COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Forty-two years ago this week, the doors to the hallowed baseball shrine opened for three well-deserving, all-time greats.
Ford Frick, Earle Combs and Jesse Haines were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, which considered only retired executives plus players who haven't been active for at least 20 years.
Frick began his career as featured sports writer on the New York Journal American and, in the 1920s, was one of the first baseball radio broadcasters. After serving a few months in '34 as National League publicity director, Frick replaced John Heydler as league president.
He remained in that position until elected baseball commissioner on Sept. 20, 1951. Frick retired at the end of two seven-year terms in December, 1965.
"It's marvelous," was Frick's immediate reaction. "I don't know what to say. The Hall of Fame means a lot in baseball. To be put in the Hall with those other guys is a tremendous honor."
It was only fitting that Frick should be enshrined, for it was he and philanthropist Stephen Clark who combined to launch the Hall of Fame in the 1930s.
Earle Combs was the leadoff batter in the famed Murderers' Row of the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s and had the kind of record that would make modern-day players envious. Combs had a .325 batting average for 12 seasons with the Bronx Bombers. A line drive, left-handed hitter, he three times led the AL in triples and once in total base hits. In four World Series, Combs hit .350.
"He was the table-setter for (Babe) Ruth and (Lou) Gehrig," said Joe Cronin, president of the American League at the time of Combs' election.
But the one shocking scene involving Combs, which etched itself in the minds of baseball fans everywhere, came in July, 1934 when he was playing late-inning caddy to Babe Ruth in left field.
Harlond Clift, of the Browns, lifted a long drive toward the bleacher wall. Combs, racing back, ran out of running room and crashed into the green concrete, full speed, as he made the catch, then collapsed unconscious.
Earle had suffered a broken collarbone and a fractured skull. He came back to play in 1935, but only briefly.
Ironically, it was at Sportsman's Park where Jesse Haines spent all but one season of his long career, and that exception only accounted for five innings in one game for the Reds.
Haines, a right-hander, won 210 games and went 3-1 in his four World Series appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals.
One of Haines' top moments came in 1924, when he became the first Cardinal since 1876 to throw a no-hitter as he aced the Braves.
However, Haines' best year was in 1927, when he won 24 games for the Cards while compiling a 2.72 ERA in over 300 innings of work.
Haines was one of the early-day knuckleball pitchers and it was this type of delivery that enabled him to last as long as he did in the majors.
"It's quite an honor," said Haines. "I'm kind of broke up about it."
Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum