On June 12, the
National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. will begin its third
official decade as the heart shrine of the national pastime, the treasure house
in which Americans store their memories of the truly great deeds and the truly
great men who performed them.
At least that is
what we would like to think.
are many in baseball, former players and fans alike, who think that the Hall
has lost some of its meaning and much of its glory in recent years. I've been
told time and again: "Joe, you know as well as I do—the Hall's getting to
be a joke."
complaint is that someone kicked the back door loose, letting in some less
deserving players, while the front door has remained stoutly closed in the
faces of others who are truly meritorious.
I had just turned
20 when I broke into the big league, and I was a few days shy of 40 when I
turned in my uniform; I learned a few things in between. One is that popping
off for the sake of popping off, without having something constructive to
offer, hurts the game more than helps it.
When I say, then,
that the Hall of Fame is losing its luster, I also say that something can be
done about it.
The Hall was
conceived as a place for giants, and it started that way—Ty Cobb, Walter
Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner were the first players
selected, in 1936. Other men of unquestioned stature followed: Nap Lajoie, John
McGraw, Tris Speaker, Cy Young and others. Certainly no one could quarrel with
the selection of Lou Gehrig, Eddie Collins, Grover Cleveland Alexander and
As the years went
on, however, there were some conspicuous absences from Cooperstown, and some
In the winter of
1950 I bumped into Will Harridge, then president of the American League. I
asked him: "Mr. Harridge, why don't they put Harry Heilmann in the Hall
while he's still alive and it means something to him? You know and I know and
everybody else knows—he belongs."
replied, "Joe, I don't know what they're doing."