Two of the most glaring inequities in the long history of the Baseball Hall of Fame voting have finally been corrected with the election of Enos Slaughter and the late Arky Vaughan. It's difficult to believe, in view of some of the names enshrined at Cooperstown, that these two outstanding ballplayers never got the required number of votes in the annual balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. This was the case, however, meaning that all they or their supporters could do was wait and hope for eventual election by the Veterans Committee.
The problem is that this group has to choose from among a large number of possible Hall of Famers who have been overlooked by the writers down through the years -- so usually it takes quite a while to make it via this route.
Vaughan, an outstanding shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s and '40s, is a perfect example. Arky hit over .300 twelve times in his 14 big league seasons, topped by a tremendous 1935 campaign in which he batted a league-leading .385 (a figure no National Leaguer has equaled since), with 19 home runs and 99 RBIs. Quite a bat for a shortstop to wield -- in fact his .318 lifetime average is second only to Honus Wagner's .328 on the all-time list for that position.
How could he miss, one might ask. But he did. Vaughan became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1953 -- five years after his retirement and one year after his death in a boating accident. He never got the necessary votes, however, so after the maximum 15 years on the ballot, his name was removed.
In cases like this, after another mandatory five-year wait, the player again becomes eligible -- this time via the Veterans Committee. But even here, in Vaughan's case, it took another dozen or so years before he finally made it.
Slaughter, on the other hand, was named in only his second year before the Veterans Committee -- a clear indication that its members felt the writers had made a major mistake. And in terms of his playing ability and accomplishments, it certainly seems that they did.
Enos is best remembered for his mad dash in the 1946 World Series, when he raced all the way home from first base on a single by Harry Walker to score the winning run in the St. Louis Cardinals' seventh-game victory over the Boston Red Sox. But the always-hustling outfielder racked up quite an impressive array of overall statistics as well in the course of a 19-year major league career.
He finished with a lifetime average of exactly .300, hitting that figure or better in 10 different seasons. He also was a solid RBI man, driving in 85 or more runs on nine occasions, including a league-leading 130 in 1946. And he was a key performer on some of those great Cardinal teams of the '40s, including the 1942 club that routed the New York Yankees in the World Series four games to one and the 1946 outfit which won that famous World Series against Boston thanks partly to his own baserunning heroics.
Despite all this, however, Slaughter, like Vaughan, was inexplicably passed over by the writers in 15 consecutive elections. Thus he too was reduced to waiting for the Veterans Committee to make amends.
``I wasn't bitter,'' he told the committee after being notified of his election. ``But this was something I always wanted to happen. . .After all the years the writers passed me over, I just said, `If I go in, OK, if not, it's OK.''
Vaughan and Slaughter were chosen over some 30 candidates considered by the Veterans Committee. The top finishers among those who fell short of the necessary 12 votes from the 16 members of the panel were, in alphabetical order, players Ray Dandridge, Bobby Doerr, Babe Herman, Ernie Lombardi, Phil Rizzuto, Vic Willis, and Glenn Wright, umpires Al Barlick and Bill McGowan, and owners Walter O'Malley and Bill Veeck.
The two electees will be inducted July 28 in the annual ceremonies at Cooperstown, N.Y., along with outfielder Lou Brock and knuckleballing relief ace Hoyt Wilhelm, who were elected by the writers in January.