The results are in from the Hall of Fame ballot of the Today’s Game Era committee, and once again Davey Johnson fell short of winning induction. Maybe the most surprising aspect of the vote was that Lou Piniella came within a whisker of induction as a manager, while Johnson was nowhere near the number of votes required to be inducted. Two veteran players did get voted in, Lee Smith and Harold Baines, but no managers were picked this time around.
It took 12 votes to be elected, and Piniella was only one vote short of making it. No specific vote was announced for Johnson, just that it was less than five votes. Was Piniella really that much better of a manager than Johnson, or was he not even as good? Let’s take a long at some stats.
Both were long-time MLB skippers, with Piniella logging 23 years with a record of 1835-1713, for a winning percentage of .517. Piniella had seven postseason appearances as a manager, with one pennant and one WS win, that occurring with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds. Piniella was a three-time Manager of the Year.
Johnson managed for 17 years, running up a 1372-1071 record, resulting in a winning percentage of .562. His teams made the postseason six times, with a pennant and World Series win in 1986 with the Mets of course. He was Manager of the Year twice.
The figure that really stands out is the winning percentage. Johnson’s mark of .562 was better than many HOF managerial greats, including Bobby Cox, Walt Alston, Tom LaSorda, Sparky Anderson, and Miller Huggins, among others. Piniellas’ figure of .517 is relatively pedestrian among HOF managers.
Johnson was also something of a turn-around specialist, he inherited bad teams like the Mets after 1983 and Orioles after 1995 and turned them into winners right away. In addition Johnson has the legacy of being an innovator with respect to use of computers and advanced statistics.
Although neither of them made it into the Hall, why did Piniella come as close as you can without making it while Johnson was an also-ran? The answer may just lie in the makeup of the election committee.
The committee is made up of 16 Hall of Famers, one of whom is Tony LaRussa. LaRussa grew up in Tampa, just as Piniella did, and they were teammates as teenagers on some of the amateur teams in the area, and they are known to be good friends. That by itself does not explain why Piniella garnered so many votes. The format used for the vote is not a secret ballot, it is more akin to a political caucus where the committee members make their vote after discussing pros and cons of the candidates among themselves. LaRussa would be an especially influential advocate for Piniella, not only because of the respect he has across the game but also because Piniella began attending law school while still a player and eventually earned a law degree from Florida State in 1978, and was then admitted to the Florida bar. Attorneys are trained in being persuasive, (think swaying a jury), and LaRussa likely was very effective in advocating for his friend Piniella. Committee members were probably only going to vote for one manager each, if that, and Piniella got the bulk of the votes.
Johnson will likely face an uphill battle again if he is on the ballot the next time he is eligible as Piniella undoubtedly will be on the same ballot, and LaRussa may still be on the committee.