Ruppert's Hall of Fame induction long overdue
Owner transformed struggling Yankees into one of greatest franchises in all of sport
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The strange matter of Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert finally being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday is that so many people already thought he was enshrined in the red-brick museum on upper Main Street in this village, population 18,040.
"I confess for the first time, I thought he was already in," said Braves announcer Don Sutton, a 324-win pitcher who is in the Hall and was a member of the 16-man Pre-Integration Committee that voted Ruppert in late last year.
"'Why are we considering this guy? He's already in,'" he told the group.
Sutton wasn't the only member of that austere committee to think so. But Ruppert wasn't in. As one wanders around the room and peeks at the copper plaques of the 303 already hanging in the Hall, Ruppert is not yet among them. He will be on Sunday night, hours after this year's spare induction ceremony, which also includes catcher Deacon White and umpire Hank O'Day.
That's when those three plaques will be hung under a sign honoring the Class of 2013. All of them passed away before the museum opened its doors on June 12, 1939.
Ruppert died on Jan. 13, 1939, almost five months to the day before the Hall opened, thus ending his 24-year run owning and operating the club. Affectionately known as "The Colonel," Ruppert earned that title working his way up the ranks in the National Guard and was later a four-term member of the House of Representatives from New York.
He inherited what later became the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company from his father and turned it into a thriving business. Dabbling in Florida real estate, he became a beer and land baron. He was already a figure of some major stature before buying the moribund Yankees in 1915.
A native of the city, he turned them into one of the most heralded sports franchises in history, buying them for $480,000 or, given inflation, about $11 million in today's dollars. Consider this: When George Steinbrenner and his multiple partners purchased the Yanks from CBS in 1972, he paid $8.8 million.
The worth of the Yankees now may be incalculable, considering the Dodgers sold last year for $2.15 billion.
Under Ruppert, the Yanks bought Babe Ruth for $100,000 from the Red Sox, signed Lou Gehrig straight out of Columbia University, and purchased the contract of Joe DiMaggio from the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals for $25,000 and five players.
When Ruppert bought into the Yankees, they were the sad stepchild of the National League's New York Giants and second tenant to manager John McGraw's great club in the Polo Grounds. After purchasing Ruth on Jan. 3, 1920, the history of the Yanks and Major League Baseball irrevocably changed.
Before that, Ruth largely had been used as a pitcher by the Red Sox, although he had a huge impact in Boston, where they won the World Series in 1915, '16 and '18. After the sale, they wouldn't win another Fall Classic until 2004.
In New York, Ruppert's Yankees turned Ruth into a full-time outfielder, and in 1921, he may have had the most dominant offensive season in MLB history. Ruth led the American League with 59 homers, 171 RBIs and 177 runs scored. He hit .378, but missed the Triple Crown when Detroit's Harry Heilmann led the AL at .394.
The Yanks won their first pennant that season, but lost to the Giants in the World Series and again in 1922.
Tired of playing second rung both economically and artistically to the Giants in upper Manhattan, Ruppert looked across the Harlem River to farmland in the Bronx to build his own baseball palace. He spared no expense, spending $2.4 million to construct Yankee Stadium, tailoring it with a short right-field porch to accommodate Ruth's big left-handed swing.
The Yankees moved to their expansive yard in 1923 and defeated the Giants in that World Series, their first of 27 such victories, a dominance in the sport that has lasted 90 years. By comparison, the Red Sox have won the World Series twice during that span, the New York/San Francisco Giants four times and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers six.
With Ruth, Ruppert ushered in the era of the homer in MLB and set the Bronx Bombers on their path to manifest destiny. There are 45 players, managers and executives in the Hall of Fame with some sort of Yankees pedigree, but Ruppert is the first Yanks owner.
Different permutations of the Veterans Committee have been slow over time to vote in owners, most of them long after their passing. Charles Comiskey of the White Sox was the first in 1939. He died in 1931, five years before the first Hall vote. The most recent were Barney Dreyfuss of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers, who were both inducted in 2008. Dreyfuss died in 1932 and O'Malley in 1979.
Seventy-three years after Ruppert's death, it is about time he got in.
"As a fan, I'm glad to see it," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's president who was once a top Yankees public relations executive. "He took a franchise that was struggling and built it into a model franchise. It's something that's very deserving and, frankly, long overdue."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.