COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The rain, the gloom, the small gathering of fans didn’t matter.
For the families of baseball pioneers Jacob Ruppert Jr., Hank O’Day and James “Deacon” White this was what they had long been waiting for.
All three have been dead for more than seven decades. Now their legacies were secure with their induction Sunday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
“This is a day we will all remember for the rest of our lives,” said Jerry Watkins, great grandson of White and one of nearly 50 family members in attendance.
White, a barehanded catcher who grew up in Caton, N.Y., near Corning, was one of Major League Baseball’s earliest stars. In fact, he was the first batter in the first professional game on May 4, 1871, and laced a double. An outstanding hitter, White was regarded as the best catcher in baseball before switching to third base later in his nearly 20-year career.
Interested in baseball since he was a kid, Ruppert purchased the Yankees before the 1915 season for $480,000, then proceeded to transform what had been a perennial also-ran in the American League into a powerhouse. When Ruppert died in 1939, his teams had won 10 A.L. pennants and seven World Series in 18 seasons.
O’Day was born on the rural west side of Chicago in 1859 and played ball as a kid with his older brothers. He apprenticed as a steamfitter while pitching for several local teams. He turned pro in 1884, but his arm suffered mightily in seven years of action and he retired not long after leading the New York Giants to the National League pennant in 1889 and pitching a complete game to clinch the 19th century precursor to the modern World Series.
Ruppert, O’Day and White – the Class of 2013 – made the festivities something out of the ordinary. For only the second time in 42 years, baseball writers failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame, sending a firm signal that stars of the Steroids Era – including Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens, who didn’t even come close in their first year of eligibility – will be judged in a different light.