All-time base-stealing leader Lou Brock and Hoyt Wilhelm, the knuckleball specialist who turned relief pitching into an art, were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame tonight.
Brock, an outfielder, and Wilhelm were named on more than the required 75 percent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, but second baseman Nellie Fox missed by two votes -- the smallest margin by which a player has failed to make the Hall.
Brock, only the 15th player to make it into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., in his first year of eligibility, was named on 315 of the 395 ballots cast (79.5 percent). Wilhelm, who had a 143-122 record and 2.52 ERA in 21 major-league seasons and is the first reliever to be elected to the Hall, was named on 331 ballots (83.7 percent). He failed to make the Hall last year by 13 votes.
Wilhelm and Brock will officially gain entrance to the Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies at Cooperstown, N.Y., July 28.
"That's great," Wilhelm, 61, said when told of his election. "I think that's the ultimate for any player that's played a few years in the big leagues. It's a great thing to do."
Fox, in his last opportunity to be voted into the Hall in the regular phase of the voting, received 295 of the needed 297 votes, a percentage of 74.6. BBWAA officials checked with Edward Stack, director of the Hall of Fame, to see if that percentage could be rounded off to 75 percent, but Stack said a "pure" 75 percent is required. In 1975, Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame with 273 votes -- one more than the requirement that season.
Fox, who had a 19-season fielding average of .984, was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1959 for the Chicago White Sox and had a lifetime batting average of .288.
In five years, Fox, who died in 1975, will be eligible for voting by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.
Outfielder Billy Williams was next on the 41-man ballot with 252 votes, followed by pitchers Jim Bunning (214) and Catfish Hunter (212). Then came outfielder Roger Maris (128), shortstop-outfielder Harvey Kuenn (125) and first baseman Orlando Cepeda (114).
Brock, who played in the majors from 1961 through 1979, started with the Chicago Cubs and spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He still leads all base stealers with 938 and holds the National League record of 118 stolen bases in one season (1974). His World Series batting average of .391 in 21 games is the highest ever; he had a career batting average of .293.
Brock was traded to the Cardinals in 1964 in a controversial deal.
Bing Devine, then the Cardinals' general manager who engineered the trade, called Brock "a hard worker" and "a leader by example."
Devine, now an official with the St. Louis entry in the National Football League, said the Cardinals had discussed acquiring Brock from the Chicago Cubs for a year before the trade.
Devine worked out a six-player swap, sending pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens to Chicago for Brock and pitchers Paul Toth and Jack Spring. Broglio, the key man for the Cubs in the trade, had won 18 games in 1963, but suffered an arm injury and won seven games for Chicago before retiring after the 1966 season.
Devine said he was not surprised that Brock won election in his first year of eligibility. "It'd come as more of a surprise if he didn't than if he did," Devine said.
"He deserved it for everything he did. He was a hard worker. He worked very hard to become the expert base stealer he was," Devine said. "The base stealing is the dramatic thing about him, but he was an all-around ballplayer."
Others making it into the Hall on their first time on the ballot were Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.
Wilhelm started his career in 1952 with the New York Giants and went on to play with the Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, White Sox, California Angels, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
A right-hander, he spent much of his career specializing in relief. But that was before saves were recorded in the statistics.
Bill Rigney, who played with Wilhelm on the Giants and later managed him in New York and with the California Angels, was elated when reached at his Walnut Grove, Calif., home.
"That's wonderful," Rigney said. "The Hall of Fame gained a lot of class tonight when they got Hoyt Wilhelm."
Asked if Wilhelm was ahead of his time as a relief specialist, Rigney replied: "Absolutely, there was no doubt about that. Anytime someone comes along with the pitch like he has, and we called it the bug or butterfly, he was just a complete mystery. He was someone who did things no one else could do and he could do it every day."
Eighteen of the 41 players in this year's voting will be dropped from the ballot next year after failing to draw the required five percent -- 20 votes -- for continuation. Vada Pinson came closest with 19, followed by Wilbur Wood with 16 and Harvey Haddix with 15.
Others that will remain on the ballot are Tony Oliva, Maury Wills, Bill Mazeroski, Lew Burdette, Mickey Lolich, Ken Boyer, Elroy Face, Elston Howard, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Don Larsen, Thurman Munson, Dick Allen and Curt Flood.