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Veterans have been more liberal
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02/25/2003  8:12 AM ET 
Veterans have been more liberal
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Bill Mazeroski holds onto his plaque during the 2001 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. (AP)

The Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame has historically been more liberal than the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

And no, this does not mean that the Veterans Committee has been more likely to favor national health insurance and stricter gun control laws.

Perhaps the Veterans Committee has been more liberal by definition, selecting as it often has, players who have been passed over by the writers for induction into the Hall. And certainly greatness, somewhat like beauty, can largely be in the eye of the beholder.

The writers, it can be safely said, collectively are not going to err on the side of inclusiveness when it come to voting for the Hall of Fame. The vast majority of debate about the writers' selections concerns not who was voted in, but who was left out. Given a choice between this approach and "open the doors, let 'em in," the writers have chosen the better direction. The Veterans Committee has not quite operated like this, but it is possible to chalk some of that up to function and the rest to a different perspective.

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Some of what the Committee has done has been indisputably good. The work of the Committee has been invaluable in, for instance, recognizing the Negro League greats whose contributions to the game had been too long ignored. The Committee, in these cases provided some justice, although it was justice too long delayed, and some education.

Still, the fact is that the Veterans Committee, whose 2003 selections will be announced Wednesday, has been completely restructured. And there is one school of thought that says they wouldn't have made repairs if the thing didn't need to be fixed.

The Committee is no longer a 15-member group. It now includes all 58 living Hall of Famers. The process by which names are placed on the ballot has been substantially broadened. And beginning in 2003, the Committee will no longer hold an annual election. Instead it will have an election every two years for players and every four years for umpires, managers and executives.

Officials of the Hall say that these changes should be seen as a natural evolution. And that is fine. But questions have been raised about some of the selections made by the Committee as previously constituted.

The flash point for controversy of the Veterans Committee work was probably the 2001 election of Bill Mazeroski. The issue is bigger than one player. This is merely an example and should not be taken as an assault on the worth of Bill Mazeroski. He was an eight-time Gold Glove second baseman and his home run to beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series must rank as one of the game's all-time great moments.

But his detractors in the Hall of Fame argument pointed out repeatedly that he had a .260 lifetime batting average. The argument is that if you're a .260 hitter, to reach the Hall, you'd have to be more than even a terrific second baseman. You'd have to be widely recognized as just about the best second baseman in the history of the game.

Of course, as second basemen/hitters go, everybody can't be Joe Morgan. Maybe that's an arbitrary standard, although it appeared to be the one that was held against Ryne Sandberg when he secured less than half of the writers' votes in his first year of eligibility for election to the Hall.

The point is, Bill Mazeroski, as significant as his career was, was embraced by the Veterans Committee, but not by the writers, or at least not by enough of the writers. Such a situation leaves itself open to argument, when hundreds of voters head off in one direction and the result of their process is essentially overturned by a 15-member Committee.

Now, it may be much harder to quibble with the work of the Hall of Famers. It will be fascinating to see, over time, how the restructured Committee operates. Will the Hall of Famers collectively be a hard-line bunch, zealously guarding the gates to Cooperstown? Or will they be more permissive than that?

There is no absolute right or wrong in these discussions, which is one of the beauties of baseball, and, on occasion, of democracy. You have arguments and then you have elections and then you have more arguments. The National Baseball Hall of Fame embodies the concept of individual excellence in a collective undertaking. This is a set of notions so central to our American value system that many of us find it impossible not to care deeply about the results of these elections.

Mike Bauman is the national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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