When Harold Baines and Albert Belle appeared on the Today’s Game Committee ballot in November for the Baseball Hall of Fame, they’d have been forgiven for not getting their hopes up.
Mark Carfagno, who’s dedicated to getting Dick Allen in the Hall of Fame, pointed out an interesting fact in a recent mass email: The Veterans Committee, as it’s casually known, has never enshrined an African-American who played his entire career in the major leagues.
The committee has enshrined Larry Doby, who played in the Negro Leagues before becoming the first black player in the American League. It also enshrined eight Negro League greats after the Hall’s original Negro League Committee disbanded in 1977. With Negro Leaguers made eligible again in July, the Veterans Committee could induct more greats such as Buck O’Neil, "Double Duty" Radcliffe and John Donaldson.
But the committee has done little for a number of black players who made their mark in baseball in the 1950s and beyond, from Allen to Maury Wills to Curt Flood.
It raises the question: Does the Veterans Committee have a race problem?
Maybe. The Veterans Committee has always been a province for older players, with the average inductee beginning his career in 1916 and retiring in 1932, according to data culled from Baseball-Reference.com . Even in recent years, this trend hasn’t changed much. Since 1990, the average honoree by the committee has debuted in 1930 and retired in 1945. The committee has shown a fondness for retreads such as 1942 American League Most Valuable Player and Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon, who was a veterans candidate at least 15 times before finally being inducted in 2009. (Gordon also appeared on the writers' ballot 12 times.)
Meanwhile, between ballots that have featured as few as five players to choose from and veteran elections not happening every year since 2001, it has become exceedingly difficult for contemporary players of any race to gain induction to Cooperstown through the Veterans Committee. The committee has put in just six white or Latino players whose careers began in 1947 or later: Ron Santo, Orlando Cepeda, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Bunning, Richie Ashburn and Nellie Fox. On the other hand, the committee has enshrined 65 major leaguers who debuted before 1947 as well as nine Negro Leaguers counting Doby.
All of this has led to a number of fine African-American candidates being eligible with the Veterans Committee but, at this juncture, remaining on the outside looking in with the Hall of Fame. These players include:
Dick Allen: One of the greatest power hitters in baseball history, obscured by the fact that he played in what Brian Kenny of MLB Network refers to as a second Deadball Era. Allen, who played for the Phillies and a number of other teams between 1963 and 1977, led his league in slugging three times and home runs twice. His 156 OPS+ ranks tops for any eligible hitter retired at least 20 years who isn’t in Cooperstown;
Maury Wills: He gets falsely credited with singlehandedly bringing the stolen base back into baseball, something Luis Aparicio, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson all had a hand in, among others. But Wills’ 1962 season, when he stole 104 bases and shattered Ty Cobb’s single-season record, was a thing of beauty. He also helped make the Dodgers arguably the best team of the 1960s;
Vida Blue: The true ace pitcher for the Mustache Gang Athletics of the early 1970s. Somehow, Catfish Hunter has been in the Hall of Fame for nearly 30 years, but Blue never got 10 percent of the vote from the writers. His well-documented issues with cocaine might have cost him;
Curt Flood: Like Wills, a false narrative fuels Flood's Cooperstown bid, namely that he was responsible for ending baseball’s reserve clause. That said, Flood’s courage in taking on the baseball establishment by refusing to report to the Phillies after a 1969 trade is something to be celebrated, even if he later lost in the United States Supreme Court. He was an elite center fielder, a good hitter and a key member of some great Cardinals teams as well;
Al Oliver: Retired with a .303 lifetime batting average and 2,743 hits. Might have had 3,000 hits if collusion hadn’t helped force him out of baseball after 1985;
Albert Belle: Averaged 40 home runs and 130 RBIs per 162 games for his career. Had a well-founded reputation as a hothead during his playing days, though he seems to have mellowed considerably since then. Perhaps Belle can win veteran voters over at some point;
Dwight Gooden: Cocaine robbed Gooden of being the greatest pitcher of his generation, though he still might have a case for Cooperstown. His lifetime numbers, particularly his 48.2 Wins Above Replacement and 24.0 Wins Above Average, are better than a number of pitchers already enshrined. Gooden also might have a claim as the best young pitcher in baseball history. He went 41-13 with a 2.00 ERA before he was even