A Better Hall   (08/07/01)

As you probably know, this weekend was quite memorable at the Hall of Fame, for 2 very different reasons.

A Man of Few Words

The first is that Bill Mazeroski, this year's Veteran's Committee inductee, gave what many will remember as one of baseball's shortest and most memorable speeches.

After the video chronicling his career was finished, he approached the podium to give his speech.

"I got 12 pages here.  That's not like me.  I'll probably skip half of it and get halfway through this thing and quit anyhow.  It's getting awful hot out here so that's a good excuse to make it short.  But anyhow, I think defense belongs in the Hall of Fame."

He paused for a moment to clear his throat, which was already beginning to choke with emotion.

"Defense deserves as much credit as pitching and hitting and I'm proud and honored to be going into the Hall of Fame on the defensive side, and mostly for my defensive ability."  He cleared his throat again, pausing another moment.

"I feel special."  He smiled and cleared his throat yet again, trying to regain his composure.

After a long pause, he continued.  "It's gonna be hard.  So I probably won't say about half of this.  I wanna thank the Veteran's Committee for this great, great, honor, the highest honor in baseball.  I thought that when the Pirates retired my number, that would be the greatest thing that ever happened to me."  After pausing for a second, he continued, "It's hard to talk through this."

He stopped, smiled, cleared his throat and took a deep breath.  "I don't think I'm gonna make it."  Scattered shouts of, "We love you, Maz!" emanated from the throng of the 23,000+ in attendance.

He fumbled with the pages of his speech for a second or two, hoping he might find a good place to pick up and quickly finish what he had started.  There was none.  He took a sip of water, girded himself for a final run at the most important speech of his professional career and laid it out: "I think you can throw these 12 pages down the drain," folding the papers and tucking them into his jacket pocket.  "I'd like to thank the Hall of Fame and the Veteran's Committee; I'd like to thank all the friends and family who made this long trek up here, to listen to me speak and hear this crap," he chuckled.  "Thank you very, very, very, very much.  Thank everybody."

And that was it.

Overcome with the emotions of the 28 year wait to be given his livelihood's highest honor, he quickly sat back down in his chair in between fellow inductees Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett, tears streaming down his face.

For the next several minutes, the fans stood, applauded and cheered Mazeroski, much the same way they had after he hit his championship winning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.  As the fans embrace grew louder, each of the 40+ existing Hall of Famers in attendance also stood up and applauded the man who many regard as the best fielding second baseman ever.  Some of them had required assistance to make it to the stage, but each summoned the strength to stand to not only echo the sentiment of the fans, but to assure him that they too had felt those same powerful emotions on their days of enshrinement.

What many that came before him had tried to express with long speeches - the immense gratitude for the opportunity to play a kid's game for a career and recognition for doing it as well as anyone in history - Bill Mazeroski expressed in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, with and without words.  Maz had always been credited with making the quickest plays in the infield to get the job done; now, he'll be remembered for turning the same trick at the Hall of Fame.

Rock the Vote

The other significant event at the Hall of Fame this weekend was the decision to radically change the way players who aren't voted in by the writers are considered for enshrinement.  Instead of having a 15-man Veteran's Committee vote every year in secret, now every living Hall of Famer will cast a ballot much the way the writer's do every other year.

Currently, there are 90 living Hall-of-Famers: 61 players and 29 writers and broadcasters.  Twenty five players will be presented by a panel of writers representing all of the major league cities.  Enshrinement will require that a candidate garner 75% of the vote from his potential peers.

There are several obvious benefits from this change.  The first is that the candidates and the voting record will now be available for public view, increasing accountability.  With the increase in voters, it also lessens the chance that a player will get in due to having friends in the right places, a criticism of the Veteran's Committee in recent years.  Lastly, with the this new system in place, many of the outdated restrictions will be abolished, re-opening the candidacy of many worthy candidates who have been denied a reasonable chance for enshrinement due in large part to short-sighted artificial limits placed on voting eligibility.

One benefit that might not be so obvious is that the new method of selection will also include broadcasters in the process for the first time, giving a voice to those who often closely reflect the general public's sentiment.

All in all, it is a brilliant renovation to a system badly in need of it.  Not only are the best candidates likely to be rewarded and fewer awkward choices made, but it will involve everyone associated with the honor in such a way that will allow them to keep the high standards and integrity of the Hall at the level at which it was intended when it was created.

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