In July 2016, the board of directors for the Baseball Hall of Fame announced changes that all but shut the door on players who made their greatest mark before 1970.
In splitting nominees into one of four eras depending on when their best seasons occurred, the Hall of Fame opted to have veteran candidates from the 1970-1987 and 1988-present eras considered at least twice every five years. But the Hall opted to have players who made their greatest contribution between 1950 and 1969 considered just once every five years.
For 83-year-old Rocky Colavito, it could very well end any hope of him being enshrined in his lifetime.
The former Indians great, one of the top sluggers of the 1950s and ’60s, might rank among the most popular aging candidates online, with an active contingent of supporters. But Colavito knows better than to get his hopes up.
In fact, challenges for veteran candidates began long before last July.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t considered the same era of veteran candidates in consecutive years since 2002. Not coincidentally, veteran voters haven’t inducted any living former players in this time. Just three deceased ones — Joe Gordon, Ron Santo and Deacon White — have been enshrined by veteran voters in this span.
In April, Luis Tiant caused a bit of a stir by telling Sporting News that he’s instructed his family not to go to Cooperstown if he’s voted in after he dies. Told of what Tiant said, Colavito said he’s offered similar instructions for his loved ones.
“I told my family that, ‘If they vote me in after I’m dead, you tell ‘em for me to stick it up their ass,’” Colavito said in a phone interview from his Pennsylvania home. “That’s what I told my family and I meant it. It ain’t going to do me any good when I’m dead.”
It’s uncertain when the Hall of Fame will revisit this policy.
Cooperstown chances: 20 percent
Why: The Hall of Fame has no shortage of recently retired candidates these days through the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, with stars such as Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez sailing through on their first try with the writers in recent years.
With such a robust pool, Cooperstown can afford to be fickle with the Tiants and Colavitos of the baseball world.
It’s unfortunate, though, for the players who wind up being jerked around for decades.
“Any player that plays this game would be a liar in my mind, my opinion, if he said he didn’t give a s— if he got into the Hall of Fame or not,” Colavito said. “I care. I’d love to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s not in my hands, of course.”
Colavito added, “I checked some of the records and I know I have a better record than a lot of the guys that are in.”
Statistically, he wouldn’t be a terrible choice, particularly in terms of peak offensive value. By adjusted offensive production, Colavito was more than 30 percent better than average hitters during his career. He hit at least 30 home runs seven times and topped 40 three times. Colavito also had more home runs than anyone in baseball from 1958 through 1962, with 200, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool.
He thrived both with the Indians and after he was traded for Harvey Kuenn following the 1959 season in the trade that inspired the famous “Curse of Rocky Colavito.”
His case suffers because his career ended relatively early, with Colavito playing just 247 games after his 33rd birthday. He barely registered as a candidate when he first became eligible with the BBWAA, drawing two votes out of 365 ballots cast in 1974 and one vote in 1975.
Colavito will also face challenges in that a number of other worthy candidates remain outside Cooperstown. Asked of candidates he favors, Colavito mentions former Washington Senators slugger Roy Sievers and his brief teammate on the 1968 Dodgers, Ken Boyer.
There’s Tiant, a friend who Colavito speaks with by phone a few times a year.
“I roomed with (Jim) Bunning for three years, but he had more wins than Bunning did,” Colavito said of Tiant.
Then there’s Colavito’s teammate from the Indians, Minnie Minoso.
“He could run,” Colavito said. “He had a pretty good arm. He was somewhat at times erratic in the outfield, make a great play and then miss one that you thought he should have caught. But he could make some outstanding plays. He had some power and he was one hell of a good hitter. He bore down 100 percent of the time and was a good teammate. … I think that kind of guy is deserving.”
Colavito was also good friends and roommates with one of the finest players in baseball history, in terms of talent, who will probably never get in Cooperstown: Herb Score. Score went 36-19 with a 2.68 ERA and 508 strikeouts over his first two full seasons before taking a Gil McDougald line drive to the face on May 7, 1957. Colavito raced from right field to the pitcher’s mound, putting his glove below Score’s head to stabilize it.
Asked whether Score would have been a Hall of Famer if not for his injury, Colavito carefully considered his words.
“Everybody says that him getting hit was the end of his career, so to speak,” Colavito said. “That’s not so. He came back and he was pitching well. What happened was, he hated the mound in Griffith Stadium. He threw a ball in Griffith Stadium … and it pulled the tendons away from his elbow and he was hurt. That’s how he hurt his arm.”
This injury occurred April 30, 1958. After, Colavito said, Indians personnel didn’t know what they were doing with Score, putting his elbow in heating packs and then having him go throw until he felt pain. Score shined in his first appearance weeks later on June 14, striking out five in three scoreless innings. But he felt pain on the last hitter he faced.
“He never was the same after that,” Colavito said. “He slung the ball instead of popping it.”
His career long behind him and his Hall of Fame chances distant, Colavito instead focuses on the things that are important. He has five granddaughters, one great-grandson and will celebrate 63 years of marriage with his wife Carmen in October.
Asked whether he had any tips on how to stay married so long, Colavito said, “I think the best thing is, just keep everything on an even keel. Don’t get blown out of proportion if things go bad. And don’t go overboard if things are fantastic. Try to handle things with the same ease if you can.”