In the wake of the Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot announcement earlier this week — a ballot I’ll cover soon enough at SI.com — I spoke to Katie Strang, managing editor and senior writer for the Detroit outpost of The Athletic. With Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both among the 10 candidates on the ballot, our conversation centered around the omission of their longtime teammate Lou Whitaker, who like Trammell is one of the Case Studies in the Casebook.
[Bobby] Grich and [Lou] Whitaker, both hailing from the same time period more or less… have both gotten particularly screwed by the voters, and essentially for the same reasons. They both fell short of the minimum five percent in their lone BBWAA ballot appearance and that has been held against them when the historical overview committees have built the Veterans Committee ballots, the Era Committee ballots. It’s a really unfortunate way of reinforcing a judgment that I don’t think was intended to be as final as it has become.
I do think it’s alarming though, the way that has become reinforced. The prevailing notion of the day was some voters just refused to ever vote for anyone on the first ballot unless they were Hank Aaron, you know — a slam dunk. But they assumed they’d have a chance to vote for these guys at a future date.
It was just one of those things, like ‘You didn’t vote for him, either? Oh no,’ and then he’s off the ballot. I think that was part of how [Whitaker] slipped through the cracks. I don’t think that was entirely [the reason] though
…Whitaker had a reputation with being relatively aloof as far as the media was concerned. I don’t think that helped him, either. I think it’s entirely possible that race played into it as well. I know that sportswriters now still tend to be white middle-aged men that aren’t maybe the most culturally-sensitive. And back then, it was whiter to an even greater degree. Reading some of the coverage, it’s clear that Whitaker would not have been alone in terms of a disconnect with the middle-aged white writers of the day.
(The Athletic is behind a paywall, but I’ve found that the quality of the content and the contributors justifies the cost of the subscription.)
Also on the topic of Whitaker, The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning (to whom I spoke for the Casebook) cited my work in railing against his omission from the ballot.