In late October, the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) announced the candidates that the Golden Era Committee would be voting on for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Voting results are scheduled to be announced on Monday, December 8. Included on the 10 person ballot is former St. Louis Cardinals great Ken Boyer. Before we dig into Boyer's qualifications, we'll address the questions you should be frequently asking.
What is this Golden Era Committee you speak of? I thought HOF voting was done by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and the Veterans Committee? The Veterans Committee was discontinued in 2010. Criticized regularly over the years for alternately being too lenient or too stringent as well as suffering from occasional afflictions of cronyism, the Veterans Committee was replaced by three committees. The Pre-Integration Committee considers candidates whose contributions to baseball primarily came from 1876-1947. The Golden Era Committee votes on contributions primarily from 1948-1972. Finally, the Expansion Era Committee holds sway from 1973-present. Each of the three committees meets every three years, staggered so that one committee meets each year.
Who did the Pre-Integration Committee and the Expansion Era Committee elect the last time those two committees met? When the Pre-Integration Committee last met in 2012, they elected umpire Hank O'Day, owner Jacob Ruppert and James (Deacon) White—a third baseman/catcher/outfielder from the 1800s—who became part of the Class of 2013. In 2013, the Expansion Era Committee elected managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who joined BBWAA electees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas as the Class of 2014.
Who did the Golden Era Committee elect in 2011 to be part of the Class of 2012? The only individual to garner the necessary 75% super majority was former Chicago Cub third baseman Ron Santo.
How did other members of that Golden Era ballot do? Jim Kaat received 10 of the 16 votes to miss election by two. Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso also came close with nine votes. Ken Boyer received less than three votes.
Who constitutes the Golden Era Committee? Voting members this year include Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Pat Gillick, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; executives Roland Hemond, Jim Frey, David Glass and Bob Watson; and media members Phil Pepe, Steve Hirdt, Tracy Ringolsby and former St. Louis Post Dispatch and Kansas City Star sportswriter Dick Kaegel.
Has the committee changed much from the last time they voted in 2011? Quite a bit. There are only three holdover voters from 2011: Gillick, Kaline and Hemond.
How does this year's ten-man ballot compare to the last one the Golden Committee considered? Obviously Santo is not on this year's ballot. Other candidates to drop off the ballot are executives Buzzie Bavasi and Charlie Finley, and Indian/Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds. New to this year's ballot are the well-traveled slugger Dick Allen, long-time Dodger base thief Maury Wills, Billy Pierce (who pitched primarily for the White Sox) and executive Bob Howsam. Holdover candidates include Kaat, Hodges, Minoso, Tony Oliva, Luis Tiant and Boyer.
Of the 10 candidates, how many have Redbird roots? Fully half the candidates have ties to St. Louis—Kaat, Minoso, Allen, Howsam, and Boyer.
Jim "Kitty" Kaat pitched for an incredible 25 seasons. He was a Minnesota Twin for fifteen seasons and also toiled for the Phillies, White Sox and Yankees before wrapping up his career with a four year stint wearing the Birds on the Bat from 1980-1983. Kaat is best known for earning 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence. Only Maddux, with 18, has more. Kaat's HOF case is based more on longevity than it is on excellence. Kaat ranks 30th all time with 283 wins. Only Tony Mullane, Tommy John and certain HOFer Randy Johnson have more without obtaining the Cooperstown nod. However, Kaat ranks 15th all time with 237 losses. The WAR argument comes down to whether you are a Baseball Reference adherent or a Fangraphs apostle. His bWAR clocks in at 51.4, but his fWAR tally is 70.2. His postseason record is minimal and mediocre—a 1-3 record with a 4.01 ERA over 24 innings. His only World Series ring was earned as a member of the Cardinal squad in 1982. The 6' 4" lefty spent 1980 as a swingman on the Redbird pitching staff and segued into a middle relief/situational lefty role for the final three campaigns of his career. The Michigan native then spent a season and a half as Pete Rose's pitching coach in Cincinnati before embarking on a lengthy career as a broadcaster.
Minnie Minoso spent most of his 50.1 bWAR career as an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox. He had a forgettable campaign as a Cardinal in 1962 with a sub-Mendoza batting average of .196. Adding injury to insult, Minoso missed two months due to fracturing his skull and wrist while crashing into the outfield wall while trying in vain to chase down a Duke Snider triple. Revered in Chicago, the Cuban Comet was an important trailblazer as he was the first Black Cuban to play at the major league level and the first Black player for the White Sox.
Dick Allen may be the greatest eligible hitter not yet enshrined in Cooperstown not named Barry Bonds. His career OPS of .912 places him in 46th place on the all time MLB leader board. More impressively, his career OPS+ mark of 156 ties him for 19th highest all time with Willie Mays and Frank Thomas. The only post-19th century players with a greater OPS+ not in the HOF are Bonds, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols. Allen spent only the 1970 campaign wearing the Birds on the Bat and blasted baseballs around Busch Memorial Stadium to the tune of .279/.377/.560 with 34 homers and 101 RBIs with an OPS+ of only 146. Allen came to the Cardinals after the 1969 season in the most significant trade in baseball history when the Phillies swapped him, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas to the Birds for Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Curt Flood. A relatively short career, mediocre baserunning, and substandard defense left Allen with only 58.7 bWAR (61.3 fWAR).
Bob Howsam was the general manager for the Cardinals for 2 1/2 years from August 1964 through January 1967. Taking over for the fired Bing Devine while the Cardinals were far behind the league-leading Phillies in 1964, Howsam pompously took credit for the improbable comeback to the dismay of players including Bob Gibson and Bill White as well as manager Johnny Keane, who resigned in protest the day after the World Series win over the Yankees. Howsam did seem to have a deft touch as a trader and talent evaluator which he demonstrated most effectively when he took over the GM role in Cincinnati from Bill DeWitt, Sr. in January, 1967. Howsam then built the Big Red Machine that dominated the National League from 1969 through 1981.
Ken Boyer was born and raised in western Missouri in a family with 14 children. Remarkably, all seven of the Boyer sons played professional baseball. Clete and Cloyd both made the majors along with Ken. One of the interesting storylines of the 1964 World Series was the matchup between third basemen and brothers: Ken of the Cardinals and Clete with the Yankees.
Boyer was signed by the Redbirds after his high school graduation and began his baseball career as a pitcher well down in the Cards' deep minor league system in 1949. Boyer also began the 1950 campaign as a pitcher with the Cardinal affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario, but when his numbers on the hill faltered and his batting line prospered, he was transitioned to the hot corner. Boyer was advanced multiple levels for the 1951 season and played Class A ball in Omaha where he learned and prospered while playing for George Kissell—a man who spent 69 seasons in the Cardinal organization. The Western League champion Omaha Cardinals featured not only Boyer, but also had St. Louis native and future Baltimore Oriole manager Earl Weaver playing at second base.
Boyer's baseball career was put on hold when he was drafted by the Army late in 1951. Boyer spent two years abroad although he wasn't in a combat role. His hitch completed, he returned stateside and spent the 1954 season honing his skills with the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League under the watchful tutelage of long-time Brooklyn Dodger Dixie Walker.
Optimistic that Boyer was ready for the show, the Cardinals traded incumbent third baseman Ray Jablonski prior to the 1955 campaign to make room for the 6'1", 190 lb. 24 year old. Boyer didn't disappoint, playing in 147 of the team's 154 games and providing a solid, though not spectacular, performance. Boyer blossomed in 1956 as he generated 6.4 bWAR while finishing second on the team behind Stan Musial in hits, homers, RBIs and batting average. Boyer was rewarded at midseason with the first of his seven All-Star nods and was presented a new challenge in 1957.
1957 spring training saw up-and-coming prospect Eddie Kasko as a viable option at his natural position of third base. Meanwhile, center field had been a disaster in St. Louis in 56. Manager Fred Hutchinson took the remarkable risk of converting a third baseman to center field. Boyer provided positive value defensively and the team responded with their highest finish in nearly a decade.
Kasko was hurt early in 1958 and, in any event, the Cards had acquired a young center fielder from Cincinnati named Curt Flood so Boyer returned to third. He played so proficiently at the hot corner that he was awarded the first of his five career Gold Gloves. He also turned in the first of seven straight years with 90+ RBIs as well as seven straight seasons of no less than 5.2 bWAR.
Boyer's career peaked in 1964 as he was named the NL MVP while leading the Birds to an improbable pennant as the Phillies swooned down the stretch. Boyer then hit one of the most iconic Redbird postseason homers when his Game 4 grand slam off Yankee hurler Al Downing turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead. In the winner take all Game 7, Boyer fell a triple shy of what would have been his third career cycle and scored three runs in the 7-5 triumph.
Back problems flared up in 1965 and Boyer never was the same. Former Cardinal GM Bing Devine (who was now with the Mets) traded for Kenny prior to the 1966 season as much for his clubhouse presence and leadership skills as for his on-the-field contributions. Boyer played well enough in '66, but then spent his final four seasons as a part-time player with the Mets, White Sox and Dodgers.
At the conclusion of his playing career, he returned to the Redbird fold and was a minor league manager and coach before taking over from the disastrous Vern Rapp as manager of the parent club part-way through the 1978 season. 1979 was Boyer's only full season at the helm and he led the squad to an 86-76 mark, the team's best record since 1971. When St. Louis got off to a slow start in 1980, Boyer was cashiered and the Whiteyball era began. Sadly, Boyer was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly thereafter and succumbed to the disease a month before the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series—the second franchise world championship since Boyer's heroic 1964 season.
As to Boyer's HOF candidacy? The following chart shows how Boyer matches up with the 12 current HOF third basemen on a number of metrics:
*FGD = Fangraphs Career Defense Rating
Note: the HOF classifies Molitor as a third baseman even though he played only 791 of his 2683 games there. Molly DH'd in nearly half his career games. Conversely, Deacon White is classified as a catcher even though he caught in 458 games and played third in 827.
Overall, Boyer ranks in ninth place for career fWAR and is tied for 8th with Baker in bWAR. Offensively, the Cardinals' captain ranks in the eighth position in OPS+ and wrc+. Defensively, he's tied with Santo in third place with five Gold Gloves and ranks fifth in Fangraphs' defensive rating. Boyer doesn't fare well when compared with Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs and Brett, but then not many baseball players do. Based on this chart, Boyer's induction is long overdue. Noted HOF historian Jay Jaffe concurs that Boyer belongs.
Boyer's candidacy may not look as favorable in the near future. Not only does he share the Golden Era ballot with 1B/3B Dick Allen, but 3B/DH Edgar Martinez (68 bWAR) is on the BBWAA ballot. Before long, the BBWAA will be voting on retired third basemen Chipper Jones (85 bWAR) and Scott Rolen (70 bWAR). In the not-too-distant future the BBWAA will have the candidacies of Alex Rodriguez (116 currently), Adrian Beltre (78) and David Wright (50 through his age 31 season). 1B/3B Miguel Cabrera has 59 - also through his age 31 season.
We'll find out on Monday whether Boyer continues to be the only Cardinal player memorialized on the outfield wall at Busch Stadium who has not been inducted into Cooperstown.