Evaluating the ‘Modern Era’ nominees for Cooperstown

It’s that time again.  A 16-man committee of distinguished keepers of the American pastime’s flame is about to gather in Cooperstown to decide who should be canonized this time, or, more precisely, who will be rebuffed again in what oft amounts to downright cruelty. It has become a strange business.

The committee, which will render the fruits of its wisdom on Dec. 10 at Baseball’s annual winter meetings, is restricted in their choices to 10 nominees who have been selected by as yet unidentified historians, who may or may not know what they are talking about.  

Who knows?

This is the new and heavily guarded way of doing things at Cooperstown.  They’ve created four categories, spanning the ages and restricting options. Annoyed because they believe too many borderline candidates from the good old days were slipping through the back door long provided by the more easily charmed Veteran’s Committee, the new regime at the Hall –heavily influenced by ex-players, by the way –  intends to reduce that stream to a trickle.

This year’s category is what they call The Modern Era, defined as 1970 to 1987. Ten players whose prime years roughly fell within this stretch are on the ballot. Every one of them has been considered many, many times before and most, maybe all, are about to be rejected again. Somehow this seems unkind. It must be agony to go through this process again and again.

You’ll recall that Bud Selig and John Schuerholz – both from the so-called Builder’s Category – were anointed last year at the height of the agitated debate about what to do about candidates from the “Steroid Era,” with holier-than-thou declarations about eternally banning the malefactors abounding.

So whom do they elect? The commissioner who presided with the power of an absolute czar over the entire Steroid Era and the general manager universally esteemed as the era’s best, brightest, and most influential. In other words, the two men who might have  nipped the steroid crisis in the bud had they not chosen to conveniently ignore it.  If you think the free passes into the Hall given to Bud Selig and John Schuerholz make sense, you can stop reading this here and now.  

Happily, steroids are not part of this year’s discussion. All ten nominees are clean.  And all ten also seem to me worthy, most of them mightily so. But then I tend to be a latitudinarian on the subject of the Hall of Fame. The membership could easily be doubled, in my opinion.  What’s the problem with six or seven hundred of the very best as well as the undisputed immortals being so honored, given the tens of thousands that have tried but failed to play the game near as well over the last century and a half?

We all know that Rogers Hornsby was better than Bobby Doerr and Babe Ruth was better than Harry Hooper. But that doesn’t mean Doerr and Hooper don’t also belong. Distinctions about degrees of excellence are easily made by those who know and love this game. They don’t need some tinhorn committee to tell them what to think.  Elevating several dozen more “border-lines” – a Cecil Travis or Gil Hodges, a Minnie Minoso or Bill Dahlen – will hardly dilute the glorious Pantheon. If it were up to me, I’d stop this silliness of regarding the sanctity of the Hall of Fame as being as precious as that of the Communion of Saints. But that’s an argument that has long been lost.

Anyway, here are the ten nominees that will be whittled down this time: Jack Morris, Tommy John, Luis Tiant, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, and in what is sure to generate controversy no matter the result, that estimable union lion, Marvin Miller.

Miller obviously doesn’t belong in this category, which is otherwise restricted to people who played the game. Marvin never did. But he had more impact on its history than all but a handful of the greatest. Miller should have been considered in last year’s Builder’s Category contest. But that would have obliged the electors to declare that Selig and Schuerholz had more impact than the man who re-configured the modern game, revolutionized it, and along the way made possible enormous profits beyond their wildest dreams for his enemies, the owners, for which they have never forgiven him. All of which would have been ludicrous. Can’t have that, can way.

This is about the tenth time that Miller has been considered, with each of the rejections rubbing more salt into ancient wounds.  A proud man, Marvin went to his grave demanding that he no longer be considered. His family has made it emphatically clear they intend to honor his wishes and have pledged to ignore the results. It’s highly unlikely his union brothers will defy him, Marvin’s influence even beyond the grave remaining awesome.

So if he gets elected, there will be no one to accept. How embarrassing!  Probably gives the electors another excuse for rebuffing him.

Garnering 12 of 16 votes – the minimum required – is tough.  Having even two get tapped is rare.  But I’m pulling for at least three.  

They are:  Marvin, if only because it’s right. Jack Morris, staunchest, toughest, fiercest stopper of his time. With 254 wins and the over-the-top respect of his peers, Morris belongs. Tommy John, craftiest of the lefties, not only because the historic surgery he dared pioneer has had impact enough but also because this supreme artist won 288 games.  If I had five picks I would add Tiant and Mattingly. The other five I’d regretfully consign to the “Borderline Club,” without malice, of course.  

Three for the Hall?   Let me put it this way: I won’t be holding my breath!