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For John Schuerholz, Path To Baseball Hall Of Fame Started With Orioles

December 5, 2016
There weren't any surprises Dec. 4, when the Today's Game Era Committee (once known as the Veteran's Committee) announced the two newest members of baseball's Hall of Fame, but that doesn't mean there won't be any continuing controversy.

Baltimorean John Schuerholz, who broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 and later helped build dynasties with the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, was a unanimous choice of the 16-member committee, and even the harshest of critics wouldn't question his candidacy. Former commissioner Bud Selig, however, is destined to always be a lightning rod of controversy, despite baseball's unparalleled growth during his tenure. 

Once Pat Gillick opened the Hall's doors in 2011, paving the way for candidates who started at grassroots level to build strong and consistent winning franchises, Schuerholz was considered a shoo-in by his peers. Given the path he's taken to Cooperstown, N.Y., it's not surprising he began his career in an old-fashioned manner -- by writing a letter, something that would be unheard of today.

A graduate of what was then called Towson State and a teacher in the Baltimore County School System, Schuerholz wasn't applying for a particular job -- he was looking for any job. And his first move was almost as bold as any he made during a dynamic career now in its seventh decade -- he went right to the top and sent the letter directly to Jerold Hoffberger, who had just taken over as the Orioles' principal owner. 

There are a lot of baseball people who will tell you that one of the best decisions Hoffberger ever made -- even though it wasn't to the Orioles' long-term benefit -- was to pass that letter through proper channels. The timing couldn't have been better.

"When I first walked into the Orioles' office," Schuerholz said on the MLB Network Dec. 4, "there was Frank Cashen, the president, Harry Dalton, the general manager, and [head of the minor league department] Lou Gorman. I felt fortunate just to be around these great people."

Cashen had moved into the top executive job when Hoffberger took control; Dalton became general manager, turning his former job over to Gorman, who then hired Schuerholz as his assistant. It turned out to be a perfect fit for Schuerholz, who was ready to make his first trade -- a teaching career for a chance to become a major league executive. 

It didn't come without sacrifice, though, as Schuerholz had to take a pay cut to kick start his career. The fact that he was making more as a young and still inexperienced teacher says a lot about baseball pay scales at the time, but the decision would soon pay rich rewards.

In the process, the Orioles learned a valuable lesson the hard way a few years later, when they allowed Gorman to take Schuerholz with him to join the expansion Kansas City Royals before the 1969 season. They didn't give Dalton the same leeway two years later, putting restrictions in place before allowing him to join the California Angels, and one can only wonder how the path might have been affected had the Orioles given Gorman's job to his young assistant.

Once he moved on, Schuerholz's career was on the fast track. The Royals became a dominant team in the American League West Division, culminating with the World Series championship in 1985, and a subsequent move to Atlanta coincided with the Braves' unprecedented 14-year run of division titles and a World Series title in 1995.

Not bad for a former junior high school teacher who took a pay cut in order to start a dream job in baseball.

The fact that Selig fell only one vote shy of unanimous in this election process will probably create almost as much of a controversy as his election itself. He is considered by many to be the best commissioner in baseball history because of the game's growth, its current long run of labor peace and the adoption of what is considered the toughest drug policy in sports.

But his critics will never forgive him for the cancelation of the 1994 World Series during the most recent work stoppage, the dark age of steroid use, which didn't start but blossomed under his watch, and the rise in ticket prices, as the age of free agency has sent salaries through the roof. He's also been given black marks for his role in baseball's ugly collusion during Peter Ueberroth's term as commissioner.

In addition, Selig has gotten credit, pro and con, on such things as expansion, inter-league play, the Wild Card playoff system, home-field advantage being tied to the All-Star game and the continuing debate over use of the designated hitter, though that rule has been on the books since 1973, almost 20 years before he became commissioner.

He's never going to do more than break even on the vote of fans, but Selig has had almost universal support from the baseball community, and his vote total certainly reflected that from the committee, which included eight Hall of Famers, four executives and four media members.

The fact that he was in the chair during so much conflict, as baseball settled into the free-agent era, almost guarantees Selig will never get complete acceptance by baseball's fan base. 

Controversy could be his middle name, but that Selig spent more than two decades in a job that can best be described as impossible might be the strongest recognition for his Hall of Fame candidacy.

There might not be any middle ground in Selig's career -- but it's ending on hallowed ground.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com