Why are umpires in the Hall of Fame, again?

BY foxsports • December 7, 2014

SAN DIEGO - Monday morning, the Hall of Fame's going to announce the decision by the 16-person Golden Era Committee. I wrote about the ballot last month; I'm not sure I would vote for any of the 10 candidates, but my first choice would be Bob Howsam, the lone non-player on the ballot. As for what actually happens ... Hey, you wanna try to predict what 16 people are going to do? My guess is they'll elect Minnie Miñoso, because that would please a lot of constituencies. And it's not much fun if you don't elect somebody.

Bill James wrote a whole book, some years ago, about the Hall of Fame. Within, he proposed an entirely new system for electing players. Well, now he's got a new system. You gotta be a Bill James Online subscriber to see it, though.

The good news is that Bill responds to questions all the time. For free. Here's a bit from a recent Hey Bill:

Discrete question re the "reform the HOF" article. Was Doug Harvey a bad choice of the "history committee" or whatever it was that elected him? Or are you just saying "why Doug Harvey as opposed to a dozen other excellent umpires?" I admit all I know about the guy is his famous nickname and his appearances on a regular "you make the call" feature that would run on stadium video screens between innings.

Asked by: tkoegel
Answered: 12/6/2014

Well ... just me, but I don't understand why umpires belong in the Hall of Fame. Umpiring is not a competitive activity. No umpire does or should wake up in the morning thinking "I've got to go out today and be a better umpire than Joe West." I think there is a far, far better argument for Hall of Fame recognition for scouts than for umpires. Umpires are not SUPPOSED to be a part of the show; they are supposed to do their job and disappear into the texture of the game, like wall studs, cam shafts and underwear. Putting them in the Hall of Fame pushes them front and center, and makes umpiring something that it was never supposed to be, and should not be.

Okay, so I'm already well past the natural length for a Baseball Joe, but I can't resist making a couple of points:

1. I suggested years ago that umpires working the bases should wear green or brown uniforms, head to toe, to blend in more with the field. Camouflage, as it were. Because it's both figuratively and literally true, the less seen the better.

2. If there's a problem with umpires and the Hall of Fame, it's certainly gotten smaller. Doug Harvey, widely regarded as the umpire of the 1970s and '80s, didn't get elected until he'd been retired for 18 years.

I won't be shocked if Harvey's the last umpire elected to the Hall of Fame. Bruce Froemming, who umpired for more full seasons than anybody, might someday be elected ... but he might not be.

Is Bill right, though? About the Hall of Fame turning "umpiring into something that it was never supposed to be, and should not be"?

I don't know. Probably not. Bill Klem was, as Bill knows as well as anyone, hugely famous well before he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. When you look at old magazines about baseball before then, you nearly always find something or other about an umpire. Because the game was less codified than today, the umpires were expected to play a larger role than today. 

I think Bill Klem does belong in the Hall of Fame, because he was among the game's towering figures for some decades. I also think Doug Harvey should probably be the last Hall of Fame umpire.

 


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