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The Golden Days Committee Should Induct a Living Hall of Famer

Most players (and contributors) in the Hall of Fame herald from baseball's distant past. This stems from two things: first those people received far more examination time and thus opportunities to earn induction into the Hall of Fame. Deacon White, who retired in 1890 was considered by the BBWAA, the original Old Timer's Committee, several Veteran's Committees, before finally receiving the call decades after his death. Kenny Lofton, who retired in 2007 and fell off the ballot after a single cycle of consideration, only got one bite at the apple. So much of this distinction is illusionary: this distortion will continue until we stop considering players from baseball's distant past. For better or for worse we continue to examine the careers of baseball men in perpetuity.

This cycle two baseball committees consider slates of candidates: the Early Baseball Committee and the Golden Day's Committee. Both slates contain numerous candidates who deserve recognition, and arguably deserved it decades ago. Buck O'Neil should have been inducted in 2006 when the Hall initially considered contributors from the Negro Leagues, sadly he failed to make the cut. Now he can finally gain the induction he deserved a long time ago. The only issue is Buck will not see his own induction.

I disagree with those who think induction only matters for the living, but I do believe the BBWAA and the various Veteran's Committees should endeavor to consider living players far more frequently than the dead. It matters little to the dead when they get inducted, but if you can induct someone when they can enjoy it: you should. This is a banal, but crucial, observation because (until quite recently) the Veteran's Committees did a poor job of inducting living players. This is a shame. People should enjoy their induction when they are alive, so I will focus my writing on the Veteran's Committee slates on the three living men on the ballot this cycle.

The Golden Day's Ballot

Each slate consists of 10 people, the Golden Days ballot is:

Richard Allen, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Ken Boyer, Maury Wills, Minnie Minoso, Gil Hodges, Billy Pierce, Dennis Murtaugh, and Roger Maris. I will briefly summarize the cases for the dead players, before focusing on the living candidates.

Richard Allen

Richard Allen was a fearsome hitter who's short career was primarily spent in Philadelphia. Commonly called 'Dick' (over his objections), Richard was a ferocious hitter who was under appreciated in his day. Unfortunately Allen's career was relatively short for the Hall of Fame consisting only 7,300 plate appearances but over that short career he posted a 156 OPS+ which is just obscene; especially for a third baseman. Allen died late in 2020, and fell one vote short of induction in 2014 during the last Golden Era Ballot. Allen should have been inducted a long time ago.

Ken Boyer

Boyer, like many third basemen, suffers from being judged as just another corner infielder our outfielder offensively: while actually proving more value than them defensively. Boyer was a great hitter (career 116 OPS+, .350 OBP, .290 BA, who hit with some power), a strong defensive player, and regularly avoided the double play. As such Boyer is like several other players who were completely unnoticed by the BBWAA: Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, and (until recently) Ron Santo. To these eyes Boyer is a strong candidate, but sadly I suspect Boyer will fall well short.

Gil Hodges

Hodges has the dubious distinction of being the player with the highest BBWAA vote (and only vote above 50%) and not to eventually see induction into the Hall. Hodges was a good, but not all time great, first baseman for the Dodgers who was outshined by Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and others. He managed the Miracle Mets, but otherwise was just an OK manager, and an all time great guy. Hodges has come close several times, and while I am not a huge Hodges fan: he would improve the emotional quality of the Hall.

Billy Pierce

A Swiss army knife reliever and starter who was deployed strategically by the White Sox in the '50s. His case, in retrospect, reminds me of Early Wynn & Bob Lemon. Pierce was likely the best pitcher in the AL in 1953 and 1955, but falls well short in several other career categories for pitchers. His case is similar to Jim Kaat's who I will discuss soon.

Roger Maris

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record in 1961, and also famously got dumped on for it, including many people demanding an asterisk be placed next to his record. Maris's record has since been passed by Sosa, McGwire and Bonds although many still consider Maris the 'real' record holder due to steroids. Of course, Maris's season does not really compare to Ruth's, but nobody (who has not been accused of using PEDs) has broken either Ruth's or Maris's record. If you think that's worth the Hall: he's a shoe in, if you (like me) think Maris's '61 season was strong, but not even the best on his team: he probably falls well short.

Dennis Martaugh

A fine manager who own two World Series in between other jobs for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Managers are tough to gauge, I don't think he really belongs in this conversation.

Minnie Minoso

OK, I firmly believe Minnie Minoso belongs in the Hall of Fame. Minoso broke barriers as a dark skinned Latin American player, which had not really happened in the MLB until him. Minoso was also an excellent player who compares favorably to Larry Doby, who was eventually inducted into the Hall. Minoso probably ranks in the top 15 or so right fielders of all time.

Jim Kaat

OK, now we get to the living players. The first to look at is Jim Kaat, who I think likely has the strongest case of the three players currently on this ballot. Jim Kaat's basic statistics both surprise and seem meh:

3.45 ERA (108 ERA+), 2,461 SO (4.9/9), 180 CG, 31 SHO, 283-237 W-L (54% WP) in 4,530.1 IP

The number one thing we can note on Jim Kaat is the longevity. He pitched 25 seasons, which is simply not seen anymore, and his 4,500 innings are quite high: 25th all time. Due to his lengthy career Kitty racked up lots of wins, which still ranks 31st all time. That alone, in many ways, nearly almost guarantees Hall induction (not that this means we SHOULD have inducted them), but the only modern players with more innings pitched than Kaat not in the Hall are Roger Clemens and Tommy John.

Now, there's a reason why Jim Kaat failed to make the Hall for years, and it's simply because while he played a long (long) time: I think it's fair to say Jim Kaat was never the best pitcher in the league, and I am not sure it was ever close. Kaat finished in the top 10 in pitchers bWAR only six times, and never higher than 3rd. His ERA of 3.45 looks good, but his ERA+ wipes some of the shine off, which is fair when you consider his era. On ERA: he never led the league, and only finished in the top 10 three times, never higher than 6th. Simply put: Kaat was a workhorse, arguably not an ace.

To make matters worse for Kitty: he was not even good in the postseason (so no Jack Morris factor).

Now, that does not mean Kaat lacks some flare. Kaat is arguably the best fielding pitcher in baseball history, leading his position with 16 Gold Gloves. Kaat's career also looks worse than it is; he did not sustain a peak: his best seasons came in his age 36, 35, then ages 23 and 27. Overall: Kaat (unlike most great pitchers) did not have that nice stretch where they dominated. Had Kaat strung those seasons together I suspect people would like Kaat more than they do today. Kaat's longevity is also truly impressive on its own merits.

I wish I could say I loved Kitty's Hall of Fame case. The simple matter is I don't. By the advanced statistics his case simply does not inspire. I don't want to sell people on something I really do not believe. But I am less certain in the Hall maintaining a statistical aura anymore. Many players entered who I, quite frankly, do not think belong. Jack Morris falls short of my standards. Harold Baines & Lee Smith do as well. The Hall obviously has not fallen off a cliff. There are plenty of pitchers who fall short of where Kaat stands, but Jim Kaat's longevity, his 16 Gold Gloves, and his nice career as an announcer would make the Hall proud. He has come close, and his induction would bring joy to Cooperstown.

Tony Oliva

Oliva's case is quite different than Kaat's. Unlike Kaat: Oliva's career was a flash of lightening across the bow; he only played in 15 seasons, but let's be real: he really only played in 11 seasons. But they were darn good seasons. Oliva won the Rookie of the Year Award his first full season for Minnesota, three times led the league in hitting, and in hits five times. In an era where batting average meant a ton: Oliva could hit for average. It did not translate to value quite as much as you would think; Oliva only ranks 34th in Right Field JAWS (for instance) which sounds impressive, but do keep in mind that Rocky Colavito is the closest player to his JAWS score.

Oliva was a famous player and beloved. He kinda reminds me of Tony Gwynn without the 3,000 hits (he did not even quite make it to 2,000). But Oliva was a terrific player who spent his entire career in Minnesota (which is, of course, unusual in this age). I have fewer feelings for Tony than I do for Kaat; I think his case is rather mediocre overall, but he too would bring much joy to Cooperstown.

Maury Wills

OK, I will be honest: I really hope the Golden Days committee does not induct Wills. I kinda get the case for Wills: it's basically the same as Roger Maris. Wills (as I am sure you know) was the first player since Billy Hamilton in 1894 to steal 100 bases in a season. Now, Wills (unlike Maris) never held the ML record for stolen bases. Wills (also unlike Maris) never had a case for the best player in baseball for any given season. Wills DID win an MVP award (he did not deserve it) which is unlike Maris.

Like Maris: I do not think Wills is one of the best baserunners in baseball history. I do not think he's among the best shortstops of all time (I'd probably put Omar Vizquel in over Wills), and there's little else in his case to really endear him to voters (in my opinion). Lou Brock, who is similarly not particularly impressive by sabermetric standards, was already inducted and he did perform some feats and even set the MLB record (if you ignore some guy who played in 1887) for a single season of steals, and held the record until Rickey Henderson broke it.

Wills would be a poor choice, I do not want Francisco Rodriguez to enter the Hall for setting the MLB record for saves with 62, for instance.

Conclusion

If I had a ballot I would vote for: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso. Of the four: Minoso is the one who really deserves it, but the other three would be great choices. I really hope one of Wills, Kaat and Oliva earns induction. It's a shame all three came so close in 2014 to induction and had to wait another seven years before they got another chance at Cooperstown. Give one of those men a speech in Cooperstown. The dead can wait.

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