Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No Modern Inductees - So Honor Baseball's History

It's unfortunate how frequently people, individually and in groups, get disconnected from their history.  We saw an example of this last week in how many in the media reported the decision of the baseball writers not to select any candidates for the Hall of Fame.  More than one media outlet headlined the news by saying there would be no inductions in Cooperstown this July, suggesting this would be the year they had an induction ceremony and no one came.  Yet as anyone paying attention to baseball history knows, there will indeed be some inductees because the veterans committee, aided by some baseball historians, elected umpire Hank O'Day, owner Ed Barrow and 19th century great Deacon White.  To me it's symptomatic of how many of those involved in today's game lose sight of its history.

Mike "King" Kelly

In addition, since the powers that be at the Hall of Fame, no doubt, saw this coming, the induction ceremony will also recognize 12 other members who were never formally inducted primarily due to World War II travel restrictions.  In reviewing the list, as always, I was looking for a New Jersey connection, especially a 19th century connection.  In this case, it wasn't hard to find one, as I quickly spotted Mike "King" Kelly, a great, flamboyant major league outfielder of the 19th century known among other things for the song, "Slide Kelly Slide."  Although he wasn't born in the Garden State, Kelly did a lot of his growing up, baseball wise, on the fields of Paterson, New Jersey.

Interestingly Kelly wasn't the only one of his Patersonian peers to break into the big time.  Reportedly one of the future major league star's best friends in the country's first planned industrial city was pitcher Jim McCormick who would go on to win 265 games over the course of his career.  Not quite as successful, but also making a name for themselves in base ball were William "Blondie" Purcell and Edward "The Only" Nolan (they don't make nicknames like they used to!).  Purcell has the somewhat unique, and probably not enviable distinction, of being one of the few major league players who's death date isn't known.  I haven't looked at my research in some time, but I believe the four were not only from Paterson, but also played on the same team, the second incarnation of the Olympic Club.  The original Olympics (one of my essays in the forthcoming Baseball Founders) played in the late 1860's, went out of existence and were re-formed in the 1870's.

Again, I haven't looked at this in some time, but I believe around 1880 there were only about 120 major league players.  If so, it would be impressive if four of them came, not just from the same state, or the same city, but also from the same team.  In a way this feels like an example of how New Jersey's base ball past foreshadows its present - producing major league talent ranging from Mike Kelly to 2012 American League    rookie of the year, Mike Trout.

Jim McCormick

Shortly after the announcement of the non-election, MLB historian John Thorn suggested this might be the year for us 19th century enthusiasts to attend the induction ceremony.  He even mentioned he might wear his replica 1883 New York Gothams jersey.  Not sure if the Flemington Neshanock schedule will permit me to attend, but I do have an 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms jersey, purchased from Ebbets Field Flannels, so we'll see.

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