You may recall the initial reaction when the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was reconstituted to include all the living Hall of Famers. These voters were going to let admissions standards slip, and pretty much everybody who was a pal of a Hall of Famer and had worn spikes was going to be enshrined in Cooperstown.Right. And the Gobi Desert was going to turn into a tropical rain forest. What has actually occurred? It was announced Wednesday that for the second consecutive vote, the new Veterans Committee elected nobody. Far from easing the entrance requirements, far from playing the old boys' network, the Hall of Famers are guarding Cooperstown's gates even more zealously than the baseball writers, who annually cast the primary ballot. And guess what? This is both human nature, and, on balance, a good thing. Now, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in some quarters and understandably so. You can look on the 25-man ballot this year and every single former player on the list has considerable merit. Arguments in favor of these candidates will run from the objective and the empirical to the sentimental and the emotional. These players all had meritorious careers. But were they Hall of Fame careers? That is in the eye of the beholder.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame is professional sports' most exclusive club. This is not like, for instance, the voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in which a given number of candidates MUST be elected each year. The baseball Hall of Fame demands 75 percent of the vote in both the annual baseball writers' balloting, and in the Veterans Committee elections, which are held every other year.
Nobody gets the 75 percent, nobody gets in. Good luck next time.As someone who has had the privilege of voting for both of these Halls, it is apparent that there is a slightly different standard being applied at times. Baseball's is more exacting. Reasonable people may differ about whether this is appropriate, but if you're going to be a game that treasures its heritage, then you might as well keep the standards as lofty as possible when giving out the highest individual honor your sport has to offer.
The second straight shutout thrown by the Veterans Committee says at least two things: One is that perhaps the writers haven't erred on the side of being too restrictive, because the Hall of Famers aren't overturning the writers' verdicts.The second is that even though Hall of Famers are baseball immortals, they are also human. If you had dedicated your life to baseball and achieved at its highest levels, and were honored with induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, what would be your inclination regarding a growth in membership? That's right. You would not be inclined to see this honor diluted with a new wave of inductees. You would not err on the side of liberality in these elections. And you would not necessarily be wrong. On the other side of it, the candidates on the Veterans Committee ballot are, almost by definition, people with a significant following. Passed over in the initial balloting, they still retain a level of support, or they wouldn't have reappeared on this ballot. So their exclusion is going to meet with unhappiness in some quarters. The example that comes most readily to mind is that of Ron Santo. In this year's voting, Santo and Gil Hodges led the voting with 52 votes each, being named on 65 percent of the ballots. With 80 members of the Veterans Committee voting, this meant that each was eight votes short of gaining induction. Ron Santo has long been regarded as being on the very doorstep of induction. There is no question that he was a superb player and has become part of the fabric of Chicago's National League franchise. There is further no question that he has become an even more sympathetic figure through his courageous struggle with diabetes. If sentiment played a role in these elections, Ron Santo would have been in Cooperstown long ago. But it is apparent that the Hall of Famers are no more sentimental than the writers, and perhaps are even less so. For Cubs fans, this may be seen as an injustice. For the rest of the baseball public, this is evidence that the living Hall of Famers are unbending in their perception of what a Hall of Fame career must be. Among the 25 candidates, only four -- Santo, Hodges, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat -- received more than 50 percent of the votes. The Veterans Committee members are not compromising on their views of what defines baseball excellence. Just as in their vote two years ago, there should be no surprise in this development. Who could have higher Hall of Fame standards than people who are actually in the Hall of Fame?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.