The upcoming National Baseball Hall of Fame Class added its first members for 2017 induction on Sunday night as the Today’s Game Era committee announced that two former baseball executives had gained entrance to Cooperstown.
Longtime baseball execs John Schuerholz and Bud Selig were both selected in the 16-vote balloting process. They were two of the ten men up for consideration for the Hall of Fame Class of 2017 and are the first to be selected by the newest of the veteran’s committees established to evaluate those who made contributions to the game of baseball and players who have last played at least 15 seasons ago.
The Today’s Game Era committee focuses on those who made their biggest marks on the game of baseball from 1988 to the present. Four former Indians players were on the ballot this year, including Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, Harold Baines, and Lou Piniella. They were joined by players Will Clark and Mark McGwire, manager Davey Johnson, and executive George Steinbrenner.
As with regular selection to the Hall of Fame, candidates need 75% of the vote to gain entry via the Today’s Game Era committee. Schuerholz received votes on all 16 ballots cast, while Selig appeared on 15 of the 16. Piniella earned seven votes out of the 16, while Baines, Belle, Clark, Hershiser, Johnson, McGwire, and Steinbrenner received less than five votes each.
The voting was no doubt a disappointment for Indians fans who may have pulled for the likes of Belle, Hershiser, Baines, and Piniella.
Belle was the longest tenured Indians player of the bunch after joining the organization as a second round pick in the 1987 draft out of Louisiana State University. He was in the Majors with the Indians by 1989 and after some early difficulties, became one of the more powerful forces in the game. After eight seasons in Cleveland, he departed via free agency for Chicago, joining the White Sox, and later spent time with the Baltimore Orioles before a degenerative hip condition brought his career to a premature close at the age of 34. He spent just two years on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, earning a 7.7% share in 2006 before falling off of the ballot with a 3.5% vote in 2007.
Hershiser spent three seasons with the Indians and was a key piece of the starting rotation for both the 1995 and 1997 AL pennant winning Cleveland teams. He averaged 15 wins a season in his three years in town and won 204 games over the course of his career, one that started and ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers around time with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. He was named the NL Cy Young and World Series MVP in 1988 with the Dodgers. He, like Belle, lasted two seasons on the ballot, receiving 11.2% of the vote in 2006 before dropping to 4.4% in 2007.
Baines spent less than two months of his 22-year career with Cleveland, coming to the Indians in a late August trade in 1999 at the age of 40. He hit .271 over the course of the final month of the season and .357 in the playoffs, but the Indians suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat in the ALDS after losing a two-games-to-none lead over the Boston Red Sox. The former first overall pick in the 1977 draft also spent time with the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Baltimore Orioles. He finished his career with 2,866 hits.
Piniella was up for election as a manager and not for his contributions as a player. He began that professional playing career in Cleveland with the Indians when he signed with the club as a free agent in 1962. He was lost in the first-year draft to Washington following the season, but returned to the Indians prior to the 1966 season, spending six MLB games and over two years back with the organization. He later won the AL Rookie of the Year award with Kansas City in his third of 18 seasons in the Majors that also took him to a stop in New York with the Yankees. Following his playing days, he spent 23 seasons in the dugout, managing the Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Chicago Cubs.
Schuerholz, team president of the Atlanta Braves, has been involved with Major League Baseball in a variety of capacities since 1966 when he entered the pro game as a personal assistant in the Baltimore Orioles front office. He later moved on to the Kansas City Royals organization and climbed the ranks there, becoming the team’s general manager in 1981. He rebuilt the formerly successful club and saw the Royals defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game World Series showdown in 1985, earning him an Executive of the Year award from the Sporting News.
He left the Royals in 1990 and joined another team looking to rebuild in the Braves. He replaced Bobby Cox as the team’s general manager when Cox moved into the dugout as the team’s manager, replacing the late Russ Nixon. Those Braves surged from the worst team in the National League West to the best by the next season as they won the NL pennant in 1991 before losing in a dramatic seventh game to the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.
That would be the first of 14 consecutive completed seasons that saw the Braves reach the playoffs under Cox and Schuerholz. In 1995, his Braves faced off with Cleveland in the World Series and knocked off the Indians in their first postseason trip in 41 years, making Schuerholz the first general manager ever to win World Series championships in both leagues.
Selig oversaw some of the most successful and the most trying times in the history of the game of baseball as the game’s commissioner.
During his 23-year tenure as the Commissioner of Baseball, he watched the home run hitting sprees of McGwire and many others catapult the game back on to a national stage as viewership soared. Four teams (the Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Devil Rays) entered the league through expansion and interleague play became the norm. Baseball’s two leagues expanded from two divisions to three, leading to the addition of the wild card format and later a wild card play-in game. He also played a role in the creation of MLB.com, the MLB Network, and the World Baseball Classic, set for another round in 2017. He was also a former stockholder of the Milwaukee Braves and he helped return baseball to the city after the Braves moved to Atlanta. He purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Wisconsin just prior to the 1970 season.
Selig was also in the hot seat at times, as he had to deal early in his tenure (still labeled “interim” at the time) with the volatile labor dispute that resulted in the 1994 strike and the shortened 1995 season, a black eye that hovered over baseball for years. He also had to deal with brief contraction talk, a tied All-Star Game, and, more notably, cleaning up the aftermath of the “Steroids Era”.
Selig becomes just the fifth of the ten baseball commissioners to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Happy Chandler, Ford Frick, Bowie Kuhn, and Kenesaw Mountain Landis. He is the second longest tenured commissioner in the history of Major League Baseball.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame now has 314 members. The two men, as well as any players selected via the BBWAA ballot announced on January 18, 2017, will be inducted to the Hall on July 30.
Photo: Associated Press