“Cooperstown at the Crossroads:
The Checkered History (and Uncertain Future) of Baseball’s Hall of Fame”
G. Scott Thomas
The publishing info:
Released in October, 2022
The publishers website
The review in 90 feet or less
Came across my dog-eared tobacco card of “Tungston Arm” O’Doyle, the great three-way player for the 1921 Akron Groomsmen. He could hit, pitch and … something else impossible at that point in time, but we forget. Maybe drive a car?
He was the Shohei Ohtani of his hey-day.
His name comes up once and awhile in situations like this:
And if you saw what happened in the Angels’ 2023 season opener, it just keeps perpetuating: Ohtani calls his own pitches, strikes out 10 in six shutout innings, leaves with a 1-0 lead, goes back to DHing, and the Angels lose, 2-1, in Oakland.
With all the comparisons, you’d think by O’Doyle would be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But somehow he isn’t.
Crap, if Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff can get in, who else can’t?
(Pause for a nasty aftertaste on the pallet. Rinse. Repeat).
Even Harold Baines has to wonder: Are these two latest additions to the National Baseball Hall of Fame ultimately be the bane of our hardball-enjoyable existence?
When it was announced last Jan. 24 that Rolen rocked five extra votes to clear the 75 percent agreement barrier of the Baseball Writers Association of America and lay claim to someone having to do a search of the files to remember what he looked like so someone else could make him a plaque in Cooperstown — and now he’ll be able to join an induction ceremony this summer with special committee-elected McGriff as the only two who made it to the Class of 2023 — we wanted to turn off coverage on the MLB Channel and channel the thoughts of G. Scott Thomas.
There’s never been a better time, with better examples, to topple over the tables and just ask: What defines “fame” in baseball? And if Cooperstown real estate continues to come down in price, how did we not see the signs this housing of immortality market crash?
The place, while also acting as a cool museum, could be completely irrelevant as a functioning place to celebrate all that’s to gained by creating a home to honor the sport’s best of the best.
Not Rolen, McGriff, Baines, or a list we could compile right now but don’t want to waste the energy.
(OK, we give up: Add in there — Tony Perez, Bill Mazerowski, Jack Morris, Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil Rizzuto, Bert Blyleven, Herb Pennock, Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Wallace, Burleigh Grimes, Red Faber, Rick Ferrell, Joe Gordon, Red Ruffing, Rabbit Maranville, Roger Bresnahan, Freddie Lindstrom, Harry Hooper, Travis Jackson, Ray Schalk, Lloyd Waner, Rube Marquard, Jessie Haines, Chick Hafey, Ross Youngs, Jim Bottomley, Tommy McCarthy, Jesse Haines, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Nellie Fox, Travis Jackson, Dave Bancroft, and, more than likely, neither Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers nor Frank Chance. And especially Alexander Cartwright.)
But they’re there, and we aren’t endorsing prying them loose.
Face it: The Baseball Hall of Fame voting is broken if a player who got on just 10.2 percent of the ballots when he was first eligible in 2018 now all of the sudden achieve … fame? For not doing anything in the time being except being quiet? Because people who crunch numbers suddenly value his base running and defense? And there’s the embarrassment that another year goes by when, passing on the steroid-tainted talent, no one of real statue is available, go we compromise?
Thomas already has a plan in place. Read all about it.
Journaling for more than 40 years about politics, demographics, sports, business, and education, Thomas has become a regular read on his twice-weekly “Baseball’s Best (and Worst)” blog at bestworst.substack.com.
His degree in American history from Washington and Lee University, and his hometown of Tonawanda, N.Y., that lies between Niagara Falls and Buffalo and is about a four-hour drive West of Cooperstown, also gives Thomas some context as what’s happening here.
Regardless of the fact this book came last fall, we absorbed it over the winter and wanted to come out with votes a blazing for 2023, because this book should have a decent shelf life if anyone continues to be more and more disillusioned with how the Hall is moving forward with steps backward.
Since the book’s publication, Thomas has been consistent in releasing its most pertinent chapters on his blog. It’s a nine-point plan to reinvigorate the Hall that merits serious attention.
We’d be tempted to lay it all out here, but that wouldn’t serve Thomas’ true purpose: Reward for his idea.
What we will highlight:
From Chapter 4’s plan of action:
= All 340 plaques in Cooperstown gallery can rest easy: He’s not suggestion they all be wished into the cornfield, then reelected on new merits. Their ticket is punched. Now it’s time to quantify.
= Create a new selection committee: Baseball Writers Association of America can have 20 on this new panel, but it will also include 20 radio and TV broadcasters, 20 Hall of Famers, 10 statistical analysts, 10 authors and historians, 10 past managers, players and execs not in the Hall, nine current players, managers and execs, and one fan. Members serve five-year terms. The scoring system still connects to those who top 75 percent of their approval.
= Streamline the system so that anyone is eligible 20 years after their first big-league game. That could mean an active player gets elected (such as Albert Pujols in 2021).
= Expand it to include broadcasters and writers, scouts and stat men, grounds keepers and agents. And Tommy John, and his doctor, Frank Jobe.
= Honor teams that sustained a level of excellence for at least three straight years. (So this is how Pete Rose can get in, eh?) This would actually qualify the Dodgers’ 2017-2020 teams, and perhaps those from ’21 and ’22, based on their win-loss records.
= Create an “Elite 100” wing, inductees already in the Hall who stand out above the rest, and then get a 10-year period with this classification, subject to re-election.
= Be more clear about what defines “character,” and that can be applied to the “Elite 100” members.
= Fix the plaques’ artistic representation of the people being honored. And be better with the plaque wording.
What is there not to entertain about any of these suggestions?
Listen, we’ve come to the reality that the ’23 ballot of 28 names – the first in a long while since Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling and other tarnished steroid users were bypassed, then passed over again in the recent Contemporary Baseball Era Committee, the Hall’s rotating second-chance safety net– could easily have been left blank. That McGriff somehow got all 16 votes of that secondary oversight group was even more upside down, but not unexpected.
Which is exactly what troubles someone like Thomas. And should trouble all of us.
Going forward, just keep in mind: For the Class of 2024, the most likely candidates to garish attention are holdovers Todd Helton (who came up just 11 votes short in this last vote), Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Beltran, and newcomers Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer and Chase Utley.
Nice, but …
In ’25, it’ll be the first chance for Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia. In ’26, it’s a thin group led by Ryan Braun. In ’27, the best bet is Buster Posey. In ’28, count on Pujols and Yadier Molina.
Also interspersed will be the rotation of what has been revised from simply the Veterans Committee picks – there will be a Contemporary Baseball Era (1980 to present) of managers, executives and umpires ballot for ’24, the Classic Baseball Era (players from 1871 to 1979) for ’25 and again the Contemporary Baseball Era players ballot (1980 to present) for ’26 — which circles back to the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Dale Murphy. The Golden Days Era Committee (whose contributions came from 1950-to-’69) is supposed to emerge again for the Class of ’27, and could include another shot for Dick Allen, Maury Wills or Ken Boyer.
Because Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez aren’t going anytime soon. Or Rose. Or Shoeless Joe Jackson.
And apparently neither are Steve Garvey (a 10-time NL All-Star), Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, Vida Blue, Roger Maris, Lou Whitaker, Omar Vizquel, Gary Sheffield …
(Yes, some do think Hershiser is in the Hall of Fame, he once told us, but he doesn’t correct them … Pretty cool. So what would keep Hershiser out? Doesn’t he have a case?)
For that matter, why not vote in Scott Boras at some point?
Oh, and as for “Tungsten Arm” O’Doyle? It’s just a made-up guy. Here’s the backstory from The Athletic. And another from USA Today.
Those stories themselves should be in the Hall. Along with Sidd Finch.
And a hearty April Fool’s Day to you too.
How it goes in the scorebook
Here’s a man with a plan that can work. No need to can this and sit it on the shelf.
“There’s nothing wrong with baseball’s Hall of Fame that couldn’t be fixed by blowing it up and starting over,” Atlanta columnist Dave Kindred once said.
At the Baseball Hall of Fame online store, there’s an item called the Atom Brick National Baseball Hall of Fame 1,265-piece premium building model set. For $99.99. Think of a cool Lego kit with knock-off pieces. And you get to build the Hall of Fame.
Or, rebuild it, if you don’t follow the directions.
Think of this book as: If you rebuild it, they will still come. But it will have a better foundation for future generations. How is my grandson someday going to explain to his kids why Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff are in the Hall of Fame with Mike Trout, but Bonds, Clements, Rose, etc., aren’t in there? Sorry we put that burden on you. We can be true jackasses.
You can look it up: More to ponder
== We could keep updating this post every week if we wanted. Case in point: Thomas’ Substack post on April 7 tries to explain how Tommy McCarthy is in the Hall of Fame, but Maury Wills isn’t. Well, according to Thomas, neither really have the credentials. With Thomas’ 100-point Quality Score (QS) system to determine who is Hall deserving, so anyone with greater than 60 points is virtually certain of Hall fame, those between 45 and 59 points have a good likelihood, and those below 44 are marginal to forget it. McCarthy, a prolific basestealer in his day, got a QS score of 1. One. A single, lonely one. Wills got a 13. McCarthy was elected in 1946 by a small panel known as the Old-Timers Committee.
== In 2017, we reviewed Jay Jaffe’s “The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should be In and Who Should pack their Plaques.” Thomas writes of the project: “It turned out to be a very interesting book, though it didn’t deliver the promised sizzle. Jaffe pointed out the weak choices made by the hall’s electorate, but he stopped short of recommending expulsions. His subtitle raised the prospect of a wholesale housecleaning, yet he failed to carry his concept to its logical conclusion.”
== A lot more Good can be done.
Take, Dan Good, author of one of our 2022 baseball book favorites as we reviewed “Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever,” who offered up a couple of HOF related column through his DanGoodStuff.com substack platform.
The one headlined “Lonely Celebration: Scott Rolen is entering Cooperstown but the Hall of Fame’s voting process remains a mess” included:
“(The latest results) are the latest reminder that the baseball hall’s voting system is compromised, hypocritical and broken. By failing to establish an enshrinement quota like the other sports — say, at least five baseball players, managers or contributors added each year — and by limiting players’ ability to get elected through BBWAA voting, the hall continues to sink further into irrelevance.”
In a followup headlined: “The Baseball Hall of Fame voting process is cruel. It doesn’t have to be,” Good continued: “Some of the writers talk about how tough it is to get elected like it’s a good thing, as though they’re doing the game a service with their heightened scrutiny. They’re the tough-love parents who won’t give their kids the car keys, thinking it will teach them patience and responsibility (it won’t … it never does).
“But by and large, the waiting game is inefficient and unnecessarily cruel, leaving worthy candidates wilting on the ballot, which is in turn clogging things up for newer, also worthy candidates, proliferating a system in which players aren’t really getting a fair shake.
“And it continues to fuel discontent and frustration for no good reason. … It remains an old, tired, merciless system. A system that’s due for a refresh.””And it continues to fuel discontent and frustration for no good reason. … It remains an old, tired, merciless system. A system that’s due for a refresh.”