If he were still alive, he would let out an “Ee-Yah!”
That was his signature from the third base coaching box. Or he’d give an “Attaboy” to one of his players.
And it just seemed like everything Pittston native Hughie Jennings did was a signature. He liked to crowd the plate. That was also a signature.
Finally, although Jennings is already a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he’ll get his recognition.
During Hall of Fame weekend on July 26-29 in Cooperstown, N.Y., Jennings will finally be given the rightful sendoff that has been 70 years in the making.
In 1945, Jennings was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player by the Old Timers Committee, now called the Veterans Committee. Unfortunately, Jennings and 10 other players were never given a formal induction. Those players will be recognized at the event in Cooperstown.
Along with Jennings, honorees will include BBWAA electees Lou Gehrig (1939) and Rogers Hornsby (1942), along with the entire class of 1945 selected by the committee: Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke and Wilbert Robinson.
Born on April 2, 1865 in Pittston, Jennings escaped the coal mines of Moosic in 1889 to play for a semi-pro baseball team in Lehighton. He was to make $5 per day.
According to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Jennings signed his first professional contract in June 1889 with Allentown of the Eastern Interstate League. In his first three professional games he played right field, shortstop and catcher, respectively. He even pitched and lost against Altoona, 6-3, on July 1.
Jennings had the honor of coaching one of the all-time greats, Ty Cobb. When Jennings took over the coaching position for the Detroit Tigers in 1907, he became the sixth manager in seven years of the downtrodden club.
Aided by the young standout Cobb, Jennings led the Tigers to three consecutive pennants in his first three seasons. He didn’t win another pennant after 1909, but left the Tigers in 1920 with a .538 winning percentage and lifted the club to 10 division titles in 14 seasons.
According to Baseball Almanac, Cobb said, “There was nothing sedate about Hughie. He once survived a running dive into a concrete swimming pool – after the pool had been unexpectedly drained.”
That pool incident happened at Cornell University where Jennings was studying to be a lawyer.
Jennings was also a writer. In an article appearing in the Aug. 28, 1913 edition of The Pittsburgh Press, Jennings planned on writing World Series stories for an eastern newspaper in the fall.
At the time, the National Commission and Ban Johnson frowned on star ballplayers being in the press box. But Jennings said he’d be able to find a place in the stands where he could see just fine. The Pittsburgh Press also stated that hall of fame pitcher Christy Mathewson wrote for a New York newspaper.
During Jennings’ career, according to SABR, he was talented enough to pass the bar exam. He began practicing law in Maryland in 1905 and in Pennsylvania in 1907. When he moved back to Scranton, he joined up with his brother, W.A. Jennings, and his practice.
But this weekend will be about baseball. It won’t be about his dive into a Cornell swimming pool or even about setting the record to most times hit by a pitch – although it’s still a record. Jennings will be remembered as one of the best shortstops to play the game.
In his 18-year career – he played in 12 games from 1903 to 1918 – he hit a staggering .312. In a 162-game average, Jennings would have averaged 193 hits per season. However, everyone used to talk about his glove.
Joe Vila, a long-tenured writer for the New York Sun, said, “Jennings, in his prime, was the greatest shortstop in baseball.”
In 897 games at shortstop, he compiled a .922 fielding percentage. And with other positions he played, his career finished with a .942 mark.
There’s no doubt that Jennings’ best season at the plate was in 1896 when he played with the Orioles. In 130 games, he batted .401 with 121 RBIs – he didn’t hit any home runs that season.
This coming Sunday will be a day to remember one of the Pittston greats. Cooperstown is home to more than 200 former major league ballplayers. That number won’t exactly increase this weekend as only three people are set to be inducted, but only one is being inducted for his play on the field.
Forty Hall of Famers are expected to return to Cooperstown to celebrate the enshrinement of the Class of 2013. This year’s first-time inductees are Hank O’Day, a former pitcher and later an umpire, former New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and journeyman catcher Deacon White – the men were elected to the Hall of Fame in December by the Pre-Integration Era Committee.
For more information on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, visit baseballhall.org.
Note: Erstwhile Dispatch sports editor Jack Smiles wrote a book about Jennings titled “Ee-Yah: The Life and Times of Hughie Jennings, Baseball Hall of Famer.”