Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 215/226)
In 1947, much as they did to honor Lou Gehrig, the Yankees held a tribute day to honor one of their greats. Thirteen years after he had worn a Yankee uniform, the Bronx Bombers were honoring Babe Ruth one more time before his inevitable end due to throat cancer. Thousands of people packed Yankee Stadium, with millions more listening via radio and speakers lining the streets of New York, as former opponents, managers, teammates and friends saluted a man who reinvented the game of baseball and was truly the game’s greatest player. The sight of this once great man, this giant who always was larger than the game itself as now a frail, suffering man pulled at everyone’s heartstrings. Ruth would give a small speech as his voice was practically gone that, while not on Gehrig’s level in terms of grandness, was still as emotional and impactful as ever as Ruth, one final time, walked off the field as the greatest player who ever lived.
Year Inducted: 1982 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 406/415)
Bobby Thompson is forever known as the player that hit the “Shot Heard Round the World”, a home run to win the 1951 NL Pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers on the last game of the season. Three years later, Thompson found himself on the Milwaukee Braves. In Spring Training of 1954, Thompson broke his leg. While he was sidelined, the Braves decided to give one of their young players a chance in the outfield. Twenty years later, that player stood taller than anyone ever thought possible as he passed Babe Ruth for career home runs.
Year Induction: 1966 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 282/302)
In 1941, baseball saw two of the best in the sport’s history permanently etch their names among the immortals. Beginning in May and lasting until July, Joe DiMaggio set a record for most consecutive games with a hit. Somehow, miraculously, Joltin’ Joe had gotten a hit in 56 straight games. However, as impressive as that was, in Boston, the Red Sox had a player trying to do something that hadn’t been seen since 1930. On the last day of the season, prior to a double header, Ted Williams stood with a .39955. Had he elected to sit out, it would be rounded to an even .400, giving him just the 28th season with such an average. Instead, Williams (who probably had the largest ego of all-time) decided to play both games, went 6/8, and ended with a season average of .406. While that moment was the highlight of Williams’ career, it certainly wasn’t the only reason that he got into the Hall of Fame.
Year Inducted: 1979 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 409/432)
Greatness often leaves in the form of a whimper, rather than with a flourish. In the 1973 World Series, the Mets and A’s were set to duel. In right field for the Mets was a player that was clearly on his last legs, but wanted to go out a champion. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, as Willie Mays would only have an OPS of .571 in the series and, perhaps most unthinkable, saw a ball roll through his legs in the outfield. That should not have been how the great career of the Say Hey Kid ended, but life sometimes isn’t fair.
Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 222/226)
In 1992, Tom Seaver broke a record that many thought would never be broken. Seaver had set the record for the largest voting percentage ever for Hall of Fame induction. It was a record that was set all the way back in 1936, with the first ever induction class. But, it wasn’t a record that was set by Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. It was set by the only player that could have challenged Ruth in his own time for being the greatest ever. It was set by the one person that may possibly have more legends surrounding him that Ruth. It was set by Tyrus Raymond Cobb.
Year Inducted: 1939 (BBWAA, special election)
It was a day never before seen on a baseball field. Between the games of a double header against the Washington Senators, the Yankees decided to honor one of their living greats while they still could. The quiet link between the Babe Ruth years and the Joe DiMaggio years could no longer play baseball due to an incurable disease. Lauded with fan appreciation and gifts befitting a king, the quiet leader of the club stepped forward to address the public, and issued what many believe to be baseball’s equivalent of the Gettysburg Address. A man who knew he would face his end painfully and abruptly, took full courage and said in front of a sold out Yankee Stadium that he thought he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth because he got to play baseball. That was Lou Gehrig in a nutshell, quiet yet dignified and whether he would admit it or not, often times larger than the game itself.
Year Inducted: 1969 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 317/340)
Player salaries today are huge, which is what a free agent market tends to do. No one should really begrudge a player for seeking out the highest bidder, as most people would do the same if that option was open. Still, baseball wasn’t always like that. In 1958, a player on the Cardinals hit .337/.423/.528, an impressive line made even moreso by the fact that he was 37 years old. The next season, he slumped badly to a line of .255/.364/.428. Most players would take it as a down year and try again the next season. Only one man would go to the team’s front office and ask for a pay cut, because he didn’t earn his pay. That was Stan Musial in a nutshell.