The Miller Park Walk of Fame is literally that; a series of granite slabs surrounding Miller Park, each inscribed with the name of a legendary Brewers or Braves player, manager, or executive. You can probably guess most of its membership; names like Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, and, when the ballot was opened up to Milwaukee Braves in 2007, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. It took Lew Burdette three tries to finally get in, despite 2 All-Star appearances and a near-miss for the Cy Young in 1958 when he was a 20-game winner.
Despite winning a Cy Young in 1982 and pitching the Brewers to their first World Series, you won’t find Pete Vuckovich on the Walk, though. Nor will you find Mike Caldwell, another 1982 staple who pitched over 1600 innings of 3.74 ERA baseball over 8 years for the Crew. No Ben Oglivie, a 9-year veteran and 3-time All-Star who slashed .277/.345/.461 during his time in Milwaukee. No Ted Simmons, Geoff Jenkins, Teddy Higuera, or Dan Plesac, either.
And if you want to talk Braves, Johnny Logan (38.1 career WAR as a Brave), Joe Adcock (31.5), and Del Crandall (33.2) are all missing.
Consider it the curse of being a great, but not elite, Brewer or Brave; unless you can make it into Cooperstown, you’re not likely to make it into the local hall, either.
I was shocked last year when none of the guys listed above managed to garner the required 75% of votes to get in. I’m shocked again this year. What possible case can be made against Vukovich or Caldwell? What about Johnny Logan?
Though the selection process is similar, the local Walk of Fame is not to be confused with Cooperstown. Like the baseball hall of fame, retired players have to garner 75% of the vote for induction, with any candidates who receive fewer than 5% of the vote in any year becoming ineligible. But unlike the national hall of fame, the local Walk begins with a much smaller pool of candidates to begin with. These are just the greatest players in Milwaukee Brewers and Braves history, so our standards for inclusion should obviously be much lower than that of Cooperstown. Even if great baseball talent is distributed evenly among teams (ignoring, for a moment, spending disparities), only a sliver of all great players will have found themselves in a Brewers or Braves uniform during their career. Some non-Cooperstown players already adorn the Walk, including Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, and Gorman Thomas. There’s really no justification for a restrictive view of our local hall.
So why do we exclude former Brewers and Braves who clearly deserve the honor? According to the Brewers, the Walk of Fame is selected “by a committee of approximately 100 Wisconsin media members and Brewers officials.” Last year, 57 ballots were returned; a record, according to Tom Haudricourt. This year, the committee returned only 39 ballots. Not even Haudricourt, who agrees that the system is flawed, filled out his ballot (albeit because of a family matter).
Missing ballots don’t entirely explain why the 39 voters didn’t induct a single player, unless it’s disproportionately stupid voters that returned their ballots. But the low return does suggest that the process is, at best, unimportant to most of those on the committee. And that, in turn, might speak to the amount of thought voters who did return their ballot put into it.
So we don’t have to change the process to honor deserving former players. Those voters who hold the Walk of Fame in the same regard as Cooperstown can live up to their own expectations by taking their ballots a little more seriously. By, you know, actually filling them out, and maybe looking up a few player stats while they’re at it.
*Edit:* Not everyone who returned their ballots is to blame, and I want to be fair in my criticisms. Higuera and Jenkins did receive nearly 50% of the vote. Caldwell and Vuckovich each garnered just shy of 40%. Oglivie, Simmons, and Plesac all tied with 12 votes at 30.8%. Of the Braves, only Logan cracked 60%, while Adcock barely missed 50%, and Crandall garnered only 8 votes. Kudos to those of you who did the right thing.