Baseball Hall of Fame Eras Committee candidates: Assessing the non-managers

Two umpires, a team executive and a league executive will be considered for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend.

Oct 2, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Third base umpire Joe West (22) jogs on the field
Oct 2, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Third base umpire Joe West (22) jogs on the field / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Two retired umpires, a league executive and a team executive are among the eight candidates for Hall of Fame consideration by this year’s Era Committee. Results of that committee’s vote will be announced this weekend.

The two long-time umpires under consideration this year are Ed Montague and Joe West. Bill White, also a candidate, was president of the National League in the 1990s during a lengthy career in various aspects. The eighth candidate is Hank Peters, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians from 1975 through 1991.

They join former managers Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland  and Lou Piniella on the eight-person ballot.

Rules allow the 16 committee members to vote for up to three of the eight candidates, with at least 12 votes (that’s 75 percent) required for enshrinement.

There are a handful of objective tools for recognizing umpire performance, but they are relatively new. As a result, there is only a bit of objective data available by which to assess West, and none to assess Montague.

That makes a judgment of the Baseball Hall of Fame worthiness of their contributions almost entirely subjective.

The same is true for White, and in many respects for Peters. In my 2004 book, “The Book on the Book,” I developed and explained criteria for assessing general manager performance, and will explain how Peters rates with respect to those criteria momentarily.

Here’s a quick review and assessment of the credentials of the four non-manager candidates in this weekend’s voting.

Ed Montague. Montague spent more than 35 seasons as a major league umpire, retiring in 2010. He worked more than 4,360 games, a total that ranks 13th all time. He was three times chosen as crew chief for a World Series, an honor usually reserved for a veteran umpire who has rated highly in league assessment metrics.

Because methods for measuring the accuracy of ball and strike calls did not exist for most of Montague’s career, judging his actual umpiring skills is largely a subjective process. Suffice to say on that score that Montague appeared to have the respect of players and managers.

For what it’s worth, he ejected 72 players, coaches or managers, among them two of his fellow Hall of Fame candidates. In September of 1987, he ejected Pirates manager Jim Leyland during a dispute over Montague’s ball and strike calls. In 2001, Mariners manager Lou Piniella was tossed by Montague when the umpire determined that Piniella’s pitcher (Joel Piniero) had intentionally thrown at a batter.

Hank Peters. The only club executive on the ballot, Peters served as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles from October of 1975 through October of 1986, when he was fired. He moved to Cleveland, and ran the Indians through the 1991 season.

In Baltimore, Peters headed a front office that oversaw the winning of AL East division titles in 1979 and 1983. The Orioles lost the 1979 World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games, but won the 1983 Series from Philadelphia in five games.

Peters’ Baltimore teams compiled an overall 1,036-845 record, a .551 percentage. He fared worse in Cleveland, at 205-353, .447, giving him a career .524 percentage.

The GM rating System I presented in "The  Book On The Book" is not favorable to Peters’ candidacy. It ranks him as only the 117th-best GM in history for short-term team impact, rising to 67th for long-term impact. Among eligible team executives not presently enshrined, the list of those ranking higher than Peters is substantial; it includes, among others, Buzzie Bavasi, Paul Owens, Walt Jocketty, Gene Michael, Al Campanis, Frank Cashen, Joe L. Brown, Bob Howsam, Gerry Hunsicker, Gabe Paul and Chub Feeney.

In fairness to Peters, his latter seasons in Cleveland did help lay the groundwork for that team’s ascendency through the mid-1990s. Players drafted by Peters who later starred with those Indians teams included Charles Nagy, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome.

Joe West. Among the most controversial umpires of his age, West has one enduring claim to fame. At 5,460 games, he umpired more games than any man in history.

Working from 1976 through 2021, West was a polarizing figure with a reputation as an autocrat…not unusual among umpires. Performance data is only available for the final decade of his career, and it Is not generally flattering. Between 2011 and 2021, the website regularly ranked West between 44th and 77th among active umps for accuracy.

In fairness to West, the data suggests that umpires are more accurate when they are young, and since only the tail-end of West’s lengthy career took place in the data age, it’s entirely possible that his best seasons went unmeasured, biasing the data assessment of him.

West worked six World Series and ordered a healthy 198 ejections of players, coaches or managers. Leyland and Johnson, two of his fellow nominees, were among his frequent targets. He ejected Leyland three times: in 1992 in a dispute over the usability of the ball, in 2011 over a call at first base, and in 2012 arguing a player’s ejection.

Johnson also went three times, in 1985 for arguing a call at second base, in 1987 in a dispute over a balk, and in 2011 when Johnson disputed West’s decision that a player had not been hit by a pitch.

Bill White. Of the eight names on the weekend ballot, White’s credentials are both the most varied and the most nebulous, at least in terms of this election. Much of his record involves his experiences either as a player or as a broadcaster, both of which have other primary avenues for induction. In some respects, the credentials for which White was actually nominated (as National League President between 1989 and 1994) are the least impressive part of his resume.  

White came to the office at a time when the role of the league president was being phased out in favor of a strong commissionership. In fact, that office and AL President were both officially eliminated in 1999, making White the second-to-last person to hold the position.

White’s importance is, however, symbolic, since when elected in 1989 he was the first minority to hold the presidency of any major American sports league.

He was better known for his playing and broadcasting careers. White played in more than 1,500 games with the Giants, Cardinals, and Phillies, batting .324 in 1962 and playing first base for the 1964 World Series champion Cardinals. He retired with 1,706 base hits and 202 home runs.

Moving into broadcasting, White became well known both for his work on national TV games and as a primary voice of New York Yankees games, often doing play-by-play with Phil Rizzuto as color analyst.

His placement on this year's Hall ballot, then, is probably best viewed as a cumulative nomination of someone who may not have risen to Hall status in any of the three areas individually, but whose composite contributions were exceptional.