COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Sunday’s baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies felt like another case of a Yankees rehab program that had lingered far longer than expected.
Seventy-four years after his death, 93 years after he purchased Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, 90 years after he oversaw the construction of the original Yankee Stadium — and another hour after rain delayed the festivities — former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert was figuratively revived and formally ushered into baseball immortality.
Because baseball writers, spooked by the uncertainty of facts through years of doping allegations, couldn’t bring themselves to elect the two most statistically accomplished eligible candidates — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — or anyone else, the event was left with the enshrinement of Ruppert and two other men who, as Casey Stengel once put it, “are dead at the present time.”
Hank O’Day, a pitcher/outfielder/umpire active in the 19th century, and his contemporary, catcher/third baseman Deacon White, were selected along with Ruppert by a special committee. But the lack of a living headliner dramatically affected attendance.
Instead of the typical crowd of 10,000, and far below the record 75,000 who witnessed Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2007 installation, only about 1,000 were on hand Sunday.
Throughout the weekend, fallout from performance-enhancing drugs lingered. Local merchants fretted over the considerably smaller crowds. A local TV station, interviewing visiting fans, even asked an 8-year-old boy from San Diego what he thought of players using steroids. (They don’t belong in the Hall, he said.)
Among the former players signing autographs on Main Street, Bob Scott, an 82-year-old former pitcher with the New York Black Yankees in the Negro Leagues, said he “wouldn’t put up with these guys for 10 minutes if I had the authority. Baseball is going to clean this thing up, get rid of these guys. Cut their money off … Give them a job sweeping the street.”
In the hallowed room displaying Hall of Famers’ plaques, a small sign seemed to say, Beware: “The information on these plaques was taken from sources believed to be reliable and accurate at the time it was written.”
Hall officials attempted to beef up the program by citing 12 Hall members who weren’t able to experience induction ceremonies because of World War II travel restrictions. Current Hall of Famers simply read the plaques of the 12 (with Ripken intoning Lou Gehrig’s inscription).
But there was no newly canonized star to stir the small crowd’s excitement. The game’s rich history, so well chronicled in the Hall’s museum, barely came through. Ruppert’s great grand niece, Anne Vernon, said she never had met Ruppert and spoke mostly of her son’s Little League coach.
It was left to White’s great grandson Jerry Watkins to give the whole show some much-needed life, including his story of how White was sold with a teammate to Pittsburgh late in his career but balked until getting more money. “He told a reporter,” Watkins said, “‘No man is going to sell my carcass unless I get half.”‘
And White was called “Deacon,” Watkins said, because he did not drink, smoke or curse. A man apparently without need of rehabilitation — a word which seems a part of baseball’s current theme.