Over the past 15 years, the BaseballHall of Fame has all but shut its door on players passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
While the BBWAA has enshrined many players, including 12 over the past four elections, the Hall’s various veterans groups have put in just three players since 2002, none of them living. What was then known as the Golden Era Committee selected Ron Santo in December 2011, a year after he died. Joe Gordon and Deacon White had long since passed when Cooperstown looked their way.
Meanwhile, a number of aging former stars have grown increasingly frustrated, wondering what they have to do to get in. Dick Allen’s son recently told Sporting News his father doesn’t expect to be alive the next time the Hall could consider him in fall 2020. Jim Kaat has grown cynical. Dale Murphy suggested a mass induction.
Meanwhile, former Boston Red Sox ace Luis Tiant told Sporting News last week that he has a plan if he isn’t voted in within his lifetime.
Tiant, 76, could be eligible again for Hall of Fame consideration this fall via the Modern Baseball Committee, which formed last year and is slated to meet twice every five years, considering players, managers, umpires and executives who made their greatest contribution to the game between 1970 and 1987.
Tiant looks to have slim odds this year on a veterans ballot that could be packed with first-time eligible candidates such asAlan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris. And if Tiant doesn’t get in this year or at any point within his lifetime, that might be all she wrote for his case.
“I already told my family, ‘They put me after I die, don’t go anywhere. Don’t go to the Hall of Fame, don’t go to Cooperstown, don’t go no god— place,’” Tiant said. “'Cause I think it’s wrong what they do.”
Tiant doesn’t see the benefit of posthumous induction.
“What good is that they put you after you die?” Tiant said, adding, “You can’t do nothing with your family and your friends.”
Cooperstown chances: 40 percent
Why: Tiant went 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA, which sounds fairly pedestrian, especially for the years he pitched.
But his Hall of Fame case benefits with some contextualizing.
Tiant’s 65.9 Wins Above Replacement as a pitcher are eighth-best for the years he played, 1964 to 1982, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool. Every pitcher in front of Tiant for WAR for the years he pitched is in the Hall of Fame. Overall, Tiant has the second-best WAR behind Rick Reuschel of any pitcher since 1900 retired at least 20 years and not in the Hall of Fame.
“Everybody ... they see me pitch all those years, they know I belong in the Hall of Fame,” Tiant said. “Wherever I go, people told me, ‘You should be in the Hall of Fame.’”
Tiant never got close to Cooperstown through the BBWAA, topping out at 30.9 percent of the vote in his first year on their ballot in 1988. It’s a wonder Tiant even did that well on the writers’ ballot, with WAR many years from becoming a stat.
Perhaps as more analyticallyinclined writers and voters gain the ability to affect change with veterans groups at the Hall of Fame, Tiant’s odds could improve somewhat. Cooperstown enthusiast Adam Darowski has Tiant safely in theHall of Stats. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated ranks Tiant just slightly below an average Hall of Fame pitcher with his stat, JAWS.
Some of Tiant’s contemporaries seem to have understood some of the factors working against him. Tiant had one of the great underrated pitching seasons in baseball history in 1968 when he went 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA for theIndians. In any other year, this would have been worthy of the American League Cy Young Award, though this was the year Tigers ace Denny McLain won 31 games.
Sometime around then, McLain’s catcher, Bill Freehan, encountered Tiant at the ballpark.
“Freehan told me in the batting cage, he told me, ‘You know, you pitching for us … you’d win 40,’” Tiant said.
Overall, though, it remains unclear whether a Hall of Fame committee will adjust for the underwhelming teams Tiant played for before coming to Boston or whether a committee will cut him some slack for what Fenway Park and the advent of the designated hitter rule in 1973 did to Tiant’s earned run average.
Long before Morris, Dave Stieb or Mike Mussina, Tiant was perhaps the first American League pitcher to have the DH rule inflate his ERA to the point it helped delay his Hall of Fame bid. Consider that Tiant had a 3.66 ERA from 1973 through the end of his career; adjusting for his ballparks and league, this was actually 11 percent better than average.
If Tiant’s career had started and ended even a few years sooner than it did, he might have a sub-3.00 lifetime ERA.
Former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog remarked at the time of his induction in 2010that Hall of Fame selection was like getting to go to heaven before death. Tiant and other players have seen the other side of this, with the Hall of Fame’s seemingly endless hemming and hawing in recent years toward veteran candidates.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing to do to anybody, and not just me,” Tiant said. “Tony Oliva ... Tommy John. Jim Kaat. (Dave)Concepcion. Man, there’s a bunch of them that should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know why they do what they do.”
Tiant cited the case of Santo, who only got in after death. Tiantadded, “Look at Minnie Minoso,” who died in March 2015 at 89, a few months after getting turned down once again.
All this being said, Tiant isn’t letting his slimHall of Fame oddsget him down too much. He splits his time between Florida and New England, doing public relations work for the Red Sox during the season. More than this, there are the people who might matter more to him than any plaque ever could: his wife of 55 years, three children and three grandchildren.
“My Hall of Fame is my family, number one,” Tiant said.