The Baseball Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of individual recognition in the sport. Even among other major sports, the Baseball Hall is in a class by itself.
“Small Hall” fans lament the fellows whose stats don’t quite measure up to the game’s true elites while “Big Hall” fans are fine with lowering the bar like we’re at a limbo contest in Trinidad and Tobago. This week’s Stud 400 is Hall of Fame-heavy and both Small Hall and Big Hall fans should take heed.
The current poster boy for Small Hall supporters signifying the end of times is Harold Baines, whose enshrinement sent that group into class-action cardiac arrest. On the bright side, it gave them something to complain about besides Frankie Frisch turning the Hall of Fame into his own personal ball playing reunion.
Frisch’s Veterans Committee antics turn up this week on The Stud 400 and although he’s been dead for 50 years, he’s still a figure that draws the ire of those in the know.
The other four entries deal with players who were no-doubt, slam dunk Hall of Famers and beloved baseball figures. Ernie Banks, Rickey Henderson, Willie McCovey and Wahoo Sam Crawford had plenty of moments in their careers to cement their place in baseball history, so let’s jump in and see what brings them across our internets today.
But first, here’s look at the previous five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
360. Ray Schalk revolutionizes catching (1912)
359. The Bloody Sock Game (2004)
358. Rocky Colavito gets a win (1968)
357. Jim Thorpe signs with Giants (1913)
356. Heinie Zimmerman/Eddie Collins World Series rundown (1917)
And now, here’s Episode Ten of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Frankie Frisch and the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee (1970)
Frisch was an incredible ballplayer, there is no question about that. However, as a powerful voice on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, he put personal agenda ahead of what was right. Frisch formed a coalition with Hall of Fame teammate Bill Terry and voters J. Roy Stockton and Fred Lieb to help enshrine seven of his former teammates in a four-year period. As it stands today, players like Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Sunny Jim Bottomley, Fred Lindstrom, Ross Youngs and George Kelly, all enshrined based on Frisch’s influence, often come up as glaring examples of very good players who are enshrined in the Hall of Fame that don’t have much business being there.
Willie McCovey’s Rookie Year (1959)
McCovey was a big time prospect, but a logjam at first base on the Major League club forced the Giants to start the Hall of Famer in AAA in 1959. With the Giants struggling through the All-Star break, McCovey forced the Giants hands by ripping apart the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .371 batting average, 1.219 OPS, 29 homers and 92 RBIs in 95 games. McCovey only ended up playing 52 games with the Giants, but was so dominant that he unanimously won the NL Rookie of the Year before despite playing just six weeks in the Majors. He ended up hitting .354 with the Giants while socking 13 homers with 38 RBIs.
Judge awards Sam Crawford to the Tigers (1902)
With the American and National Leagues competing against each other for players starting in 1901, it wasn’t uncommon for teams from both leagues to send contract proposals to players. Players would then have to decide whether to stay in the National League or jump ship to the newly former American League. In 1902, Wahoo Sam Crawford didn’t seem to get the memo that he had to choose, so he signed contracts with teams in both leagues, the Reds and Tigers. Both teams claimed that Hall of Famer’s contract with them was valid, so it went to court. A judge awarded Crawford’s contract to the Tigers. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Crawford was an established star when Ty Cobb came onto the scene as an 18-year-old in 1905. The two played next to each other in the Tigers outfield for the next 12 years and their relationship was contentious, to put it mildly. Although overshadowed by Cobb, Crawford had a remarkable career and is still the all-time leader with 309 career triples.
Ernie Banks says, “Let’s play two!” (1960)
It’s one of the most famous quotes in baseball history, but unlike Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” quote, nobody can seem to nail down when Banks first uttered, “Let’s play two.” With Banks and many of his contemporaries now gone, it’s a mystery not likely to be solved; especially since Banks himself only caused confusion on the origin. In 2006, Banks said, “It was Tuesday, July 18, 1967—at 10:25 a.m. Central Standard Time. I know because it was one of the turning moments of my life. . . . It was about 105 degrees that day, and as I walked into our locker room, my Cubs teammates were really worn down. But I was feeling so great. So lucky. I was getting paid to do something I loved. So I walked in the locker room and I said, ‘Boy, it’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!’ Everybody kind of raised up and looked at me.”
In 1990, Banks claimed to have first said his famous quote at the 1960 All-Star Game, “In the 1960 game in Kansas City, it was hot, about 110 degrees, and before the game I told Jack Quinlan, the broadcaster, ‘Let’s play two today!’”
However, in the book The Golden Age of Baseball, Banks wrote in the foreword, “People always ask about ‘Let’s play two.’ It happened on July 3, 1969. The temperature was over 100 degrees. The team was tired and we hadn’t even played yet. I looked around, scanning the solemn faces of my teammates. It was just like a wake or something. And then, it just came out: ‘Let’s play two!’ A couple writers wrote it down and it stuck.”
Rickey Henderson sets runs scored record (2001)
Henderson’s most famous record is his career stolen base record, but his total of 2,295 runs scored is also one that is not likely to be beat in our lifetimes. Henderson scored his 2,246th run in Game 159 of the 2001 season when he belted the second pitch he saw in the third inning over the left field fence for a homer. Henderson, as he had promised, slid into home plate to celebrate the accomplishment. The three active players who are closest to Henderson’s total are Albert Pujols (1,872), Miguel Cabrera (1,505) and Robinson Cano (1,257).
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 when we’ll find out what $100,000 can buy you in the 1910s, get Dizzy at the All-Star Game and check in with The Splendid Splinter for the first time in the countdown. We have a feeling it won’t be the last.