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Hall of Fame cemerony goes on without steroid-era stars

The SportsXchange

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- For the families of Hank O'Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White, Sunday's Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony was about receiving recognition a century or more in the making.

For all intents and purposes, though, this year's ceremony was more about who wasn't there -- and why they weren't there.

"The lesson of Hank O'Day is do your best with honesty and integrity," said O'Day's grand-nephew, Dennis McNamara. "It is a lesson known to these Hall of Famers behind me, and one that might be on the minds of some players not elected."

For the first time since 1996 -- and only the second time since 1971 -- the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to elect anyone into the Hall of Fame. The shutout in a year in which multiple superstars made their first appearance on the ballot was viewed as a statement by the BBWAA on the tainted accomplishments of the steroid era.

That left former manager and umpire O'Day, former New York Yankees owner Ruppert and 19th-century catcher White -- all of whom were Pre-Integration Era candidates elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee last December -- as the only inductees Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 2,500 at the Clark Sports Center.

Such a sparse scene was unimaginable back in 2007, when all-time home run king Barry Bonds, 354-game winner Roger Clemens and 3,000-hit club member Craig Biggio -- as well Mike Piazza, the leading home run hitter among catchers, and Sammy Sosa, who finished with 609 homers -- all retired at the same time and became eligible for induction in 2013.

Whether directly implicated in steroid use or merely guilty by association, none of the first-time eligible players garnered the 75 percent necessary for enshrinement. Biggio came closest at 68.2 percent.

The one-time sure things who were nowhere to be found Sunday were never mentioned by name, but they were certainly on the minds of those on the stage.

Master of ceremonies Gary Thorne called Henry Aaron "still, to many of us, the greatest home run hitter ever" in introducing him prior to the ceremony.

Hall of Fame chairperson Jane Forbes Clark elicited applause by referring to the 32 Hall of Famers in attendance as "living legends because they define character, integrity (and) sportsmanship, all within incredible baseball careers."

While the waiting has just begun for steroid-era Hall of Fame candidates, it is finally over for the families of O'Day, Ruppert and White.

For McNamara, Anne Vernon (Ruppert's great-grand-niece) and Jerry Watkins (White's great-grandson) Sunday represented an opportunity to speak about men they'd never met on a day they never thought they'd experience.

"I've wondered: What does all this mean? Well, it means ...," McNamara said before pausing and resuming with a catch in his voice. "It means everyone is recognized at some point. You may not know it, but recognition does come."

O'Day umpired the first World Series game in 1903 and also spent time as a player and a manager, but he is best known for his role in "Merkle's Boner" on Sept. 23, 1908.

Merkle appeared to score a run that would have given New York Giants a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs, but O'Day called him out for failing to touch second base. The game was replayed, and the Cubs won to advance to the World Series, where they won their most recent championship.

Ruppert bought the Yankees in 1915 and acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox prior to the 1920 season, built the original Yankee Stadium in 1923 and oversaw seven world champions and 10 pennant winners in his 24 seasons as owner.

While Ruppert died 18 years before Vernon was born, she said his love of baseball was inherited by his family, which would listen to baseball games during family fishing trips.

"Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to know him," Vernon said. "However, stories were told about the New York Yankees and my energetic uncle. And they were told to all of us at a very early age."

White, who was born in 1847 and is the oldest person ever elected to the Hall of Fame, played most of his career as a bare-handed catcher and recorded the first hit in professional baseball history in 1871 before playing for the Chicago Cubs in the National League's first season in 1876.

"My Dad loved his grandfather and he loved the Chicago Cubs," Watkins said. "And it was his lifelong dream to see his grandfather enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it was his lifelong dream to see the Cubs play in the World Series. Well, Dad, today, you got one of them."

NOTES: The start of the ceremony was delayed about an hour by rain. ... Twelve Hall of Famers who never received a ceremony were also honored Sunday, including Lou Gehrig, who was too sick to travel when he was elected following his final season in 1939. Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Gehrig's consecutive games played record in 1995, read Gehrig's plaque. World War II inductees -- including Rogers Hornsby from the class of 1942 and all 10 members of the Class of 1945 -- didn't have a ceremony because of wartime travel restrictions. ... Among the players eligible for the first time next year: 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas. Managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa will also be eligible to appear on the Veteran's Committee Expansion Era ballot.
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