On Sunday, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of its Modern Era Committee ballot as part of the class of 2020.
Ten men who completed the majority of their baseball careers between 1960 and 1987 make up this year's committee ballot - former players Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Lou Whitaker, plus MLB Players Association founder Marvin Miller. Just like in the BBWAA election, candidates need 75% of the vote to be inducted. A 16-member committee comprised of Hall of Famers, executives, members of the media, and historians make up the voting body and can cast up to four votes each.
It doesn't often draw the same attention that the main election does, but this year's Era Committee slate offers some very intriguing stories and candidates, along with plenty of question marks. Before we reveal our choices for enshrinement, here are some of the most important storylines coming out of this year's Modern Era ballot.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is incomplete without Marvin Miller's plaque. He founded the MLB Players Association, successfully fought to end the reserve clause, and ushered in the modern era of free agency that includes collective bargaining rights and higher salaries. Without Miller's work, baseball - and all professional sports for that matter - doesn't look anything like it does today.
It all seems fairly straightforward on first glance. This is an injustice, and if commissioners from Bud Selig to Bowie Kuhn (Miller's longtime nemesis during the free-agency wars) are in the Hall then Miller should have been elected long ago. It's time to finally rectify this mistake, right?
Well, yes ... except Miller's personal feelings on the subject need to be considered. In 2008, Miller publicly asked the Hall of Fame to remove him from any future consideration in a letter to both the BBWAA and the Hall itself. He wrote, in part:
The antiunion bias of the powers who control the hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining. As former executive director (retired since 1983) of the players' union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.
Miller died in 2012. The following year, his two children told Murray Chass that the family would honor his wishes by refusing to participate in a ceremony if he's elected posthumously. The Hall hasn't honored Miller's request, as he's appeared on five Veterans/Era Committee ballots since writing that letter, and three times since his death.
For the voters, Miller presents the ultimate conundrum. But his feelings on the subject are quite clear and should absolutely be taken into consideration - even by those players on the committee who are indebted to the man for their wealth today. His potential election could serve as a flash point during a time when baseball's labor relations are, at best, strained. Watch for reactions from both the Miller family and the MLBPA if it happens - they will be telling as to how the Hall moves forward with this issue.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that this year's ballot looks strangely familiar because it should. Seven of the 10 candidates were also part of the Modern Era ballot in 2018, and with the exception of Simmons and Miller, they finished well short of induction.
The other five recycled candidates from 2018 - Mattingly, John, Murphy, Garvey, and Parker - all received fewer than seven votes two years ago. That the historical committee brought them back for another go-around so quickly is odd given the 1970-87 era of baseball is overflowing with deserving players who continue to be overlooked.
Keith Hernandez - an MVP, two-time World Series champion, and candidate for greatest defensive first baseman of all time - has never received a sniff from the Committees. Ditto for Bobby Grich, a stathead darling and underrated second baseman both during and after his career. The list of neglected players from this era goes on for a while.
This isn't to say the returning candidates don't belong here; each has, if nothing else, an interesting case. And the new additions, which we'll discuss below, are certainly correct. But the Hall missed a great chance to add at least one or two more fresh names into the mix, and that goes against what these ballots are supposed to accomplish.
Kudos to the committee for at least adding two very worthy first-time candidates in Evans and Whitaker. Both are synonymous with specific cities - Evans in Boston, Whitaker in Detroit - and both flew somewhat under the radar during their careers, outside of their home bases.
They also received raw deals from the BBWAA - particularly Whitaker, who was an inexcusable one-and-done on the writers' ballot. Unlike some other first-time candidates in years past, both Evans and Whitaker are very deserving first-time candidates who have decent shots at election.
Evans and Whitaker represent two instances of the Era Committee serving its function. While they still have to get elected in order to truly right what is to many, a couple of significant wrongs, this is a start. It's the kind of consideration that Hernandez et al hope to get when this ballot comes up again in 2022.
Last year, Harold Baines was stunningly elected to the Hall of Fame on the Today's Game ballot.
Baines was a fine player, a solid DH, and by all accounts a genuinely liked individual. He's a White Sox icon so beloved on the South Side of Chicago that the team retired his number several weeks after trading him in 1989. But what he really wasn't was Hall of Fame caliber. Baines is, naturally, to be congratulated on his induction, and the honor can never be taken away from him - but his election lowered Cooperstown's bar overall.
The JAWS metric is not the be-all and end-all of who gets into the Hall, but it's a wonderful tool to help understand who is most deserving at each position. Baines' JAWS of 30.1 ranks 75th among right fielders (his primary non-DH position). Only three right fielders enshrined in Cooperstown - Tommy McCarthy, one of the weaker 19th-century players to own a plaque, plus Casey Stengel and Billy Southworth, who got in for their work as managers - rank lower than Baines. Some modern-day right fielders with a higher JAWS score who stand next to no chance of election when their times come include Jason Heyward, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jose Bautista.
Yes, Baines' election could have been an anomaly based on his former manager (Tony La Russa) and owner (Jerry Reinsdorf) taking part in last year's voting. The Hall of Fame better hope so because the election of Baines - through no fault of his own - could have a significant impact on membership going forward.
With Baines in, Parker's supporters can now cry, "Why not the 'Cobra?'" Parker, another right fielder, collected an MVP and multiple World Series championships and was one of the most feared players on both sides of the ball during the 1970s. His statistics dwarf those of Baines on multiple levels. Parker is on this year's ballot and has never really sniffed election - he was always on the lower end despite having plenty of supporters - but he now has a legitimate gripe based on Baines getting in.
The same goes for Murphy, a two-time NL MVP and all-around good guy, whose peak with the Braves was one of the best runs in baseball history. But Murphy fell off the map so abruptly after age 31, and his case has never been taken seriously because of that. His decline left him behind Johnny Damon - a very good player who's never getting in without a ticket - in both JAWS and WAR. But that peak ... maybe it's enough? Murphy, too, can point to Baines as having moved the goalposts closer.
The list of problems facing the voters after letting Baines in only starts with Parker and Murphy. The Baseball Hall of Fame has always separated itself from other sports museums by its exclusivity but that notion is close to slipping away. The results of Sunday's election could go a long way toward determining whether future committees will indeed have a new open-door policy, and if that happens, it might as well be called the "Baines line."
Now, here's a brief look at the 10 candidates' chances, along with those who we're endorsing for election:
Garvey, John, and Mattingly all had wonderful careers and are remembered fondly - and in John's case specifically, the pioneering elbow surgery that bears his name must be taken into consideration. But none of these three quite put up Hall of Fame numbers on the field. One of Garvey or Mattingly could have been replaced on this ballot by Hernandez, a better first-base choice from this era. They didn't come close two years ago, and they won't again this time.
Parker and Murphy, as mentioned above, certainly have cases to be made, but it doesn't feel like they've built any momentum, even with the Baines line. And that's probably for the best. Munson, the famed Yankees catcher who tragically died in a plane crash during the 1979 season, will also fall short in his first Era Committee appearance. Munson's short peak was spectacular, and he'd probably be a lock for Cooperstown if not for his premature death. He does deserve a longer look in future years, but there's another catcher blocking his path this time.
The dark horse
Evans was a quiet beast in Boston. "Dewey" spent nearly his whole career with the Red Sox, where he was a consistent on-base machine and one of the finest defensive right fielders of his time. Evans posted OBPs above .360 in 10 of his 20 seasons and went above .400 three times. He formed one-third of a memorable Red Sox outfield alongside the "Gold Dust Twins," Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. Still, Evans never quite got his due while playing, making just three All-Star appearances.
The metrics certainly hold up, though. Evans' JAWS score of 52.2 ranks 15th all time, just a couple points below the average Hall of Famer. He's ahead of the likes of Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ichiro Suzuki in both JAWS and career WAR.
Evans languished on the writers' ballots before fading away after only nine years, so he's just now getting a shot with the committees. While not as surefire a selection as some of the others here, it's time that Evans got a good, long look. Perhaps in time, he'll join Rice in Cooperstown - it might not happen this year, but don't be shocked if he's on stage in July.
They're in: Miller, Simmons, Whitaker
Our votes go to three very deserving candidates out of the 10 on this list.
After debating this repeatedly, the right thing to do is elect Miller. His family is completely within their rights to reject his election and refuse to participate. In fact, doing so would send a strong message to the Hall and its voters for dragging their feet on this issue. But, it doesn't feel right to neglect him on the ballot. He gets our vote.
Simmons had the misfortune of being overshadowed during a golden era for catchers. His contemporaries at the position included three of the all-time greatest in Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk. But here's the thing: Simmons is right there with them.
Simmons established himself as the Cardinals' starting catcher in 1970 and held that role in St. Louis for the next decade. He earned eight All-Star nods and a Silver Slugger while collecting 2,472 hits - the most at his position until Ivan Rodriguez surpassed him. Later, Simmons helped guide the Brewers to their first pennant in 1982. While not particularly strong defensively, Simmons was absolutely one of the best offensive backstops.
The metrics love Simmons. JAWS (42.6) and WAR both rank him 10th among catchers, just below the average at the position; the only backstop above him who's not in the Hall of Fame is the recently retired Joe Mauer.
Simmons went one-and-done in front of the writers and missed election by one vote two years ago. Having former Brewers teammate Robin Yount on the committee could help sway things in his favor. He should pick up that 12th vote this year and finally reach Cooperstown.
Whitaker, simply put, is one of the most egregious oversights in Hall of Fame history. Like Simmons, he somehow went one-and-done with the writers. Now, he's in a far better position to gain entry two years after double-play partner Alan Trammell did the same.
Whitaker spent his entire 19-year career in Detroit, where he was a five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and four-time Silver Slugger. He ranks fourth among second basemen in games played and currently owns the most hits (2,369) among second basemen not in the Hall. Whitaker owns a better OPS+ (117) than Hall of Fame second basemen Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, and Bobby Doerr, among others, while his 75.1 WAR is seventh all time at his position and trails only six other Hall of Famers.
"Sweet Lou" is one of the best second basemen to ever play the game, and it's time to fix this mistake. This is Whitaker's year.