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New voting rules could help former Rays manager Lou Piniella get a Hall pass

Rays Tales | Restructured committees mean managers, umps and execs will be considered apart from players. Plus, rumblings.
Tampa native Lou Piniella spent 2003-05 with the Rays during a 23-season managerial career,
Tampa native Lou Piniella spent 2003-05 with the Rays during a 23-season managerial career, [ Times (2004) ]
Published Apr. 23|Updated Apr. 23

ST. PETERSBURG — A seemingly small change in Hall of Fame era committee voting procedures could be a big boost for two former Rays managers’ chances of getting to Cooperstown.

Under new rules released Friday, managers, umpires and executives now will be considered separately in voting once every three years rather than being on the same ballots as retired players.

That should be good news in the near term for Tampa native Lou Piniella and, after he retires, Joe Maddon. (And, who knows, maybe Kevin Cash, too.)

“This should improve my chances,” Piniella said Friday night. “It makes things a little easier, and probably a little fairer.”

Piniella, who spent 2003-05 with the Rays during a 23-year managerial career, was on the Today’s Game Era Committee ballot in 2018. He came up one vote short of the 12 needed and was openly disappointed.

Two of the 10 candidates were elected, both former players: Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

The previous format had four era committees divided by time periods (1871-1949, 1950-69, 1970-87, 1988-2016), with former players, managers, umpires and executives lumped together on a 10-person ballot.

The new format will have three committees: one for all candidates prior to 1980 and separate groups to consider players and non-players from 1980 on.

That’s particularly important — and a likely driver in the change — because of the number of big-name players who came off the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot without being voted in for assorted reasons (such as PEDs connections), and whose fate now rests with the committee.

That group could include newcomers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa, and others such as Tampa’s Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro, Kenny Lofton, Mark McGwire, Orel Hershiser, Will Clark, Dale Murphy and more.

With that many players, there wouldn’t be much opportunity for retired managers — such as Piniella, Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy — or umpires and executives to get evaluated and elected. Given the committee voting is their only path to Cooperstown, the separate election should make a huge difference.

An overview committee will set the eight-person ballots, and 16-member committees will vote for no more than three candidates, with 12 votes needed for approval. The three groups will rotate voting annually, with the Contemporary Baseball/Players group up first this December. The Contemporary non-players group will follow in December 2023 and the Classic (pre-1980) group in December 2024.

Piniella, pointing out that at 26 he was one of the oldest players to win American League Rookie of the Year honors (with the Royals in 1969), notes that he will be 80 by the time the committee votes. He wondered how many people have been elected at an older age.

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He hopes his resume will be good enough against a group of candidates that also could include longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in the executive category. Piniella led the Reds to the 1990 World Series title and took six other teams to the playoffs, compiling a 1,835-1,713 (.517) record with the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Rays and Cubs. (His only stint with a losing record was with Tampa Bay, where he was 200-285, .412.) Prior to becoming a manager, he played 18 seasons in the majors.

Maddon, for comparison’s sake, won a World Series with the 2016 Cubs, lost one with the 2008 Rays and took six other teams to the playoffs, compiling a 1,363-1,193 (.533) record (through Friday) with the Rays, Cubs and Angels.

“We’ll see what happens,” Piniella said. “I’m not going to count my eggs yet.”

More from Sweet Lou

Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hits a home run in the first inning of Friday's game against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hits a home run in the first inning of Friday's game against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Piniella, who still lives in Tampa, said he has been watching the Rays play regularly this season on TV. “I like what I see,” he said. “They’ve got some good young players, and they’re going to get better as the season goes on.” He, no surprise, has been impressed by Wander Franco: “Oh my gosh, he’s excellent. He can swing the bat, play defense, he’s an all-around guy. He’s very talented, no question.” Of Cash, a fellow Tampa native, Piniella says: “He does a heck of a job over there. And he handles the media well, too.”

Rays rumblings

Among scenarios considered when Wednesday’s game in Chicago was in jeopardy of being rained out was for the Cubs to play the Rays Thursday morning, followed by their regularly scheduled game against Pirates that night. … Former WTSP-TV news anchor Ryan Bass is joining the Bally Sports Sun crew as the fill-in sideline reporter when Tricia Whitaker is off or hosting pre-/postgame. … The Rays won’t have the smallest crowds in the majors this season; the A’s announced tickets sold against Baltimore were 3,748 Tuesday, 2,703 Wednesday, 4,429 Thursday. … Getting to the majors has been rewarding for 2017 10th-round pick Phoenix Sanders in many ways, including financially: With a big-league minimum salary of $700,000, he makes roughly $4,070 a day, which is more than half the $7,500 bonus he got to sign. … Dan Kiermaier is definitely the groundskeeper in the family; younger brother Kevin is giving up on the backyard at his Tampa home and having artificial turf installed. … Previous hirings of Patrick Abts (formerly with the Lightning) as senior director, marketing and Jason Wallace (NBA Memphis Grizzlies) as senior director, baseball communications were announced. …Triple-A Durham has added a 1998 black Devil Rays-style alternate jersey and cap. ... Former Ray Aki Iwamura’s Japanese player record streak of hitting in his first nine big-league games was tied Monday by the Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki, who singled off Shane McClanahan before going hitless Tuesday. ... A roundup of Franco’s best soundbites from the April 15 game in which he was mic’d up was posted on YouTube.

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