A month or so ago, I wrote about the Hall of Fame's latest veterans committee ballot (and no, they don't call it the veterans committee any more). Just to refresh your memory, from the Hall's press release:
(COOPERSTOWN, NY) - Six former major league players, four managers and two executives comprise the 12-name Expansion Era ballot, featuring candidates whose greatest contributions to the game were realized from 1973 through the present. A 16-member Expansion Era electorate will review and cast votes at the 2013 Baseball Winter Meetings for consideration for the Hall of Fame Class of 2014, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum announced today.
Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre are the candidates that will be considered by the electorate. Any candidate who earns votes on 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted on Sunday, July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Results of the Expansion Era vote will be announced on Monday, December 9 at 10 a.m. ET from the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
As I wrote then, I would vote for Cox, La Russa, and Torre. Probably Marvin Miller, too. And maybe George Steinbrenner, someday. But that's just the beginning! Even leaving those five and all players completely aside, I can easily come up with 10 excellent Hall of Fame candidates ... most of whom have received little or no support from various Hall of Fame voting bodies over the years.
I've come up with a similar list before. Oddly, I can't find it anywhere. Which gives me license to come up with another list. Which I'll do later this week. Today, though? I want to write about a single candidate on that imaginary-so-far list, someone I've never written about before. And let's make a little game out of it. Let me tell you a few things about this candidate, and as I mention these things, you can try to figure out who we're talking about ...
This fellow played briefly for the Brooklyn Dodgers during World War II, then spent a couple of years in the U.S. Navy. After the war, he played shortstop for Montreal. His teammate Jackie Robinson had been a shortstop with the Kansas City Monarchs but was adjusting to second base, and by all accounts our fellow did everything he could to help out.
Before long, this fellow became a scout with the Dodgers; not long after that, he became the Dodgers' director of scouting. In 1954, he filed a scouting report that helped convince Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley to spend whatever it took to sign Sandy Koufax; the fellow later said that he saw two things in his life that made the hair on the back of his neck literally stand on end: the first time he saw Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel, and the first time he saw Koufax pitch.
Oh, and that scouting report? On the 60-80 scouting scale, this fellow gave Koufax a 77 for the speed of his fastball, and a 72 for the break on his pitches. Which I mention here because this fellow invented the 60-80 scouting scale. Sixty-some years ago, he invented something that essentially remains the standard, today.
Around the same time, this fellow held a clinic for young players in Puerto Rico, and was the first to offer Roberto Clemente a contract in Organized Baseball. Clemente signed, only to be drafted by the Pirates a year later when the Dodgers' attempts to hide him went for naught.
Also around the same time, our man put together all the things he'd been teaching young, prospective Dodgers into a book: The Dodgers' Way to Play Baseball. The Dodgers, more than any other team of the era, actually had their own way. Branch Rickey had gotten the organization started, but our man refined Rickey's practices like they'd never been refined before. In the decades since, various other organizations have claimed their own ways. Especially the Orioles. But the Dodgers were the firstest with the mostest.
So the Dodgers, with our fellow still serving as head scout, continued to produce great young players, and after moving to Los Angeles in 1958, the club won National League pennants in 1959, 1963, and 1965. Our man took over as general manager in 1968, and the Dodgers returned to the World Series in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981. Counting the Dodgers' pennants in Brooklyn in 1952, '53, '55 and '56, it's no real stretch to suggest that this fellow played a key role in a full dozen National League championships. I wonder how many fellows might say the same?
I don't know about you, but that sure sounds like a Hall of Famer to me. Except, sure: Nobody's ever gotten elected because he was a great scout, or even a great scouting director. To get elected as an executive, you must either own a (successful, unless you're Tom Yawkey) franchise for a long time, or put together a long run of success as a general manager. Our man was a general manager for nearly 20 years, but maybe four league championships and just one World's Championship (1981) just aren't quite enough. After all, Buzzie Bavasi ran the Dodgers through most of the 1950s and '60s and hasn't been elected. However, I would (and will) argue that our man deserves some good measure of credit for his work as a scout and scouting director. Enough credit to put him over the top. I mean, a dozen pennants. Key roles.
And then in 1987, Nightline. Yes, we're talking about Al Campanis. I'll bet that some of you don't know anything about Al Campanis except his career-ending appearance on Nightline in 1987. I'm not going to embed it, because it's distasteful and I don't care to watch it again, but it's right here if you want it. Campanis, who by all accounts had always treated everyone fairly in his long and brilliantly successful career, said a few utterly ridiculous things about African-Americans.
Two days later, the Dodgers fired Campanis and promoted Fred Claire to take over as general manager. In his book, Claire wrote,
Prior to becoming general manager, I often had the opportunity to attend GM meetings with Al. I also sat in on his nightly meetings in spring training. His passion for the game, and the men who played it, was tremendous.
I remember receiving a call from Al one day not long after his departure from the team. During the conversation, Al mentioned he had long had a picture of Jackie Robinson in his office and, it seemed to me, he was making the point as if to say he had no prejudice.
"Al, I've known you for 20 years, I responded. "You don't have anything to prove to me. I know you."
Some years after Campanis's embarrassment, Don Newcombe told the Los Angeles Times, "I don't believe Campanis has a prejudiced bone in his body." Newcombe also suggested that if Jackie Robinson had been alive in 1987, he would have advised Campanis to just apologize, after which everyone would forget about it. Robinson wasn't alive, and so we'll never know. But it does seem to me that Jackie would have forgiven the old friend who taught him everything he knew about not getting killed while turning a double play. And it's strange to me that the worst two minutes in a fellow's career apparently mean more than the forty great years that came before.