- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

There’s good news these days for older sports fans who remember when Mickey Vernon was plying his graceful trade at first base for the original Washington Senators in the 1940s and 1950s: His name is back on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot courtesy of the Veterans Committee, whose vote will be announced Feb. 27.

Matter of fact, Mickey isn’t the only guy with local ties who will be considered. Also added to the ballot is former teammate Cecil Travis, whose sterling career as the Senators shortstop was cut short early by injuries sustained in World War II and nearly four years away from the game.

Both men are worthy of enshrinement — and both are likely to fail, at least this time around, because of the stiff competition. But it’s easy to envision two longtime residents of Cooperstown, Senators owner Clark Griffith and magnificent pitcher Walter Johnson, looking down and crossing their celestial fingers.

Six years ago, the Hall of Fame expanded the Veterans Committee to include all living members. One of them is Senators play-by-play man Bob Wolff, who made the grade in the broadcast wing a decade ago.

“I know Mickey far better than I do Cecil because he played during most of the years when I did the games,” Wolff said, “but both have excellent credentials. Mickey played for more than 20 years, won two batting championships and was a marvelous first baseman. Cecil was a wonderful shortstop and an outstanding hitter. I’ll certainly consider voting for them.”

Travis, who still lives in his boyhood home of Riverdale, Ga., at age 93, could slam line drives right from the bat, so to speak. In May 1933, he began his major league career with five consecutive hits — the only player ever to do so. Eight years later, with a .359 average, he became the answer to a future trivia question: Who finished second in the American League in batting the year Ted Williams hit .406?

Vernon, who started his major league career in 1939 and finished it in 1960, won his batting titles in 1946 (.353) and 1953 (.337). Opportunities to gain national attention were few with the usually lackluster Senators, but he did so emphatically with a 10th-inning home run to beat the New York Yankees on Opening Day 1954 at Griffith Stadium. Among those grasping his hand afterward was Dwight David Eisenhower, playing hooky from his duties as president of the United States.

Not so enjoyable were Vernon’s 21/2 seasons as the first manager of the horrid expansion Senators from 1961 to 1963. Now retired and living in Media, Pa., Vernon remains a modest, friendly man who seems surprised by the attention he receives. When officials planned to erect a statue of him in his hometown of Marcus Hook, Pa., a few years ago, they didn’t tell Mickey for fear he would decline the honor.

At the statue unveiling, Phillies broadcaster and Hall of Famer Harry Kalas eloquently argued Vernon’s case, noting that “10 of the 18 first basemen [in the shrine] don’t have as many hits as Mickey [2,495]. Without question, he belongs.”

But as you might expect, Vernon isn’t exactly dancing in the streets of Media and environs over being on the ballot.

“It’s nice, but I feel the same as I always have,” he said this week. “I don’t think about it too much. But I’d like to see Cecil get in. He was a very good line drive hitter and a good shortstop.”

To be elected, a candidate must be selected by 75 percent of the 84 voters, each of whom can tab up to 10 candidates. In a preliminary session, the list was whittled to 27 last week, and there ain’t no dogs barking in this group.

Ron Santo, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat are up once again, along with the likes of Bobby Bonds, Dick Allen, Rocky Colavito, Thurman Munson, Joe Torre, Maury Wills and pre-steroids home run king Roger Maris. So, too, are influential Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and players’ union chief Marvin Miller.

And, in an ironic note, the ballot includes former Dodgers icon Gil Hodges, who succeeded Vernon as manager of the Senators in 1963. If Mickey is elected and Gil isn’t, some might consider it belated payback. Of course, Vernon is too nice a guy to think that way. (In the last Veterans Committee vote two years ago, Hodges and Santo fell eight votes short.)

Over seven decades before the expansion Senators left for Texas in 1971, Washington fans had their share of great players to savor. Now there is at least the possibility that two of them could have their mugs added permanently to the Cooperstown pantheon, and we should keep our fingers crossed.

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