2020: The MLB Hall of Fame’s doleful year

Jul 20, 2019; Cooperstown, NY, USA; National baseball hall of fame chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark greets Hall of Famer Phil Niekro as he arrives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the Parade of Legends. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2019; Cooperstown, NY, USA; National baseball hall of fame chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark greets Hall of Famer Phil Niekro as he arrives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during the Parade of Legends. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /
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A statue of Babe Ruth is seen at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during induction weekend on July 25, 2009 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
A statue of Babe Ruth is seen at the National Baseball Hall of Fame during induction weekend on July 25, 2009 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

1948 (4)

Technically only two sitting MLB Hall of Famers died in 1948. The story of the other two amounts to a pair of one of those sad accidents of timing that come along from time to time.

Herb Pennock won 241 games during his 22-season career as a left-handed ace with the Athletics, Red Sox, and Yankees. With the latter, he was a member of the 1923, 1927, 1928 and 1932 World Series winners. In five postseason appearances, he was 5-0 with a 1.95 ERA.

In retirement, Pennock served as general manager of the Red Sox. When the Hall was created, he was a frequent also-ran only once obtaining more than half the votes of the writers’ panel.

He died in January of 1948, while the voting was underway. When the results were announced later that month,  Pennock had soared to 77.7 percent, two votes more than the number needed to secure his posthumous induction.

One month later, in February, former Cubs pitcher Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown died at age 71. In 1946, Brown’s Hall candidacy had peaked at 27.7 percent. He was not even included on either the 1947 or 1948 ballots.

But following Brown’s death, the Hall’s Old Timers Committee turned a fresh eye to his 2.06 career ERA, two World Series championships, and 239 victories. He was quickly elected.

Brown’s teammate, shortstop Joe Tinker, died in July. Tinker had been elected two years earlier.

Then in August, the Hall lost its biggest name. Babe Ruth succumbed to throat cancer. An original Hall member from the Class of 1936, Ruth held the record for home runs in a season (60) and career (714), and had a career .342 average. Naturally his death overwhelmed in attention those of all previous Hall of Famers.