Ruppert headlines Veterans Committee ballot
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Perhaps there has come a time.Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the New York Yankees from 1915-39, heads a National Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot of six players, three executives and an umpire, and could be among the first to take a seat in the Hall's Class of 2013. The 16-person Pre-Integration Committee, reviewing the accomplishments of those who were Major League Baseball's best and brightest prior to Jackie Robinson shattering the color barrier on April 15, 1947, is set to vote this weekend. An announcement of any electees will be made at a 11 a.m. ET media conference that virtually opens this year's Winter Meetings on Monday. Ruppert purchased Babe Ruth from the Red Sox and signed Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, sending the Yankees on a stunning path toward a record 27 World Series titles, a run that has extended nearly a century into an era when the club is owned by the Steinbrenner family. And according to Major League Baseball's official historian, the election of Ruppert could preface the same for the man known simply as "The Boss." "Sometimes people come into the Hall in tandem," John Thorn told MLB.com this weekend in a telephone interview. "For example, Happy Chandler, who had a controversial career as Commissioner, was perhaps put in as a walk-up to Bowie Kuhn. And Jacob Ruppert might be the walk-up to George Steinbrenner. Ruppert has excellent credentials. If we're going to be putting in owners at all, Ruppert has some real accomplishments here." In the Hall's most recent version of the singular Veterans Committee, it is now made up of three parts that also includes an Expansion Era Committee (1973-present) and a Golden Era Committee (1947-72) all voting in successive years. Steinbrenner was on the Expansion Era ballot two years ago shortly after his death that summer. He received less than half of the 16 votes. As in all Hall elections, anyone needs 75 percent of that particular voting body to get in. Pat Gillick, the general manager of much renown who won championships with the Blue Jays and Phillies, was the sole electee. Last year, the Golden Era Committee finally elected Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who was inducted posthumously this past July 22 in Cooperstown, NY, along with Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, the only player selected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on its ballot. Those elected by the Pre-Integration Committee will be inducted into the Hall next year on July 28. None of the 10 men on the ballot are living. They will be joined by any electees from the BBWAA ballot released on Wednesday that include newcomers such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, plus Jack Morris, who is back for a 14th try. The winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for meritorious contributions to baseball announcing and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing will be honored on July 27 at Doubleday Field. The Spink Award winner is slated to be announced on Tuesday and the Frick on Wednesday. Steinbrenner, whose children still run the heralded franchise, may not come up again until next year when the Expansion group selects from another list of 10 candidates picked by a separate committee. Undoubtedly, it will be a tough go next year with all-time great managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella all expected to be on that ballot. Executives, umpires and managers can only be selected by permutations of the Veterans Committee and there are ample examples of owners who have been elected, although long after their lives have ended. The most recent were Barney Dreyfuss of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Walter O'Malley of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, who were both inducted in 2008. Dreyfuss died in 1932 and O'Malley in 1979. Ruppert passed away in 1939 and after all, had the foresight to build the original Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. Steinbrenner's version across 161st Street in the Bronx was born in 2009, the last year the Yanks won the World Series. If you're seeking any further comparisons between Ruppert and Steinbrenner, Thorn paints a familiar picture of Ruppert that may be one reason why it has taken so long for him to be elected and could foreshadow Steinbrenner. "Ruppert may have been somewhat of a disagreeable character personally," Thorn said. "And there certainly is some level of opprobrium that might connect to the conduct of his personal life and his dealings with the ballplayers. But it's hard to walk away from Yankee Stadium. That is the great accomplishment. Other things that we chalk up to Ruppert might better have been chalked up to Ed Barrow, his general manager who is already in." On this year's ballot, Ruppert joins fellow owner Sam Breadon, who ran the St. Louis Cardinals with similar success during the same period, and Al Reach, a former player and executive for the Philadelphia Phillies around the turn of the 20th century. Reach ultimately established his own sporting goods company that produced the official baseball for the American League. Hank O'Day, an umpire from 1888-1927 who worked a record-tying 10 World Series, is the other non-player on the ballot. The six players include two shortstops: Marty Marion and Bill Dahlen. Marion played 13 seasons, 11 for the Cardinals and his final two for the Browns. He played for Breadon's Gashouse Gang club that went to the World Series four times between 1942-46, winning three of them. He was the National League MVP in 1944 when the Cards defeated the Browns in six World Series games. Dahlen played 21 seasons for four NL clubs and retired as the active home run leader in 1911 with 84, a figure Ruth flew past in 1920 when he smashed 54 alone during that season. The ballot also includes three pitchers -- Wes Ferrell, Tony Mullane and Bucky Walters -- and catcher Deacon White, who hit .312 from 1871-90 and was known for playing all nine positions. Mullane won 284 games for an assortment of teams during a 13-year career in the late 1800s, including 30 or more in each of his first five seasons. He completed 468 of his 504 starts. Walters pitched 19 seasons for the Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves from 1934-50 and won 198 games. He was the NL MVP in 1939 when he won the pitching Triple Crown. Ferrell, who pitched 15 years for six teams from 1927-41, won 193 games, but is the only pitcher in the 20th century to win at least 20 games in each of his first four seasons. His brother, Rick, a catcher, was inducted into the Hall in 1954 upon a Veterans Committee vote. "Ferrell has been unfairly neglected," Thorn said when asked about the group of players. "Some people say they put in the wrong Ferrell. Rick got in, though Wes certainly has the better numbers. But we're not going to be tearing anyone's plaque off the wall. Everyone who's in deserves to be in. Wes Ferrell had a terrific early career and hung on too long because of injury. This ballot is full of guys who have been neglected and many are a hundred years dead. White and Dahlen are outstanding candidates. Sometimes we look too closely at older players through a modern lens." There is no disputing, though, that the careers of Ruppert and Breadon can be viewed through any lens. Under their respective stewardships, their clubs combined to win the World Series 14 times. Both men are irrevocably linked to esteemed Hall-of-Fame general managers, who they hired: Barrow for the Yankees and Branch Rickey for the Cardinals. Rickey is credited with devising MLB's farm system and having the bravado to sign Robinson, thus integrating the game when he moved on to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Barrow was the guy who seemingly masterminded paying Red Sox owner Harry Frazee $100,000 for Ruth after the 1919 season, thus changing the course of baseball history. Who deserves more credit for that, Ruppert or Barrow? "Ruppert had to write the check, but Barrow clearly came from the Red Sox where he had been what we call today the GM," Thorn said. "It was Barrow, who transformed Ruth from a pitcher to a batter. And it was Barrow, who saw the opportunity to acquire a disaffected Ruth from a financially pinched Frazee." Barrow was inducted in 1953 and Rickey in 1967. Perhaps it is now the time for Ruppert. His heirs and the Steinbrenner family await Monday's announcement of the latest Hall vote.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.