Womack: When Hank Gowdy was a popular Hall of Fame candidate

From SABR member Graham Womack at The National Pastime Museum on April 13, 2015:

The first Hall of Fame election of 1936 offered far from a set voting process. Over the next 30 years, future Hall of Famers so glutted the writers ballot that just three players—Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams—were enshrined first ballot. Most players didn’t approach the necessary 75 percent of the vote, and when a player built momentum, it generally signaled future induction.

Only one player who received at least 20 percent of the writers vote for Cooperstown prior to 1960 isn’t enshrined today. Few modern fans may know of Hank Gowdy, but in the mid-1950s, his induction looked probable. More than this, Gowdy’s unusual candidacy illustrates how the voting process for Cooperstown evolved.

Statistics often get a player into the Hall of Fame. Until the recent clamor over steroids, this held true for most anyone on the writers ballot. But Cooperstown’s early days featured much debate about what constituted a Hall of Famer. Bill James wrote in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? of Kenesaw Mountain Landis lobbying for Eddie Grant. By various statistical measures Grant would rank as the worst Hall of Famer, though he was one of three Major Leaguers killed in World War I.

Gowdy offered similar appeal as Grant. Statistically, Gowdy has little case with 2,735 at-bats, about 1,500 fewer than the lowest position player enshrined, Roy Campanella. Gowdy is most famous for being the first active ballplayer to enlist in World War I and for also serving in World War II. When people wrote in the ’50s of Gowdy’s candidacy, they often began with his service.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/when-hank-gowdy-was-popular-hall-fame-candidate

Originally published: April 13, 2015. Last Updated: April 13, 2015.