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 percent 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 percent 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 honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and the family of late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek were given the Ford C. Frick Award in a ceremony Saturday at Doubleday Field. Dr. Frank Jobe, whose groundbreaking surgery on pitcher Tommy John has evolved into a game-changing medical procedure, also was honored.
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, 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.
After working a season as an umpire 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.
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.
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 honor. 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 honoring 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.”