As many of Cardinal Nation know, the Cardinals Hall of Fame Committee has selected a slate of nominees for the first inaugural induction into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. The slate of 8 names have been released, and voting will begin tomorrow, March 7, 2014, to select the two players to be inducted in the formal ceremony in August. One of the members of the Committee, Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation.com, graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions about the committee, the upcoming vote, and the induction. You can find Brian at The Cardinal Nation.com and at his blog, The Cardinal Nation Blog
1. First of all, tell us a little about your background as it relates to Cardinals baseball.
I have followed the Cardinals closely since the mid-1960s. It was a special time to be a boy growing up in Omaha, Nebraska. In those days, Cardinals Nation encompassed much of the South and Midwest. Just before my time, Omaha had been a Cardinals Triple-A outpost and is of course, the longtime home of the College World Series. Not only were Cards games broadcast on a local radio station, but by then, hometown star Bob Gibson had emerged on the scene. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be him? Well, there was my best friend growing up who was, and still is, a Cubs fan!
Starting with keeping scrapbooks and consuming the weekly Sporting News from cover-to-cover, I have always been a student of the team. I am a long-time SABR member, reading extensively and writing about Cardinals history periodically over the years. I began covering the organization in 2003 and decided to make it my full-time vocation in 2008.
2. How did you come to be selected to serve on the Committee?
The Cardinals asked me! Having been around as long as I have with my particular interest in the subject matter may have been a consideration. The fact I am a different kind of media rep created a bit of diversity alongside the traditional television and radio representatives plus beat writers and columnists that made up the majority of the panel. Everyone had perspectives to offer.
3. How many times did the committee meet before making its selection of the initial nominees?
There was only one formal meeting, which lasted the majority of an afternoon, held just after Winter Warm-Up.
4. What was the most daunting aspect to you of being on the committee?
It was a very comfortable effort. Everyone already knew everyone from years of being around the team in various working roles. It was a special pleasure to work directly with both Bill DeWitt Jr. and Bill DeWitt III. The two of them are genuinely interested in the Cardinals Hall of Fame and actively participated in the process. I considered that a major positive.
5. What criteria did you use in coming up with your selection of the nominees you wanted on the ballot?
I had a huge head start. Back in 2007, I hatched a project to rank the top 40 players in Cardinals history, the results of which is still available at TheCardinalNation.com. I didn’t want the ranking to be just mine, so I enlisted three other baseball historians to join me in the process. One of them was author Rob Rains, who later became another member of the “Red Ribbon” committee.
For the earlier ranking, I prepared a huge spreadsheet with career stats and key recognition received by dozens of former Cardinals players – items like MVPs, Cy Young Awards, All-Star Game selections and the like. All I did to dust it off for this effort was to add WAR, something that was not in vogue in 2007.
6. Given the number of persons and likely differing opinions at work on the committee, how difficult or not was it to come up with a list of nominees for consideration?
I think coming in, we all knew who the top players would be in each of the two populations – those who played 40 years or more in the past (veterans) and those in the modern era. However, to keep the group organized and save time, the Cardinals staff prepared packets of material covering a long list of potentially deserving players. We discussed every one of them and voted via secret ballot at the end.
7. What, if anything, did you learn about Cardinal history or players that you didn’t know before becoming part of this committee?
Honestly, there really was not much new for me to learn from a numeric or recognition perspective. As we all know, there was a lot more to a player than his stats, however. The decades of hands-on experiences in Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst and Tony La Russa as well as Spink Award-winning writer Rick Hummel enhanced our view of many of the players. For those on the veterans ballot, Red was especially valuable, having played with or managed pretty much every one of them. It really enabled me to gain an expanded insight on those individuals about whom I had only read and seen on film.
8. Often times these fan voting opportunities become somewhat of a popularity contest. What would you like for the fans to consider about each player on the list before casting their vote?
I would hope that voters look at each player’s accomplishments and make informed choices. In reality, however, people are going to vote for the players they remember most fondly. No one is starting with a clean sheet of paper here. Opinions were established over many years and aren’t likely to change easily. It is only human nature. As a result, this is a popularity contest of sorts.
I am not sure that is a bad thing as the Hall will definitely reflect the will of the fans. For example, my oldest son – who like his father before him grew up watching the team and knows the game better than most – immediately announced that he is backing Mark McGwire and Willie McGee for the first elected class – choices different than mine.
It brought home my only real worry – that an “old-timer” among the modern era players like Ted Simmons may not be on equal footing. Simmons, who should go in quickly, probably wasn’t seen first-hand by many of the voters and I doubt that those unfamiliar with his resume will bother to look him up.
In reality, the eight initial nominees are all very deserving. All should eventually get in, given two will be selected each year. While the first class will receive special attention, over time we will not remember who went into the Hall in year two versus year three. All the best players should eventually be enshrined.
9. Once all the voting is in and the nominees are selected, will there be further duties for the committee before the winners are inducted?
I expect the work of this year’s panel is done. There will likely be a new “Red Ribbon” committee each year and I hope to again participate if asked. I definitely plan to be present for induction weekend in August. I have been waiting for years for this Hall to become a reality and am truly excited it is coming to life. Same with the return of the Cardinals Museum. That amazing collection is one of the most extensive outside of Cooperstown and has been in storage far too long.
10. Finally, something we as fans all want to know, who on the committee told the best stories?
There was not a single player discussed that Red’s opinion was not either offered or solicited. He knew them all from a different dimension than the rest of us on the committee. The entire St. Louis Cardinals community is so fortunate to have a treasure like Red.