Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hall of Fame Veterans: 2008 Election Results

Naturally I am pleased by the decision to induct Joe Gordon as a Veteran. When I wrote my book, all Veterans were considered together by a committee consisting of all living Hall of Fame members. I ranked Gordon fifth behind Ron Santo, Maury Wills, Gil Hodges and Allie Reynolds. Under the most recent procedural changes, Veterans were divided into two groups, depending as whether players began their careers before, during or after 1943. The pre-1943 group, including Gordon, was evaluated by a select committee of 16.

Although I ranked Gordon behind Allie Reynolds in the pre-1943 group, I am quick to acknowledge that Gordon is superior in the quality of his traditional HOF credentials. I rank Reynolds higher because of his extreme historical impact on the championships of his era. I can appreciate why reasonable evaluators might determine that the traditional all-star type features merit priority over mainly historical features, so, for many, Gordon becomes a logical first choice.


Gordon was a major star of his time and a ground breaker. He and HOF member Bobby Doerr began their careers around the same time. They became the first middle infielders to produce such high levels of combined achievements as power hitters and defensive stars. Gordon was the first AL middle infielder to exceed 200 career HRs (253) or to hit at least 30 HRs (32, 30) in a season. His seasonal HR record for AL second basemen lasted for several decades. He starred for six pennant-winning teams and five World Series champions. He gained MVP honors in 1942 and was selected by The Sporting News six times as a Major League All Star. He also was selected for 9 All Star games.

Why should Gordon be inducted now? For some, his credentials are diminished by the fact that his career was relatively brief (11 seasons) and his career Batting Ave. was only .268. He lost two years to military service during World War II and several HOF members gained induction despite playing for approximately 10 seasons. That includes some ranked among the past century’s top 100 players. Gordon was proficient in drawing Walks and his On Base + Slugging was a positionally significant .823 (same as Doerr’s).

Gordon presents credentials linking him to elite HOF members and raising him above almost all other candidates.

  • He was unique at his position in his combined skills as one of his league’s stand-out power hitters and as a defensive star.
  • Most regard him as the game’s most outstanding second baseman of the 1940’s. He was the most decorated in terms of seasonal honors and rankings. His features include an MVP award.
  • He was a winner and a difference maker for winning teams. This attribute went beyond his good fortune in being a member of the Yankees. When he was traded to Cleveland, his winning touch helped the Indians rise in two years from sixth place to championship status. He batted clean-up in the 1948 World Series and drove in 124 runs during the regular season to lead the team in RBI.
  • When he retired after the 1950 season, he ranked in the top 15 all-time in career HRs and second among those playing at least 1,000 games at 2B, SS, 3B or C.
  • When they played, Gordon usually ranked ahead of Bobby Doerr. I don’t consider comparability to other HOF members as an important HOF indicator, but I do consider Doerr to have been a high quality inductee. I even rank him ahead of Gordon on a career basis, but Gordon’s over-all credentials are highly comparable and superior in important aspects.


While I am pleased by Gordon’s success, I continue to be dismayed by the failure of the larger committee to induct any of the post-1942 candidates such as Ron Santo. This year’s results also create an anomaly which may create continuing embarrassment for the Hall. No one has ever been inducted by the committee consisting of all living HOF members in the four elections of its existence.

I agree that there is no compulsion to elect Veterans, unless they are highly qualified. My analysis indicates that Santo and, possibly, others are highly qualified and more than 60% of the voters reach the same conclusion as to Santo.

Suppose I am right or nearly right in my over-all rankings regarding Santo, Wills, Hodges, Reynolds and Gordon. Or, suppose that the voters in recent elections had it right or nearly right by ranking Santo first and Gordon near the bottom of the top 10.

Gordon is in; Santo remains out. To me, Gordon is a good choice. However, other Veterans have superior credentials. Gordon succeeds and others fall short because different selection bodies have jurisdiction over the different candidates and one doesn’t act favorably on anyone.

The focus should be on arriving at more institutional consensus regarding HOF standards. Enough information and other tools are available to fulfill that need. What good is a selection process which fails to induct anyone, ever?

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