Detroit — The 11 longtime newspaper writers tasked with creating the just-released Modern Baseball Era Hall of Fame ballot are taking some serious heat this week.
Namely, baseball fans and experts across the country, and not just in Detroit, are dismayed by the exclusion of legendary Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker for consideration.
The Historical Overview Committee was limited to 10 names on the ballot, to be reviewed by another panel at next week's winter meetings at Disney World. And they settled on 10 names that didn't include Whitaker, even though his statistics — old-school and new-age, particularly Wins Above Replacement (WAR) — would objectively put him atop any such list.
There are two position players in the history of baseball who are eligible for induction and have a higher career WAR than Whitaker. One is Barry Bonds, whose steroid suspicions have slowed his case, and the other is some gent named Bill Dahlen, who played in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Yet, the Historical Overview Committee insists it had a wealth of candidates to choose from, and that Whitaker simply fell short, at least this time around.
"There was no decision not to include Lou Whitaker," said Jack O'Connell, a longtime Hartford (Conn.) Courant writer and longtime secretary/treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
"His career was discussed along with many others, but he did not get sufficient support to make the ballot. There were quite a few other players from that era who might have been worthy of inclusion, but we were limited to 10. This does not mean Whitaker or anyone else who did not make the ballot will be excluded forever."
The Historical Overview Committee chose these 10 men: Alan Trammell, Whitaker's longtime double-play partner in Detroit who appears to be the favorite to earn election next month; Jack Morris, another member of the 1984 Tigers; former Dodgers and Padres great Steve Garvey, a Michigan State alum; former Brewers, Cardinals and Braves catcher Ted Simmons, a Southfield native; as well as Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Luis Tiant and the late players-association chief, Marvin Miller.
Candidates must receive 75 percent of the vote, or 12 votes, from the 16-member Modern Baseball Era committee next month. Committee members will be made public in December; Tigers legend Al Kaline has been a past voter.
The News contacted the majority of the Historical Overview Committee members for an explanation behind Whitaker's exclusion and received a response from several, including some no-comments.
Longtime Rockies beat writer Tracy Ringolsby said, "Really nothing to offer." Mark Whicker, of the Orange County (Calif.) Register, said, "discussions within the committee are confidential."
Still, Jim Henneman, a longtime beat writer for The Sun in Baltimore covering the Orioles, was willing to explain how the process went down.
"Lou's candidacy was discussed at length and I have little doubt it will be again," he said in an email to The News. "This ballot was considered one of the strongest ever assembled, certainly under the new format. I have been through a couple of these sessions now and the discussions are lively — and thorough. There are some others like Lou who didn't make the cut who will be discussed again, I'm sure."
The Modern Baseball Era committee includes players and other dignitaries whose career achievements came mostly during the 1970-87 time span. That committee will assemble again in two years, at the 2019 winter meetings. The other three veterans committees — Early Baseball, Golden Era and Today's Game — are considered once every five years.
Other members of the Historical Overview Committee include Bob Elliott (Toronto), Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Rick Hummel (St. Louis), Bill Madden (New York), Jim Reeves (Texas), Glenn Schwarz (San Francisco) and Dave Van Dyck (Chicago). Elliott, Hirdt, Hummel and Madden didn't respond to request for comment from The News, an oddity from longtime members of the news media.
It's the same 11-person committee that was charged with putting together the Today's Game ballot that was considered at the 2016 winter meetings. That committee also features 11 longtime BBWAA members, most if not all who were active members and voters in 2001 when Whitaker, received less than 5 percent of that vote and, thus, fell off the writers' ballot after a single year of consideration. It's worth questioning why a second-chance committee designed to right perceived wrongs of the BBWAA vote wouldn't include new members not involved in the 2001 vote.
Asked how the committee is chosen, the Hall of Fame didn't comment. But the Hall of Fame, in a statement to The News on Monday after the ballot was released, defended the work of the Historical Overview Committee.
"The BBWAA’s Historical Overview Committee is given complete autonomy to determine the ballot for each era’s election cycle, including in which era each candidate best fits,” the Hall of Fame said. “The HOC takes this difficult task very seriously, putting a great deal of thought and energy into the process, which includes the consideration of all eligible former players, managers, umpires, and executives.
"The Hall of Fame stands behind the HOC’s Modern Baseball Era ballot. The fact that there were many worthy candidates for consideration serves to underscore how difficult it is to make it onto this ballot."
Whitaker, according to writers who responded to The News, cited the loaded list of candidates, which was the same excuse used in 2001 when the three-time Gold Glove winner fell off the ballot after one year. Seven men on that 2001 ballot eventually earned Hall-of-Fame induction.
But Whitaker, a five-time All-Star and 1978 rookie of the year whose contemporaries like Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio and Joe Morgan cruised to HOF election, has a higher career WAR than anybody on the 10-person Modern Baseball Era ballot, including Trammell, who has the highest on the 10-man list. Whitaker's WAR is nearly twice that of Garvey's.
Another longtime second baseman, Bobby Grich, would trump just about the entire list by that metric, and late catcher Thurman Munson — his career cut short by a fatal plane crash — would be in the middle of the pack, at least in terms of WAR.
Whitaker, 60, was a fifth-round pick by the Tigers in 1975 out of Martinsville High in Virginia, debuted in 1977 (the same day as Trammell) and played 19 years in Detroit, batting .276/.363/.426 with 244 home runs and 1,084 RBIs in 2,390 games.