Class of 1998 showcased different eras

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Steven Walters

From a recent retiree to the son of a Hall of Famer to a player who played part of his career in the 1800s, the Hall of Fame Class of 1998 featured a unique mix of legends.

On July 26, 1998, Don Sutton, Larry Doby, Lee MacPhail, George Davis and Joe Rogan joined baseball’s immortals in Cooperstown.

Sutton, the only Baseball Writers’ Association of America electee in 1998, debuted with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 1966, posting a 12-12 record with a 2.99 ERA in 225 2/3 innings. From then on, Sutton was a household name. In a seven year stretch from 1971 to 1977, Sutton accumulated 124 wins and posted a 2.76 ERA.

The right-handed hurler posted the lowest ERA in the National League in 1980 at the age of 35. A four-time All-Star, Sutton retired with 324 wins, a 3.26 ERA and 3,574 strikeouts.

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“I wanted this for over 40 years,” Sutton said in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1998 as quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “So why am I shaking like a leaf? Part of it is that I am standing in front of some of the great artists in the world of baseball.”

Sutton played 23 years in the majors spread across five different teams – the Dodgers, the California Angels, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics. Sixteen of Sutton’s 23 seasons were spent with the Dodgers, the team whose cap he dons on his Hall of Fame Plaque.

That day, Sutton was accompanied by his wife, brother, sister and other family members. His 20-month-old daughter Jackie, who battled health issues for many months, was also in attendance. An emotional Sutton spoke about his daughter in his speech.

“Thanks for sticking around to be a part of this,” Sutton said in his speech, as quoted by the AJC.

Doby, a left-handed hitting center fielder, began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles in 1942. He served in the United States Navy during WWII and returned to the Eagles in 1946 before future Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck signed Doby to the Cleveland Indians in 1947. Doby, who debuted just a few months after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers in 1947, became the first African-American player to play in the American League.

“When it came time to break the color barrier in the American League, Larry was the logical choice,” said 1998 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Sam Lacy to the Baltimore Sun. “He was a good ballplayer. One of the two best players from the Newark Eagles.”

In 1952, he led the league in runs (104), home runs (32) and slugging percentage (.541). He went on to play 13 seasons in the big leagues and compiled 1,515 hits, 253 home runs and a .283 batting average, all while facing challenges as one of the game’s earliest black players.

“It’s a tough thing to look back at the history at things that are probably negative,” Doby was quoted saying in his Hall of Fame Induction speech by the Post-Star. “But I’m proud of the role that I played in the integration of baseball. If you would have told me 50 years ago that I would be standing here, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Doby, who was battling cancer at the time of his Hall of Fame induction, passed away in 2003.

A long-time executive, MacPhail was elected to the Hall 20 years after his father Larry was elected, creating the first father-son duo in the Hall of Fame. Though they shared the walls of the Plaque Gallery, the gentle-natured MacPhail contrasted with the more outgoing nature of his father.

MacPhail served as the farm director and player personnel director for the Yankees from 1949 to 1958, the Orioles' general manager from 1959 to 1965 and then as chief administrative assistant to Commissioner of Baseball William D. Eckert. He was elected as the American League President in 1974 and served in that role until 1983. MacPhail was awarded the Major League Executive of the Year Award by the Sporting News in 1966.

He passed away in 2012 at the age of 95.

Davis preceded all of the other candidates, debuting on April 19, 1890, with the Cleveland Spiders. Playing in the Dead Ball Era, Davis amassed 2,665 hits, 453 doubles, 619 stolen bases and a .295 batting average. The switch hitter led the league in RBI in 1897, hit .300-or-better in nine seasons and won the 1906 World Series with the White Sox. He twice served as a player manager for the New York Giants.

Davis passed away in 1940.

“Bullet” Rogan played in the Negro Leagues from 1920-30 and 1933-38, serving as a pitcher and outfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs. He compiled a 119-50 record and threw 128 complete games. He finished career .338 hitter with 110 doubles, 60 triples and 45 home runs in 2281 plate appearances for the Monarchs. In 1924, he led the Monarchs to the Negro League World Series title.

The righty passed away in 1967 at the age of 73. Rogan’s son Wilber accepted the plaque for him.

“I always believed my father would someday be elected to the Hall of Fame, but didn’t know I’d be around,” Wilber Rogan said in his speech as quoted by the Post-Star. “My only regret is that my father didn’t live to see this.”

Steven Walters is the 2018 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series