Committee on Baseball Veterans
The Committee on Baseball Veterans is a voting arm of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is commonly referred to as the Veterans Committee or the Vets Committee. It has had several different constructions over the past half century.
It must be said that members elected by the Veterans Committee are full members of the Hall of Fame. There is no distinction made in the Hall itself. However, the Veterans Committee ballot is the only means by which managers, executives and other persons selected for their meritorious contributions to the game of baseball can be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The Veterans Committee is in place to elect any player who was not voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Originally, a player could not be considered by the Vets until 23 years after his retirement, although this has now changed. They also elect non-playing personnel including managers, owners, and executives. Any player receiving 75% of the committee votes is elected.
The Veterans Committee can be traced back to 1939 when Commissioner Landis formed the Permanent Committee, to both serve as a board of trustees of the Hall and to put players from the 19th century in the Hall of Fame. In 1939, the committee selected five players. In 1944, after Landis' death, they put him in the Hall. After Landis, they put 23 additional players in the Hall, as a reaction for the fact that the BBWAA was unable to elect anyone in those years. The Permanent Committee was split in 1953, with a proper board of trustess being constituted, as well a committee focusing on electing old-timers.
In 1953, the Veterans Committee met for the first time under the name Committee on Baseball Veterans. With 11 members, they elected six players in their first vote that year. Starting in 1955, they would meet to elect up to two players in odd numbered years.
In 1962, they went back to annual elections to the Hall of Fame, with the continued mandate to elect up to two players a year.
The Hall of Fame suffered in the 1970s, when Frankie Frisch was a major voice on the committee. The old Hall of Famer, backed by former teammate Bill Terry and sportswriters J. Roy Stockton and Fred Lieb, who covered Frisch's teams, managed to get five of his teammates elected to the Hall by the committee. Additionally, in the three years after his death, two more teammates were elected.
Bill James was critical of this era in his book The Politics of Glory. He called George Kelly, an electee in 1973, "a bad joke". He said he was the equal of Wally Joyner, searching for a comparable player of the early 1990s when the book was published.
After Frisch died and Terry left the Committee, elections were normalized. In 1978, membership increased to fifteen, five Hall of Famers, five owners and executives, and five sportswriters. The members would meet in Florida during spring training to elect a player or two every year.
The Veterans Committee mandate of up to two players was increased briefly from 1995 to 2001. In these years, the committee could elect one extra player from the Negro Leagues and one from the 19th century in addition to the two regular players.
The committee was replaced on August 6, 2001: in a sweeping reform, the Hall of Fame eliminated the fifteen-member committee. The new committee was to be made of all living members of the Hall of Fame, living J. G. Taylor Spink Award winners, and the living Ford Frick Award winners. The change was in large part a reaction to the controversial election of Bill Mazeroski the previous year; many outside observers thought he was poorly qualified and demanded changes, which were made but had all sorts of unintended consequences, the main one being that no one was able to gain election in the following few years.
The election, now every two years for players, was not held at a meeting but by mail. The materials were mailed in January and a winner was to be announced the last week of February. Additionally, non-players, were eligible to be elected only every four years. However, after failing to elect anyone in a third consecutive election in 2007, the Hall nearly returned to the pre-2001 format.
After a meeting on July 28, 2007, the Hall announced that a committee of 16 electors would vote after receiving input from the living members of the Hall. These electors included Hall of Fame players, executives, and media personnel.
The quadrennial election of managers, executives, and umpires was moved to a biennial schedule for managers and umpires, beginning in 2008. In odd-numbered years, all players whose careers began after 1943 and who were eligible for election were considered. These players comprised a ballot of 20 to 25 players, rather than 30. In the first election under the new format, Joe Gordon was elected to the Hall, the first player to make it through the Committee's process since 2000.
In 2010, the Veterans Committee announced another set of changes. The format changed to distinguish three discrete eras: Pre-Integration (before 1946), Golden (1947-1972) and Expansion (1973-1989 for players and 1973-Present for executives). All three eras were made up of composite ballots of both players and off-field personnel. The expansion era had a 12-person ballot, while the two previous eras had only 10 candidates up for enshrinement. Each ballot was voted on by a 16-member committee selected by the Hall of Fame’s board of directors. The committee was made up of Hall of Fame players, major league executives and historians or media members. The eras rotated their voting years as Expansion Era candidates were voted on in 2010 for enshrinement in 2011, followed by the Golden era the following year and then the Pre-Integration era, with the each era coming up every three years. Pat Gillick was the first person to be elected under that format.
The format was tweaked in July of 2016, as baseball's timeline was now divided into four eras: Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987) and Today's Game (1988-2016). It would no longer be a strict rotation among eras either: Early Baseball candidates would come up for consideration only once every ten years, those from the Golden Days once every five years, and those from the two more recent eras twice every five years. This was done to focus more attention on the more recent periods, given that candidates from 1949 and before had already been combed over many times, while the accumulation of qualified candidates from the later periods meant that it was difficult for a single one to obtain the required super-majority. Candidates became eligible for consideration by the BBWAA as soon as they fell off the BBWAA ballot, with no waiting period, while executives, if still active, were eligible once they reached the age of 70. In all cases, a 16-member panel was to vote on a ballot made up of 10 candidates. The first vote after theses changes was to concern Today's Game, followed by the Modern Era.
The Committee finally succeeded in its bid to elect a living player in its 2018 vote, when Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were both elected as part of the Modern Era group of candidates. They were the first two living players elected since Mazeroski 17 years earlier.
- David J. Gordon: "Racial Parity in the Hall of Fame", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 47, Nr. 2 (Fall 2018), pp. 49-57.
- Bill James: Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, Fireside Books, New York, NY, 1995. ISBN 0684800888 (originally published in 1994 as The Politics of Glory)