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The Worst Hall of Fame Selection of All Time?
2007-12-04 09:38
by Mike Carminati

There were no sabermetrics in 1937. Ernest Lanigan had published his Baseball Cyclopedia 15 years earlier, but a good thirty-plus years until it was updated by the first Big Mac, i.e., MacMillan's Baseball Encyclopedia, first published in 1969.

Even though there had already been one full Hall of Fame class (and a stellar one it was), the actual Hall of Fame museum would not open its doors for another two years. Actually, the time and place where the museum would be christened are both emblematic of the level of information available about the sport in the early days of the Hall. The place it would be located, Cooperstown, was the site of the apocryphal birth of the sport at the hands of Abner Doubleday supposedly in 1839. The Hall was set to open on the birthplace of baseball on its 100th birthday. Would that any of that were true. In 1937, however, this was historical fact.

In 1937, Morgan Bulkeley, who was on the Mills Commission that invented the Doubleday myth, was picked in the first class of executives and pioneers to enter the Hall. He was picked before true pioneers like Alexander Joy Cartwright, Henry Chadwick, and William Hulbert. Bulkeley was selected largely because he was the first president of the National League and because of his later political career as the governor of and senator from Connecticut. In truth, Bulkeley served as president for one year while the position was envisioned as a rotating role among the team owners. After one season Hulbert, owner of the White Stockings (now Cubs) and the true force behind the fledgling league, decided that the system was not working and he claimed the role for himself. Bulkeley's only other involvement in the sport was to pilot the Hartford club through two NL seasons.

Seventy years later a man who perhaps has less of a claim to a Hall plaque than even Bulkeley was picked by the constantly re-tooled Veterans Committee. That man is former commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Given that there was one major league in 1876 when Bulkeley was the NL president, he essentially filled the commissioner role. Kuhn served for 15 years and Bulkeley for one, but they played similar roles, absent ones.

Kuhn's highlights include night-time World Series, the addition of six expansion teams, the advent of divisional play, and the introduction of free agency. Of course, Kuhn is largely Johnny Bravo in all these events, i.e., he fit the suit.

Of the expansion teams, four were already granted a franchise prior to his tenure as commissioner (at the 1967 winter meetings in fact). Kuhn did help to ensure that those teams were as weak as possible at their inception. Both the Expos and Padres lost 110 games. Consider that "Downtown" Ollie Brown was the first player picked in the NL expansion draft and you get an idea of the caliber of player available to the new teams. The Pilots did even worse, went bankrupt, and were sold to a used car salesman in Milwaukee but more on him later. Only the Royals found success in the short term.

The other two expansion teams the Mariners and Blue Jays in 1977, were foisted upon baseball when Seattle sued for breach of contract after the quick hook the Pilots received. The expansion Mariners helped slake the locals and the Blue Jays were awarded to balance the AL slate. I don't see how Kuhn can take credit for any of these teams.

Divisional play was also a holdover that Kuhn inherited. That's two down.

If anyone should credit for free agency, it's Marvin Miller who was monumentally snubbed by the committee (receiving just three of twelve votes). Kuhn fought against free agency and for the reserve clause as the commissioner and as baseball's legal counsel before that. I had more to do with free agency than Bowie Kuhn did.

So what's left? Playing World Series games at night. Great! Let's put him in the Hall. Kuhn did oversee an era in which attendance grew by 50% (from an average of 14,217 in 1968 to 21,256 in 1984), which is nice. But baseball saw much greater growth after his tenure. Attendance grew by another 50% in the nine seasons after Kuhn left the game (to an average of 30,964 in 1993).

Keep in mind that Kuhn embodied the old racist owner-over-player era in the game. He proposed putting Satchel Paige in a separate (but unequal) wing of the Hall when he was to be inducted as the first Negro Leaguer. He snubbed Hank Aaron in his pursuit of the home run record. He left Willie Stargell off the All-Star roster in his last season (1982) even though he added Carl Yastrzemski in his final season the next year. Kuhn suspended Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for their involvement with casinos while he left owner George Steinbrenner free to own a casino.

Morgan Bulkeley was the nadir of Hall selection until yesterday. His involvement in the game was abbreviated and completely forgettable. His selection basically opens the door to any and all owners, executives, and ticket takers. Until yesterday, he was the worst Hall selection of all time.

Bowie Kuhn is a serious challenger, however. He did have a longer tenure and he had more involvement in baseball history. Alas, everything he touched turned to crap. He has the reverse Midas touch. He did more to set the game back than almost any other executive in baseball history and did very little to help move the game along. Kuhn is a terrible choice though probably not as bad as Bulkeley.

So what's going on. The Vets were revamped after the death of leader Ted Williams and after the selection in 2001 of light-hitting Bill Mazeroski. The new Vets Committee were comprised of all the living Hall of Famers, and they couldn't decide on any one player. The Vets were reorganized so that the non-players were reviewed by a Hall-selected Historical Overview Committee. Here are the details regarding the composition of the current committee.

The Committee now "works" in that it actually selects someone. However, it is not selecting the best candidates, who were arguably Marvin Miller and Doug Harvey this go-around.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Kuhn's election is that it opens the door to another commissioner who did little to end a players strike, the used car salesman who is now the commissioner, "Larry" Bud Selig. Selig now appears a lock for the Hall. I wonder whose hat he will wear.

2007-12-04 10:02:34
1.   JL25and3
I still lean towards Rick Ferrell as the worst HOF selection - certainly the most inexplicable. But this one is close.
2007-12-04 10:45:29
2.   Murray
Kuhn is substantially worse than any bad player selection because there's no playing record about which to argue. The balance of Kuhn's alleged accomplishments were either initiated by others (divisional play) or fall into the category of inevitable (night playoff games). Mike nailed it by describing Kuhn's reign as plagued by the reverse Midas touch.
2007-12-04 12:12:00
3.   Mattpat11
I was reading this, and I kept thinking "Oh crap, Bud's getting in the Hall of Fame"
2007-12-05 16:28:27
4.   Gagne55
1 Farrell isn't even the worst catcher in the Hall. (Ever take a look at Ray Schalk's batting line?)

3 Bud Selig oversaw four expansion teams being added, the addition of the wild card and interleague play, the addition of steroids testing, and made the all-star game count for homefield in the World Series.

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