The Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. Ä Richie Ashburn and Larry Doby, who could've played in the same outfield for the Cleveland Indians except for a ruling by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, are considered among the top candidates for election today to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Nellie Fox, Gil Hodges and Negro Leagues star Leon Day also stand a chance to be chosen. Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra are on the 17-member panel that will vote, with 75 percent required for selection.
''It would be a great honor, no question,'' Ashburn said. ''But how could I be optimistic after all these years?''
In an effort to enhance the opportunities for 19th century players and former Negro Leaguers, the committee's rules have been revised for a five-year period. Starting today, there will be a supplemental election for one player in each of those categories, in addition to the usual two people the panel can pick.
There are 220 people in the Hall, 125 of them chosen by the Veterans Committee, including Phil Rizzuto and Leo Durocher last year. This will be the 35th straight year the panel has voted, and only three times has it failed to select someone.
Mike Schmidt, regarded as the greatest player ever for the Philadelphia Phillies, was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America in January and will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 30.
Ashburn batted .308 in a 15-year career, almost all of it with the Phillies, as one of baseball's best center fielders. Known for his speed, defense and ability to get on base, he often was overshadowed by three others who played the same position during the 1950s Ä Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, all of them in the Hall.
Ashburn won two batting titles and led the NL in hits three times. He holds the major league record for outfielders with four seasons of 500 or more putouts, and was a five-time All-Star.
In 1944, when many teams were desperate for players, Cleveland signed Ashburn at age 17. But that deal was nullified by commissioner Landis, who ruled Ashburn was too young.
''To be honest, I didn't know what the rules were back then. Neither did my dad,'' said Ashburn, a catcher early in his pro career. ''I just knew I wanted to play ball.''
During World War II, though, Joe Nuxhall pitched for Cincinnati at age 15. Nuxhall now broadcasts for the Reds and Ashburn announces for the Phillies.
''I've always meant to ask him how come he was allowed to play and I wasn't,'' Ashburn said yesterday at the Phillies' training camp in Clearwater, about 20 miles from where today's voting will take place.
Doby was starring in the Negro Leagues for the Newark Eagles when he signed with Cleveland on July 3, 1947, becoming the first black player in the AL. The deal came 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Doby batted .283 with 253 home runs and 969 RBIs in a 13-year career in the majors, mostly with the Indians. He twice led the AL in homers. Like Ashburn, Doby wound up playing center field after starting out somewhere else, second base in his case.
Among Doby's teammates with Newark were Don Newcombe, Monte Irvin and Day, one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues in the late 1930s and 1940s. Irvin, in the Hall of Fame, is on the veterans panel.
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