This year, the Baseball Hall of Fame came calling for Jim Thome – who’ll go into Cooperstown wearing an Indians cap – and Jack Morris, whose career ended with a brief stint in Cleveland.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see two inductees in the same year who have played all or part of their careers with the Indians (prior to this year, it last happened in 2011, with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven). Rarer still is three inductees from the Indians. That only happened once, in 1937, when Cy Young, Napoleon Lajoie and Tris Speaker were inducted in the second class.
But in 1963, three former players were inducted with ties to Cleveland baseball – all of whom played at League Park.
That year, only the veterans committee voted, and the inductees included Elmer Flick, Sam Rice and John Clarkson. Flick and Rice both played for the Indians, but Clarkson, a posthumous inductee, ended his career more than 70 years earlier with the Cleveland Spiders.
Elmer Flick was a Bedford native who started out playing semi-pro ball throughout Northeast Ohio. That turned into a minor league career and finally he joined the Philadelphia Phillies. He jumped to the Athletics in the new American League, and ended up in Cleveland after an injunction banned him from playing in Philadelphia. Flick was most famously requested in a trade by the Tigers for their rookie outfielder Ty Cobb, but the deal was turned down.
Flick’s career came to a screeching halt shortly after that, plagued by stomach problems. Cobb, of course, went on to become one of the greatest players in the game’s history – and a charter member of the Hall of Fame – and after his death in 1961, stories circulated again about the trade that never was. Flick was considered as a candidate and inducted in 1963. His election came during a newspaper strike, and he didn’t believe Branch Rickey, who called with the news.
Flick brought 15 relatives with him to Cooperstown, and at 87, he remains the oldest person ever to attend his own hall induction. He was joined by Sam Rice, who is most closely associated with the Washington Senators, but played the final year of his career with the Indians – possibly with Flick in the stands for some of those games. After his retirement, Flick returned to the Cleveland area and was a regular at League Park. Rice, like Flick, had an advocate on the veterans committee. For Flick, it was Rickey, and Ty Cobb had lobbied for Rice’s induction.
Both Flick and Rice spoke, with Rice noting they were both fairly slight of build. “When I look around the stage and see some of the men who weigh 180 to 200 pounds, I wonder how I made it so long at 140,” Rice said.
John Clarkson, who played most of his career in the days before the pitching mound was 60 feet, 6 inches from the batter’s box, was also inducted. He’d ended his career with a year in Cleveland with the Spiders before alcohol and mental illness took a toll on him. He died in 1909 of pneumonia at the age of 47, having spent some time before that in various mental hospitals.
The other inductee was Eppa Rixey, a pitcher for the Reds who died about a month after his induction was announced.
Though both the living inductees were on in years, Rice and Flick made it back to Cooperstown again, with Rice attending regularly, the last time in 1974, two months before his death.