Earlier this year, the Hall of Fame postponed its annual Induction Weekend festivities, a perfectly understandable and defensible decision in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dangers of bringing together tens of thousands of fans from all around the country. On Monday, the institution dropped a more puzzling bit of news: it has postponed the upcoming Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committee meetings that would have taken place in December. Both panels will now vote on their slates of candidates in 2021 for inclusion in the Hall’s Class of 2022.
Under normal circumstances, the two 16-member committees would have convened in person at this year’s Winter Meetings in Dallas, with the Early Baseball committee considering candidates whose greatest contribution to baseball came before 1950, and the Golden Days committee considering those whose greatest contribution occurred during the 1950-69 window. The committees were created as a result of the 2016 reorganization of the Era Committee process, which covers managers, executive, umpires, and long-retired players. Prior to the reorganization, three Era Committees rotated on a triennial basis, but the updated version de-emphasized the more bygone — and therefore more picked-over, as far as deserving candidates are concerned — periods in favor of the more recent ones, namely the Modern Baseball (1970-87) and Today’s Game (1988 onward) Era Committees. It was a welcome change, for the most part.
This would have been the Early Days committee’s only meeting during the 10-year cycle the Hall laid out in 2016, and the first of two meetings for the Golden Days group, with the next one coming in 2026. While that’s no big deal on the former front, given that all of its plausible candidates — such as pioneer Doc Adams, shortstop Bill Dahlen, and the incomparable Buck O’Neil — are now deceased, some for over a century, every year matters when it comes to any effort to honor members of the latter group while they’re still alive. The actual slates of candidates for either committee had not yet been announced, but from among the top vote recipients in the 2015 Golden Era Committee balloting, which resulted in a shutout, Dick Allen (who fell one vote short, receiving 11 of 16 votes) is now 78 years old, Tony Oliva (also one vote short) is 82, Jim Kaat (two votes short) is 81, and Maury Wills (three votes short) is 87. Minnie Miñoso, who in falling four votes short was the other candidate who escaped the “three or fewer votes” designation, died less than three months after the balloting and was somewhere between the ages of 89 and 92, depending upon the source. Time is decidedly not on these men’s sides.
Via the Hall’s press release:
“With the nation’s safety concerns, the travel restrictions, and the limitations on group gatherings in effect for many regions, it is not possible to ensure that we can safely and effectively hold these committee meetings,” said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “The Era Committee process, which has been so effective in evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, requires an open, yet confidential conversation and an in-person dialogue involving the members of the 16-person voting committee. In view of these concerns, the Board of Directors has decided that the Golden Days Committee and the Early Days Committee will instead meet during the winter of 2021.”
While it’s not yet clear that there will even be a Winter Meetings given the lack of a vaccine for COVID-19 and the fact that the state of Texas remains a hot spot for infections, what’s odd about the Hall’s decision is the reluctance to conduct virtual meetings, as practically every major company — presumably including the Hall’s own board of directors — has been forced to do over the past five and a half months. While the committee members (Hall of Famers, executives, and veteran writers and historians) may not hail from the most cyberliterate demographic, this shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle. And while the Hall’s confidentiality concerns are understandable, it’s not as though using free and less secure platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts are their only options. If Fortune 500 companies and others can discuss their confidential business matters remotely via encrypted, secure videoconferencing systems, so can the Hall.
Anyway, this is a particular bummer for Allen, around whom a fair bit of momentum has been building. The Phillies recently announced the decision to retire his number 15, making him the franchise’s first non-Hall of Famer to receive that honor. The team will retire the number on September 3, and additionally hold a day in his honor at Citizens Bank Park next season, when fans can attend; the subtext of that decision was the possibility of celebrating his long-awaited election to the Hall as well.
With the postponement, the Hall has also announced that it will push back the next meetings of the Today’s Game and Modern Baseball panels. Here’s the updated schedule; note that the year designated is for induction, and that the voting generally occurs in December of the previous year:
|2022||Golden Days and Early Baseball|
In theory, it’s good news for Kenny Lofton, who fell off the BBWAA ballot after receiving less than 5% of the vote in 2013, in that he’ll be eligible for consideration to join the 2023 Today’s Game ballot, but for just about everybody else involved, this is yet another disappointment in a year filled with them.