|Bobby Doerr, who lived longer than any other HOF 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, and he was able to enjoy being a Hall of Famer for close to 38 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 most recently updated on November 14, 2017, in order to reflect the passing of Bobby Doerr, who had been the oldest living Hall of Famer.
Oldest living HOF players:
- Red Schoendienst (born February 2, 1923)
- Whitey Ford (born October 21, 1928)
- Willie Mays (born May 6, 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)
- Bob Gibson (born November 9, 1935)
- Sandy Koufax (born December 30, 1935)
- Bill Mazeroski (born September 6, 1936)
Schoendienst debuted while World War II was still going on, while the others listed above debuted during the 1950s.
Hall of Fame players who lived 90+ years before dying:
- Bobby Doerr (99 years, 220 days)
- Monte Irvin (96 years, 320 days)
- 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)
As you can see, 12 Hall of Fame players have died after living at least 90 years. Schoendienst is the only living Hall of Fame player that old.
The other 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 was a living Hall of Famer for more than 30 years, which was 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 years, 0 months
- Stan Musial: ~44 years, 0 months
- Yogi Berra: ~43 years, 8 months
- Monte Irwin: ~43 years, 0 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
(The timespans above 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.)
Longest-tenured living HOF players:
1. Sandy Koufax (1972): 45 years*
2. Whitey Ford (1974): 43 years*
3. Willie Mays (1979): 38 years*
4. Al Kaline (1980): 37 years*
5. Bob Gibson (1981): 36 years*
t6. Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson (1982): 35 years*
t8. Juan Marichal and Brooks Robinson (1983): 34 years*
10. Luis Aparicio (1984): 33 years*
10. Luis Aparicio (1984): 33 years*
*: ...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 looked great at the 2017 World Series. He seems to have a great chance at becoming the first person to live as a Baseball Hall of Famer for 50+ years.
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 weeks ahead of time, 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 extend to other parts of life as well.
I will miss seeing him at various baseball and Chicago-area events, but I'm happy he had so many years to enjoy baseball's highest honor.