Available this winter, via McFarland Publishing, will be a unique book that combines baseball history with American war history. Baseball’s War Roster, written and researched by Brett Kiser, gives biographical information on every former Major Leaguer known to have served in the military during time of war. More on this book, my second volume, can be found at McFarland’s website, www.mcfarlandpub.com, by typing my name or the book’s title in the search engine on their website’s home page.
Next month the Veteran’s Committee will submit their votes after weighing the merits of ten selected former ballplayers and executives. Their focus is on player’s whose careers came after the end of World War II. The ten names they must analyze are as follows: Buzzie Bavasi, former Dodgers GM from 1951 to 1967, Ken Boyer, seven-time All-Star third baseman for the Cardinals, Charlie Finley, eccentric owner of the Oakland A’s, Gil Hodges, former slugger of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jim Kaat, sixteen-time Gold Glove Award winner, Minnie Minoso, five-tool outfielder for the White Sox, Tony Oliva, three-time batting champ for the Twins, Allie Reynolds, flamethrower for the post WWII powerhouse Yankees, Ron Santo, longtime star third baseman and broadcaster for the Cubs, and Luis Tiant, hero of the 1975 World Series.
This group of former baseball legends is quite an interesting crop and all should garner their share of support. Buzzie Bavasi was at the helm of the Dodgers during some of their glory years but was also the man in charge when they left Brooklyn and thus has many enemies, albeit fewer than Walter O’Malley–the team owner. Ken Boyer will undoubtedly receive less attention than position peer Ron Santo because Boyer has been deceased for thirty years while Santo’s memory is yet fresh. But if Santo should make the Hall of Fame, which there is a distinct possibility, than Boyer should follow on his heels.
I can’t see Charlie Finley getting much support because he was hated by many in the game. Unlike Bill Veeck, whose antics were rather tame if not over the top, Finley seemed to make the game less professional and more a spectacle. His animal farm in Kansas City and bonuses to players for growing facial fuzz is his legacy. Jim Kaat has had some support of late but his career totals, impressive to the untrained eye, lose their luster when they focus on them. Kaat was hardly a dominating pitcher–he accumulated his stats through longevity and not stardom. Kaat, although the greatest defender at his position during his day, is simply the Rusty Staub of pitching–fairly lofty career numbers which are misleading. He won 283 games but pitched 25 years, which means he barely averaged more than eleven wins a season.
Minnie Minoso was a very good player. A well-rounded talent, Minnie could do almost anything on the diamond. He had speed and power and was a fearless defender. Also, his love for the game was unmatched. He played in the 1970s and even took the field in his fifties for a game in the 1980s. Tony Oliva will get some support but he has a massive wall to climb, much like position peer Roger Maris. Both Oliva and Maris were star right fielders during the 1960s but when one compares them to Hall of Fame inducted right fielders of their day, both Tony and Roger look quite skimpy. Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Hank Aaron all reached 3,000 career hits while Frank Robinson came within 100 of that total as well. As for Oliva and Maris, they couldn’t tally 2,000 career hits because of injury.
The following two names will probably see the less support of the group. Allie Reynolds was a good pitcher who didn’t reach 200 career wins and unlike other pitchers with 180-195 wins of his day–think Tommy Bridges, Larry French and Lon Warneke–Reynolds didn’t serve during World War II but played through the fighting. As for Tiant, he was a good pitcher but his career had a rather noticeable hiccup mid-course. Luis started strong but was so bad in the middle of his career he was removed from the Majors for a time.
The two strongest candidates are clearly former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who recently passed away and former Dodger slugger Gil Hodges, one of the greatest run producers of the 1950s. Santo was a great defender who also possessed good power and had terrific on-base percentages–something modern fans value more than the old-timers. Hodges was the nucleus of those great postwar Dodgers teams. Although originally a catcher, Gil became a very good first baseman–reliable and sharp.
Of the ten, I’ll make a grade sheet based on my assumptions of their chances for induction. Buzzie Bavasi (B), Ken Boyer (D+), Charlie Finley (C-), Gil Hodges (B+), Jim Kaat (C+), Minnie Minoso (C-), Tony Oliva (C), Allie Reynolds (D+) Ron Santo (A-), and Luis Tiant (D)
It wouldn’t shock me if nobody gets enshrined from this class since the Veteran’s Committee, although way too liberal with their votes in the past, have become quite averse to issuing a yay vote of late. The three that might make it in are Santo, Hodges and Bavasi while there is a glimmer of hope for Kaat and maybe Charlie Finley and Tony Oliva. Personally, I’m inclined to vote for Hodges–the more I look at Gil’s record the more I like him. He also gets extra credit points for managing the Miracle Mets of 1969 to a World Series championship. I’m on the fence with Buzzie Bavasi and Ron Santo. If I give Santo the go-ahead, then I’d be inclined to also vote for Boyer. Minnie Minoso was a great player and I’d give him serious consideration but everyone else I would pass over for reasons explained above. Kaat wasn’t a dominant pitcher, Oliva’s HOF peers have much higher numbers than him, Allie Reynolds, although a good pitcher, benefitted from playing with the Yankees and Tiant’s mid-career swoon isn’t indicative of someone who mastered the highest level.