Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Souvenir Ballots Suffice for Not-So-Famous Players

NEW YORK -- Every once in a while it's good for everybody to be reminded how exclusive the baseball Hall of Fame really is. Roughly one of 100 big leaguers get chosen -- 172 of 14,166, going into the 1995 season.


I say that even though some of the candidates on this year's ballot should have been elected and a gross injustice was committed against some others in this week's voting. Some flaws in the system are revealed, although nobody has shown a better system.


Not being chosen is really not so awful because, after all, the Hall of Fame is an honorary thing.


When the ballot ran in the newspapers before Christmas, Jerry Reuss saw his name and excitedly phoned Jack O'Connell, the official scorer of the election by the Baseball Writers Association. Reuss, a nice left-handed pitcher who won 220 games over 22 seasons, asked for a copy of the ballot. "I may never be on it again," he said. He won't.


The family of Chet Lemon, a pretty good outfielder, wanted a copy to frame for his 41st birthday.


That's nice. Nobody expected them to be voted in, but being on the eligible list is a reward in itself.


But then Keith Hernandez got the very minimum number of votes to stay on the ballot for next year, and Bill Buckner didn't get enough to stay on. Curt Flood and Tony Oliva are gone -- their eligibility up.


Flood -- the courage to be a groundbreaking free agent aside -- was a great outfielder and a terrific hitter. But he didn't hit home runs, which seems to blind a lot of voters. Tony Oliva had more Hall of Fame years before he got hurt than a lot of guys who played out their full time.


Buckner was dismissed as if the only thing he did in 22 seasons was dig a hole for himself with his World Series blooper. Staying on the ballot is like an honorable mention; it means some attentive people thought you were a pretty good ballplayer.


Hernandez got 24 votes, which really means he's never going to make it. He said as much when he responded, "If Garvey doesn't get in, I don't think I have much of a chance." Steve Garvey finished a distant fourth with 175 of the necessary 353 votes. Garvey was a consistently terrific player.


Maybe some of the voters were turned off by Hernandez growling at them in his early years. Who knows? I know they missed something and aren't likely to catch up.


I remember Ron Darling, then young and impressionable, telling Tim Leary in the bullpen in 1984, "You know, we're playing with the best player we're ever going to play with." That was the summer the Mets went from last place in '83 to 90 wins. And even in the second half of '83, when Hernandez arrived, the Mets became instantly competitive. Hernandez should have been MVP in '84, but Whitey Herzog, who traded Hernandez, did his best to unsell him. Perhaps it was Hernandez' drug use that unsold him. Hernandez had more assists at first base than anybody in history. But Bill Mazeroski's glove didn't get elected, either.


Joe Niekro and Don Sutton each won 300 games by staying around 24 and 23 seasons. Maybe their totals are diminished by their longevity in the time when anybody who can get somebody out has a place.


Tony Perez' personality was lost in the glare of Bench, Rose and Morgan on the Big Red Machine. Perez drove in 100 runs seven times and had 90 five other times. He was the Gil Hodges of his time. Hodges was second in RBIs for the decade of the '50s, but was hidden in the starshine of Robinson, Campanella and Snider.


But there's always the veterans' committee to catch the ones who slip through.