It could still be a Baltimore Orioles year at the Hall of Fame, with orange and black colors decorating the storefronts of Main Street in Cooperstown. The names of Earl Weaver and Ned Hanlon, both offering imposing credentials, will be brought to the attention of the veterans committee -- which has the exclusive right and responsibility to decide on managers. Either acceptance or rejection, but if the vote is "no," it doesn't mean they're being abandoned.
Another of the glorious old Orioles, outfielder Steve Brodie, also will be considered when the jury of 15 highly qualified selectors measures the credentials and cast its ballots. Hanlon and Brodie will get special consideration by virtue of a five-year window on nominees who played or managed before 1900.
If there's a favorite, it has to be Weaver, who comes from more contemporary times. And being alive ostensibly enhances his chances, even if it's not supposed to be that way.
In 1994, the Hall of Fame, via its veterans committee, decreed it would put a well-defined focus on players and managers of a century ago and also would give similar attention to members of the Negro leagues. This was a highly appropriate move, permitting intense scrutiny of likely qualified men overlooked by previous Hall of Fame selectors.
It could well be the final look in both areas, but the important thing is it's being done. The choice of Leon Day, a former Newark Eagle and Baltimore Elite Giant, was a result of such a process.
Hanlon certainly would be included in any pre-1900 review and, hopefully, approved. Selecting the two finest of all Orioles managers -- Hanlon, a pioneer who invented the game's modern strategy, and Weaver, who used what Hanlon created -- would be a fitting move for the Hall of Fame -- and a proud moment for Baltimore.
Hanlon and Weaver are near equals in their records. Hanlon managed 19 seasons, won five pennants and had a .530 percentage; Weaver was around 17 seasons, won four pennants and had a .583 percentage. Hanlon died in 1937 and is buried in Baltimore's New Cathedral Cemetery.
The veterans committee will fulfill its obligation and approve as many as four new members of the Hall of Fame, which will hold a ceremony Aug. 4 in Cooperstown, N.Y. However, Bill Guilfoile, a vice president of the Hall of Fame, says it's wrong to assume a living nominee has an edge on a deceased candidate. "That wouldn't be fair to others on the ballot," he said. "The committee endeavors to elect the most qualified person, living or dead."
When the Baseball Writers Association last week failed to elect a nominee, which also happened in 1971, it added emphasis to the work of the veterans committee. Guilfoile said the '71 vote was under a different set of rules, but the winning class that year numbered eight, including Joe Kelley, who played for Hanlon's Orioles; Rube Marquard, a Baltimore resident; Charles "Chick" Hafey; Harry Hooper; Jake Beckley; Dave Bancroft; Leroy "Satchel" Paige, and George Weiss.
This year's veterans committee will huddle March 5 in Tampa, Fla., to review the list of candidates. Those commanding strong support but not enough to qualify last year included Jim Bunning, who won 100 games in each major league before becoming a congressman from Kentucky; Nellie Fox; Dom DiMaggio; Gil Hodges; and Cecil Travis. Their names will be paramount in the discussions.
Travis once batted .359 for the Washington Senators, but it wasn't good enough to lead the American League. It coincided with the year Ted Williams hit .406. For Travis, that was hitting in tough luck, but he never complained.
In World War II, fighting in Europe, he suffered frostbitten feet but refused to use that as a reason he wasn't the player he had been before giving four years of his life to battling the Nazis. A gentleman of the first order, Travis obviously felt he was ahead of the game just being alive.
It's fairly well-known that Williams advocates Fox, DiMaggio and Travis. We also once heard him elucidate on how difficult it was to hit Bunning. He said since Bunning was a sinkerball pitcher, it meant he had to start his swing about a half-inch below the normal plane of a pitch if he was going to drive the ball. So typical of Williams, ever analytical.
This could be an election year for Bunning, and it has nothing to do with the fact he's a Republican member of Congress, who also happens to be the father of 10 children, holds a master's degree in finance from Xavier University and should be the commissioner of baseball. What a story line if he made the Hall of Fame, gave up politics and took over the responsibility of the commissionership? We can dream, can't we?