Cliff Kachline Chapter meeting recap – 7/28/2013

By Gabriel Schechter

After the Induction Day ceremony at the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 28, 2013, I presided over the annual induction evening meeting of the local Cliff Kachline SABR chapter. This was the first time that someone has gone directly from delivering an acceptance speech to the SABR meeting. Jerry Watkins was joined by two sons and other family members at the meeting, which began with a terrific discussion with Tom Simon and Peter Morris. They are the first bona fide historians to participate in the Veterans Committee.

By “bona fide historians” I mean that they have no official connection to MLB (as did the several beat writers and BBWAA members of the VC) and no excuse for being asked to serve on the committee other than their reputations as historians. Peter is a foremost scholar of 19th-century baseball and the origins of just about every aspect of the game, and Tom founded SABR’s Deadball Era Committee a dozen years ago.

At the meeting, they discussed the process by which Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert, and Deacon White were elected. They did plenty of homework in advance and were impressed by how much preparation the other 14 committee members did, especially Bert Blyleven, one of the four Hall of Fame players on the committee. They hoped to build a consensus on a few candidates they strongly supported, and they must have succeeded, because the math is stacked against electing as many as three men at once.

The 16 committee members voted for a maximum of four candidates, there were 10 candidates, and 12 votes were needed for election. So if each member voted for four candidates, the average tally would be 6.4 votes per candidates. For this committee to reach such a strong consensus on three candidates (with a fourth, Bill Dahlen, missing election by only two votes) was pretty remarkable.

They took their time deciding, too. During the morning session, Tom Simon told the SABR gathering, each candidate was discussed for at least a half-hour, sometimes much longer. All the arguments for and against were made, and then they went to lunch. After lunch, they discussed each candidate again, summing up the main points. Then they voted. And agreed.

Our SABR discussion also included about ten minutes with Jerry Watkins. I asked him about the long wait for Deacon White’s election, about the disappointment of earlier Veterans Committees neglecting to elect White ahead of five other pre-1900 figures who were elected in the late 1990s, and about White’s legacy as a ballplayer. Watkins was still beaming from the ceremony, still basking in the glow of his family finally getting to share in their beloved ancestor’s glory. As I noted before Watkins had to leave for the placing of Deacon White’s plaque on the wall of the gallery in the Hall of Fame, his family has waited for several generations for this moment, but think of how many future generations will get to come here and see that plaque.

That’s the point of having the Hall of Fame in the first place, of course. At any given point in history, we will visit that plaque gallery to celebrate baseball immortals. Some we saw in action ourselves, some we heard about all our lives, and some we only heard about because those plaques keep their memory alive. I’ve been to about a dozen induction ceremonies now, from the Ripken-Gwynn version of Woodstock when at least 70,000 people descended on a village of 1,800, to this year’s intimate gathering. I’m always happy to have gone there to celebrate the game, its finest, and its history.

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