On June 12, 1939, dedication day finally arrived for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It had been five years since Alexander Cleland hatched the idea for a baseball museum on a trip to Cooperstown; 22 years since a group of men in an Ilion, New York, cigar store launched a fund to build a memorial to baseball’s supposed founder Abner Doubleday; and 36 years since then-National League President Harry Pulliam opened a private hall of fame in his New York offices.
In 1987, baseball was two years from celebrating both the 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame’s 1939 dedication and the 150th anniversary of the game’s purported, though widely discredited, founding in Cooperstown, New York. Four popular baseball films—Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Major League—would come out by 1989, with the myth of Cooperstown stoking box office demand.
A Memorial to Mythical Founder Abner Doubleday Lays the Groundwork for the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown
In the first few pages of his 1994 book, The Politics of Glory, Bill James focused on the Clark family of the Singer sewing machine fortune, their administrator Alexander Cleland, and then-National League President Ford Frick as driving forces in getting the Hall of Fame and its accompanying museum built.
“Baseball is too venerable and too vigorous an institution to not have a permanent hall of fame.”
I. E. Sanborn, Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1915
Near the end of the 1876 season, former Cincinnati Red Stockings Manager John Joyce gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune. It was the first year of the National League. Perhaps Joyce, a wealthy Ohioan who’d revived the Cincinnati club that year, faced precarious times.
“I think high salaries will kill the sport ultimately,” Joyce said in an interview printed on August 6, 1876.
“How so?” the writer asked.
In 1919, as goes his story from The Glory of Their Times, Boston Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper made one of the boldest moves in baseball history, convincing General Manager Ed Barrow to put teammate Babe Ruth in the field everyday.
When Joe Nuxhall made his Major League Baseball debut in 1944 at age 15, getting battered for five runs in two-thirds of an inning in relief, there was a silver lining.
It took eight years but Nuxhall returned to the Majors, making two All-Star appearances, winning 135 games, and pitching until 1966. Nuxhall remains the youngest player in modern MLB history, and, of course, this headlined his New York Times obituary in 2007. But it was far from his greatest achievement.
In a more just world, Pat Scantlebury would have been in the Majors a long time before he finally debuted for the Cincinnati Reds on April 19, 1956, at the age of 38 years, 160 days.
The 10th oldest Major League Baseball rookie at the time of debut since 1900, according to Baseball-reference.com, Scantlebury had pitched in the Negro Leagues and minors since 1944. Prior to that, he pitched in his native Panama, one of two players in MLB history along with Rod Carew to come from the Canal Zone.