Living History

2013 Induction Ceremony pays tribute to legends

July 28, 2013
The Iron Man honored Lou Gehrig during the Induction Ceremony with a reading of his plaque. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF)

Speech Transcripts:

The afternoon began with showers and ended with one ironman honoring another. In between, smiles lit up an annual event considered one of the National Pastime’s most sacred.

The 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was scheduled to take place at the outdoor amphitheater at Cooperstown’s Clark Sports Center beginning at 1:30 pm. on Sunday Instead, a wet weather system blew into the area and pushed back the event 53 minutes. But when the first rhythmic chords of John Fogerty’s classic “Centerfield” began playing at 2:26 pm, the estimated crowd of 2,500 sensed the festivities were about to start.

It was a day to honor the contributions of turn-of-the-century umpire Hank O’Day, longtime New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and late-19th century catcher/third baseman Deacon White. Although this year’s trio of inductees were all deceased, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark, with 32 returning Hall of Famers on the stage behind her, began by reiterating what makes this time of year special.

“Every Hall of Fame Weekend has its own look and it own feel,” she said. “The one constant, though, that always makes this weekend so special are the Hall of Fame members who come back to pay tribute to the newest members of the ultimate baseball fraternity.

“These men behind me are living legends because they define character, integrity, sportsmanship, all within incredible baseball careers.”

Dennis McNamara, the grandnephew of Hank O’Day and representing his family at the ceremony, wondered what the day really meant in a more philosophical way.

“What it means is everyone is recognized at some point,” said a sometimes emotional McNamara. “You may not know, but recognition does come: Perhaps as part of your everyday life or, yes, sometimes like the great honor which Hank O’Day is now receiving posthumously 86 years after he finished his long career as an umpire.”

McNamara would go on to say that while O’Day died seven years before he was born, the umpire was an almost mythic figure to the family. And O’Day’s example would ultimately guide McNamara as a Chicago policeman.

“Honesty and integrity led Uncle Hank to the Hall of Fame,” McNamara said. “Hank O’Day’s most famous game was when he voided an apparent Giants victory over the Cubs in the infamous ‘Merkle Game’ in 1908. That suspended game kept the Cubs alive in the pennant race, and they would go on to win their last World Series.

“Though he was from Chicago, no one questioned O’Day. They knew his only motive was to get the call right.”

A great grandniece of Jacob Ruppert, Anne Vernon, talked about a legendary Yankees owner who, while he ran the club from 1915 to ’39, saw his team 10 pennants and seven World Series crowns.

“My great granduncle Jacob was born about 90 years before me,” she said. “Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to know him. However, stories were told about the New York Yankees and my energetic uncle. And they were told to all of us at a very early age.

“We were told all sorts of stories about my great granduncle. And they were rather exciting, sometimes colorful, and always energetic. It was a wonderful opportunity as young children to hear about it.”

Jerry Watkins, the great grandson of Deacon White, compared the wait for baseball immortality for his accomplished family member to the decades-long struggles of his beloved Chicago Cubs.

“I have to tell you truth,” he began. “In my heart I never believed this day would come – the day that we would stand here together and honor my great grandfather James “Deacon” White, as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But you’ve got to remember: Cubs fans are really good at waiting.”

Watkins then shared with the crowd stories passed down to him about White by his father.

“He was a catcher at a time when catchers caught barehanded and stood back from the plate,” Watkins said. “White was known for creeping up behind the batter and catching the ball before it hit the ground.

“And my dad used to tell me stories of taking his grandfather’s hand and holding it. He said it felt like a tree branch with twists in it and gnarled fingers from so many years of catching barehanded.”

In closing, Watkins said how honored he was to have been allowed to speak on behalf of his family.

“This is a day we will all remember for the rest of our lives,” he said. “In my mind the only way it could have been better was if my dad were here to see it.”

Throughout the ceremony, the Cooperstown institution honored 12 Hall of Famers from the late 1930s through the mid-1940s who, because of reasons including travel restrictions due to World War II, were not able to participate in an official induction ceremony. As a result, the dozen honorees had their current plaque text read by a returning Hall of Famer.

While Sunday’s ceremony ended with Cal Ripken Jr. reading the plaque to Lou Gehrig, the man whose consecutive games played streak he famously exceeded, other Hall of Famers who read plaques (and the honoree) included: Orlando Cepeda (Dan Brouthers); Carlton Fisk (Roger Bresnahan); Bert Blyleven (Fred Clarke); Wade Boggs (Jimmy Collins); Billy Williams (Ed Delahanty); Jim Rice (Hugh Duffy); Ozzie Smith (Hughie Jennings); Andre Dawson (King Kelly); Barry Larkin (Jim O’Rourke); Tommy Lasorda (Wilbert Robinson); Joe Morgan (Rogers Hornsby).

The 2013 Award Winners were honored on the Induction Ceremony stage as well, as J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Paul Hagen (honored for writing) acknowledged the crowd along with Shirley Cheek, wife of the late Tom Cheek – the Ford C. Frick Award winner (honored for broadcasting). The award winners accepted their honors and delivered their speeches on Saturday during the third annual Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field. Dr. Frank Jobe, pioneer of the procedure known as “Tommy John Surgery”, and Legendary Entertainment CEO Thomas Tull, who produced the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”, were also honored at Saturday’s Awards Presentation and received a warm ovation from the fans at Sunday’s Induction Ceremony.   

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum