I wrote a few days ago that the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a great track record of honoring aging players. This was prompted by the Veterans Committee candidacy of Minnie Minoso who, depending on the source, is anywhere from 88 to 92. Even if Minoso’s listed birthday on Baseball-Reference.com of November 29, 1925 is correct, placing him just shy of his 89th birthday, he’d be the oldest living honoree ever for Cooperstown at the time of getting in, if it happens.
With the help of Baseball-Reference.com which lists the life spans of all Hall of Famers, here are the 10 oldest Hall of Famers at the time they were voted in:
1. Elmer Flick at 87 years, 16 days old on January 27, 1963
I’ve written before of Flick, a Deadball Era great nearly traded for a young Ty Cobb in 1907. Detroit lucked out on that one, as Flick contracted a stomach ailment that ended his career in 1910. All but forgotten by Cooperstown thereafter, save for one vote from the BBWAA in 1938, Flick was stunned when the Veterans Committee honored him. As my Twitter friend Vince Guerrieri told me, Flick thought Branch Rickey was fooling when he called to congratulate him. “I can’t believe it,” Flick said. “I had given up all hope. When Sam Crawford was voted in [in 1957], he sent me a letter and said he couldn’t see how he was getting in before me.”
2. Ed Barrow at 85 years, four months and 18 days old on September 28, 1953
Being voted into the Hall of Fame is valedictory. As a reader recently pointed out to me, excluding HOF players serving as coaches, only Connie Mack continued to work at the job that got him into Cooperstown after his induction. Legendary executive Ed Barrow worked for the New York Yankees until he was 77. But by the time the Veterans Committee selected Barrow in 1953, he’d been in ill health for many years and was about two months from dying. Barrow was posthumously inducted in August 1954, one of four Hall of Famers I know of besides Chief Bender, Eppa Rixey and Leon Day to die between being voted in and the next induction ceremony.
3. Rube Marquard at 84 years, three months and 22 days old on January 31, 1971
I hear proponents of a small Hall of Fame talk of kicking honorees out. I imagine they could start with Marquard, who got his plaque partly because he was featured in Lawrence Ritter’s 1966 book, The Glory of Their Times and partly because the Veterans Committee railroaded in seven new members the day it voted Marquard in. January 31, 1971 may rank as one of the most ethically-bankrupt days in Hall of Fame history. It reminds me of the danger when small groups– this iteration of the Veterans Committee had ten members— are given a lot of power. It’s one of the reasons I try to have as many people as I can vote in projects here.
But I think of how happy the news made Marquard, who was on a cruise at the time. He wrote to Ritter, who shared the letter in a preface to a 1984 edition of his classic. Marquard wrote:
I was the happiest and most surprised man in the world when I heard your voice yesterday telling me I was voted into the Hall of Fame. The reason I didn’t say anything for so long was that I couldn’t. I was all choked up and tears were running down my cheeks.
Yesterday evening, a few hours after you called, everybody was dancing and having a good time and suddenly the Captain of the ship stopped the music and said he wanted to make an important announcement. He said they had a very prominent man on board who had just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His name is Rube Marquard and he is right here dancing with his wife.
Well, all hell broke loose, people yelling and clapping, and the band played ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game.’ I was so happy and Jane just loved it too. When we go to Cooperstown this summer, please come with us and be my guest.
It’s hard, at least for me, to stay angry reading a letter like that. There are worse things in life than a few undeserving people being in the Hall of Fame, especially with all the joy the living ones must have felt when they got that call and later stood on the Cooperstown dais. I’m certainly not in favor of kicking anyone out. It seems cruel. It also seems pointless. Wipe the slate clean on the Hall of Fame and there’d be a lousy honoree within 10-15 years.
4. Happy Chandler at 83 years, seven months and 24 days old on March 10, 1982
Bowie Kuhn may rank as one of the more reviled figures in MLB history, baseball’s commissioner while Marvin Miller was leading the successful charge to take down the reserve clause. Here’s one thing Kuhn got right: leading the campaign to honor Chandler, who was commissioner at the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. That may seem insignificant, though the man Chandler succeeded, Kenesaw Mountain Landis did much to keep blacks out of the majors.
5. Harry Hooper at 83 years, five months and seven days old on January 31, 1971
Like Marquard, Hooper was interviewed for The Glory of Their Times and got in the day the Veterans Committee gave out plaques like it was going out of business. Hooper might be a slightly more deserving pick, having played in arguably the best defensive outfield of the Deadball Era with Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis on the Boston Red Sox. My friend through the Society for American Baseball Research, Jacob Pomrenke told me a few months ago that one of Hooper’s sons campaigned heavily for his induction.
6. Tommy Connolly at 82 years, eight months and 28 days old on September 28, 1953
Longtime sportswriter Joe Williams wrote of Connolly, a few months before the Veterans Committee tabbed him, as the lone surviving member of the original American League staff. An umpire as well as a teacher and supervisor for other umps, Connolly’s career spanned 60-plus years. He worked the first World Series in 1903, at a time when umpires got $50 a game and paid their own travel expenses.
7. Lee MacPhail at 80 years, four months and six days old on March 3, 1998
Weird fact about MacPhail: The former American League president was on the board of directors for the Hall of Fame nearly a quarter century before he got his plaque. In the interim in 1978, his father Larry MacPhail, a groundbreaking executive was posthumously enshrined.
8. Bobby Wallace at 79 years, 10 months and 24 days old on September 28, 1953
Why Wallace and not his contemporary Bill Dahlen? Statistically, the two Deadball Era infielders are roughly equal: 110 OPS+ for Dahlen, 103 for Wallace; 139 defensive runs saved for Dahlen, 133 for Wallace. For stats that may have meant something to Veterans Committee voters at the time, Dahlen bested Wallace .272 to .268 in batting average, 2,461 to 2,309 in hits and 8,138 to 7,465 in assists, though he had more errors, 975 to 814.
Perhaps the Veterans Committee wanted to honor the living. While Dahlen died in 1950 after several years in retirement, Wallace scouted for the Reds into the early 1950s. Three of the other five men the Veterans Committee selected in 1953 were also still alive. Ironically though, none of the four attended the subsequent induction ceremony in 1954. Ed Barrow and Chief Bender died in the interim, while Wallace and Tommy Connolly were too ill to attend.
9. Dave Bancroft at 79 years, nine months and 11 days old on January 31, 1971
Bancroft’s defenders sometimes speak of him as a defensive wizard. This may be an exaggeration. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool, Bancroft ranks 30th all-time among shortstops with 93 defensive runs saved above average. Among the 18 non-Hall of Famers ranked in front of him for this stat: Bill Dahlen, Jack Glasscock and Art Fletcher, all of whom had better bats. As has been widely noted, Bancroft’s former teammate Frankie Frisch was on the ten-member Veterans Committee that voted him in, as was Bill Terry.
10. Doug Harvey at 79 years, eight months and 24 days old on December 7, 2009
Harvey’s page at the Hall of Fame website lists him as the ninth umpire enshrined, with Hank O’Day bringing the number to 10 in 2013. “This much is indisputable,” Hal Bodley wrote for USA Today upon Harvey’s retirement in 1992. “Harvey is one of the best umpires the game has seen. He’s a Hall of Famer, period.” It’s a wonder it took another 17 years for Harvey to get his plaque.