With Sunday’s induction of outfielders Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice into the Baseball Hall of Fame and Monday’s announcement from hall of famer Jim Bunning that he wouldn’t seek re-election to the U. S. Senate I thought we’d profile Kentucky’s four hall of famers. Clicking on each player’s name will take you to his official Hall of Fame entry.
Jim Bunning, RHP, Detroit Tigers
- Bunning is perhaps more famous for his political career as a U. S. representative (1987-1999) and U. S. senator (1999-present) today, but before he was a nationally prominent politician he was a hall of fame pitcher. Bunning pitched from 1955-1971 for Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. Over his career Bunning was 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA and 2855 strikeouts. Bunning was the first pitcher to record both 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts in the American and National League and pitched a no-hitter in each league. He was a seven-time All-Star and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veteran’s Committee.
Pee Wee Reese, SS, Brooklyn Dodgers
- “Pee Wee” was born Harold Henry Reese in Ekron, Ky., in 1918. The defensive whiz spent his entire career with the Dodgers organization and played along side Jackie Robinson for most of his career. Reese was the captain of the Dodgers during their dominant run through the National League in the 1950s and 1960s. Pee Wee is most famous for his embrace of Robinson during pre-game warmups in Cincinnati during Robinson’s first season in baseball. As Reese, a white man, embraced his black teammate on the field the crowd that was heckling Robinson quited. The moment was immortalized in a statue in Brooklyn in 2005.
- Reese led the National league in putouts four times, double plays twice and fielding percentage and assists once each. Reese helped lead Brooklyn to seven pennants and never missed a inning of the seven World Series he participated in. Reese only batted over .300 once in his career and finished his playing days with a .269 average, 2170 hits and 1338 runs scored. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984 by the veterans committee.
A. B. “Happy” Chandler, Executive/Pioneer
- Chandler is the second Kentucky politician on this list. He succeeded Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball, serving from 1945-1951. Before being named commissioner Chandler served as both a U. S. senator and governor of Kentucky. Chandler was commissioner during the integration of baseball and told Dodgers President Branch Rickey that it “wasn’t his job to decide which colors can play in big league baseball.”
- Chandler went on to say “As a member of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, I got to know a lot about our casualties during the war. Plenty of Negro boys were willing to go out and fight and die for this country. Is it right when they came back to tell them they can’t play the national pastime? You know, Branch, I’m going to have to meet my Maker some day. And if He asks me why I didn’t let this boy play, and I say it’s because he’s black, that might not be a satisfactory answer.”
- Chandler was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 by the veterans committee.
Earle Combs, CF, New York Yankees
- The 1927 Yankees have been remembered in history as “Murderer’s Row” with four hall of famers in the lineup. Two of those names you’ve no doubt heard of in Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The other two hall of famers in the lineup are less known. Tony Lazzeri and Kentuckian Earle Combs were the other two hall of famers from that team. Combs batted leadoff for the Yankees and averaged 200 hits and 70 walks a season during the prime of his career.
- A pair of serious collisions ended Combs’ career early, but he finished his playing days with a .325 average and 1866 hits in 1454 games. Combs fractured his skull, broke his shoulder and damaged his knee in a collision with the outfield wall in St. Louis in 1934. His injuries kept him in the hospital for several months but he attempted a comeback the next season before retiring following a second serious collision.
- Combs stayed with the Yankees as a coach and helped groom his replacement, a young centerfielder named Joe DiMaggio, after his playing career. Combs served as the Kentucky state banking commissioner during Happy Chandler’s second administration and later served on the EKU Board of Regents. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970.