COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. ? One created baseball?s foremost dynasty, one transformed the role of the men in blue, and one notched the first hit in the first professional game.
That?s the impressive legacy of baseball pioneers Jacob Ruppert, Hank O?Day and James ?Deacon? White, who are finally about to receive the recognition they deserve ? induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The three men represent the Class of 2013 and they?ve all been dead for more than 70 years, making Sunday?s festivities something out of the ordinary. For only the second time in 42 years, baseball writers failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame, sending a firm signal that stars of the Steroids Era ? including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens, who didn?t even come close in their first year of eligibility ? will be judged in a different light.
?When December rolled around and the ballots were out for completion, it started to dawn on us that there was a better-than-likely chance that the writers might not come to a 75 per cent vote on anyone this year,? said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. ?Disappointed? Yes, because we feel there are candidates on the ballot who certainly deserved consideration. But surprised? No.?
Approval on 75 per cent of returned ballots is needed for induction, and with pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas eligible for the first time next year, Bonds, Sosa and Clemens figure to be on the outside looking in for a long while.
?I believe that this past year was an aberration ? the first real ballot with some uncertainty among how the voters feel about some of the candidates on it,? Idelson said. ?But looking forward, we don?t believe that this is the norm.?
One thing remains constant ? the awards for those who have chronicled the game. Longtime Philadelphia Daily News writer Paul Hagen will be honoured with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and the family of late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek will be given the Ford C. Frick Award in a ceremony on Saturday at Doubleday Field. Dr. Frank Jobe, whose groundbreaking surgery on pitcher Tommy John has evolved into a game-changing medical procedure, also will be honoured.
The Baseball Writers? Association of America last failed to elect a player in 1971, when former New York Yankees great Yogi Berra fell just short. Back then, the Veterans Committee selected Dave Bancroft, Jake Beckley, Chick Hafey, Harry Hooper, Joe Kelley, Rube Marquard, Satchel Paige and George Weiss.
This time, the 16-member Pre-Integration Era Committee dug deep into the archives to elect an owner, an umpire, and a player who had significant roles in baseball?s earliest decades.
Ruppert, who was born in Manhattan in 1867, went to work for his father in the family brewing business instead of attending college. He also fashioned a military career, rising to the rank of colonel in the National Guard, and served four terms in Congress from 1899-1907 before becoming president of the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Co. upon the death of his father in 1915.
Interested in baseball since he was a kid, Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston purchased the Yankees prior to the 1915 season for $480,000, then proceeded to transform what had been a perennial also-ran in the American League into a powerhouse.
Miller Huggins was hired as manager soon after Ruppert gained control of the franchise, and Ruppert then snared Babe Ruth in a 1919 trade with the Boston Red Sox, a deal that changed the dynamics of the sport. Four years later, Ruppert had Yankee Stadium constructed and ?The House That Ruth Built? became baseball?s mecca. Ruppert also hired general manager Ed Barrow from the Red Sox in 1921, and together they won 10 AL pennants and seven World Series in 18 seasons.
O?Day was born on the rural west side of Chicago in 1859, played ball as a kid with his older brothers, and after completing his education apprenticed as a steamfitter while pitching for several local teams. He turned pro in 1884, but his arm suffered mightily in seven years of action and he retired not long after leading the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1889 and pitching a complete game to clinch the 19th century precursor to the modern World Series.
During his playing days, O?Day umpired occasionally and was so proficient he was hired in 1895. After working a season in the minor leagues, he joined the National League in 1897 and went on to umpire more than 4,000 games. His greatest contribution to baseball was convincing everyone associated with the game to treat the men in blue with dignity. Despite repeated physical and verbal assaults from players and fans, O?Day maintained his signature code of fairness, often ignoring enormous bribes to favour the home team, and his colleagues eventually adopted his pioneering ways.
White, a barehanded catcher, was one of major league baseball?s earliest stars. In fact, he was the first batter in the first professional game on May 4, 1871, and laced a double. An outstanding hitter, White, who grew up in Caton, N.Y., near Corning, was regarded as the best catcher in baseball before switching to third base late in his nearly 20-year career.
A deeply religious man, White earned the nickname ?Deacon? and was dubbed ?the most admirable superstar of the 1870s? by Bill James in his ?Historical Baseball Extract.? A left-handed batter, White played for the Cleveland Forest Citys, Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Reds, Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Wolverines and Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He had a .312 batting average and accumulated 2,067 hits, 270 doubles, 98 triples, 24 home runs and 988 RBIs before retiring in 1890.
White died in 1939 in Aurora, Ill., and six years later Hall of Famer Connie Mack, a teammate of White?s in Buffalo, wrote in a letter that White merited induction.
Now, White?s special day is here, and great grandson Jerry Watkins will speak on his behalf. Dennis McNamara, a great grandnephew of O?Day, will deliver a speech on behalf of the 10th umpire to be enshrined, and Anne Vernon, great grandniece of Ruppert, will speak on behalf of the family.
Forty of the 62 living Hall of Famers are expected back and will be part of something special. Twelve men elected between 1939 and 1945 will be celebrated, and returning Hall of Famers will read the text of those players? plaques in their honour. None of those 12 inductees, which include Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby, experienced a formal induction in Cooperstown.
Hall of Fame weekend is the bread-and-butter moment of the year for local business owners, who count on a substantial influx of fans to help make ends meet. A record crowd of over 70,000 descended on this one-stoplight village six years ago for the induction ceremony honouring Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.
?It was crazy busy,? said Sherrie Kingsley, who with her husband operates The Inn at Cooperstown. ?It was an overwhelming amount of people for our village, but we were expecting it.?
Neither Kingsley nor Idelson is sure what to expect this time around, but they?re not too concerned. The Inn is booked as usual, and Main Street has been bustling.
?Hall of Fame weekend has taken on a life of being a weekend of baseball celebration,? Idelson said. ?Is it about the inductees first and foremost? Of course. It is a celebration of them. But it?s also the biggest baseball reunion there is on the baseball calendar.
?No, our numbers we don?t believe will be as robust as with the headline names. We still feel that the weekend is going to be successful.?
Honorees to be feted on Saturday:
PAUL HAGEN: Born in East Aurora, N.Y. ? to be given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award presented by the Baseball Writers? Association of America for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. ? attended Ohio University and began his writing career in 1974 working in San Bernardino, Calif., where he covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for three years. ? also worked in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a decade covering the Texas Rangers for the Dallas Times-Herald and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ? worked for 25 years in Philadelphia covering the Phillies for the Philadelphia Daily News. ? currently works for MLB.com, as a national reporter focusing on the Phillies.
TOM CHEEK: Born June 13, 1939 in Pensacola, Fla. and died Oct. 9, 2005 in Oldsmar, Fla. after battling brain cancer. ? to be honoured with the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award presented annually by the Baseball Hall of Fame for excellence in baseball broadcasting. ? Toronto Blue Jays radio play-by-play man who called the team?s first 4,306 regular-season and 41 playoff games from 1977-2004 before missing a game due to illness and the death of his father. ? on Aug. 29, 2004 was honoured by the Blue Jays with his induction into the Level of Excellence, the club?s highest award for individual achievement. Cheek became just the seventh inductee and only the second member of non-uniformed personnel so honoured. ? served in the U.S. Air Force and after his discharge attended the Cambridge School of Broadcasting in Boston for two years. ? began his radio career in Plattsburgh, N.Y. as disc jockey for WEAV in 1962. ? moved to Burlington, Vt. and began calling baseball, basketball, football, and hockey for the University of Vermont. ? served as a guest announcer for the Montreal Expos from 1974-76. ? best known for his call of the Joe Carter home run in Game 6 that clinched the 1993 World Series: ?Touch ?em all Joe, you?ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.?
Honorees to be feted on Sunday:
JACOB RUPPERT JR.: born in New York City on Aug. 5, 1867 and died Jan. 13, 1939. ? became a National Guard colonel and served four terms in Congress from 1899-1907. ? started in the family brewing business and became president of the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Co. with the death of his father in 1915. ? teamed with Tillinghast Huston to purchase the New York Yankees prior to the 1915 season. ? brought in future Hall of Famers Miller Huggins as manager and Ed Barrow as general manager and purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox prior to the 1920 season to quickly turn an also-ran team into the game?s most prominent franchise. ? built Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. ? while he was the Yankees owner, the Bronx Bombers won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series. ? became the 33rd executive elected to the Hall of Fame, receiving 15 of 16 votes (93.8 per cent) from the Pre-Integration Era Committee.
JAMES LAURIE ?DEACON? WHITE: Born Dec. 7, 1847 in Caton, N.Y. and died July 7, 1939 in Aurora, Ill. ? was a brilliant bare-handed catcher during the earliest days of professional baseball. ? played in the first professional league, the National Association, which debuted in 1871, and was the first batter in the first professional game on May 4, 1871 and hit a double. ? also played for Chicago in the National League?s inaugural year of 1876 ? regarded as the best catcher in baseball before switching to third base late in his nearly 20-year career. ? played for the Cleveland Forest Citys, Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Reds, Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Wolverines and Pittsburgh Alleghenys. ? despite league schedules that often were limited to 70 or 80 games, batted .312 for his career, accumulating 2,067 hits, 270 doubles, 98 triples, 24 home runs and 988 RBIs before retiring in 1890. ? won two batting titles and three RBI crowns. ? didn?t drink, smoke or gamble, earning the nickname ?Deacon.? ? was dubbed ?the most admirable superstar of the 1870s? by Bill James in his ?Historical Baseball Extract.? ? received 14 of 16 votes (87.5 per cent) from the Pre-Integration Era Committee.
HENRY ?HANK? O?DAY: Born July 8, 1859, in Chicago and died July 2, 1935, in Chicago. ? played ball as a kid with his older brothers and pitched for several local teams while apprenticing as a steamfitter. ? turned pro in 1884 and fashioned a 73-100 record in seven years, also playing the outfield. ? led the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1889 and pitched a complete game to clinch the 19th century precursor to the modern World Series. ? was hired as an umpire in 1895 and joined the NL staff two years later. .. umpired more than 4,000 games, including 10 World Series. ? called the first modern World Series in 1903. ? was the ruling umpire in the famous Cubs vs. Giants game on Sept. 23, 1908 when Chicago?s Johnny Evers tagged out New York?s Fred Merkle following what appeared to be the game-winning hit by the Giants. O?Day ruled that because Merkle had not touched second base that the force out ended the game, which was ruled a tie when the fans overran the field. The Cubs later won a re-played version of the game and captured the National League pennant. ? convinced everyone associated with the game to treat umpires with dignity. ? managed the Reds in 1912 and the Cubs in 1914 and returned to umpiring after he was replaced in both cities. ? retired in 1927 and became the NL?s special scout of umpires and players. ? the 10th umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame.