When I first saw the likes of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa near the top of the list, I had this overwhelming thought: Glad I'm not voting. After all, the question for those who actually are voting won't be who among these candidates should go to Cooperstown, but who shouldn't go.
George Steinbrenner. Marvin Miller. Dave Concepcion. Billy Martin (as a player and manager). On and on the list goes, and that means this ballot is loaded with deserving candidates for members of the Expansion Era voting committee to ponder. If you go by the names and the resumes, the committee will do just fine. The group includes Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tom Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson. They are joined by noted baseball minds, ranging from White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to Jack O'Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
That committee is not to be confused with the group of regular Hall of Fame voters, which includes me. Our ballot arrives at the end of the month with a list of players who have been retired at least five years and who satisfy a given set of standards. While our results won't be announced until the first week of January, the results involving the Expansion Era voters will become public on Dec. 9 during the first day of the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Can't wait. As is the case for candidates selected by regular Hall of Fame voting, those involved with Expansion Era balloting must receive 75 percent of the votes to reach Cooperstown. Unlike the case for candidates selected by regular Hall of Fame voting, those involved with Expansion Era balloting have a smaller set of voters to decide their fate. A much smaller set, like 16 members for the Expansion Era Committee compared to the more than 500 members of the BBWAA who are eligible each year to pick candidates for Cooperstown through the regular Hall of Fame voting process.
Nobody was inducted into Cooperstown last year by the writers, who largely rejected a number of candidates associated with steroid use. And there was nothing wrong with that. Cooperstown is an exclusive club. In fact, this Expansion Era Committee was commissioned by the BBWAA only to consider players, managers, umpires and executives of significance from 1973 to the present as part of a three-year cycle. The so-called Golden Age of 1947-72 will be voted on in 2014, and the following year, candidates will be considered from the Pre-Integration Era from 1871-1946.
The last time one of these committees voted for Hall of Famers was in 2010, when former baseball executive Pat Gillick received the necessary 75 percent to reach Cooperstown. Nobody else did. You have to think that will change after the ballots are counted from this particular committee, and not because of a backlash over Gillick's solo selection or because of the regular Hall of Fame voters pitched a shutout in 2013. It will be because a bunch of folks deserve entry into Cooperstown this time around.
I mean, Cox, Torre and La Russa are no-brainers, especially since they spent a couple of decades winning divisions, pennants and World Series championships at a ridiculous rate. They rank among the all-time best in nearly every category for managers.
Here's another automatic guy: Steinbrenner. Love him or hate him, you couldn't ignore him. He was The Boss, indeed, and courtesy of his overwhelming personality, he made the Yankees relevant again after he purchased them in the early 1970s. First, Steinbrenner reached deep into his pockets to create a dominant team in the late '70s with stars such as Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage. In the '90s, the Yankees returned to prominence with sustained success that resulted in four World Series titles in five years.
Then there is Marvin Miller, the most effective head of a players' association in the history of professional sports. And, yes, he contributed to the majority of baseball's work stoppages, but he also was a huge part of the solution when they ended. Miller also joined Curt Flood as the primary forces behind the end to baseball's reserve clause, which restricted players from moving from team to team. In the aftermath, the game surged to a higher level with much help from the free agency that they created.
Now to those on the edge of Cooperstown -- such as Martin the manager, for instance. Despite 16 years in charge of five Major League teams, he never finished higher than fourth in Manager of the Year Award voting. Still, Martin ewas effective as they come at turning teams into instant infernos out of nowhere. It's just that he often had a tendency to burn himself up in the process, especially during the five times that he was hired and fired by Steinbrenner with the Yankees. Nevertheless, Martin won division titles with four franchises, and he captured two pennants and a World Series championship with the Yankees.
Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.
The same goes for Concepcion, who was more than just the starting shortstop on a Big Red Machine team that dominated much of the 1970s. Before Concepcion's career, Major League shortstops were mostly one dimensional -- all-field, little-hit, not much of anything else. After Concepcion's career, you had Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the rest, because during Concepcion's career, he showed everybody that shortstops could field, hit and run.
The others on the Expansion Era ballot? Well, they had nice careers: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Ted Simmons, Dave Parker and Dan Quisenberry. Nice isn't good enough for Cooperstown.