|Bobby Doerr, the oldest living Hall of Fame player|
Ernie Banks passed away Friday night here in Chicago. Since I was old enough to think about such things, I've always considered him the face of Chicago baseball, and so while I am not a Cubs fan and never saw Banks play, I was saddened to hear of his death, both as a Chicagoan, and as a baseball fan. Banks was 83 old though, and he was able to enjoy being a Hall of Famer for more than 37 years. I found myself wondering: How many Hall of Fame players his age are still with us? How many Hall of Fame players lived for so many years after their induction?
*This post was updated on September 23, 2015, in order to reflect the passing of Yogi Berra, who had been tied with Sandy Koufax as the longest-tenured living Hall of Famer.
Oldest living HOF players:
- Bobby Doerr, (born April 7, 1918)
- Monte Irvin (born February 25, 1919)
- Red Schoendienst (born February 2, 1923)
- Whitey Ford (born October 21, 1928)
- Willie Mays (born May 6, 1931)
- Jim Bunning (born October 23, 1931)
- Hank Aaron (born February 5, 1934)
- Luis Aparicio (born April 29, 1934)
- Al Kaline (born December 19, 1934)
- Frank Robinson (born August 31, 1935)
Doerr began his career in 1937, when FDR was still in his second term. Irvin was a Negro League star who didn't make his MLB debut until 1949, when he was 30. Schoendienst also debuted during the 1940s, while the others listed above debuted during the 1950s.
Some of those players are among the oldest Hall of Fame players there have ever been.
Oldest HOF players at time of death:
- Elmer Flick (94 years, 363 days)
- Edd Roush (94 years, 318 days)
- Rube Marquard (93 years, 236 days)
- Burleigh Grimes (92 years, 110 days)
- Stan Musial (92 years, 59 days)
- Bob Feller (92 years, 42 days)
- Joe Sewell (91 years, 148 days)
- Yogi Berra (90 years, 134 days)
- Buck Leonard (90 years, 80 days)
- Bill Terry (90 years, 71 days)
That means Doerr and Irvin are already the two oldest living Hall of Famers there have ever been, and Schoendienst ranks 10th. I prefer to keep the two groups (living and deceased) separate, which is why that trio doesn't appear on the list just above.
The last thing I wanted to look at is which players have lived as Hall of Famers for the longest time. This list varies quite a bit from the list of oldest Hall of Famers, because not every Hall of Famer was inducted at the same age. A player who retires at a relatively young age and is elected in his first year of eligibility is going to have many more years as a Hall of Famer than someone added by the Veterans Committee many years after they retired. For example, Bobby Doerr didn't enter the Hall until 1986, 35 years after he played his final game. He's been a Hall of Famer for more than 28 years now, which is a long stretch, but far from the longest.
Longest tenure as living HOF player (among those now deceased):
- Bob Feller: ~48 years, 11 months
- Joe DiMaggio: ~44 years, 2 months
- Charlie Gehringer: ~44, 0 months
- Stan Musial: ~44 years, 0 months
- Yogi Berra: ~43 years, 8 months
- Carl Hubbell: ~41: years, 10 months
- Bill Dickey: ~39 years, 10 months
- Ralph Kiner: ~39 years, 1 month
- Lefty Grove: ~38 years, 4 months
- Ernie Banks: ~38 years, 0 months
(timespans use January of their election year as the starting point, and are approximate, because I do not know the exact date of each year's election results being announced)
As with the oldest Hall of Fame players ever, some of the longest-tenured ones are also still with us.
Longest tenured living HOF players:
1. Sandy Koufax (1972): 43 years*
2. Monte Irvin (1973): 42 years*
2. Monte Irvin (1973): 42 years*
3. Whitey Ford (1974): 41 years*
4. Willie Mays (1979): 36 years*
5. Al Kaline (1980): 35 years*
6. Bob Gibson (1981): 34 years*
t7. Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson (1982): 33 years*
t9. Juan Marichal and Brooks Robinson (1983): 32*
*: and counting!
Not surprisingly, the longest-tenured Hall of Famers are an especially impressive bunch, because most of them are players good enough to have been elected to the HOF pretty quickly. Sandy Koufax was elected only a week or so after his 36th birthday, and looks to be a relatively healthy 79 years old. Life willing, he'll still be with us for a long time, and could establish a very long tenure as a living Hall of Famer. (I hope all ten of the players on that list have many more years as living Hall of Famers. An appearance at any game or event by one of the games greats is always a treat.)
The last time I saw Ernie Banks in person was at a Pearl Jam concert held at Wrigley Field a year and a half ago. A huge rainstorm caused the concert to be delayed after only 5 or 6 songs. The delay lasted nearly three hours, and it was midnight by the time the band retook the stage. A couple minutes later, Eddie Vedder brought Ernie Banks to the stage as a special guest. When this moment was planned, it was likely expected to take place around 9:30, and I imagine many men Banks' age would have decided to go home when it was clear there would be such a delay. I was impressed, but not at all surprised, that Ernie had chosen to wait it out. Few ballplayers have ever seemed to enjoy the game so much, and in Ernie Banks' case, that joy seemed to exist for all parts of his life.
I will miss seeing him at various baseball and Chicago-area events, but I am happy he had so many years to enjoy baseball's highest honor.