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The Strike Zone

Pre-Integration Era ballot yields three worthy Hall of Famers

Jacob Ruppert will now have a plaque in Cooperstown to go with the one he has at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium. (Icon SMI) Jacob Ruppert will now have a plaque in Cooperstown to go with the one he has at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium. (Icon SMI)

Former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, 19th-century catcher and third baseman Deacon White and early-20th century umpire Hank O'Day, all of whom died before 1940, were  elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran Committee on Monday. The trip will be inducted on July 28, 2103, along with any players voted in by the BBWAA on the recently released ballot, the results of which will be announced on January 9, 2013. While the various Veterans Committee processes have yielded some dubious Hall of Famers over the years, the accomplishments and the context of Ruppert, White and O'Day make them worthy additions to Cooperstown.

The Pre-Integration Era ballot covered six players and four other figures who had their biggest impact on baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Ruppert received 15 votes, as did O'Day, from the 16-member panel. (Among non-players, neither former A's executive and equipment manufacturer Alfred Reach nor former Cardinals owner Sam Breadon received more than three votes.

Among the players, White was the only one to win election, earning 14 of the 16 votes (12 were needed for election). Turn-of-the-century shortstop Bill Dahlen received 10 votes, but none of the other four players — Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Tony Mullane and Bucky Walters — received more than three. Via my JAWS-based analysis, Dahlen was the best candidate, exceeding the Hall of Fame standards at shortstop on both career and overall measures. Ferrell exceeded the peak standard for starting pitchers. White fell a bit shy of the career and peak standards for catchers, but his career footprint was limited by the timing of the inception of major league baseball, and by the short schedules of the day. He's a very reasonable choice given those caveats.

Born in 1847, White can lay claim to the first plate appearance, first hit and first catch in the history of the National Association, the first major league, in 1871. He spent five years in the short-lived NA, the first two with the Cleveland Forest Citys, the latter three with the Boston Red Stockings, and once the league disbanded, he spent 14 years in the original National League, bouncing between the Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh franchises. Baseball was a drastically different game during that era, with pitchers throwing underhand or sidearm before 1883, the number of balls and strikes necessary for walks and strikeouts fluctuating almost annually, and fielders working barehanded.Over the course of his 20-year career (1871-1890), White collected 2,067 hits while batting .312/.346/.393, and winning batting titles in both the NA (1875) and NL (1877).

Because of the demands of catching in those bare-knuckle days — padded catcher's mitts and chest protectors didn't even come into vogue until the mid-1880s — he actually spent more time at third base over the course of his career than catcher (827 games to 458). Statistically, he ranked in the top 10 in the Baseball-Reference.com version of Wins Above Replacement seven times and in the top three four times and his career WAR ranks 11th among 19th century players, with 14 of the other top 17 already enshrined; it might have been larger if the NA had been formed earlier, as he was already 23 and quite skilled when what we know as major league baseball began. Beyond the numbers, he was a true star was hailed for his integrity and his gentlemanly nature — Bill James called him "the most admirable star of the 1870s" — though according to Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen he believed that the earth was flat, reasoning that if pop flies came down in the same spot, the globe couldn't be spinning.

Ruppert is the 28th executive to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and he certainly has the credentials to rival those who preceded him. His claim to fame is that he was the owner of the Yankees from 1915 until his death in January 1939, a span during which he built a powerhouse that won the organization's first 10 AL pennants and seven World Series; they would win their fourth straight championship in 1939 after his passing. Born in 1867 in New York, he was the son of Jacob Ruppert Sr., who owned the Ruppert Brewery, which he began working at in 1886, and inherited in 1915 upon his father's death. Prior to that, he spent four terms as a U.S. Congressman from New York's 15th district, and served as a colonel in the National Guard. He and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, a former Army engineer, spent $1.25 million to purchase the Yankees from Frank Ferrell and Wiliam Devery, the franchise's original owners dating back to the American League's inception in 1901.

Ruppert was a hands-on owner by today's standards. Among his moves was to hire manager Miller Huggins, who would pilot the team to six pennants and three championships from 1918-1929, and to purchase Babe Ruth from the financially troubled Red Sox for $125,000 in 1920. In his first year with the Yankees, Ruth bashed 54 home runs, and the Yankees became the first team to draw over one million fans (1,289,422 to be exact) in a season. Over the next several years, he would acquire Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and several other future Hall of Famers (Frank Baker, Earle Combs, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing) in addition to Ruth. He bought out Huston for $1.5 million in 1923 and became sole owner of the franchise; that same year, he opened Yankee Stadium, the first three-tiered ballpark.

O'Day is the 10th umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Born in 1862 in Chicago, he spent seven years as a pitcher (1884-1890) in the American Association and the National League, and continued in the minors through 1893, though the returns diminished due to arm problems. He began a 30-year career as a National League umpire in 1895 —interrupted by one-year stints managing the Reds (1912) and Cubs (1914) — and worked in 10 World Series, including the first one in 1903. His 3,986 games umpired ranked third when he retired, and his 2,710 games behind the plate still ranks second only to Bill Klem. He was the plate umpire in the infamous "Merkle's Boner" game between the Giants and Cubs in 1908, oversaw the first unassisted triple play in World Series history in 1920, and called no-hitters in four different decades. He was hailed as the best at calling balls and strikes in his day, and for his impartiality: "Never allow your eyes to see whether a uniform is white or blue, but call them as you seem them," he once said in a statement that has become the umpires' mantra.

The Pre-Integration Era ballot marks the completion of a three-year cycle created by the reorganization of the Veterans Committee in 2010, with the Expansion Era Committee electing general manager Pat Gillick that year, and the Golden Era committee following with third baseman Ron Santo in 2011. Given the previous drought of honorees via the oft-shifting VC process — one former player from 2002-2010 — one has to think the Hall will retain the current process through another cycle, though further tweaks to the system wouldn't be a surprise.

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