The Class of ’36

On January 29, 1936, the National Baseball Hall of Fame elects its first members in Cooperstown, New York: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson. Cobb was the most productive hitter in history, Ruth both an ace pitcher and the greatest home-run hitter to play the game, Wagner, a versatile star shortstop and batting champion. Matthewson had more wins than any pitcher in National League history and Walter Johnson was considered one of the most powerful pitchers to ever have taken the mound.

The Hall of Fame, nestled on Otsego Lake in central New York State, had its origins in 1939, led by Stephen Carlton Clark, the owner of a local hotel. Clark had sought to bring tourists to a town ravaged by the Great Depression, which reduced the local tourist trade, and Prohibition, which devastated the local hops industry. A new building was constructed, and the Hall of Fame was dedicated on June 12, 1939. The apocryphal claim that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown was instrumental in the early marketing of the Hall.

Today, with approximately 350,000 visitors per year, the Hall of Fame continues to be the hub of all things baseball; even the “Bonnettes of Baseball” made a state visit one Summer. It has elected 333 individuals in all, including 234 players, 35 “Negro Leaguers,” 23 managers,10 umpires and 36 executives and pioneers. Of the 35 Negro League members, 29 were inducted posthumously, including all 24 selected since the 1990’s. The Hall of Fame includes one female member, Effa Manley.

Players must appear on 75 percent of submitted ballots to be inducted into Cooperstown. Last year’s inductees included Yankees legend Derek Jeter, and five-tool threat Larry Walker as the newest Hall of Famers. As for Jeter, a Kalamazoo, MI product, across parts of 20 seasons with the Yankees, he racked up 3,465 hits; 260 home runs; 544 doubles; 358 stolen bases; five Gold Gloves; 14 All-Star nods; eight finishes in the top 10 of the AL MVP balloting; and the second-most defensive games at shortstop in MLB history (2,674). Jeter won four World Series with the Yankees — he was MVP of the 2000 World Series — and batted .308/.374/.465 in 158 career playoff games.

Walker played for three teams (Expos, Rockies, Cardinals) in his 17-year career, during which he hit .313/.400/.565 with 383 home runs and 230 stolen bases. He was a five-time All-Star who won seven Gold Glove awards and who received MVP votes in eight seasons, including winning the 1997 National League award. By WAR (Wins Against Replacement) Walker is one of the top five outfielders of the last 50 years, though it took a full 10 years on the ballot to finally emerge.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2020 had its ceremony canceled last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead, those new members of the Hall will get their induction ceremony in 2021 on Sunday, July 25. Meanwhile, none of the 2021 rougue’s gallery of HoF options made the threshold for induction this year.

And with the reminder that Tigers pitchers and catchers report in less than 30 days, our lesson of oily leather endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.