"But more important than mere longevity was the fact that he had lived through and been a part of more baseball history than almost any other man."
December 3, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

The results of the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee Election were released today, and the three men elected were Jacob Ruppert, who owned the Yankees for 24 years and helped steer the team from mediocrity in the 1910s to some of the greatest teams in baseball history; Hank O'Day, one of the longest-serving umpires in league history and the man who made the official ruling on Merkle's Boner, and Deacon White, the first great catcher and one of the main players in the first baseball dynasty, the Boston Red Stockings of the 1870s National Association.

Some highlights from White's 23 year career:
  • He played against the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first all-professional baseball team.
  • He was the first man to make a base hit in major league play as a member of the Cleveland Forest Cities of the National Association in 1871.
  • In the midst of a third consecutive pennant run with the Boston Red Stockings (with records of 43-16, 52-18, and a ludicrous 71-8 as the league was falling apart), White and three other Red Stocking stars, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, and Al Spalding (collectively known as the Big Four), negotiated a contract to join the Chicago White Stockings at the end of the season. Their move to Chicago destroyed the National Association and ushered in the National League and the beginnings of the Cubs and Braves franchises that exist today (both of which White played for).
  • He caught the most games of anyone in the 1870s, an era when all fielding was done bare-handed. White also didn't use a mask or chest protector at any point in his career.
  • Although he and the other Big Four all left the White Stockings within a couple of years, White eventually ended up in a second Big Four with Hardy Richardson, Dan Brouthers, and Jack Rowe on the Buffalo Bisons. Like the first Big Four, they also moved en masse to another team, forming the core of the pennant-winning Detroit Wolverines of 1887.
  • Following their pennant win, the Wolverines went on to play in a wild 15 game, 10 city World Series, in which they beat the St. Louis Browns 10 games to 5.
  • White was a longtime member of the first baseball players' union, the National Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, and worked in concert with the Brotherhood's mastermind and all-around dynamo, John Montgomery Ward, to initiate the Brotherhood War in which the union formed an entirely new league for the benefit of the players. White and Jack Rowe co-owned the new Buffalo Bisons of the short-lived Players League, but the league fell apart after just one season thanks to skittishness from the new owners, leading to the National League remaining the only major league until the rise of the American League in the early 1900s.
  • As owner of the Bisons, White briefly and unsuccessfully fought against segregation by attempting to include Frank Grant, one of the earliest black baseball stars, on his team, but under tremendous pressure the team relented and Grant joined the Cuban Giants instead.
  • Legendary owner Connie Mack got his start running a team under White as a minority owner of the Bisons, although his life savings of $500 was wiped out when the Players' League fell apart and it would be another decade before he would become part-owner of the Philadelphia A's.
  • At the time of his death in 1939, he was reportedly the oldest living former major league player at age 91.
posted by Copronymus (9 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You know when a guy's resume sounds like it could be the continuity for a comic book series (Big Four, Detroit Wolverines, 10 city World Series, Brotherhood War, Players' League, Cuban Giants) that he led an interesting life. Thanks for the post.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:11 PM on December 3, 2012

My dad used to drink Ruppert Knickerbocker beer. I never knew there was a connection between the beer and the Yankees.
posted by tommasz at 2:34 PM on December 3, 2012

Great post. Early baseball was sort of the wild west with rules that were enforced locally differently and often inconsistently. Interesting to learn so much about Jacob Ruppert as a lifelong Yankee fan. He never called Babe Ruth "Babe" until the night before he died. I assume he called him George. He lived on an island in the east river, the last person to live on the island until his house burned in 1909. He was also a Tammany Hall politician. Well Steinbrenner was convicted for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon.

The players of those days were tough folks. Playing without gloves, masks, etc.

What took so long to induct these three? The Baseball HOF's Twitter feed had this picture of Phil Neikro talking about the induction. Phil is old, but not so old he knows these guys, right?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:45 PM on December 3, 2012

JohnnyGunn: "What took so long to induct these three?"

A lot of it has to do with the election process. The Hall of Fame didn't have any elections until 46 years after White had retired. They didn't start a committee specifically to look at 19th century players until 1945, at which point only 4 guys who'd been on any of White's teams were even alive, one of whom, Dummy Hoy, was deaf-mute. The last member of any team he was on in his prime died in 1941. It's hard to build support when so many of the people who would naturally advocate for you aren't able to and the only people left are a handful of old sportswriters who maybe saw you play once in Louisville in the 1880s.

As for the other two, I have absolutely no idea why it took this long for Ruppert to make it, because he seems like a slam dunk once you start letting in owners. I guess his timing wasn't great and he wasn't particularly beloved by the other executives of the time and maybe that was enough. And O'Day, well, I don't think anyone's particularly excited about inducting umpires except, I guess, other umpires. He was clearly a very important one, but I'm not surprised it took so long.

The other thing keeping all these guys out is that the Veterans Committee keeps changing to suit the needs of whoever happens to be running it at the time. For 20 years or something it was just electing random teammates of Frankie Frisch, then it morphed into a different collection of fairly recently retired players who had nearly zero interest in inducting anyone from before their time, and now it's in 3 parts that each vote once every three years, so this is the only chance for anyone who played/owned/managed/umpired before integration in 1947 to get elected until 2015. I think next up is the post-expansion group, which means players from the 70s and early 80s will get their shot.
posted by Copronymus at 4:13 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Copronymus: Thank you for the answer to my question.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:42 PM on December 3, 2012

The players of those days were tough folks. Playing without gloves, masks, etc.

That's how we play, and I can tell you - it doesn't tickle.
posted by snottydick at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2012

snottydick: "That's how we play, and I can tell you - it doesn't tickle."

(First, I cannot believe I just wrote the word "snottydick" I am too afraid to check your profile in case there is an explanation.)

Second, that site is awesome. I am really impressed with you and the league. I played 16" softball in Chicago for a few years and still have mangled fingers to show for it. Playing with a smaller hard ball would...well...not tickle as you put it.

This is a great post with all sorts of interesting and little known information and facts about our national pastime and it is too bad not that many folks seem to be interested. I learned about Monte Ward who after he retired became a scratch golfer winning a tournament at Pinehurst.

I was a history (and economics) major in college and wish they had a class on the history of baseball or sports in North America or something like that. I love that back before it became such a huge money sport that there were a lot of characters and interesting people involved.

MY best friend's grandfather had a deli near Yankee stadium at one point in his life. He used to tell us all sorts of stories about Babe Ruth and his ability to eat. SOmetimes, a clubhouse boy would come to the deli about two blocks from the stadium and order a sandwich during the game that had to be for Ruth because Ruth was the only customer at the time that asked for cole slaw on top of his roast beef instead of on the side.

When I lived in Chicago, I would hear old timers tell stories of Ruth walking across the street from Comiskey to a bar called McCuddy's to order two hot dogs and two beers between innings. Below is 1 of 13 legends about the Babe listed:

Now this legend is one I [not sure who is speaking but it is not me, JG] have heard directly from experience from a bartender at the old McCuddy’s bar across from the Chicago White Sox' old Comiskey Park when I would have a beer or two there at the watering hole after Pale Hose games.

The guy told me former bartenders at McCuddy’s told him that if Ruth wasn’t coming to bat in the Yankees half of the inning, the ushers at Comiskey Park would let him out a side door where he would walk the 150 feet or so across the street to McCuddy’s and quickly down a beer and a hot dog before returning to the Yankees dugout.

posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:10 PM on December 4, 2012

He caught the most games of anyone in the 1870s, an era when all fielding was done bare-handed. White also didn't use a mask or chest protector at any point in his career.

Just to add some perspective to this, and I don't mean to say that it wasn't hell on the hands to catch a game bare-handed, the pitches he was catching between 1868 and 1882 were all supposed to be delivered underhand, with the wind-up restricted to below-the-waist as in slow-pitch softball. There is some debate about the wind-up and of enforcement in the 1870s. Umpires basically called what they wanted to call.

Also, the catchers usually stood somewhat further back and caught the ball after letting it bounce behind the plate. They didn't stand that far back to save their handsy-wandsies, they needed the extra space to catch foul tips. You could catch a foul ball for an out even after the ball had hit the ground, so long as you caught it after only one bounce. Good pitchers tried to get guys to hit fouls, and the catchers tended to be among the most important fielders, recording an awful lot of outs off of those foul tips.

In some situations with runners on base, they might decide to catch the pitch straight-on if they wanted to try to stop a stolen base, and those are the plays where catchers could get hurt pretty easily. Our catcher took a bat hard to his ribs and earned the nickname "Ironsides" when he made the throw to second base (well, in the general direction of second base) before collapsing.

The "bound rule" for outs and the restriction on under-handed pitching were both changed for the start of the 1883 season, and both rule changes radically changed the job of the catcher. So, Deacon White did play something akin to the modern game for the last seven years of his career. That's about the time that catchers started to wear gloves, for obvious reasons. Masks broke into the major leagues a bit earlier, in 1877.

It's not that he wasn't bad-ass, but it also wasn't as batshit crazy as it might seem to a fan of the modern game.

Here's one of the best pitcher-catcher pairs in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League demonstrating an 1860s at-bat in one of our games. Unfortunately, they play for another team in our division. Fortunately, my guy is holding the bat and he's one of the better hitters in the league.
posted by snottydick at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2012

Nice clip. Makes more sense now. Your hitter not only crushed that pitch, but he has some speed too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:53 PM on December 6, 2012

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