Saturday, January 25, 2014


In installment #1 of this series, we looked at the yearly ballot origins for the current inductees in the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals. To recap, 21 of the 45 current inductees appeared on the initial 1999 ballot--a fact that demonstrates the prescience and judgment of the Shrine's fathers (Reliquary honchoes Terry Cannon and Buddy Kilchesty).

Here, in installment #2, we'll look at the voting results in greater detail. (Thanks to our old friend and occasional confederate G. Jay Walker for doing the lion's share of the compilation efforts.) Here we'll look at each new "class" of Shrine candidates from 2000 to the present and provide some brief commentary, followed by a summary analysis.

Some color-coding explanation at the outset. A yellow line across the candidate's data in each table indicates someone who has been inducted into the Shrine; a blue line indicates someone who is still on the 2014 ballot (which was recently released to the public; voting will commence in April, and the sixteenth class of Eternals will be announced in early May). A name in italics indicates someone who is in the Hall of Fame.

The 2000 ballot has produced two inductees: Jim Abbott and William "Dummy" Hoy. It's an interesting coincidence that both of these men are players who played with significant physical handicaps. Four "class of 2000" members remain on the ballot, two of whom have returned after being removed previously. Five candidates were dropped after receiving little support in the first year of voting.

The 2001 ballot is one of the most successful after the massive success story in 1999: no less than six members of this "class" have been inducted (Rod Dedeaux, Fernando Valenzuela, Kenichi Zenimura, Bill Buckner, Luis Tiant and Eddie Feigner). Dizzy Dean, on the ballot continuously since 2001, has gained support over the years and is a leading candidate for induction in 2014. Sy Berger, who revolutionized the baseball card business during his tenure with Topps, debuted on the 2001 ballot, was dropped after his second year, but returned on the 2013 ballot with an impressive vote total and appears to have a good shot at induction in the near future. Only two candidates were dropped after the first year of voting.

The "class of 2002" did not gather much support (only 9% of the ballots were cast for these candidates in their initial year, third lowest percentage in the history of the Shrine voting). Half of the candidates (five of ten) were dropped after the first year; three of the remaining candidates were dropped after year two. Only Charles Conlon, the famed baseball photographer, and Fay Vincent, the "martyred" baseball commissioner, have been on the ballot continuously and remain on it for 2014. Joe Pepitone was returned to the ballot in 2012 and has gained more support in his second go-round with the Reliquary voters.

2003 proved to be another extremely successful group of candidates, yielding five Shrine inductees (Ila Borders, Roberto Clemente, Ted Giannoulas aka the San Diego Chicken, Bill James and Dr. Frank Jobe). There is more diversity in this gaggle of inductees than in any other "class," and arguably in any other "Hall of Fame"-type organization anywhere. There's an odd fact elsewhere in the voting results, however: several candidates with 10% or more of the vote were dropped after the first year (not usually the case in these elections). Only legendary LA-based coach and scout Phil Pote remains on the 2014 ballot.

A huge influx of new candidates arrived in 2004 (eighteen in total), but only one (pioneering leftist sportswriter Lester Rodney) emerged as an Eternal. Several of the 2004 nominees hung around the ballot for a number of years, but only Ernie Harwell and Tug McGraw are still on the current ballot.

2005 had a better-than-average vote percentage for new candidates (12%, a bit better than the historical average of 11.7%), but it has produced only one inductee thus far (Jim "Mudcat" Grant, one of the most gracious--and loquacious--of "in person" guests at the annual induction ceremony). Don Zimmer, considered by some to be the Jack Morris of Shrine of the Eternals candidates, was just fractions of a pecentage point from being enshrined in 2013 and may well make it this year. Writer Eliot Asinof (of Eight Men Out fame) is the other "class of 2005" holdover. (Doug Rader's low vote count in this election suggests that Jim Bouton's Ball Four tales have weak coattails when it comes to the Shrine).

From here on in, we're shrinking the charts, since we don't really need to see all of those blank spaces in the preceding years.

2006 has proven to be a fallow year; only two of the twelve candidates remain on the ballot. Interestingly, perhaps, those two (Mike Marshall and Rusty Staub) share a connection with the late and still lamented Montreal Expos franchise.

The class of 2007 produced two enormously popular candidates: pitcher-writer Jim Brosnan, the pioneer of the in-season player diary, who was elected in his first year; and Emmett Ashford, pioneering African-American umpire, who was selected in his second year. (The Shrine voters truly do love pioneers, though they probably won't be fooled into voting for Danny Boone.)  Two other candidates from this class remain on the ballot, and they're good ones: Fred Merkle (he of the famous "Boner"...ranks high in "adversity") and Dan Quisenberry (ranks high in the "he is one of us" factor). Neither looks to be a strong factor in the 2014 voting, however.

2008 is a classic "boom or bust" year, with three inductees (Buck O'Neil, Jim Eisenreich, and Manny Mota) surrounded by a group that was resoundingly rejected by the voters. One exception to that, however, and it's a big one: in one of their most canny connections between baseball and American culture, Cannon and Kilchesty tabbed the hero-victim of Charles M. Schulz' classic cartoon strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown--long-suffering pitcher and manager of his rag-tag team (that featured a beagle playing shortstop)--as perhaps the ultimate Eternal. Thus far, however, the round-headed kid has not quite captured the imagination of the voters. It's a shame, because this is one of the best "high concepts" that the Reliquary has come up with, at least on a par with the "Walter O'Malley tortilla."

The 2009 ballot contains some kind of glitch that we hope Mr. Walker (who compiled 95% of this data from source materials) will one day rectify. We have no idea who "Oriole Parl" is supposed to be, but the data we've received indicated that someone or something by that name (if it is a name...) received 5% of the vote from the Shrine constituency that year. What we can tell you is that only one member of the "class of 2009" is still on the ballot in 2014--Vic Power. We like Vic, but we don't think he's going to become an Eternal unless they (heaven forfend) create their own "Veterans' Committee."

[UPDATE: The mystery of "Oriole Parl" has been solved, thanks to Terry Cannon himself. It was a transcription error in Jay Walker's spreadsheet--and one simple enough that a bright third-grader (which we once were, but are clearly no longer...) could figure out. It's "Oriole Park," short for "Oriole Park at Camden Yards," and this was Buddy Kilchesty's brainchild--that the first of the "new breed" of modern ballparks was a tipping point of sufficient force that it should be commemorated as a key moment in baseball history. Alas, a superbly impassioned mini-essay on the subject did not resonate with Reliquary voters, and Kilchesty's kinetic prose went for naught, as the voting results indicate.]

2010 was a very successful ballot-year, with three quick inductees in Roger Angell, Pete Rose, and Maury Wills. Full disclosure: Angell had been on the 1999 ballot, but got lost in the wealth of those names, polling only 4%. Eleven years later, he outpolled Rose. Neither of them came to the induction ceremony, but Rose was thoughtful enough to send Greg Goossen, who gave one of the funniest speeches in the history of the Eternals ceremonies. Shockingly, less than two years later, he passed away.

The "class of 2011" had the second lowest overall percent of the vote (7.7%) of any yearly group. Only Annie Savoy, fictional baseball groupie memorably portrayed by Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham (1988), remains on the 2014 ballot. Like Charlie Brown, Annie is an inspired idea for the Eternals: we hope the two of them might wind up going in together someday.

2012 produced two very strong candidates: Lefty O'Doul, who was elected in 2013 in his second year on the ballot; and Steve Bilko, the legendary PCL slugger who had three electrifying seasons with the old Los Angeles Angels in 1955-57. Four other candidates aside from Bilko remain on the 2014 ballot, but, sadly, not Toni Stone, the pioneering female African-American who played second base in the 1950s Negro Leagues.

There are no inductees yet from the 2013 candidates, though Bo Jackson showed astonishing strength (as was always the case, of course, in real life) with 32% of the vote; Rocky Colavito also polled well.

We still hold out hope, however, for Octavius Catto, whose life (and early, violent death) intersected the dangerous age of post-Civil War reconstruction, the often-overlooked backdrop for the rise of professional baseball. Catto is one of the most inspired choices for the Shrine since their first, ultra-visionary ballot, adding the kind of historical depth that makes the Reliquary project unique. A voting body that has shown a strong tendency to support the African-American experience in baseball and the social meaning associated with it should eventually connect the dots and induct Catto, who is the original, largely forgotten symbol of the long, difficult struggle for integration.

We will take a look at the 2014 ballot, including the new candidates, in Part 3. We'll also look at some patterns in the voting results that might prove interesting from a variety of perspectives. Stay tuned.