The first stage of electing a new class to the Baseball Hall of Fame has begun with the release of 10 nominees whose careers date to what is described by the sport as the “pre-integration era.” This is one of the trickest stages of Hall voting because many careers date back decades and decades. There are no living witnesses to the players’ feats and there are no contemporaries from the executives’ primes.
I pride myself on being a pretty savvy baseball historian, but there is one name on the list I’ve never heard of and three or so others I couldn’t tell you much about beyond name recognition that sticks in my brain from past reading. I can’t say of a single one that they are a slam-dunk to be selected and I can’t say that I have spent too much time dwelling on the fact that they have been left out up until now.
However, there are three names on the list whose records I have looked into at one time or another and thought about at least cursorily about whether or not they belong in the Hall of Fame.
Those three are: Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees during their first glory years in the 1920s and 1930s when Babe Ruth and the club ruled the sport; Wes Ferrell, the 1930s-1940s-era pitcher who six times won 20 games, and was the brother of Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell; and Marty Marion, the one-time dazzling St. Louis Cardinals shortstop of the 1940s and 1950s.
Alfred Reach was one of the pioneers of the game, a sporting goods manufacturer who eventually sold out to Albert Spalding. Tony Mullane was a pre-20th century pitcher who posted some astonishing statistics, including winning at least 30 games in a season five years in a row. Hank O’Day had the distinction of being the only person in Major League baseball history to play the game, manage, and umpire. His nomination is based on his 30 years as an ump. Bill Dahlen had a 21-year career as an infielder with some stunning highs, but many years of apparent mediocrity, too.
Samuel Breadon owned the St. Louis Cardinals from 1920 to 1947 and on his watch the team won nine pennants and six World Series. Bucky Walters had a quirky career, starting as a position player, but eventually earning six All-Star berths and a Most Valuable Player award as a pitcher. The one player on the list I had never heard of is Deacon White. White had a 20-year career, completed by 1890, with a .312 lifetime average.
There is something to recommend each candidacy, but I’m not sure there is enough to guarantee any of their candidacies. The 16-member Pre-Integration Era Committee will debate the nominees at the Winter Meetings, Dec. 2-3, in Nashville. As in all Hall of Fame elections, a successful candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote.
Over the next few weeks I will examine the careers of the nominees in more detail.