "Dewey."  Moreover, with Steve Garvey, Luis Tiant, and Tommy John struggling to draw support on their three Era ballot appearances it is highly unlikely the Historical Overview Committee will select each of them for a fourth consecutive time, thus freeing up space for overlooked candidates such as Whitaker, Grich, and Evans to make the ballot.

----by John Tuberty

Follow me on the Twitter @BloggerTubbs


Photo Credit: 1984 Topps Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, & Dwight Evans; 1987 Topps Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, & Dwight Evans; 1977 Topps Ted Simmons; 1982 Topps Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, & Dwight Evans; 1989 Topps Dwight Evans & Dave Parker; 1994 Upper Deck Ken Burns Marvin Miller; 1993 Pinnacle Lou Whitaker, 1974 Topps Bobby Grich, 1982 Donruss Dwight Evans, 1991 Topps Jack Morris, 1979 Topps Traded Tommy John, & 1977 Topps Luis Tiant; 1986 Topps Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, & Lou Whitaker

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4 comments:

  1. Wow man! Brilliant! Shoots brah, I didn't understand at times yet the obvious study which you did is impressive. I vote for you. Thank you for the time and inclination. Your passion is well displayed and enhances the over all arguments. YES to Grich, Sweet Lou, and Evans. Dang!

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    1. Charles, thank you for taking the time to read the article and leave this comment which I enjoyed reading.

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  2. Excellent article...!!! Dale Murphy not being in the HOF already is a real sham...and although I understand the value of the WAR stat...his 46.2 as noted here and on baseball-reference.com...seems awfully low to me. I grew up in that era and watched an endless number of Brave games on TBS...and few outfielders in the game at that time could impact a game or strike fear in a pitcher and opposing dugout like he could whether at the plate or in the outfield!

    He never seems to get credit for being the youngest player in history to win back-to-back MVP's or for being the youngest ever in the 30 homer/30 steal club...when it meant something as I think he was also only the 7th or 8th to do so at that time. Nor does he get the credit he deserves for his 740 consecutive games played...second or third behind Rose and Garvey in the NL.....and I think he played in something like 1220 out of 1245 total games over a several stretch...I looked it up years ago...too tired to confirm the numbers exactly but I'm close....and that is pretty damn impressive! Not quite 'Ripkenesque'...but still incredible!

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read the article and leave these comments which I have enjoyed reading. I agree with you about Murphy belonging in the HOF & I'd love to see the Modern Baseball Era Committee vote him in. I also concur with you about Murphy's 46.2 WAR mark seeming a little low.

      I really wish Murphy had been able to hang on a little longer & reach 400 home runs. While that milestone is no guarantee he gets voted into Cooperstown, I believe it would have garnered him more support for sure. I was disappointed that Murphy didn't receive much support in his first appearance on the Modern Baseball Era ballot. John Schuerholz & Bobby Cox were both voting members and Schuerholz has campaigned for Murphy before. Hopefully when he gets another shot in two years, he gets more support & maybe even gets voted in. Conversely, I was pleasantly surprised that Murphy's Braves teammate Ted Simmons received the support he did & almost got voted in. I hope "Murph", "Simba", Dwight Evans, Lou Whitaker & Bobby Grich all get voted in by the Modern Baseball Era Committee one day.

      Murphy certainly was a star in his time & a great ambassador to the game. The 30/30, MVP Awards, & consecutive games achievements you mentioned underscore just how good he was.

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