As baseball’s Hall-of-Fame Museum weekend approaches, I can’t help but wonder if there has ever been a class better than the first class of 1936. With the infusion of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) since the early 1990’s, baseball’s Hall of Fame is at a virtual standstill in regards to current inductees. On July 28, an umpire, an owner, and a player will be inducted into the Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Each changed the game from its earlier days and none of the three have had anything to do with baseball for the past 75 years. These three will bring the total number of Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famers to an even 300. Only 61 are still alive and nearly forty of those living are expected to attend. The Hall of Fame needs the current members to be there or the attendance numbers may suffer dreadfully.
This year’s class included Hank O’Day, the tenth umpire to be inducted. O’Day played, managed, and umpired for over thirty years. He umpired the first modern-day World Series in 1903. O’Day passed away on July 2, 1935.
Jacob Ruppert became the 33rd executive inducted. He owned and operated the New York Yankees franchise from 1915-1939. Ruppert hired Miller Huggins as Manager and Ed Barrow as General Manager, purchased Babe Ruth’s contract from the Red Sox and built Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. I have no idea why he had not been inducted earlier. Under his reign, the Bombers won ten American League Pennants and seven World Championships. Ruppert passed away January 13, 1939.
Deacon White was an incredible bare-handed catcher. White played for nine different franchises in three different leagues before 1890. In 20 seasons, he recorded 2,067 hits and a .312 batting average. He also won two batting titles and three RBI crowns. White left us on July 7, 1939.
Only eight modern-day players or managers have been inducted since 2008. They are as follows: “Goose” Gossage, Dick Williams, Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Barry Larkin.
Meanwhile, the list of current players eligible for the Hall of Fame continues to pile up. Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza were all added to the 2012 list. Names like Craig Biggio, Lee Smith, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, and Jeff Bagwell all have adequate numbers, but they have been passed over so far, and the choices do not get any easier for the next five years.
Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas will be added in 2014, along with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz in 2015. Two thousand and sixteen will find Ken Griffey, Jr. and Trevor Hoffman on the ballot with Ivan Rodriquez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jorge Posada a year later. Chipper Jones and Omar Visquel will see their first ballot in 2018.
Will Major League Baseball use an asterisk to define some of these players’ careers, who are strongly believed to have used steroids? Or will some of them simply be left out of the voting for all time? That, we do not know. There is no doubt that the conversations will be heated and contested at every turn. It’s a shame that greed and notoriety have replaced playing for the love of the game. Some of the people whose names are mentioned above will undoubtedly pay for their transgressions by watching from the outside.
Any combination of four, five or more of these players being inducted in the same year would be spell binding as the baseball voting membership tends to stay away from first-ballot entries and anyone associated with PED’s. What will happen is anyone’s guess.
As for my original question, despite how crowded the ballot is going to get, no modern day Hall-of-Fame class can ever be considered the greatest in Major League Baseball history. The modern day rules and circumstances of the Hall of Fame practically ensure that the debut class of 1936 can never be topped. That class listed in order of the highest voting percentage received included: Ty Cobb (98.2%), Honus Wagner (95.1%), Babe Ruth (95.1%), Christy Mathewson (90.7%), and Walter Johnson (83.6%). These were the absolute best players of the first sixty years of professional baseball. Heck, even Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Connie Mack, John McGraw and Pete Alexander were left off of the inaugural list. Had the institution of the Hall of Fame been intact since 1900 and the rules of today in place, Christy Mathewson would have been inducted in the 1922 class, as he retired in 1916. Honus Wagner, who retired in 1917, would have been inducted in 1923. Walter Johnson would be part of the 1933 class, and Ty Cobb part of 1934. Ruth would have been part of the 1941 class instead of 1936, since he had retired the year before.
As for me, I’m glad the first class can never be topped. I consider that a good thing, but I would vote for six players from the 2014 ballot. They are: Craig Biggio, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, and Lee Smith. Let’s see how I do in regards to next year’s class. Feel free to email your answer at email@example.com.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.