The current iteration of the Veterans’ Committee kicked off the Winter Meetings on Sunday by electing Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller to the Hall of Fame. You can see the results from the full ballot below taken from the Hall of Fame website. A candidate needs at least 12 of 16 votes to get elected.
Ted Simmons (13 votes, 81.3 percent); Marvin Miller (12 votes, 75 percent); Dwight Evans (8 votes, 50 percent); Dave Parker (7 votes, 43.8 percent); Steve Garvey (6 votes, 37.5 percent); Lou Whitaker (6 votes, 37.5 percent); Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, and Dale Murphy each received three-or-fewer votes.
For Marvin Miller, his election was long overdue, as he is one of the most influential and impactful people in baseball history. Up until now, Miller had been the victim of the makeup of the electorate. Executive, owners, and possibly even managers have plenty of reason to dislike him. His family stated that they plan to honor his wishes and not attend the ceremony.
Speaking of which, I am reminded of one time when I saw Luis Tiant on a NESN pregame show a few years ago. The discussion touched upon Tiant’s difficulty regarding getting into the Hall of Fame, and he was very adamant in what he wanted his family to do if he were to get in posthumously: “Don’t go!” he said.
I bring this up because Lou Whitaker is 62 years old, and we do not know when he will get on the VC ballot again, nor do we know whether or not he will get elected. If he does get in posthumously, I would not blame his family and friends for not going. Heck, even if he ends up getting in while he is still alive, I still would not blame him for declining to go because of how long they have made him wait.
It is an absolute disgrace that Lou Whitaker continues to get snubbed. Aside from Marvin Miller, he is easily the most qualified player on the ballot, and one of the most egregious omissions in Hall of Famer history. He infamously received only 2.9 percent of the vote in his first and only year on the ballot in 2001, which disqualified him from future consideration by the BBWAA.
Whitaker is a top-ten second baseman of the live-ball era, though with the rise of Chase Utley and Robinson Canó in the past decade or so, one could argue that he is just outside of the top ten right now. Still, he is a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, and one has to wonder what the BBWAA voters were looking at when he was eligible.
Going by traditional stats, his .275 batting average was competitive compared to other Hall of Fame second basemen, and at the time, his 244 HR ranked sixth among second baseman, though he has dropped to 11th since then. Voters were likely looking at RBI back then, and even though Whitaker’s 1,084 RBI are not eye-popping, they are more than Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Joe Gordon (though both were elected after Whitaker was kicked off the ballot).
Whitaker’s strong defense is one of the main reasons he deserves to stand on the stage in Cooperstown, but when he was first considered, the only measure of defense was Gold Glove awards, of which he won only three, so the voters were likely underrating him in that regard.
Looking through a modern lens, Whitaker has a career .363 OBP as an excellent defensive second baseman who played for 19 years. He had true longevity, too, and by that I mean he did not hang on years after he was any good. He actually had his best offensive years during his last three seasons. Outside of his cup of coffee in his debut year of 1977, he never had a Wins Above Average (WAA) below zero. To give that some perspective, Omar Vizquel had a sub-zero WAA in 10 out of his 24 seasons.
By Baseball Reference WAR, Whitaker’s 75.1 career WAR ranks seventh all time among second basemen, and fifth if we just count those who played primarily in the live-ball era. By JAWS, he is just about at the average for Hall of Fame second basemen, and he is ahead of Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, and Joe Gordon.
So how on earth did only six out of sixteen people vote for Whitaker? And how is it that he got the same support as Steve Garvey and one fewer vote than Dave Parker? Those two were good players but vastly inferior to Whitaker. Well, you probably know the reason why. The voters likely did not consider anything outside of traditional stats. I doubt they considered anything in the last two paragraphs except maybe OBP. Then again, we have no idea what they considered because they refuse to discuss their rationale. Perhaps if Sparky Anderson were still alive and on the committee, Sweet Lou would have gotten in.
Simmons himself credited sabermetrics with his induction, though I am not so sure that is true. I think it was more that the analytics people saw he was overlooked more so than something the advanced stats revealed. None of the advanced stats really make him stand out as, for example, they did for Bert Blyleven, except maybe for the fact that his defense was not as bad as his reputation would have one believe at the time, and catcher has always been a defense-first position.
I can’t even speculate as to why Simmons was a one-and-done player on the BBWAA ballot, but his difficulties getting in via the Veterans’ Committee (VC) is easier to explain. It is common knowledge that cronyism has been a plague on the VC process, but for Simmons, it worked against him. During his last two times on the VC ballot, his former manager Whitey Herzog was one of the voters, with whom he famously did not get along.
I am sure that advocates of Simmons’ candidacy were especially frustrated at the election of Harold Baines last year, and not just because Simmons is far more qualified. As Jaffe mentioned in his article on Simmons and one of the rare times we get insight into the deliberations, one of the reasons why he was not elected in 2014 was because he only appeared on the ballot for one year, meaning that the writers “must not have liked him very much.”
The level of irony in that quote is staggering. It is an appeal to authority from an electorate half made up of Hall of Fame players and managers, a group of people who sometimes tend to be derisive of writers’ expertise, and the four executives on the committee might not feel too differently. However, it is entirely possible that they were just making up excuses to not put Simmons in. Baines, of course, was on the ballot for more than one year, but he eventually fell off due to lack of support, yet the VC decided to move the goalposts once again. Had the Hall of Fame incorporated my idea of putting VC selections back on the writers’ ballot, I guarantee you Baines would have gotten no more support than he did from them before.
We will probably never know for sure what happened with Simmons before and Whitaker now, but it is worth reiterating one of the many problems with the VC process: having Hall of Famers on the committee is a problem, and there are always more than a few on there. It is in their best interests to keep the Hall small, because the fewer people that are in it, the better they look. Now I am not saying that any of them are for sure motivated by that, but it is yet another way in which the optics are bad.
It is a strong indictment of the VC that despite the egregious snub of Whitaker, this is some of the best work they have ever done. Simmons and Miller are worthy Hall of Famers, and the VC did not elect any woefully underqualified candidates such as Jack Morris or Harold Baines. Take what you can get, I suppose.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.