For his strength, persistence and sharpness of wit, not on the pitcher's mound but in the press box, Hummel was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. He joined legendary sportswriters like Ring Lardner, Red Smith and Peter Gammons as a recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing."
"I think it's almost every kid's dream to be sitting on this stage one day as a Hall of Fame player," Hummel said. "But my dream, like those of many others, was cut short. Call it 'Death by Curveball.'
"Couldn't hit it," he elaborated, measuring himself up against Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and the other greats who joined him on the induction stage. "Couldn't throw it. Couldn't even catch it. Couldn't run very fast or hit with any power, but I bet I can type faster than any of you guys up here."
Hummel earned "The Commish" moniker as a young Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he organized newsroom softball games and has worked continuously for 36 years. As they did Gwynn, Ripken and Ford C. Frick award winner Denny Matthews, speakers lauded Hummel for staying under the employ of a single organization for his entire professional career.
"His reach through Missouri and among Cardinals fans across the country is long and deep," said Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) president Paul Hoynes, who presented him with the award.
In a six-minute speech filled with self-deprecation and thanks, Hummel described the humble beginnings of a career that has earned him numerous awards, including four Missouri Sportswriter of the Year honors and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
At Quincy College in Quincy, Ill., Hummel wrote his first stories in longhand. He relayed them to his mother, a professional typist.
"That worked out fine for the first year," Hummel said, "But it didn't seem very practical to expect my mom to go to all these games with me."
For his first assignment at the Post-Dispatch, after stints at the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism and in the U.S. Army, Hummel was summoned to cover high school football. He arrived at halftime of a 6-0 game. The final score: 6-0.
"This is where the creative part of my writing career began," he joked.
Hummel ascended to Cardinals beat writer in 1978 after covering his first game in 1973. He served in that capacity until 2001, when he became the Post-Dispatch's national baseball columnist.
In between, he covered 29 All-Star and World Series games each, earning the gratitude of countless Cardinals fans who couldn't make the trip. He covered St. Louis World Series wins in 1982 and 2006, and Series losses in 1985, 1987 and 2004.
Hummel served as BBWAA president in 1994, and won awards named after St. Louis baseball icons like Jack Buck and his late mentor, Bob Broeg. The Spink Award, Hoynes said, testifies to Hummel's distinctive style in addition to his prolific work.
"In a media age where louder is seen as better," Hoynes said, "Rick Hummel has spent the last 30 years politely and quietly tapping on the front door and the laptops of the readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to tell them about the Cardinals."
With a wave of thanks, Hummel accepted the award before thousands of observers.
"This is more than just a dream come true," Hummel said, "because I never could have dreamt this."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.