Pioneer Contributors Who Should Be in the Baseball Hall of Fame
Some of the most divisive discussions among baseball fans involve who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Every time a player is on the ballot, discussions ensue. Many of them become emotionally charged. When someone makes it, the “Not a Hall of Famer” group starts yakking. Then “HOW IS HE NOT IN THE HALL?!???” comes up. That is inevitably accompanied by “If _________ is in, then _______ should be,” even if – fallaciously – the two did not play the same position. It makes sense that fans argue about this, because the Hall contains around 1% of everyone who ever played even an inning of Major League Baseball.
But not everyone is in there for legendary play or sustained excellence as a manager or general manager. There are others who are in there as “pioneer contributors.” For example, few have heard of Candy Cummings, who gained induction in 1939. Fewer still will look at his career statistics and think he belongs, especially because he only played for six years in the 1870s. But his impact on the game is profound, and he certainly belongs in the Hall, for he invented the curveball.
Here are six who deserve inclusion in the Hall as “pioneer contributors.”
Curt Flood was one of the best defensive outfielders of the 1960s, playing all but 21 games of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a three-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion (1964, 1967), and won seven straight Gold Gloves. His numbers do not warrant induction, but a courageous off-the-field decision does.
The Reserve Clause
For most of the 20th century, players had one-year contracts, and every single player had a “reserve clause”. This stated that if a player was not under contract for the following season, then the club could renew it without the player’s consent for one season at a rate of no less than 80% of the previous year’s salary. Owners interpreted this to mean they could do it forever. Because of this, once a club signed a player to contract, he was there until they traded him, released him, or he retired.
On October 7, 1969 – the day after the first ALCS and NLCS both ended – the Cardinals traded Flood, along with three others, to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for three players. Flood, a 12-year veteran who had spent every full season of his career with the Cardinals – did not want to go to Philadelphia. He loved it in St. Louis and did not want to move his family away from there. Consequently, he refused to report to the Phillies.
Short-term Impact of the Refusal
However, if Flood wanted to play in 1970, he would have to go to Philadelphia due to the reserve clause. Flood felt that he had fulfilled his contract with the Cardinals and should be allowed to consider offers from any club – not just the Phillies. After talking with Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) head Marvin Miller, he decided to file suit and challenge the reserve clause. He did so in January of 1970 despite knowing that he would, most likely, forever be blackballed from Major League Baseball.
Flood did not play at all in 1970. According to teammate Bob Gibson, he received four or five written death threats per day from people accusing him of trying to ruin baseball. The Phillies traded him to the Washington Senators in 1971, and he played 13 games – all in April – before retiring. His lawsuit eventually made it to the Supreme Court in 1972. Flood lost, 5-3, but the lawsuit got the players thinking about how to end the reserve clause. It also made the general public aware of it.
Long-term Impact of the Refusal
A year later, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that baseball fell under its jurisdiction. The MLBPA also had won the right to have cases heard before a neutral arbitrator, paving the way for the 1975 Seitz decision that ruled the reserve clause to be illegal. After the Seitz decision, MLB and the MLBPA created the rules for free agency in the 1976 CBA. Players also gained “10-and-5 rights” so no more Curt Flood-type trades could happen again. All 10-year veterans who have been with a club for five straight years cannot be traded without their consent.
Free agency in baseball eventually led to free agency in the NBA, NHL, and NFL as well. Despite how one feels about free agency, it cannot be denied that it has had a tremendous impact on the game. Without Curt Flood and Marvin Miller, these events may have played out differently. Miller finally gained induction – posthumously, unfortunately – thanks to the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December 2019. Miller should have been in years ago but – due to vendettas from a large enough percentage of the gatekeepers – was not until he had been dead for seven years. Flood suffered an untimely death in 1997 at the age of 59. Even if he’s not there to accept the honor, his descendants are, and for them to see him receive his proper honors will mean a lot to them – and to his legacy.
Tommy John, Mike Marshall, and Dr. Frank Jobe
Left-hander Tommy John pitched for 26 years (1963-74, 1976-89), earning four All-Star nods while pitching for five division champions and three pennant winners. Of the three benchmark counting stats, he came close on two and fell far short of the third. With one PED-related exception, every pitcher who has won 300 games is in the Hall – John won 288. Every pitcher with 50 or more career shutouts is in – John had 46. The third benchmark – 3,000 strikeouts – is the one John fell far short of, as he had 2,245. He was on the ballot for the full 15 years, never even receiving 33% of the vote – let alone the 75% required for induction.
However, even non-baseball fans have heard of him due to the surgery that bears his name. When John blew out his elbow in the middle of the 1974 pennant race, it was the type of injury that ended careers. His teammate on the Los Angeles Dodgers – Mike Marshall – was working on his PhD in Kinesiology, one he eventually earned in 1978. Marshall suggested that John try having a graft done. After he explained the procedure, John figured that he had nothing to lose, so the two went to the Dodgers team physician, Dr. Frank Jobe.
Dr. Jobe performed the surgery in November of 1974. He took a tendon from John’s non-pitching forearm and used it as a replacement for the left ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). After spending the entire 1975 season rehabbing, John returned to the majors in 1976 and continued pitching until his retirement in 1989.
Hundreds of pitching careers at all levels have been saved due to this surgery. It all came from the bravery of Tommy John and the brains of Mike Marshall and Dr. Frank Jobe. Few, if any, people or actions have had a greater impact.
One of the most divisive areas of baseball is the use of advanced metrics, or analytics. Bill James invented many of these statistics, which he named “sabermetrics” after the acronym SABR (Society for American Baseball Research). Its use by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane was the subject of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and the 2011 film based on it. Now every team in baseball uses them in scouting, and most — if not all — teams use them to make managerial decisions. His impact on baseball cannot be denied, and since his invention of these statistics forever changed the game, he must be included in the Hall of Fame as a Pioneer.
No proper history of baseball can be told without mentioning the name of George Steinbrenner. Love him or hate him, Mr. Steinbrenner’s impact on baseball has been profound. He was one of the most hands-on owners in decades. His embrace of free agency made Yankees fans adore him and the rest of the league despise him. The famous feuds “The Boss” had with dozens of people – among them former manager Billy Martin and Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield – made for spectacular theater.
His launching of the YES Network – the first television network owned by a team – showed the power of regional television, and a few other teams have started their own since then. He was a hero to many and a villain to many others – and he played both roles superbly. However, even those who hated him respected the heck out of him. Just look at how baseball responded to his sudden death the morning of the 2010 All-Star Game.
A Very Generous Man
One side of Mr. Steinbrenner that few knew about until after his death was his generosity. George’s father, Henry, told him, “If you do something good for someone, and more than two people know about it, you didn’t do it for the right reason.” But after his passing, several stories came out. Like the time he caught a boy painting graffiti outside Yankee Stadium and gave him a job as the team batboy. Mr. Steinbrenner told the youth to go to school, stay out of trouble, and keep up his grades. The young man followed through and ended up working with him for 35 years — team consultant Ray Negron.
There are several other stories. Once in 1977, he paid for a seven-year-old girl to have lifesaving surgery after a freak accident. The only condition was that her family could never discuss it. Once in 1974, he saw a boy buying a baseball with stamped replica signatures on it during a rain delay at Yankee Stadium. He offered to trade the boy a ball with real signatures on them. When the youngster declined, Mr. Steinbrenner gave him the ball anyway. After Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, he showed up at the Salvation Army in Tampa and said, “Put me to work.” After 17 hours of lifting gallon jugs of water and making a 13-hour round-trip drive, he went home and went to bed. Several U.S. Olympic athletes also told of the great things he did for them.
Others with an Impact
There are 34 executives, pioneers, and former commissioners who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among them are Charles Comiskey, Clark Griffith, Bill Veeck, and Walter O’Malley. Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Ed Barrow – a former Yankees owner and former Yankees president, respectively – are both in. Mr. Steinbrenner has had an impact that is either equal or greater to each one of these deserving men. He should have been voted in years ago, while he was still alive, so he could have been there to accept the honor. Now even one of his sons has passed on. The Hall needs to induct him while his three living children are still around to accept on behalf of their father.
The Baseball Hall of Fame Is for More than Playing
The Baseball Hall of Fame says on its website that it is “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by . . . honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.” One way they do that is by “honoring, by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers, and recognizing others for their significant achievements.” (Emphasis added)
These six men were pioneers in the sport. Curt Flood gave up the rest of his career to fight something that he considered to be unjust – the reserve clause. Not only did his fight end the clause, but it led to free agency, something that revolutionized not only baseball but all of professional sports.
Hundreds of pitchers have had their careers saved thanks to the bravery and creativity of three men. Tommy John was brave to be willing to go through the procedure. Mike Marshall, PhD, had the creativity to think of the procedure in the first place. Dr. Frank Jobe made it work.
Bill James tried to answer the questions that traditional statistics left unanswered in an effort to paint a more complete picture of batting and pitching performance. His efforts led to a change in how teams evaluate players.
George Steinbrenner opened his wallet to sign free agents as soon as the era began. He also thought of new revenue streams for his team, among them a television network. Other teams have followed suit. Whether his contributions were positive is still a matter of debate, but that does not change the fact that they were significant. Nor does it take away from the dozens of stories of his generosity.
A complete history of baseball cannot be told without including these six in the account. Their achievements were courageous, creative, and eternal. These are certainly “significant achievements,” and as such, warrant inclusion in Cooperstown. Three have already died. Let’s get them in before their children do, and let’s get the other three in while they’re still here.
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