The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class is one of the strongest on record. It includes two 300 game winners, a member of the 500 home run club, and three of the greatest managers in history. Despite the talent on display, the 2014 class pales compared to the very first Hall of Fame class in 1936. The first class contained some of the all time greats. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christie Mathewson, and Walter Johnson all received support for the All Century team. In fact, they could all start on an all time MLB team. In the end, the 1936 class was the greatest in history.
One historian called Ty Cobb the "greatest player of the nineteenth century." He liked to get on base and wreck havoc. Cobb dominated games like no other player until Rickey Henderson. The Georgia Peach held over 90 records at one point. In fact, he held the record for holding records. He still holds the all time mark for highest average (.367), most batting titles (12), and most steals of home (54). On top of this, he accumulated 4,189 hits, 723 doubles, 297 triples, 1,938 RBI, 117 home runs, 892 steals, .946 OPS, and a Triple Crown.
Cobb crowded the plate when he faced Walter Johnson. The big righthander feared he would kill a batter with his fastball. That fastball helped Johnson win 417 games, toss 110 shutouts, strikeout 3,509 batters, and complete 531 games. He held the strikeout record for decades until passed by Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton. In fact, he was the only member of the 3,000 strikeout club for 50 years.
Christy Mathewson struck out around 1,000 less hitters than Walter Johnson, but still accumulated 373 wins. He is the only pitcher in big league history to appear on the top 10 list for wins and ERA. Mathewson threw three shutouts in five games during the 1905 World Series.
Like Mathewson, Babe Ruth began his career on the mound and starred in the World Series. In fact, Ruth was one of the best pitchers of his era. He set the AL shutout record in 1916 and had an amazing World Series scoreless streak. Once he emerged as an offensive force, Ruth began to pitch less. The Babe became a larger than life figure after the Red Sox shipped him to New York. He set amazing power records for the Yankees. In fact, he out homered entire teams. Ruth led the Yanks to their first world titles while setting home run records. He enjoyed the greatest season in baseball history in 1921, hit 60 home runs in 1927, and finished with 714 career long balls. Additionally, the Bambino hit .342, had 2,873 hits, 506 doubles, 136 triples, 2,220 RBI, 2,062 walks, and .474 OBP. He holds the career record for slugging (.690) and OPS (1.164). Ruth also set records by leading the league in home runs twelve times, slugging thirteen times, runs scored eight times, and RBI six times.
Ruth is the greatest player in history while Honus Wagner is the greatest shortstop in history. Most shortstops in the Dead Ball Era were not expected to hit. However, Wagner was no average shortstop. The Flying Dutchman won eight National League batting titles over his career. He also topped the senior circuit in hits twice, doubles seven times, RBI five times, and slugging six times. Wagner finished his career with a .328 average, 3,420 hits, 1,739 runs, 252 triples, 643 doubles, 101 home runs, 1,733 RBI, .391 OBP, and .858 OPS. These numbers are incredible, but even more so considering his era.
The first Hall of Fame class in Cooperstown was the greatest. Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Honus Wagner are the greatest players at their position. Ty Cobb is definitely the greatest player before the live ball era and could be the greatest centerfielder. Christy Mathewson won 373 games over his career. These five players represent not only greatness, but a period long gone.