The Hall of Fame just can’t escape the rain.
Just two months after heavy rains wiped out the Hall of Fame Classic legends game, the weather put a clamp on the attendance for this year’s induction ceremony. Light rain showers, which began just moments before the scheduled 1:30 pm start time at the Clark Sports Center, forced the delay of the Sunday afternoon ceremony until 2:15. It is the first time that inclement weather has had such a tangible effect on the induction since 1990, when the ceremony honoring Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer was postponed on a Sunday afternoon and forced indoors at Cooperstown Central School.
The rains further diminished the size of the crowds for this year’s induction. Fewer than 2,000 fans, the smallest crowd for a Hall of Fame induction since the 1980s, attended the ceremony that saw the enshrinement of three old-time baseball figures: owner Jacob Ruppert, 19th century great Deacon White and longtime umpire Hank O’Day. One local man referred to the weekend event as the “Invisible Induction.”
Once the proceedings began, the ceremony paid homage to the three newest Hall of Famers, who have all been deceased since at least the 1930s. A former pitcher and manager, O’Day gained most of his fame for his 30-year run as a National League umpire. He remains best known for the controversial ruling that he handed down on Sept. 23, 2008, when he called out Giants baserunner Fred Merkle for failing to touch second base, thereby negating a potential game-winning, bases loaded hit for the Giants.
Although the original Yankee Stadium was often called “The House That Ruth Built,” it was longtime Yankees owner Ruppert who actually paid to have the new ballpark built. In addition, Ruppert purchased Babe Ruth’s contract from the Red Sox, hired Ed Barrow as his general manager and Miller Huggins as his manager, and oversaw the operation of a franchise that won seven world championships during his two-decade tenure.
Playing without the benefit of a face mask, a chest protector, or a catcher’s mitt, White excelled as one of the best catchers during the game’s early history. After starting his career as a catcher, he converted successfully to third base, extending his long career to 20 seasons during the rough-and-tumble era of 19th century baseball. White played his final game at the age of 42.
Surviving family members spoke on behalf of White, Ruppert and O’Day. The Hall of Fame also formally inducted 12 members who never received a formal induction ceremony during the 1940s due to illness, the war, and travel restrictions. The group of 12 included Lou Gehrig, whose plaque was read by Cal Ripken Jr., and Rogers Hornsby, whose plaque was read by fellow second baseman Joe Morgan.
One of the most poignant moments of the weekend came during Saturday afternoon’s awards presentation at Doubleday Field. Film producer Thomas Tull, whose company put out the critically acclaimed 42 earlier this year, ended his speech by declaring, “After having had the privilege of making Batman and Superman and all these superhero movies, the greatest superhero movie I’ll ever make is about No. 42, Jackie Robinson.” Those words prompted a standing ovation from those in attendance at Doubleday Field.
Although the weekend was generally low key, I did receive a couple of personal thrills. One of them involved my nephew Brandon, who regaled me with tales of autographs he successfully obtained on Main Street. Not only did he purchase autographs of longtime star outfielder Rusty Staub and former Negro Leagues player Bob Scott, he also managed to finagle free autographs from Pete Rose and Peter Gammons. Spotting each man on Main Street and reacting with rapid-fire quickness, Brandon was able to secure complimentary signatures, which was especially impressive in the case of Rose, who normally receives $75 per autograph! Well done, Brandon.
I also had an extended conversation with Anne Feller, the widow of Hall of Famer Bob Feller. We ran into each other in the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel, where the Hall of Famers and their family members stay throughout the weekend. Looking to be in perfect health at the age of 83, Mrs. Feller expressed concerns about the recent flooding that has plagued some areas of the Midwest, where she lives. She proudly told me about Bob’s time in World War II. Although Bob didn’t like to talk much about the details of the war, Mrs. Feller recalled one occasion when his battleship narrowly survived an air attack in the middle of the Pacific. If the barrage of fire from above had come in from a slightly different angle, Feller and the rest of the ship’s crew would have been wiped out.
Even though Bob has been gone for two and a half years, Mrs. Feller faithfully attends every Hall of Fame Weekend. In addition to bringing a full measure of pleasant Midwestern charm and grace, her presence serves as a reminder of her husband’s dedication to the Hall of Fame. There has never been a Hall of Famer who loved Cooperstown and what it represents more than Bob Feller.
Come back again and again, Mrs. Feller. Hall of Fame Weekend wouldn’t be the same without you.