Again Thursday, baseball writers blocked Maris’ entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame because of their biases and personal feelings. The Golden Era ballot of eight players and two executives to be considered for entry to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee, announced Thursday, included no one as famous as Maris.
Here’s how selection to the Hall of Fame works: Five years after a player’s career ends, he goes on the ballot for election by the Baseball Writers Association of America. A player is elected if he wins 75 percent or more of the votes. A player can stay on the BBWAA ballot for up to 15 years. Then after a wait of five more years, he can be considered by the Golden Era Committee (known previously as the Old-Timers Committee and the Veterans Committee). The Golden Era Committee is a mix of Hall of Fame members, baseball executives and writers, with 75 percent of the committee required for election. But a committee of writers still picks the ballot for the committee. So writers can keep a player out of the Hall of Fame at both levels.
Maris offended the writers during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. He was a shy and surly man and, under the pressure of chasing a hallowed record that writers didn’t consider him worthy of, he grew more shy and surly. And fifty years later, writers born after he set his record still hold it against him. Like war correspondents feel like they are following in Ernie Pyle‘s footsteps and investigative reporters uphold the traditions of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, today’s sports writers uphold the biases of previous generations.
I won’t make the full case here for why Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame. I did that two years ago on my Hated Yankees blog. As I noted earlier this year when the 50th anniversary of his 61st homer of 1961 approached, few Hall of Famers did anything so famous that its anniversary was noted 50 years later. What I want to show here is that by objective measures, Maris is notably more famous than the 10 finalists chosen by the writers for consideration this year.
If the Hall of Fame standards required longevity or surpassing milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 career homers, Roger Maris would not belong. But great players whose careers were cut short by injury, such as Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean, have been voted into the Hall of Fame by the writers. Maris’ career was cut short by injury (and by misdiagnosis of his injury by team doctors). His greatness was gone by age 30 and his career finished by the time he was 33.
But because these supposedly objective journalists didn’t like him, they and the journalists who followed have kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
Maris’s case for belonging in the Hall of Fame is not based solely on his breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers in a season. He was a two-time Most Valuable Player, a Gold Glove outfielder and a three-time World Series champion. But yes, his fame is rooted in his successful season-long pursuit of Ruth’s record in 1961. And any objective person would have to say that his fame has stood the test of time.
If writers doubted his fame shortly after he retired, it was unquestionable in 1998, when the pursuit — and eventual breaking — of his record by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was the biggest thing that had happened in baseball for years. Even losing the record after 37 years didn’t dim Maris’s fame. He became the subject of a critically acclaimed 2001 HBO movie directed by Billy Crystal. As allegations (and an admission by McGwire) of performance-enhancing drugs tarnished the achievements of the three players who passed Maris (Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record), many said Maris should still be recognized as the single-season homer king. And, as I noted, observances of his 50th anniversary underscored his enduring fame.
You could make a good case for any of the people on the Golden Era ballot to join the Hall of Fame. Some of them will eventually. My argument here is not against any of them. The five hitters all have more impressive career batting totals than Maris. If longevity is the only measure, they all should be ahead of him, though none of them reached the milestones that ensure automatic enshrinement. All five played at least 15 years (Maris was finished after 12). But this is a Hall of Fame. Fame is so important it’s in the name.
Here are some objective measures of the fame of Roger Maris and the 10 people on the Golden Era Ballot:
Google hits: Ron Santo 3,090,000; Maris 1,330,000; Allie Reynolds 543,000; Gil Hodges 326,000; Luis Tiant 234,000; Tony Oliva 223,000; Jim Kaat 189,000; Ken Boyer 154,000; Charlie Finley 96,000; Buzzie Bavasi 37,600; Minnie Miñoso 24,200. For online fame, Maris has more fame than eight of this year’s finalists combined. And he died in 1985, almost a decade before the World Wide Web was developed. Each of those Web mentions is a measure of his enduring fame. Only Hodges and Boyer have been dead longer than Maris and four of the players are still alive. The only person surpassing Maris in Internet attention, Ron Santo, played for one of the most popular teams, the Chicago Cubs, then spent two decades as a Cubs broadcaster for that team and became a national advocate for diabetes research when he was battling that disease, before dying last year, 25 years after Maris died.
YouTube clips about them with 10,000 or more views: Maris 14 (I didn’t view them all, but didn’t count a couple that from the descriptions seemed to be primarily about McGwire), Santo 6, Tiant 6, Hodges 5, Oliva 2, Kaat 2, Miñoso 1.
Most Valuable Player Awards: Maris 2, Boyer 1.
Major league records: Maris held the single-season home run record for 37 years. Reynolds shared the record for World Series wins for eight years. Kaat held the record for most Gold Gloves for 30 years. Miñoso holds a novelty record, playing in five decades. His legitimate career started in 1949 and concluded in 1964. He donned a White Sox uniform for three games in 1976 and two in 1980 (at age 54), just to set the record.
World championships: Reynolds 6, Bavasi 4, Maris 3, Finley 3, Hodges 2 (plus one as manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets), Boyer 1, Kaat 1.
League championships: Bavasi 8, Maris 7, Hodges 7 (plus one as a manager), Reynolds 6, Finley 3, Kaat 2, Boyer 1, Oliva 1, Tiant 1.
Home run titles: Maris, 1.
RBI titles: Maris 2, Boyer 1.
Slugging titles: Maris 1, Oliva 1.
World Series homers: Maris 6, Hodges 5, Oliva 1.
Highest percentage in BBWAA voting: Hodges 63.4, Oliva 47.3, Santo 43.3, Maris, 43.1, Reynolds 33.6, Tiant 30.9, Kaat 29.6, Boyer 25.5, Miñoso 20.9.
There are other measures that favor other players (Oliva won three batting championships). But that’s a lot of objective measures by which Maris was clearly more famous than all or most of the 10 men on the Golden Era ballot this year.
Objective journalists could not have left Maris off that list. So don’t tell me objectivity is a core value of journalism.