With Berra, Reese and White voting, 'Scooter' may get to Hall after all

August 03, 1993|By Jerome Holtzman | Jerome Holtzman,Chicago Tribune

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was becoming apparent here yesterday, the day after Reggie Jackson's induction, that Nellie Fox will have to wait another year to see if he, too, is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. But there is no guarantee Nellie is going to make it next year. The 1994 winter-book favorite is now Phil Rizzuto, alias "The Scooter," a star Yankees shortstop who retired as an active player after the 1956 season.

It isn't that Rizzuto's career stats have improved during the last 37 years. He is still a .273 career hitter, but his chances for election improved because of the appointment of three new members to the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee.

They are Yogi Berra, Rizzuto's longtime Yankee teammate; Pee Wee Reese, who was among Rizzuto's contemporaries and by whom Hall of Fame shortstops are now measured; and Bill White, who, before ascending to the National League presidency, was Rizzuto's partner in the Yankees' broadcasting booth.

They were named to the committee Sunday, replacing Charlie Gehringer and Roy Campanella, both of whom have died since the last meeting, and George "Birdie" Tebbetts, who resigned in anger because the baseball hierarchy has continued to ignore scouts as Cooperstown eligibles.

The dozen or so New York writers here for the Reggie Jackson installation expressed delight with the news that Berra, Reese and White had been named to the old-timers selection squad.

"That's three votes for the Scooter," insisted a grizzled Gotham scribe. Said another: "The committee is now stacked in Rizzuto's favor."

Robin Roberts, among the Hall of Fame directors who approved the new appointments, was surprised by the reaction. "We didn't look at it that way," Roberts explained. "We just picked three people with outstanding credentials."

Whatever, it's a setback for Nellie Fox, who was deprived of so-called immortality by a nonsense technicality. The Hall of Fame directors, suddenly pious, refused to acknowledge that the 74.7 percent of the vote Fox received in 1985 should be rounded off to the next number. This would have given Fox the required 75 percent approval.

The same 75 percent rule also applies to the Veterans Committee. There is no certainty that Rizzuto, rejected in the past, now will pass muster. But there is no denying his chances of getting in have improved considerably.

Pee Wee Reese, in his first 24 hours as a member of the old-timers committee, has been besieged for his view on Rizzuto's candidacy.

When I asked him about it at lunch here yesterday, Reese replied:

"Sure, I like him. So did everyone else who saw him play."

Then Reese added: "Ted Williams liked him. Who didn't like him?"

If Rizzuto is elected, no one, aside from the Scooter himself, would be more pleased than Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. King George has repeatedly threatened to boycott the Cooperstown shrine because of Rizzuto's failure to gain acceptance, but he relented and attended Jackson's induction.

The 18-man Veterans Committee is allowed two selections, but there are stipulations: One selection must have been a player, the other either a manager, club executive, umpire or a player from the old Negro Leagues. When the committee met in Tampa, Fla., last March, none of the candidates in either category drew enough support for election.

It won't happen again. More than likely, Rizzuto and William Hulbert will be approved. Hulbert was the second NL president and for many years doubled as president of the Chicago Cubs. He is also the man who once said he would rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a millionaire in another city.

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