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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Goose Goslin (second from left) with fellow 1930s sluggers Pinky Higgins, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Goose Goslin (second from left) with fellow 1930s sluggers Pinky Higgins, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

1971 (4)

Only three of the current MLB Hall of Famers who died in 1971 had been inducted by the time of their deaths. Three – two of them former teammates once traded for one another — died within eight days of one another in May.

The first to go was Elmer Flick, a star of the first decade of the 20th Century with Cleveland and the Philadelphia Phillies. Two days short of his 95th birthday on his Jan. 9 passing, Flick was the 1908 American League batting champion. He led the National League in RBIs (100) in 1900 and had been elected by the Veterans Committee in 1963.

On May 12, 1920s and 30s American League slugger Heinie Manush died. The 1926 batting champion with Detroit, (.378), Manush batted .330 over a 17-year career with the Tigers, Browns, Senators, Dodgers, and Pirates. A member of the 1933 American League pennant winning Senators, he was a Veterans Committee selectee in 1964.

Three days later, Manush’s former teammate in the Senators outfield, Goose Goslin, died. Goslin batted .316 for 18 seasons. In June of 1930, the Senators traded Goslin to the St. Louis Browns for Manush and pitcher Alvin ‘General’ Crowder.

Five days after Goslin’s passing, former Cuban and Negro League star Martin Dihigo died in his native land of Cuba. Denied the opportunity to play in the majors by his skin color, Dihigo was posthumously inducted in 1977 by the Negro Leagues Committee.

Jackie Robinson with his wife, Rachel, around the time of his Hall induction in 1962. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
Jackie Robinson with his wife, Rachel, around the time of his Hall induction in 1962. (Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

1972 (6)

Technically only five of the six MLB Hall of Fame playrs to succumb in 1972 were inductees at the time of their deaths. The sixth was still active and thus ineligible at the time of his death.

This group also includes perhaps two of the most honored Hall inductees of all time.

The first to go was Zack Wheat, the great Dodger slugger of the World War I era. He had been elected by the Veterans Committee in 1959.

Five days later, Pirates third baseman Pie Traynor died at age 73 in Pittsburgh. The writers inducted Traynor along with Pennock in his eighth year on the ballot. One year earlier, Traynor had fallen two votes short; in 1948 he made it with two to spare.

On Oct. 9, Hall of Fame shortstop Dave Bancroft died at age 81. He had been elected a few months earlier by the Hall’s Veterans Committee, and inducted in July.

Just two weeks later, the Hall lost probably its most famous member when Jackie Robinson, who broke the game’s color barrier in 1947, died from complications of diabetes. A first-ballot inductee in 1962, Robinson had won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and the 1949 Most Valuable Player Award.

The sixth MLB Hall of Famer to die in 1972 was not a Hall of Famer at the time of his death because he remained an active player. On New Year’s Eve, Pirate legend Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash while ferrying emergency supplies to earthquake ravaged residents of Nicaragua. Clemente, a member of the 3,000 hit club, was inducted following a special election a few months later.

A seventh Hall of Famer died in 1972, but he was not a player. In August, former Yankee general manager George Weiss died. Weiss led the Yankees to annual pennants between 1949 and 1953, then again from 1955 through  1958 and finally in 1960. His 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958 teams won the World Series.

Forced to retire following the 1960 World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Weiss signed as general manager of the expansion New York Mets. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.