ORLANDO, Fla. — There are a lot of tough decisions surrounding the Hall of Fame, but this wasn’t one of them: Managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were all voted in unanimously by the Veterans Committee on Monday.
The Hall has relatively few managers — 18 prior to Monday, compared with 205 players — so it’s striking to see three go in at once. But it’s hard to argue with 2,326 wins (Torre), 2,504 wins (Cox) and 2,728 wins (La Russa). La Russa notched six pennants and three World Series titles over 33 seasons in the dugout; Cox’s teams won five pennants and one World Series over 29 seasons; Torre had six pennants and four championships (all with the Yankees) in his 30 years of managing. (Cox also holds the all-time record for ejections via umpire with 158, which probably didn’t factor into the committee’s decision, but certainly serves as a notable career flourish.)
Cox and La Russa played only a few seasons each, while Torre was arguably pretty close to Hall of Fame level as a catcher back in the day, and is the only person to manage the neat trick of 2,000 hits and 2,000 managerial wins, but never got more than 22% of the vote. Even he will be remembered more for his work in the dugout than on the field.
Manager may be the toughest position for observers to evaluate accurately, which is why Manager of the Year awards so often just turn into the Guy Whose Team Did Way Better Than We Expected In March plaque. Beat writers often have a pretty good sense of what their team’s skipper does, but even then, so much of a manager’s work goes on behind the scenes — working with players one-on-one, evaluating his team’s options based on info that the media and public often don’t have. Leadership matters, but it’s impossible to quantify, especially when trying to evaluate its importance in relation to pure talent.
Still, over the course of careers this long, success is no fluke. These three men were largely the faces of their respective franchises during era-defining stretches of success, and if they can’t take all or even most of the credit for that success, at the very least, they enabled it.
Who the Veterans Committee didn’t vote in is equally interesting. Also on the ballot were Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons and George Steinbrenner. OK, so Quisenberry and Simmons are no surprise. But Steinbrenner and Martin are thorny Hall of Fame cases: Fascinating and mercurial personalities — with “mercurial” putting it mildly in Martin’s case — with a panoply of successes and failures to their credit. Steinbrenner did plenty of damage to the team before the Yankees’ 1990s-2000s glory years, but when compared to some of the other owners in the Hall, he feels like a giant (looking at you, Tom Yawkey).
Most of all, it continues to be a joke that longtime, groundbreaking MLB Player’s Association head Marvin Miller still didn’t get voted into the Hall –especially since his hapless foil Bowie Kuhn inexplicably is already there. However, toward the end of his life Miller made it very clear that the Hall could go shove, and inducting him as soon as he died would have been pretty galling in its own right.
He should have been in long ago, but it’s too late now. That wrong can’t be properly righted anymore. Fitting enough: It was always an adversarial relationship between Miller and MLB. All we can do now is make sure that people know how important a figure he was, what he accomplished, and what baseball fans as well as players owe him.
The BBWAA has been roundly criticized for its voting process lately, and rightfully so, but the Veteran’s Committee is a seemingly arbitrary group in its own right. It’s currently made up of former players Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and historians Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves. That’s a mostly impressive group of men, but a fairly random one.
The choices of Torre, La Russa and Cox are clear-cut, and the committee did its job in recognizing them. But over the next few years, with such an overstuffed ballot, the BBWAA will be handing them a lot of tough decisions. Is there any reason to think they’ll handle the thornier issues any better than the writers have?