To the more than 100 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who didn't vote for Harmon Killebrew, Luis Aparicio and Hoyt Wilhelm for the Hall of Fame, I offer this advice:
WAKE UP! You're making the rest of us in the BWAA, the overwhelming majority, look like idiots.
The case in favor of all three of these players is solid. There's not a valid argument against any of them.
The Killebrew case is so obvious it's an insult to his 573 home runs to have to make it.
When Killebrew won his first of six home run titles in 1959, I was a kid in the Griffith Stadium grandstand. When he won his last of three RBI titles in 1971, I was watching from the press box of RFK Stadium. There weren't a dozen hitters in baseball who were consistently in his class.
He was squat, graceless, and, at the end, tubby. The Killer got no style points. He swung for the fences and struck out plenty.
But what matters is that for 13 straight years, Killebrew averaged 39 homers, 106 RBI and 100 walks per season. By the standards of his era, he was great, he was consistent and he was durable.
It's superfluous to mention that Killebrew is fifth in history in homers, third in homers per at bat. Killebrew wasn't a bad enough fielder to be kept out of the Hall; he was competent enough to play 792 games at base and 470 in the outfield.
During his 14 best years, from '59 through '72, Killebrew drove in 1,450 runs and scored 1,172. In Brooks Robinson's 14 best years, from '60 through '73, he drove in 1,156 and scored 1,040. Was Robinson's glove worth that much difference? Well, probably. But not by much.
The Wilhelm Brief is even simpler. There's no better claim to Cooperstown than being the absolute best in some aspect of the game. Wilhelm was.
He pitched in the most games in history (1,070), and he won the most games in relief (123). Who'd dispute that Wilhelm was the best knuckleballer of them all? Also, Wilhelm ranks third in career saves and his fabulous ERA (2.52) was one of the 10 best of the century. Of all pitchers in the '50s and '60s, the two hardest to hit were probably Sandy Koufax and Wilhelm.
Wilhelm, however, operates against a triple prejudice. First, like Killebrew, he was a dumpy-looking player. Second, he threw a "trick" pitch. And third, Wilhelm was among the first of the great relievers who fundamentally changed baseball.
Today, it's debatable whether a team's starting rotation, or its bullpen, is more valuable. Unfortunately, some observers haven't accepted this fact. Eventually, Cooperstown will bulge with Gossages and Sutters. Wilhelm stands with any of them and should be there already.
Aparicio, like Wilhelm, is a victim of baseball bias. Just as relievers haven't gotten proper respect, so shortstops and base stealers haven't gotten their just deserts.
It's unfair to judge shortstops by the same offensive yardsticks that we use to evaluate first basemen or outfielders. The game requires that shortstops come from a different athletic species. Honus Wagner and Robin Yount are just exceptions that prove the rule. When talking about shortstops, we must balance offense and defense, but be willing to give defense first priority.
Aparicio proved, through 2,581 games, that he was one of the best defensive shortstops in history. He was also, for a shortstop, a great offensive player. Aparicio began the stolen base renaissance that has drastically altered the game in the past 15 years. Aparicio won nine consecutive stolen base titles.
Bill Veeck once said, "I wouldn't want to be in a Hall of Fame that didn't have Luis Aparicio."
The same applies to Killebrew and Wilhelm.
This week, Killebrew received 269 of the 281 votes (75 percent) needed for Cooperstown, while Aparicio had 252 and Wilhelm 243. They were tantalizingly close, but, after repeated near misses, their chances are becoming endangered.
The Hall of Fame has a wing for writers, and, now, Milwaukee General Manager Harry Dalton has suggested that scouts be eligible for the Hall. Before we start inducting scoreboard operators and stadium organists, let's do right by Killebrew, Wilhelm and Aparicio.
They've been insulted too long.