Look for Weaver to get his due, and revered Cooperstown home

March 03, 1996|By JOHN STEADMAN

TAMPA, Fla. -- All signs, including readings from tea leaves, point to Earl Sidney Weaver, who never played a game in the major leagues but managed with a tenacity that set him apart, being awarded membership in baseball's most exclusive club -- the Hall of Fame.

From humble background to walking with the immortals, a kid who clawed his way out of the bush leagues is about to receive the ultimate award. Weaver belongs and, barring a rude upset, ** should hear at 2 p.m. Tuesday that his candidacy has been officially endorsed.

The Hall of Fame insists no preference be given to any candidate because he's lucky enough to be alive. This ostensibly takes it away from being a life-or-death matter, but does it?

"We concentrate on nominees with the best credentials," says ++ Bill Guilfoile, Hall of Fame vice president. "It has always been that way and it has to be. This is done to uphold the integrity of the Hall of Fame."

The group doing the voting, at least individually, enters the closed-door selection session realizing in a human way that it's important to the hall and also to the public that it elect some names still with us. This will count subconsciously in Weaver's favor.

To Weaver's everlasting credit and respect, he has never put himself in a position of campaigning for the honor. "It'll happen when it's supposed to," he said two years ago when the matter was being discussed among friends. He made it sound as if his comments were coming from a detached perspective, certainly not from a potential Hall of Famer.

"The award is too meaningful to be cheapened by going out to solicit support," he said. "I'd like to think someday it will come my way. I wanted to be a big-league player when I started out but never got there, except for spending one spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals. It would be just tremendous if I got picked, but it's in the hands of the jury."

The jury this time around comprises 15 selectors, but only 14 will be present to engage in the process since the chairman, Joe Brown, is recovering from an operation. This means it will take 11 affirmative votes of the 14 to gain election in four categories: Former players of the National and American leagues; retired managers, umpires and team executives; players and managers before 1900; and players, managers and executives from the now defunct Negro leagues.

The elite committee invested with the authority to choose this year's lineup is composed of former general managers Buzzy Bavasi, Hank Peters and Bill White, who also was a player; Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Harold "Pee Wee" Reese; Buck O'Neil, an erstwhile player and manager in the Negro leagues; sportswriters Bob Broeg, Allen Lewis, Edgar Munzell and Leonard Koppett and broadcaster Ken Coleman.

The Hall of Fame for the second time in what is a special five-year plan, will attempt to give particular attention to a pre-1900 pick from the National League, since the American League wasn't founded until 1901. The same degree of concentration will be shown to a former Negro leagues performer.

We've long held to the belief that Ned Hanlon, manager of the historic Orioles teams of the 1890s, has been blatantly neglected. He's the inventor of modern strategy, including the first to use the hit-and-run play,

delayed steal and the platoon system, plus a 19-year managerial career that shows one more pennant-winning team than Weaver.

From a technical standpoint, Hanlon left the game a continuing legacy. He died in 1937 and is buried in Baltimore's New Cathedral Cemetery, where two of Weaverhis former Orioles players who made the Hall of Fame, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, also are interred.

Baltimore's Hanlon Park is named for his son, who was killed in World War I. Hanlon himself was a civic leader after his baseball years and was an official with the Park Board when Baltimore's Municipal Stadium, forerunner to Memorial Stadium, was built on the same site in 1923.

There could be no better Baltimore scenario than having Weaver and Hanlon, the best of the present and past, make the Hall of Fame together, one going in while still alive and the other posthumously. It would make the Hall of Fame ceremony something special for the Orioles come Aug. 4 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

One of the following four players, all passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association in 15 previous elections, probably will get the nod from the veterans committee: Jim Bunning, with more than 100 games won in each major league, who never missed a pitching start in over 11 years, and is now a congressman; Dom DiMaggio, being pushed hard by his former teammate, Williams; Nelson Fox and Gil Hodges.

From the Negro leagues come such bona fide nominees as Biz Mackey, Bill Foster, Smokey Joe Williams and Bullet Joe Rogan. Williams was much earlier than the others and committee members, as with Hanlon, must rely on the record book and other research rather than eyewitness testimony.

There's a belief that Jim Palmer's letter to the committee regarding Weaver will help and not hinder his cause. This contradicts a previous and well-intended attempt to muster support for Rube Marquard by this reporter with an entirely different committee.

The voters then took exception to any lobbying effort and made it abundantly clear they were well-versed in Marquard's achievements. Nothing transpired for Marquard until five years later when he finally made the grade.

Our picks for this year's selection? Make it Weaver, Bunning, Hanlon and Williams. Hopefully, it won't be like picking up a bat and going 0-for-4. How well we know the feeling.

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