All eyes will be on Nashville for the start of the 2023 MLB Winter Meetings, but wheeling and dealing isn’t the only thing on tap on Sunday. We could also see some of the game’s luminaries elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2024.
To avoid confusion: No, this isn’t the same thing as the widely-followed BBWAA vote, the one you think of when you think of the Hall and its induction process. That vote is still ongoing, and the results won’t be released until January. (As a reminder, here’s everything to know about this year’s ballot, featuring players who have been retired for at least five years.)
This is a separate election, held by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee — one of two committees created by the Hall to consider the candidacies of managers, umpires, executives and players no longer eligible for the BBWAA ballot. (The Contemporary Era Committee considers those whose contributions to the game came between 1980 and the present; the other committee, the Classic Baseball Era Committee, considers contributions prior to 1980.) The two committees take turns, meeting every other year to deliberate; this year the Contemporary Era is up, with eight baseball greats under consideration by the 16-member committee.
Umpires: Ed Montague, Joe West
Managers: Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella
Executives: Hank Peters, Bill White
Each member of the committee gets a maximum of three choices, and a candidate needs at least 12 votes to get into the Hall, so we can’t expect a robust class here — only Fred McGriff made it from last year’s Contemporary Era players ballot. So who might make the cut? Read on for a full breakdown.
Baseball Hall of Fame: Contemporary Era candidates
There are four skippers up for consideration this year, and with such a stringent voting process, it’s unlikely that more than one of them actually earns induction. So who deserves to be at the top of the list? Let’s break it down by resume:
|WORLD SERIES TITLES
|WORLD SERIES TITLES
Cito Gaston: The only manager of the four to win multiple world titles, and the first Black manager to ever hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. Gaston only made the playoffs four times, but he certainly made them count, delivering four division titles in his first five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and capturing the franchise’s only pennants and World Series championships.
Davey Johnson: One of baseball’s preeminent journeymen, Johnson won division titles with four different teams — the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Nationals, the latter of whom captured their first-ever NL East crown under Johnson’s guidance. The postseason was often unkind to Johnson’s clubs — Jeffrey Maier had a little something to do with that — but he did lead New York to that improbable 1986 title. Plus, there’s nothing saying that the committee can’t consider a manager’s contributions as a player, and Johnson was a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner.
Jim Leyland: Wherever Leyland went, he won. He inherited a bad Pirates team, then led them to three straight division titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992. He led the expansion Marlins to a miraculous world championship in 1997. Then he took over a Tigers club that was in the midst of a historically bad stretch in the early 00s and had them in the World Series in his first season. (He’d go on to win three AL Central titles in Detroit, as well as another AL pennant.) He ranks 18th all-time in manager wins and is tied for seventh in postseason wins.
Lou Piniella: Undoubtedly the most colorful personality of this group, Sweet Lou was a Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star as a player and parlayed that into a long and distinguished managerial career. That career began under George Steinbrenner’s thumb in New York, but while his time leading the Yankees was unsuccessful, he won just about everywhere else — including with the Reds (whom he led to a World Series title in 1990, still the franchise’s most recent), Mariners (three division crowns and four playoff berths, including an MLB-record 116 wins in 2001) and Cubs (back-to-back NL Central titles in 2007 and 2008).
Gaston’s resume is the one that jumps out; being the first Black manager to win a title should carry significant weight here, and he’s the only one of the four with multiple rings. But Piniella has been on the ballot before and only missed by one vote, so he certainly has a shot, while Leyland’s longevity and consistent success set him apart.
Of the two umpires on this ballot, one towers over the other — so with much due respect to Ed Montague, we’re going to turn our attention to Cowboy Joe West, one of the most notorious figures of the modern game.
Love him or hate him — and given his cantankerous personality and love of the spotlight, there’s certainly room for both — it’s hard to deny the numbers. West is the all-time leader in games umpired, and while simply taking the field doesn’t necessarily make an umpire great, being able to stay in the game long enough to overseemore games than any other umpire feels like it should mean something. After all, this is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Elite Umpiring.
And what umpire is more famous than West? From his early-career bit part in “The Naked Gun” to his country music to his high-profile ejections, West is probably the most famous umpire in MLB history. Fans might roll their eyes, especially those whose teams found themselves on the wrong end of a questionable call late in West’s career. But he remains a respected figure around the league; this isn’t an Angel Hernandez situation, where even players and coaches try to avoid the guy. It’s hard not to think that the committee will be swayed by the sum total of West’s legacy.
Peters built a considerable reputation over nearly three decades in MLB front offices: He led the Orioles to a World Series title in 1983, and he laid the foundation for the A’s dynasty of the early 70s (signing names like Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers) and the Cleveland juggernaut of the 1990s (signing youngsters Jim Thome and Manny Ramírez and trading for Sandy Alomar Jr.) His resume is impressive, but it feels a little but slight for induction into the Hall — he wasn’t actually around to see Oakland and Cleveland reach contention, after all, only seeing sustained success in Baltimore.
So let’s turn our attention to White, one of the game’s great yet often overlooked trailblazers. White was a pioneer in multiple ways: Not only was he the first full-time Black play-by-play announcer in American sport, he also became its highest-ranking Black executive when he became president of the National League in 1989 — a promotion that none other than Hank Aaron deemed “on par with Jackie Robinson”. White oversaw the introduction of both the Rockies and Marlins to the NL before he stepped down following the 1994 lockout — and when you consider his eight All-Star nods and seven Gold Gloves as a player, the result is an awfully Hall-worthy resume.
So who gets in?
I’ll say that West, Leyland and Piniella earn induction, with White getting unjustly snubbed (for this year, at least). Granted, this could go any number of ways: It’s much more difficult to know where the committee will stand on non-players, especially in such a crowded field with no slam dunks. But Piniella was knocking on the door last time, while West is an icon in his field and Leyland is among the game’s most respected figures.