01/07/2003 1:21 AM ET
HOF class to be unveiled today
NEW YORK -- Early this afternoon, in a Manhattan conference room still but for the palpable crackle of electricity, a telephone will be picked up and dialed into immortality.
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
The caller will be Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America. On the other end of the line will be the newest members of sports' most exclusive club, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A little after that, at 2 p.m. ET, the rest of the world will learn the identity of the Hall's incoming class of 2003, to be inducted into the shrine on July 27 amid the pastoral splendor of Cooperstown.
These elections have been held every year since 1936 and, across all those years, the BBWAA has enshrined merely 96 former players (with other committees tabbing the remainder of the Hall's 254 elected members).
Those in the Hall will now be joined by those among the 33 on the ballot to receive at least 75 percent of votes cast by eligible members of the BBWAA.
That phone call will end one of the shortest, and also one of the longest, history-altering campaigns in baseball. It began in early December with the mailing of Hall of Fame ballots to approximately 450 eligible voting members of the BBWAA.
But it also began generations ago, on inner-city sandlots, on Latin American rockbeds, and wherever else young boys play hard and dream big.
There are no losers in this campaign. Just making it on the ballot is an enormous accomplishment, requiring at a minimum a 10-year Major League career that few achieve.
Yet, the tears shed will be both of joy and of disappointment.
The saddest tears will belong to those who fail to garner at least 5 percent of the votes, which will mean their expulsion from future BBWAA ballots. Although, it must be noted, they will remain eligible in perpetuity in the recently-revised biannual Veteran Committee elections.
The 17 newcomers who swelled this year's ballot to the biggest since 1996, when it listed 35 candidates, include several accorded good chances of joining the 37 first-ballot Hall of Famers already enshrined.
Foremost among them is Eddie Murray, who spent his 21-year, 504-homer, 3,255-hit career with a single-minded focus on winning; Ryne Sandberg, the smooth-fielding second baseman who carried a big bat at a time middle infielders were not expected to; and Lee Smith, the all-time record holder with 478 saves.
Then, there are those who have not-so-patiently bided their time and hope it has come at last.
Such as Gary Carter, who is on the ballot for the sixth season and a year ago missed election by 11 votes, garnering 72.67 percent of the 472 cast.
Or Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter, who are on their ninth and 10th ballots, respectively, and each received more than 50 percent support in 2002. Or Goose Gossage, a fourth-year candidate who polled 43 percent in 2002 and is considered by many even more prototypical of the modern closer than is Smith.
There also are those running out of time.
Jim Kaat was the most durable of left-handers during a 25-year career that traversed four decades, but he may not be able to outlast Hall of Fame voters who have shorted him for 14 years.
Kaat would become only the eighth player ever elected in his final year of eligibility, and perhaps the Yankees broadcaster has a bit of karma going for him: the last final-ballot inductee was fellow New York broadcaster Ralph Kiner, in 1975.
Steve Garvey (11th ballot), Davey Concepcion (10th), Tommy John (ninth), Keith Hernandez (eighth) and Dave Parker (seventh) have also seen their eligibilities wither with modest vote support.
It is said that merely being a part of this game lends one an air of nobility. Baseball is a higher calling. And the highest call is the one inviting you to live forever on a plaque.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.