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: 1951 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 197/226)
Like with many things in life, in baseball hope can spring eternally from tragedy. The Cubs waited 108 years to win a World Series title, but the seasons before that were filled with shattered dreams, bad luck, and strife. When Ray Chapman died, it opened up a spot for Joe Sewell, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career for the Indians. And, when Ross Youngs died, it opened up a spot for another player that would have a Hall of Fame career of his own, even though he was only 19 at the time. For Youngs’ tragic passing opened up a slot for Mel Ott to become the best New York Giant of all-time.
Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 205/226)
Who was the best World Series pitcher ever? Several players would seem to have a claim to that title. Don Larsen had a perfect game in 1956, Jack Morris had his masterpiece in 1991, and Whitey Ford had lots of World Series wins for his Yankees. Yet, none of them had the best single World Series. In the second ever World Series in 1905, the New York Giants were pitted against the Philadelphia A’s with four of the best pitchers of all-time slated to pitch. The A’s put their hopes on the arms of Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, but they mustered a total of three runs. All three of those runs came in Game 2 against Joe McGinnity, who would win the crucial Game 4 for the Giants. In Games 1, 3 and 5 the A’s were stymied by one of the best right handers of all-time, Christy Mathewson.
Year Inducted: 1998 (Veterans Committee)
When Curt Flood challenged the Reserve Clause in the late 1960’s, it was far from the first time that a player had attempted to challenge it. Attempts go all the way back to the late 1890’s with Monte Ward, who in addition to being a player and manager was also a full-fledged lawyer, who actually had a player he used twice to try to overrule the Reserve Clause. When the Giants’ shortstop had worn out his welcome with his team, he signed a two year deal with the White Sox. After the first year there, he tried to return to the Giants, but Charlie Comiskey went all the way to the US Court of Appeals to block him from playing a game for anyone other than the White Sox. That player was George Davis.
Year Inducted: 1947 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 140/161)
The All-Star Game can catapult a lot of great players to an even higher plane of fame. While the value has recently been diluted due to fan voting, there are still some excellent moments in All-Star history that have helped cement some players place in the Hall of Fame. Pedro Martinez’s mastery in the 1999 game in Fenway Park brought to the forefront an anecdote of an earlier game. In 1934, the AL team boasted a lineup that would make most pitchers cry. Ruth/Gehrig/Foxx/Simmons/Cronin were slated at 3-7 with Bill Dickey 8th and Lefty Gomez 9th. And, with the exception of Dickey, all of those batters whiffed against one of the toughest pitchers of all-time, Giants ace Carl Hubbell.
Year Inducted: 1983 (BBWAA, ballot #3, 313/374)
There are some pitchers that, upon a look back people think “How did he not win a Cy Young Award/MVP?” Nolan Ryan never won a single Cy Young Award despite having one of the greatest resumes of all-time. Nor did Curt Schilling or some other great pitchers in their careers. Sometimes, like in the place of Schilling, it hurts their overall perception among Hall of Fame voters, while some like Ryan have enough credentials to overcome it. Some pitchers, like Juan Marichal, can be one of the greatest of their time and never win the Cy Young Award, and also not earn first ballot induction despite, once again, being one of the greatest pitchers ever.
Year Inducted: 1964 (Veterans Committee)
Casey at the Bat was a poem written by Ernest Thayer back in the 1880’s. It deals with the exploits of “Mighty Casey”, a mythological dynamic slugger, trying to win the game for the Mudville team one day but strikes out on three pitches. Thayer’s inspiration came from a game between the Giants and Phillies in August of 1887. In that game, against one of the top pitchers in the game, Dan Casey came up to bat and actually hit a tying single in a game that ended in a draw (so really, he only got the title from a phrase in the article). The mannerisms and motions of the pitcher, however, came from the man who surrendered the tying hit to the real Casey, Giants ace Tim Keefe.