It began in 1958, my very first baseball game, Yankees vs. White Sox at the original Yankee Stadium. The Yanks had four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup that day, including Mickey Mantle in center, Yogi Berra in right, pitcher Whitey Ford and pinch-hitter Enos Slaughter..
Chicago’s keystone combination of second baseman Nellie Fox and shortstop Luis Aparicio was also Cooperstown bound. And managers Casey Stengel of the Yankees and Al Lopez of the White Sox made it eight Hall of Famers in the house that afternoon.
That day my father even arranged for me to get an autograph from Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, who was doing the Game of the Week for NBC.
Grand total, I’ve seen 58 Hall of Famers play in my lifetime. The list ranges from Ted Williams to Stan Musial, Willie Mays to Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal to Catfish Hunter, Carl Yastrzemski to Reggie Jackson, and Greg Maddux, Tommy Glavine and John Smoltz. Saw both of the 2016 inductees, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mike Piazza. Saw Piazza as a Dodger hit a home run against the Rookies in Coors Fields’ inaugural season, 1996.
In 2008, I was in Cooperstown for the induction of reliever Goose Gossage. I’ve seen 14 Hall of Famers hit home runs, and five times saw two future Hall of Famers homer in the same game – Ted Williams and Mantle at Yankee Stadium in 1960, Mays and Billy Williams at Candlestick Park in 1962, Yaz and Reggie in the 1975 ALCS and again in the 1978 AL playoff game at Fenway Park, and Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson in the refurbished Yankee Stadium in 1986.
Was there when Mays hit a grand slam in 1962, and Carlton Fisk hit a bases-loaded HR at Opening Day in Fenway Park, 1973.
Witnessed wins by Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Randy Johnson, Watched Robin Roberts hurl a complete game shutout for the Orioles against the Yankees in 1965 Saw saves by Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. Saw Nolan Ryan strike out 15 in a 1977 game against the Red Sox.
Saw seven Hall of Famers in a game at Candlestick Park – Willie Mays, Orlando Cepada and Juan Marichal of the Giants and Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and a young Lou Brock for the Cubs. Willie McCovey of the Giants didn’t play that day; sadly never got to see him play.
I’ve also seen 9 Hall of Fame managers, including Leo Durocher, Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, and Dick Williams, along with Stengel and Lopez and three recent inductees – Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
Once got an autograph from Phil Rizzuto in a luxury suite at Yankee Stadium. Phil offered me a cannoli, and signed my program over to my three kids.
Here’s the my complete Hall of Fame list, in order of induction:
HALL OF FAMERS I HAVE SEEN
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Tony La Russa
58 players, 9 managers
Dizzy Dean, Phil Rizzuto
Mickey Mantle (1960)
Ted Williams (1960)
Willie Mays (1962), grand slam
Billy Williams (1962)
Harmon Killebrew (1967)
Carl Yastrzemski (1970, 1978)
Reggie Jackson (1971, 1978 (2), 1979)
Carlton Fisk (1973, 2 HRs), 1 grand slam
Jim Rice (1975, 1978)
Dave Winfield (1983, 1986)
Eddie Murray (1978)
Wade Boggs (1994)
Rickey Henderson (1986)
Mike Piazza (1996)
This weekend, the Yankees will honor Tino Martinez by dedicating a plaque in his honor in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. Later this summer, Paul O’Neill will get his plaque.
No disrespect to Constantino, shown at right, and the Warrior, who were key components of the Yankee teams that won four World Series in five years between 1996 and 2000. But there are plenty of other Yankees who are long overdue this honor.
What about Yankee Hall of Famers? Goose Gossage will be getting a plaque this weekend as well. But the Yankees have never recognized old timers like Jack Chesbro and Wee Willie Keeler, pitchers Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and Catfish Hunter, and hitters like Tony Lazzeri, Earl Coombs, Johnny Mize and Dave Winfield, to name a few. All are enshrined in Cooperstown, yet none have made the Yankees Monument Park Hall of Fame.
Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller are certainly worthy of consideration. Each man was on more World Series winners than Martinez or O’Neill. So were Joe Collins, Charlie Silvera, Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling, Gil McDougald, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and Frank Crosetti. Yet you won’t find any of them on the hallowed walls of Monument Park.
More recent Yankees like Bobby Murcer, Willie Randolph and Graig Nettles never made the big wall in the Bronx. Nor did four-time champions Bernie Williams and David Cone.
MVP Joe Gordon (1942) and Cy Young Award winners Bob Turley (1958) and Sparky Lyle (1977) have never had plaques bestowed upon them either. (As for Roger Clemens and Alez Rodriguez, let’s not go there.)
The Yankees will retire Joe Torre’s #6 on August 23, with Derek Jeter’s #2 to follow inevitably, meaning no Yankee will ever wear a single digit number again.
Martinez and O’Neill were great Yankees who wore the pinstripes with pride and produced champions. But they’re two guys on a long, crowded list of great Yankees.
Jacob Ruppert’s plaque hangs in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium, but not in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
There are 31 pioneer/executives in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and Jacob Ruppert Jr. is not one of them.
Walter O’Malley, Tom Yawkey, Barney Dreyfuss, Charlie Comiskey and Larry and Lee McPhail are in. So is Clark Griffith and Bill Veeck (as in Wreck). But no Ruppert, by George, even though he was “The Boss” long before Mr. Steinbrenner.
The man who put the Yankees on the map and helped them grow into America’s most famous franchise and sports brand, the guy who signed three of the greatest players ever and won seven World Series is on the outside looking in when it comes to Cooperstown.
Two of the managers who worked under Ruppert — Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy — are in the Hall, So is his long-time general manager with the Yankees, Ed Barrow.
Yet the owner who built “The House that Ruth Built” is not in the Hall of Fame.
Congressman, Colonel and Brewmaster
Jacob Ruppert had already make fame as a United States congressman from New York, a colonel in the National Guard, and a brewery owner when he and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston acquired the Yankees in 1915. The Yankees, who were born as the Highlanders in 1903 and played their games in upper Manhattan, had been pretty much the laughingstock of the American League under the team’s first owners, Frank Farrell and William S. Devery.
The Yankees had zero American League pennants, just two second place finishes, and only five seasons over .500 from their founding until Ruppert and Huston took over. The Yankees hit rock bottom in 1912 with a last place finish and a .329 winning percentage, worst in team history. They finished seventh in 1913 and sixth in 1914.
Under the stewardship of Ruppert and Huston, the Yankees made steady progress starting in the 1915 season. Then in 1920 they made the move that is still talked about today, nearly 90 years later, when they purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $100,000.
Ruth captivated fans with his batting exploits, and soon New York became the center of the baseball universe. The Yankees won their first AL pennant in 1921 and another in 1922. That year, Ruppert bought out Huston, and became the sole owner of the Yankees.
New Stadium, World Championship
The team was just warming up. In 1923, they moved out of the Polo Grounds (where they were tenants to the New York Giants) and christened a brand new ballpark across the Harlem River in the Bronx. It didn’t take long for Yankee Stadium to become the equivalent of the Roman Coliseum. And later that year they won their first World Series, defeating the in six games.
Under Ruppert’s watch, the Yankees would win another pennant in 1926 and six more World Series — 1927, 28, 32, 36, 37 and 38 — before Ruppert passed away in the winter of 1939.
The Yankees dominated baseball throughout a good portion of the 1920s and 1930s, including the Murderers’ Row team of 1927 that many consider the greatest team ever.
In addition to Ruth, Ruppert signed immortal first baseman Lou Gehrig to a Yankee contact in 1923, and the legendary Joe DiMaggio 11 years later.
A total of 13 Hall of Famers spent considerable time in the pinstripes during the Ruppert regime: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggo, Home Run Baker, Earl Combs, Bill Dickey, Leo Durocher, Lefty Gomez, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell.
Derek Jeter, left, and Mariano Rivera are sure bets for the Hall of Fame.
From this catbird’s seat, the SportsLifer sees nine active players heading for the Hall of Fame.
Criteria for consideration includes at least a 10-year, major league resume. Players linked to steroids, who might otherwise be Cooperstown bound, are instead banished to the Mark McGwire waiting room.
The list of nine HOFers includes three infielders, three outfielders and three pitchers, two of them relievers. There are three other players on the cusp who will merit strong consideration by voters.
Of note, Pedro Martinez will qualify for this list once he takes the mound for the Phillies. He’s currently on the disabled list and hasn’t pitched yet this year.
Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki, each with nine years of service, will certainly be added to this list next year.
Lastly…and sadly…are five other players who would have made the list but for the needle and the damage done.
Hall of Famers
Ken Griffey, Jr, OF — Active leader, 5th all time with 621 HRs, 1798 RBIs, .286 BA, 184 SBs, 1997 AL MVP, played for Mariners and Reds, shown left
Vladimir Guerrero, OF — 396 HRs, 1289 RBIs, .322 lifetime BA, stole 175 bases, AL MVP with Angels in 2004
Trevor Hoffman, RP — All-time saves leader with 575, 2.76 ERA, played primarily for Padres, now with Brewers
Derek Jeter, SS — Captain of the Yankees, four-time World Champion, .316 lifetime BA, 216 HRs, 1039 RBIs, 292 stolen bases
Randy Johnson, P — The Big Unit, 303 lifetime wins, second all-time in strikeouts with 4867, five-time Cy Young award winner with Mariners and D’Backs
Chipper Jones, 3B — Played entire career with Braves, 417 HRs, 1416 RBIs, .310 BA, NL MVP in 1999, .364 NL batting champ in 2008
Mariano Rivera, RP — 505 saves, 2.29 lifetime ERA, post-season exploits with Yankees are unsurpassed, 34 saves, 0.80 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
John Smoltz, P — 211 victories, 154 saves, 3.27 lifetime ERA,, earned primarily with the Braves; 1996 NL Cy Young, record 15 post-season wins.
Jim Thome, 1B — 13th on the all-time home run list with 557 dingers, he also has 1545 RBIs for Indians, White Sox, Phillies
Pedro Martinez, P — Just signed with Phillies, three-time Cy Young Award winner with Expos and Red Sox, 214-99, 2.91 lifetime.
On the Cusp
Carlos Delgado, 1B — 473 home runs, 1512 RBIs for this slugger, who played for the Blue Jays and now Mets
Jorge Posada, C — Caught for the Yankees during their late 1990s dynasty, has 231 homers and 916 RBIs…276 BA
Johan Santana, P — 119-58 lifetime, 3.11 ERA, Cy Young winner with Twins in 2004, 2006, now pitches for Mets
Omar Vizquel, SS — Known as a slick fielder with 11 Gold Gloves, he has collected nearly 2,700 hits and 400 SBs
Nine Years And Counting
Albert Pujols, 1B — 353 HRs, 1066 RBIs, .332 BA, NL MVP 2005, 2008 with Cardinals, NL batting champion in 2003
Ichiro Suzuki, OF — 1936 hits, .332 BA, 334 steals, AL MVP in 2001 with Mariners, AL batting champ in 2001, 2004
Despite a 266-251 lifetime record, Eppa Rixey is in the Hall of Fame.
Who’s in? Who’s out?
The question of who belongs in the Hall of Fame — and consequently who doesn’t — sparks endless debate among baseball fans.
Well, the SportsLifer is about to solve some of those debates.
At each position, we’ve taken one Hall of Famer (OUT) and replaced him with a player more deserving of Hall enshrinement (IN).
For pitchers, we’ve put five hurlers in and taken five out.
Omit the debates about Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox, gamblers like Pete Rose, and Mark McGwire and his fellow needle-pushers of the steroid generation. They’re out.
Also out are active players and players who have retired within the past five years and are not yet eligible for the Hall.
Who’s in? Who’s out? Here’s the list:
IN — Joe Torre — A .297 lifetime batting average, 252 home runs, and a National League MVP and batting title in 1971 with the Cardinals are good enough. Torre, right, will eventually go in as a manager..
OUT — Ray Schalk — The ancient catcher played 17 years with the White Sox, but a .253 lifetime average, 11 home runs and 594 RBIs have Schalk on the outside.
IN — Buck O’Neil — A first baseman and manager in the Negro Leagues, most notably with the Kansas City Monarchs, he later became the first black coach in the majors.
OUT — George Kelly — Despite six straight .300 seasons and four straight 100 RBI years, Highpockets, who had a nice career with the Giants and three other teams, gets the boot.
IN — Lou Whitaker — A mainstay with the Detroit Tigers for 19 seasons, Sweet Lou hit .276 with 244 homer runs and 1084 RBIs, He was Rookie of the Year in 1978.
OUT — Bill Mazeroski — The Pirates second baseman is best known for his dramatic home run that decided the 1960 World Series. Maz hit .260 lifetime with 138 homers.
IN — Bill Dahlen — His 20-year career spanned the 19th and 20th Centuries, and Bad Bill, left, hit.272 with 2457 hits and 547 stolen bases.
OUT — Joe Tinker — The Cubs shortstop of the Tinkers to Evers to Chance trio, his .262 lifetime average doesn’t cut it with this group.
IN — Ron Santo — This legendary Cubs third sacker had 342 home runs, 1331 RBIs and a .277 average, with five Gold Gloves and nine All-Star appearances.
OUT — George Kell — Perhaps the toughest cut, with only 10 3B in the Hall. Kell hit .306 lifetime and won a batting title in 1949, but was never much of a power hitter..
IN — Andre Dawson — Made his fame with the Expos and Cubs, hit 438 lifetime home runs, had 1591 RBIs, and was the 1987 National League MVP.
IN — Sherry Magee — A Phillie, Brave and Red from 1904-19, he led the league in RBIs four times and hit .291 lifetime, including a league-leading .331 in 1910.
IN — Tim Raines — A .294 lifetime hitter, Raines is fifth all-time in stolen bases with 808. The four players ahead of him, are all in the Hall of Fame.
OUT — Richie Ashburn — Hit .308 lifetime with a couple of batting titles, but only 29 career homers and 586 RBIs put Ashburn, right, on the pine.
OUT — Harry Hooper — Played with Red Sox and White Sox from 1909-25. Hooper played on four champions but hit just .281 in his career.
OUT — Ralph Kiner — This vaunted Pirates slugger won seven home run titles, but hit .just 279 in a brief 10-year, major league career.
IN — Ron Guidry — Louisiana Lightning fashioned a 170-91 record and a 3.29 ERA, and went 25-3 in 1978 while winning the Cy Young award with the Yankees.
IN — Tommy John — Anyone who has a surgery named after him is automatically eligible. John was a three-time, 20-game winner and had 288 career wins.
IN — Jim Kaat — Kitty played for 25 years, won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, and was 283-237 while winning 20 games three times in his career.
IN — Firpo Marberry — Lost in the haze of history, Marberry was 148-88 lifetime, primarily with the Senators, and with 101 saves was the career leader from 1926-46.
IN — Tony Mullane — He had five straight 30-win campaigns on his way to 284 victories in the late 19th Century, mainly with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.
OUT — Jack Chesbro — This right-hander, with 198 career wins, made the Hall primarily on one great season, 41 wins for the New York Highlanders in 1904.
OUT — Ted Lyons — Just because Lyons, left, pitched for some mediocre White Sox teams his entire career doesn’t mean 260-230, 3.67 ERA all-time deserves the Hall.
OUT — Gaylord Perry — Granted, Gaylord was a 300-game winner and a Cy Young pitcher, but the spitballer lost 265…and he was an admitted cheater.
OUT — Robin Roberts — He won 20 games six straight seasons and 286 in his career, but no pitcher in history allowed more home runs (505) than Rockin’ Robin.
OUT — Eppa Rixey — Those who never saw him pitch wonder how this Phillies and Reds left-hander made the grade with a record just 15 games better than .500.
Sometimes records don’t even begin to tell the whole story, and stats don’t scratch the surface.
Take the case of Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, legendary Negro Leaguer, Hall of Fame pitcher and storyteller supreme.
In six seasons with the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City A’s, Paige compiled a 28-31 record with a lifetime 3.29 ERA, and 288 strikeouts.
Not quite Hall of Fame caliber numbers.
But there’s so much more.
For two decades, Paige was arguably the hardest thrower, most colorful character and greatest gate attraction in the Negro Leagues. In his barnstorming days, he also pitched in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
It’s estimated that Paige pitched 2,5000 games, threw 55 no-hitters and performed before crowds in excess of 10 million.
MLB Debut at Age 42
On July 9, 1948, at the ripe old age of 42, Satchel Paige became the oldest man ever to debut in the major leagues. Six days later, he got his first major league win as the Indians beat the Philadelphia A’s, 8-5.
The Indians were battling for the American League pennant that summer, and in the heat of the race in late August, Paige authored back-to-back three-hit shutouts against the White Sox.
He finished the 1948 season with a 6-1 record and 2.48 ERA and appeared in one World Series game as Cleveland defeated the Boston Braves in six games. The Tribe hasn’t won the World Series since.
After a 4-7 record in 1949, the Indians released Paige. He was later picked up by the Browns, and Yankee manager Casey Stengel named Paige to the 1952 and 1953 American League All-Star team.
Note done yet, Paige continued to pitch into his fifties — on the barnstorm circuit and in the minor leagues.
Amazingly, in 1965 A’s owner Charles O. Finley signed Paige, then 59, to pitch one game on September 25 against the Red Sox. The ageless wonder threw three scoreless innings against a lineup that included Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro, allowing one hit and retiring the final seven batters he faced.
One can only imagine the type of records Satchel Paige — and some of the other great Negro League players — could have compiled if allowed to pitch in the majors in their primes.
Satchel Paige Master’s Maxims — A Guide to Longevity
1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
What do Henry Schmidt, Sandy Koufax and Mike Mussina have in common?
This unlikely triumvirate comprises the only three pitchers in baseball history to retire following 20-win seasons. Discount Black Sox Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte, who were kicked out of baseball in 1920 following 20 wins.
Schmidt pitched for the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Dodgers), and was 22-13 in 1903, his only season in the major leagues. Brooklyn wanted him back for 1904, but Schmidt declined, sending back his unsigned contract with a note that said, “I do not like living in the East and will not report.”
Schmidt pitched for several years in the Pacific Coast League, then returned to his native Texas to make a living selling fabrics and picking up the nickname “Flannel.”
Every baseball fans knows the Koufax story, a bonus baby who came up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, and three Cy Young Awards and an MVP later retired with an arthritic left elbow following a 27-9 season in 1966. Koufax’s last pitch came at age 30 in the 1966 World Series, as Los Angeles was swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
At Koufax’s retirement press conference, a reporter simply asked, “Why, Sandy?” He answered:
“I don’t know if cortisone is good for you or not,” said Koufax, shown right. “But to take a shot every other ballgame is more than I wanted to do and to walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills and to be high half the time during a ballgame because you’re taking painkillers, I don’t want to have to do that.”
Moose Makes His Mark
And then there’s Mussina. Just two losing seasons in 18 years, a 270-153 lifetime record, a .638 winning percentage, more than 100 wins with both the Yankees and Orioles. And finally a 20-game winner for the first time in 2008 on the last day of his career.
“I think it’d be pretty cool [to retire after 20 wins],” Mussina said back in September. “I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but I think it’d be pretty cool.”
So the Moose rides off into the sunset, a borderline Hall of Famer. Mussina never won a World Series, never won a Cy Young Award, never pitched a no-hitter (although he came within one strike of a perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001.) Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Moose finished more than 100 games over .500 in his career, and every pitcher who has ever done that is in the Hall of Fame.
And he went out on a high note, unlike so many others who were forced into retirement. Ironically, that may help his Hall of Fame quest in the long run. Only time will tell.