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What’s This “Expansion Era Committee?”

Monday, December 6, 2010, 17:47 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

(Cross-posted at The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum.)

Blue Jays World Series banners

The Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles on Pat Gillick's watch

Just in from the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

Pat Gillick, who built three World Series champions and has served baseball for nearly 50 years, has been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee, it was announced today.

[ . . . ]

Gillick presently serves as senior adviser to the Philadelphia Phillies and has spent nearly 50 years in Major League Baseball, with 27 seasons as a major league general manager. Gillick, who built playoff teams with the Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and Phillies, began his major league career with the Houston Colt .45s/Astros from 1963-73, before joining the New York Yankees as scouting director from 1974-76. Gillick joined the expansion Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, building five division winners from 1985-93 and consecutive World Series championships in 1992-93. In three seasons with Baltimore from 1996-98, the Orioles made two postseason appearances. In four seasons shaping the Mariners from 2000-2003, the Mariners won 90 games each season, including an American League record 116 in 2001, with two postseason appearances. In building the Phillies from 2006-2008, Philadelphia won the NL East twice and the 2008 World Series.

Those are indeed Hall of Fame credentials, and Gillick deserves the recognition. I know at least one baseball fan north of the border who was particularly happy about those back-to-back Blue Jays championships.

Not to take anything away from Gillick’s accomplishments, but why do we have an Expansion Era Committee? As the Hall explains it, it is the result of “[restructuring] the procedures to consider managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for election to the Hall of Fame.” The two other Era Committees are Pre-Integration (1871-1946) and Golden (1947-1972). The Expansion Era Committee considers candidates from among players from 1973-1989 and non-players from 1973 to the present.

The only advantage I can see to the new system is that it allows committee members to more carefully study the eras they are charged with considering, something that is helpful in cases where a player’s worthiness is apparent only through the lens of time. There are indeed players who fit that description, not acknowledged as superstars when they played because they played for small-market teams that didn’t win, or because they were overshadowed by a larger-than-life teammate, or perhaps even because they quietly went about their business while avoiding the limelight. In the past, they were considered by the Veterans Committee, itself originally established to review the careers of players who were barred from the major leagues by segregation but achieved greatness in the Negro leagues, as well as players who had retired before the establishment of the Hall and were therefore ineligible to be considered in the customary process.

On the other hand, I have to wonder why we are considering managers, executives, and umpires by “era,” especially candidates with recent careers. I can’t think of a convincing reason why Pat Gillick couldn’t or wouldn’t have been selected in the same manner by which, say, Whitey Herzog or Bowie Kuhn were in the last couple years.

I suppose I’m less inclined than most to embrace changes like this, being rather traditional where baseball is concerned. I detest the designated hitter on the grounds that every player ought to be required to play the whole game, not just half of each inning. I abhor the playoff system, believing that any team that isn’t in first place after playing 162 games (more than in any other team sport) shoudn’t be allowed another 5 or 7 games to make up for it. And I hate, hate, hate artificial grass.

Yet I have to remind myself that the game has survived all these changes, most of which were driven by love of the almighty dollar, so why not a change in the way Hall of Famers are chosen? There is no purer institution in baseball than the Hall of Fame, which safeguards its reputation for integrity so stridently that it has kept two of the all-time greats, Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, out. (I agree in the Rose case but not the Jackson one, though I blame Judge Landis and successive commissioners rather than the Hall for the gross injustice done to Jackson; the Hall simply applied its standard evenly based on decisions not its own.)

All of which is to say that I will give the benefit of the doubt to the good people who run the Hall of Fame and do outstanding work as custodians of the game’s history. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.

And again, congratulations to Mr. Gillick.

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