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This Day in Yankees History: Babe Ruth leads inaugural Hall of Fame class

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Babe Ruth and Lefty Gomez are elected to the Hall of Fame 36 years apart.

First Hall of Fame Induction Group 1939

Welcome to This Day in Yankees History. The New Year is upon us, and the winter hot stove continues to percolate. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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91 Years Ago

Long before anyone really knew who Leo Durocher was, Babe Ruth dubbed him the “All-American Out” for his anemic hitting and constant annoyance of teammates in the Yankees’ clubhouse. Signed out of semipro ball in New England, Durocher was part of the Yankees’ 1928 championship team and played 210 games for them during his tenure, but he could only muster a 68 OPS+. Although manager Miller Huggins liked the infielder, his protection vanished when the skipper tragically passed away late in the ‘29 campaign.

So on February 2, 1930, the Yankees simply waived Durocher. The Reds put a claim on him and he joined them for a few years, but it wasn’t until he joined the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals in the mid-’30s that Durocher really started to make name for himself. He won another ring in ‘34, was named the Brooklyn Dodgers’ player-manager in ‘39, and set out on a Hall of Fame managerial career.

85 Years Ago

The physical location of the National Baseball Hall of Fame had yet to be established, but the sport had already decided to create one in 1936. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America cast ballots for up to 10 players who had starred in the 20th century. Of the many memorable names in baseball’s early history, only five were selected for the inaugural class on February 2nd: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. Once the Hall of Fame’s museum in Cooperstown opened in 1939, the living legends joined several others who were elected in the subsequent years for a memorable photo.

And yes, even then, there were bad ballots. Eleven writers thought that Babe Ruth wasn’t a Hall of Famer.* Too many damn homers, I guess.

*Cobb got the most votes but also missed unanimity by four ballots.

49 Years Ago

On the subject of Cooperstown, another Yankees Hall of Famer was selected on this day in 1972. Popular ‘30s ace Lefty Gomez had never come especially close to induction on the BBWAA ballot, topping out at 46.1 percent of the vote in 1956. Sixteen years later, the Veterans Committee decided to induct him after all.

Gomez’s statistical case isn’t the strongest, but he definitely fit the “fame” part. He starred in the first seven MLB All-Star Games, notched truly elite seasons in ‘34 and ‘37, earned five championship rings, and pitched to a stellar 2.86 ERA in seven World Series starts. As an added bonus, Gomez was also hilarious, so I’m not complaining. Even decades after he last pitched, Gomez’s wit was as sharp as ever just a few years prior to his Hall of Fame induction, when Apollo 11 made history.

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There aren’t any notable Yankees birthdays today, so here’s a salute to one who played only 12 MLB games but remains among the most famous figures in sports history. On December 18, 1918, the Yankees signed a Chicago native who had starred at the University of Illinois and hit .350 during his sophomore season before World War I service interrupted his education.

After taking part in the Great Lakes Naval Training Station athletic program, the 23-year-old joined the Yankees on a contract of $400 per month with a $500 signing bonus. He caught the eye of manager Miller Huggins at spring training in Jacksonville, and a few reporters suspected that his quick speed in the outfield could lead to a roster spot. Unfortunately, he injured his hip while sliding into third on a hustle triple.

So it took until the Yankees’ ninth game of the season for him to make his MLB debut on May 6th. He notched his first career hit, a single off Scott Perry of the Philadelphia A’s. He got a hit the next day, too... and then never got another one again. He went 2-for-22 in his limited action before Huggins sent him out to the St. Paul Saints for some minor league work. He hit .274 in 39 games there and then went home to Chicago for good when a pay dispute led to him considering other options.

In 1920, he took a manufacturing job with the A.E. Staley Company in Decatur that was really an opportunity for the former Illini to assemble a semipro football team on Staley’s behalf. That idea soon became something much more — within a couple years, the Decatur Staleys became the Chicago Bears, and they were owned and coached by that same former Yankees outfielder: George Halas (born on February 2, 1895).

George Halas, 1919 Yankees Public domain

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We thank the Baseball Reference, SABR, and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.