Alum Helps Pick This Year's Only New Members of Baseball Hall of Fame
By John Masson
Jan. 10, 2013
One of the highlights of Tom Simon's lifelong love affair with baseball history almost didn't happen.
Simon, a 1990 Michigan Law grad who now practices in Vermont, was filtering through his mail one day last fall when he came across an envelope from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He's donated to the Hall before, so at first he figured it was just a donation request.
"I really was planning to toss it right into the recycling," said Simon, who, apart from his legal work, also has authored and edited several books on baseball history, including The Green Mountain Boys of Summer, about Vermonters who made it to the Big Leagues.
But something prompted him to open the envelope first. Inside he was amazed to find an invitation to help pick this year's inductees. "Needless to say, I immediately got on the phone to the Hall of Fame, and said 'Yes, of course I'll be there,' " Simon said. "And it really was an incredible experience."
The Baseball Writers Association of America selects inductees from baseball's modern, post-expansion era, but Simon was assigned a position on the "pre-integration committee," responsible for examining Hall of Fame candidates whose greatest contributions to the game came before Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball (with the help of 1911 Michigan Law grad and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey) in 1947.
He attended baseball's winter meetings last month in Nashville, where he met with fellow pre-integration committee members, including sportswriters, baseball executives, another historian, and Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, and Pat Gillick. Their mission: to choose the worthiest candidates from a pre-selected list of 10 names.
"I did a lot of homework, as one of the two historians on the committee," Simon said. "My objective was to become as well-informed about these guys as I could in the two months prior to the vote. That way I could answer any questions and voice my opinions, pro or con."
Under consideration by the pre-integration committee were umpire Hank O'Day, Yankees owner and original Yankee Stadium builder Jacob Ruppert, players Deacon White, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane, and Bucky Walters, and executives Al Reach and Samuel Breadon.
In the end, committee members overwhelmingly selected White, O'Day, and Ruppert. And because the BBWAA declined to select anyone at all from its list of 37 candidates this year, the three selected by Simon's committee are the only ones who will join the Hall of Fame this summer.
"Certainly no sport has as much of a love affair with its history as baseball, and no sport has the same kind of history as baseball," Simon said. "So to be selected to participate on this committee with Hall of Fame ballplayers and executives was a real shock and a real thrill."
Simon said his own love affair with baseball history flagged a bit under the pressure of his education at Michigan Law, but was rekindled one spring in Ann Arbor when he spotted The Pitch That Killed by Mike Sowell, the story of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, the only man ever killed on a big league ball field after he was hit in the head by a pitch.
"I read that book and thought, 'Boy, what I really want to do someday is write a book like that,' " he said. He has been able to write baseball books, he added, but so far only as a sideline to his full-time job as a trial lawyer.
He's also managed to find time to play on the Burlington Cardinals, a senior league team featuring teammates like former Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee and the mayor of Vermont's largest city.
But that literary someday is coming.
"There are still books that I want to write," he said, "but for right now I'm focused on family and work life and coaching my kids through Little League."
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