ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This may be the year that the baseball Hall of Fame veterans committee inflicted a mortal wound by shooting itself in the foot.
There has been a growing concern that the committee has lost touch with the game -- and the people it is charged with reviewing. Certainly, the haphazard voting record of the past two years has done little to dispel the belief of many that the group has outlived its usefulness.
A lot of people are upset that Earl Weaver, in his second year of eligibility, was passed over again. What most don't realize is that Weaver did not even qualify for the short list of candidates considered this year.
Last year Weaver got a smattering of support, reportedly four votes, but mysteriously was dropped from the list of candidates this time around. Weaver's record (the fourth-best winning percentage in history) didn't change and neither did any members of the committee.
However, Weaver's omission was far from the worst sin committed by the veterans committee this year. Leon Day, the former Negro Leagues star, was one of two nominees (Nellie Fox reportedly was the other) who received 11 votes, one shy of the number needed for election.
The real problem was the fact that Roy Campanella, one of the 16 committee members, was unable to be present when the vote was taken. It's inconceivable that Campanella, who once played for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues, hasn't been among Day's staunchest supporters.
The fact that no provisions are made for members to vote in absentia, or via a conference call, leaves a huge gap in the system. Campanella's vote would have put Day in the Hall of Fame. To miss by one vote is painful enough, but to be kept out of the Hall of Fame because someone was unable to vote is a tragedy.
Adding to the dilemma is that the veterans committee is two members shy of the 18 that are authorized. That number alone suggests that changes are necessary.
Because a minimum of 75 percent of the votes is needed for election, 14 votes (almost 78 percent) are required for election by a full committee. This year, with Campanella absent, candidates actually needed 80 percent (12 of 15) to be elected because Hall of Fame rules insist on a true 75 percent and do not allow for rounding off.
If the veterans committee is going to survive, and the feeling here is that it serves a useful purpose, steps have to be taken to prevent a repeat of what happened last month. The committee should be 16 or 20, more workable numbers than 18, and all members should be allowed to vote in absentia if necessary.
More voting talk
While on the subject, the Orioles Hall of Fame has a problem exactly the opposite of the one in Cooperstown.
For the third straight year, voters failed to elect anyone from the list of active candidates. This despite (it says here) some rather obvious choices.
Lee May, Tippy Martinez, Davey Johnson, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor are among the most logical from the playing category. A year from now, Cal Ripken Sr. will be eligible as a coach, and there will be strong sentiment for his election.
But George Bamberger, who was the coach when the Orioles began their long run of pitching dominance, and Bill Hunter, the third-base coach who also had a lot to do with setting up the club's training manual, are also worthy candidates.
Unless the voting habits change swiftly, the veterans committee will soon have a backlog of candidates for the team's Hall of Fame. And that will only serve to slow the process even more.
The feeling is that, because the Orioles are well represented in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, the standards are higher than you'd normally expect for a club Hall of Fame. If there isn't a shift in the voting soon, there will be a generation gap between the
fans and the players being honored.
Stats . . . and more stats
The 1993 Elias Baseball Analyst is off the presses, which means a lot of sleepless nights for statistical buffs. This is by far the most comprehensive book of its kind, and even if the importance of some of the data is questionable, it still makes for interesting reading.
A lot of the information on the 1992 Orioles revolves around Camden Yards. Since the park is only a year old, it is impossible to draw conclusions about its effect on the team.
But there are a lot of noteworthy items. For instance, the two position players who started the highest percentage of winning games are no longer with the Orioles (who finished 89-73, .549).
For whatever it's worth, the Orioles were 64-44 (.592) in games started by Bill Ripken and 77-57 (.575) when Randy Milligan was in the starting lineup. The only other player to finish 20 games over .500 was third baseman Leo Gomez (78-58, .574).
Those numbers may not mean anything other than the fact the Orioles weren't very successful against the American League's better right-handed pitchers. And that's why they signed the free-agent Harolds -- Baines and Reynolds.
There will be a lot of interest in how Andre Dawson fares this year after moving from the National League to the Boston Red Sox. And not all of it centers on his ability to patrol the spacious right field in Fenway Park.
Kevin Mitchell and Jack Clark are two of the recent examples of hitters who've had trouble making the switch from the NL to the American League. Some observers are wondering if Dawson, at the age of 37, will have enough time to make the adjustment.
Of all the changes proposed by baseball's Executive Council, the one that meets with the most approval calls for speeding up the game. Even the players recognize the problem of lengthy games, but it will be interesting to see how umpires are going to keep batters from stepping out of the box and pitchers from walking off the mound.
Bud Selig, chairman of the committee, says the desire is to cut the time of games by 20 minutes and he's vowing to make it work.
Incidentally, the notion that AL games are considerably longer than those played in the NL because of the designated hitter rule is a fallacy. The difference between the two leagues is about five minutes.
A few not-so-impertinent questions:
* Would Kelly Gruber's injury be as serious if he were still playing for the Toronto Blue Jays?
* Wouldn't the Red Sox love to have somebody make them an attractive offer for catcher Tony Pena?
* Is it the fault of agents that so many players are unaware of such an important fact as how many options they have left?
* How many people know why Joe DiMaggio is throwing out the first ball for the Florida Marlins debut? (He was the boyhood idol of the club's late president, Carl Barger).
* Why aren't more of the Orioles' ex-players who are still in the game working with the organization?
* Has Fernando Valenzuela ever pitched against Andres Mora or Carlos Lopez?