03/06/2015 2:40PM

Hovdey: Some slip through cracks in Hall’s walls


It’s time again to rant and rail at the people who run the Thoroughbred racing Hall of Fame, and wonder aloud why they can’t seem to get anything right in terms of the voting process, and how come there are so many clearly obvious candidates who never make it to the final ballot, and when they’ll finally get Billy Crystal to host the induction ceremonies.

Then Minnie Minoso died this week without being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and any gripes with the horse racing Hall seemed pale by comparison.

This reporter has no particular stance on the Chicago White Sox, other than to recall them fondly from their six-game surrender to my L.A. Dodgers in the 1959 World Series. Minoso was not part of that White Sox team – by then he had been traded to Cleveland – but he eventually rejoined the Sox, which was just as well because from his first season on the South Side in 1951, he earned the right to be called “Mr. White Sox” just as DiMaggio was logically tagged as the “Yankee Clipper.”

In the wake of Minoso’s death at the age of 89, a number of sportswriters and broadcasters have stepped up to recite once again his considerable statistical history and rue the fact that both the baseball writers and the Veterans Committee got it terribly wrong for many years.

Minoso always seemed to be an unassuming man of great humility and devotion to the game, which is why he served in his later years on the Golden Era Committee of the Hall of Fame. The committee’s task is to consider players from the years 1947-72, a period during which Minoso played on seven American League All-Star teams. Who says there’s no irony in baseball?

There are a whole host of Minnie Minosos haunting the corridors of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., wondering what they did wrong. Among trainers, the win machine King Leatherbury finally makes his first appearance on the ballot this year after half a century in the game, while the name of David Whiteley has been pulled down from the back of a high shelf for consideration of his brief but brilliant career.

Even so, there is still no Buddy Raines in the Hall of Fame, no Mel Stute, Willard Proctor, Billy Turner, Richard Dutrow Sr., Dickie Small, Neil Howard, or Richard Hazelton.

Jockeys present a different challenge. Their records are more straightforward than those of trainers, their opportunities finite. They ride a race. They win or lose, and the wins, laid end to end, either lead them to the Hall of Fame or not.

Of the four riders on the 2015 ballot, two have been there before, and one of those is in danger of getting the Minoso treatment. Craig Perret, who just turned 64, retired from riding in 2005 with 4,415 winners, but his greatest achievements go back 20 years and more. If you want to believe that Unbridled, Housebuster, Bet Twice, Safely Kept, and Honest Pleasure steered themselves around out there, fine. Either way, that was Perret posing with them for the pictures.

Chris Antley, the James Dean of jockeys, is on the ballot once again in all his operatic glory, and in the face of his drug-related death in December 2000 that robbed the sport of a great natural talent. Joining Antley and Perret are two first-timers who have been eligible for a while: Victor Espinoza, who only needed one more push and got it with California Chrome, and Corey Nakatani, whose heavyweight résumé bears everything but a Triple Crown event.

The four horses sent up by the nominating committee (of which this writer is a disruptive member) represent a push-back to the idea that brilliance trumps durability.

In recent years, it was hard to ignore Ghostzapper and his nine wins in 11 starts, or Invasor and his 11 for 12. This time around, however, both Kona Gold (14 wins from 30 starts) and Xtra Heat (35 starts, 26 wins) are back on the ballot as the Fred and Ginger of modern sprinters who proved without doubt that there is more to the game than 9 or 10 furlongs on the main.

The other two horses are first-timers, including Lava Man, a winner of three Hollywood Gold Cups, two Santa Anita Handicaps, $5.2 million, and Grade 1 races on dirt, turf, and synthetics during a California-centric career of 47 starts, most of them after he was claimed for $50,000.

Lava Man has made the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, which is unusual. Normally, the nominators like to chew on a name for a couple of turns before pulling the trigger. It remains to be seen if the voters at large will go for Lava Man the first time out of the box the way they did for Curlin, Invasor, and Ghostzapper in recent years.

Then there is Black Tie Affair, the 1991 Horse of the Year. He is the real Minnie Minoso of the bunch, and not only because he called Chicago home. Black Tie Affair has been eligible to be nominated since 1997, five years after he wrapped up a career of 18 wins, nine seconds, six thirds, and $3.3 million in earnings during four seasons and 45 starts at 16 different racetracks.

Four of those tracks no longer exist. But hey, sometimes it takes a little time for the obvious to sink in.