Posts Tagged ‘veteran’s committee’

Magazine Man

January 31, 2011

J.G. Taylor Spink

There is no question that for much of the 20th Century The Sporting News was the premier baseball magazine. It did other sports too, but it’s forte was baseball. It promoted the sport, did its own awards, including a once prestigious MVP award. Its editor sat on the Veteran’s Committee for the Hall of Fame. Ultimately, he had the Hall of Fame’s award for baseball writing named for him, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

John George Taylor Spink was born in 1888 in St. Louis, His uncle, a sports writer and one of the directors of the St. Louis Browns founded The Sporting News in 1886. The original magazine featured mostly baseball information. In 1899, J.G.’s dad took over the magazine and ran it until his death in 1914. At that point Taylor Spink became the editor, a job he held until 1962. The younger Spink was a huge baseball fan, but also understood the value of covering other sports. While not de-emphasizing baseball, he made certain that other sports, notably boxing, were given space in the magazine. He also gave a major boost to college football by beginning to follow it in his magazine.

But the centerpiece of the publication remained baseball, with box scores and stats featured along with stories about the teams and players. And by 1947 that included Jackie Robinson. It’s tough to determine Spink’s attitude toward Robinson. On the one hand, his comments about Robinson as a player are glowing, culminating with the awarding of the first Rookie of the Year Award, which was sponsored by Spink’s magazine. On the other hand, Spink’s seems to be less impressed with the “social experimentation” aspect of Robinson’s career. I don’t mean to imply Spinks opposed the “social experimentation”, but that he found it secondary to Robinson’s abilities as a ballplayer.

By 1953, it was generally acknowledged that the existing “Old Timer’s Committee” of the Hall of Fame was in need or reform. Spink had a reputation as a knowledgeable baseball man that he was chosen as chairman for the newly formed Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee. He would hold the position into 1959.  Although there are differing opinions on how well Spink’s committee did, he is acknowledged as instrumental in getting Bobby Wallace (a St. Louis man) elected and as influential in getting a number of other players picked for the Hall. You can take a look at the players selected by the Veteran’s Committee in the mid to late 1950s and make your own decision as to how good they were.

He continued to run his magazine until his death in 1962. With his passing, the Hall of Fame, which had for some time, been looking for a way to honor sportswriters established the J.G. Taylor Spink award for those writers. Spink won the initial award in ’62. The award winner’s names are displayed in the Hall library, so the winners, although honored, are not technically members of the Hall of Fame. Additionally, the Topps company, maker of baseball cards, sponsors a minor league player of the year award named for Spink. That’s quite a set of honors for a man who never played the game.

Making the Right Choices for Cooperstown

July 2, 2010

Sometimes I look at the list of Hall of Famers and wonder how a particular player got to Cooperstown. Some choices are obvious, some silly, some merely puzzling. Then I look at when he was elected and sometimes the choice doesn’t seem so bad in the context of the time the player was elected. Let me give you two examples.

Eppa Rixey

Left handed pitcher Eppa Rixey began his Major League career in 1912 and completed it in 1933. He won 266 games, had a .515 winning percentage, an ERA of 3.15, and struck out 1350 men. He also gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He missed 1918 because of World War I, and took a loss in the 1915 World Series when he pitched the last six innings of game five for Philadelphia. He died in February 1963 and made the Hall of Fame the same year. Ignoring the fact that his death may have influenced the Veteran’s Committee to look at him more closely, his career isn’t bad, but doesn’t look all that special. As a Left-handed pitcher he did well, but here’s a list of all the left-handers who have more wins than Rixey: Spahn, Carlton, Plank, Johnson, Glavine, Grove, John, Kaat, and Moyer. Here’s that same list in 1963: Spahn, Plank, Grove. And note, further, that both Plank and Grove spent most of their big league career in the American League (Grove spent all of his). So in 1963, Eppa Rixey was the second winningest left-handed pitcher in National League history, with much more well-known Carl Hubbell 12 wins back in third. If you know that, then the Rixey choice doesn’t seem quite so bad. The Veteran’s Committee chose the winningest left-hander in National League history prior to about 1960 (didn’t bother to look up when Spahn won his 267th game), a period of 84 years, to enshrine in Cooperstown. So again, Rixey doesn’t look as odd to 1963 fans as he does to modern fans when it comes to the Hall of Fame (and remember that Spahn is still active in 1963 so he’s not yet 97 games up on Rixey).

Max Carey

Max Carey was a base stealing specialist, mostly for Pittsburgh, from 1910 to 1929. He hit .285, slugged .385, scored 1545 runs, had no power, and stole 738 bases. He was part of the 1925 World Series winning team. His best stolen base year was 1922 when he stole 51 and was caught only twice (He actually stole more bases a couple of times, but never with that success rate). He made the Hall of Fame in 1961. Currently Carey ranks seventh in stolen bases since 1898 (when they changed the stolen base run to its current form). OK, maybe that alone would get him a ticket to Cooperstown (although it hasn’t helped either Tim Raines or Vince Coleman, two of the players above him), but it was different in 1961. In that year he was third behind only Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins, both career American Leaguers. So again we find that the player in question is the all-time leader in a category (stolen bases) in the National League at the time he is chosen for the Hall of Fame. That makes the choice look better then than now, when Lou Brock is now the NL’s stolen base king.

This is not a plea for either man to be in the Hall of Fame. Maybe neither should be, or maybe only Carey should be.  Maybe being the all-time leader in something in one league isn’t a free pass to the Hall. But if you think neither looks overly qualified when you read over their stats, remember that both, particularly Rixey, looked a lot better in the early 1960s than they do in the 21st Century.

Upcoming Hall of Fame voting

November 25, 2009

In a couple of weeks the veteran’s committee will set down to vote on the latest Hall of Fame list. On that list will be a number of managers, umpires, and contributers who a panel of experts has deemed worthy of consideration. One of those names is Marvin Miller’s.

For years Miller was head of the player’s union. There seems to be a belief that he is a jerk. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. I don’t know the man. What I do know is that he is the most significant non-player in recent baseball history. His leadership of the player’s union led to a number of changes in baseball, some good, some not so good. You hated the strikes, blame Miller (and a lot of other people too). You think salaries are inflated, blame Miller (and a lot of other people too). You like free agency and giving ball players a little freedom to move around and maybe make a team a little more competative, praise Miller.

You see that’s the problem with Miller. He’s done things that make the fans furious, but he’s also made it possible for teams to pick up quality players they might not otherwise get. Yes, he’s had a lot of help in both those things, from owners who are Neanderthals and owners who are enlightened, players who think of themselves and players who think of the good of the game. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I certainly think so. Is he going to be elected? Don’t bet the farm on it.