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Bunning's not-so-perfect day

Jim Bunning said he 'felt useless' as a member of the Golden Era committee that failed to vote Dick Allen in the Hall of Fame.

JIM BUNNING spent the first weekend in December in San Diego, a member of a 16-man committee voting on Golden Era players to be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame. Dick Allen needed 12 votes. He got 11.

"I felt useless," Bunning seethed the other day, his voice crackling with anger. "It was the most disappointing 3 days I've ever spent in my life!"

In his life? What about that weekend in September 1964, when the National League pennant was gurgling down the drain and Gene Mauch was pitching Bunning and Chris Short on 2 days' rest and the Phillies were drowning in a 10-game losing streak?

Allen was rookie of the year that season when the Phillies held a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play. Hit .429 during that nightmare stretch, kept hammering doubles, triples, homers during that nightmare stretch. Bill James knighted him as "the best player in baseball" that year, but that's another story.

"We talked about '64," Bunning said grimly. "He was my teammate. I spoke for five minutes. He'd gotten a bad rap as a third baseman. I talked about a play he made in the perfect game. To his left. Second toughest play of the game, behind the one Tony Taylor made."

Five minutes, hardly a filibuster, just an impassioned speech supporting Allen's worthiness for the Hall of Fame. They considered the 10 candidates in alphabetical order. Allen was first. Bunning spoke first. He came prepared.

"Someone said he hit 20 home runs that traveled more than 500 feet," Bunning said. "No one, no one in baseball had ever hit that many homers that went 500 feet."

Bunning's account is our first peek into a clumsy, tainted, ill-conceived process designed to possibly elect players rejected by the baseball writers over a 15-year period on the regular ballot. It's not pretty, and it helps explain why players from the 1960s and '70s have drawn a blank since a veterans committee chose Bill Mazeroski in 2001.

You are welcome to compare Allen's numbers with Mazeroski's. Allen's numbers are dazzling, especially an OPS-plus that puts him right there with Willie Mays and Henry Aaron and Willie Stargell, all safely enshrined in Cooperstown. WAR, runs created, bold black type for league leader in a category, he's got 'em all.

The numbers have always been there. Somehow they got clouded over by the off-the-field stuff, the barely concealed anger, the wariness of the media, the controversy.

"None of that came up," Bunning said. "When someone spoke about a player, it was all positive. The Phillies sent him to Little Rock, the first black player to play there. Fergie Jenkins talked about what it was like, playing in Little Rock."

Let's back up. The voters, who included baseball writers, gathered in San Diego. Did they meet informally that night, have dinner together, drink a couple of beers together, swap stories that started, "Back in the day"?

"No," Bunning said. "When we arrived we got a packet that listed the nine players, their achievements, their bios. There was one executive on the list, Bob Howsam. I felt he hadn't been involved in major league baseball long enough. The nine players, each of them had done enough to be in the Hall of Fame. We gathered in a room that could hold 50. The 16 of us sat at a big, oblong table.

"Bob Watson didn't make it. They never told us why. If he'd been there, it might have made a difference for two guys, Allen and Tony Oliva, who also got 11 votes. Dave Dombrowski replaced him. He's the general manager in Detroit. Al Kaline was already on the committee, so that gave Detroit two voters. I thought about that."

Let the record show that Phillies then-interim president Pat Gillick was on the voter panel. Didn't that give the Phillies two voters? "I'm not sure Pat thought of himself as a Phillies guy," Bunning said. "He just sat there, saying nothing.

"I spoke up for Maury Wills, because he changed the game with his speed. I looked at the other Hall of Famers in the room and asked them if they had changed the game.

"The writers said nothing. I wondered if Allen's relationships with the writers had hurt him. I went 4 years in Detroit, hardly communicating. And then I decided to be more accessible.

"Why are there writers voting? The writers pick the 10 names on the list. I knew one of them, Phil Pepe [of the New York Daily News]. He was one of the New York writers who turned in blank ballots that one year [1988]. About seven guys from New York and two from Baltimore.

"Maybe they felt no one deserved to get in that year. Willie Stargell got in with about 76 percent of the votes. If they hadn't sent in those blank ballots, Stargell would have gotten about 80 percent and I'd have gotten in with about 76 percent.

"I don't think writers should be voting on Golden Era players. Let it be their peers, guys already in the Hall of Fame. And I intend to tell that to the Hall of Fame people. And I'm going to tell them they ought to narrow the list, cut it back from 10 names.

"Guys were angry after the voting was announced. I stuck around for the press conference, but nobody asked me a question. The questions went to the writers.

"To me, it was a wasted weekend. We were there to pick someone for the Hall of Fame. We didn't accomplish anything. OK, maybe Allen and Oliva will be at the top of the list in 3 years when they come up again.

"But who will be on the committee of voters? What will the rules be? Things have to change!"