Without living inductees, Hall to honor early greats
Yanks owner Ruppert, catcher White, ump O'Day to be inducted Sunday
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- In what will be one of the more unusual Hall of Fame weekends in recent memory, a famous owner of the Yankees, a 19th-century catcher who worked without equipment and a turn-of-the-20th-century umpire who called the famous Merkle Boner in 1908 are to be inducted Sunday.
Jacob Ruppert is the owner who in the 1920s established the foundation of a franchise that has become one of the most heralded brands in professional sports. Deacon White is the catcher, and Hank O'Day is the umpire who called out Fred Merkle for not touching second base on what would have been a game-winning hit, ultimately costing the New York Giants the pennant.
Because the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America did not give the requisite 75-percent vote to anyone on their ballot earlier this year, this will be the first ceremony without a living inductee since 1965, when Pud Galvin, baseball's first 300-game winner, was elected 63 years after his death.
The trio of Ruppert, White and O'Day, elected late last year by the 16-person Pre-Integration Veterans Committee, will be represented by their heirs, who will deliver speeches behind the Clark Sports Center on their behalf beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET. Hall of Fame coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. on MLB Network and also can be seen with a live stream on MLB.com.
"I'm incredibly excited," Jerry Watkins, White's great-grandson, said during a conference call this week. "I'm a lifelong baseball fan and I've studied Deacon White's career. I've been very involved, and I've spoken about it a number of times. I've researched it. I'm glad to have that honor, which I appreciate so much."
The rare year without a living star attraction has allowed officials of the Hall to be creative. They've added a special wrinkle to the main Sunday event, honoring Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and 10 other Hall of Famers who were not recognized at the time of their inductions due to wartime travel restrictions, or, as in the case of Gehrig, inability to travel due to health reasons.
Ruppert and O'Day received 15 of 16 votes, and White was named on 14 of the ballots cast by the members of the Pre-Intergration Committee.
"The planning for induction weekend started last year, the day last year's induction ended," Jeff Idelson, the Hall's president, said. "I'm pleased that we're finally able to implement our program of inducting our 12 of our Hall of Famers, who never had that opportunity. It's something that as a staff we've contemplated for a number of years. It made sense to do it this year."
Ruppert, a beer and land baron who owned the Yankees from 1915 until his death in 39, purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox, signed Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and had the foresight to build the first Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, on farmland in the Bronx. Ruppert sent the Yankees on a stunning path toward a record 27 World Series titles, a run that has extended nearly a century into an era when the club is held by the Steinbrenner family.
There are 45 players, managers and executives in the Hall of Fame with some sort of Yankees pedigree, but Ruppert is the first Yankees owner. Some of the members of the Pre-Integration Committee didn't even realize that Ruppert wasn't in the Hall.
Executives, umpires and managers are selected by permutations of the Veterans Committee, and there are ample examples of owners who have been elected, although long after their lives have ended. The most recent were Barney Dreyfuss of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Walter O'Malley of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, who were both inducted in 2008. Dreyfuss died in 1932 and O'Malley in 1979.
"The standard for ownership has always been a difficult issue," said Peter Morris, a baseball historian who was on the committee. "The Hall of Fame started by putting builders in and it took a while to recognize owners. One of the things we discussed is that many people believed that Jacob Ruppert was already in because his credentials were so outstanding. Then when we looked at his record afresh, we realized he'd done an incredible amount for the game."
O'Day was a pitcher and later an umpire, from 1888-1927, who worked a record-tying 10 World Series. White, who hit .312 from 1871-90, caught much of his career without the luxury of a glove, chest protector, shin guards or a mask.
"I believe, and I've been told by baseball historians -- although I don't have this documented -- that he was the first one to use a mask in professional ball," Watkins said about his great-grandfather. "As I understand it, the mask was invented at Harvard College and used prior to that in collegiate ball, but he was one of the first to use it in the pros."
O'Day was the plate umpire at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 23, 1908, the fateful day on which the Giants battled the Chicago Cubs to the last out. Merkle was on first base as the Giants knocked in what appeared to be the winning run with a single in the bottom of the ninth, but he failed to touch second base as the crowd swarmed the field. The Cubs noticed the gaffe, threw the ball to second base, and O'Day called Merkle out. Because fans had irrevocably stopped the game, it couldn't be continued, was declared a 1-1 tie, and was replayed. The Giants lost the makeup game and the National League pennant by one game to the Cubs, who won the World Series.
The Cubbies haven't won a World Series since.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.