Posnanski Plays Race Card in His Criticism of Baseball Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Committee
I have a daily Google Alert setup to receive emails on the phrase “hall of fame.” I get all kinds of hits. There are articles on the National Toy Hall of Fame, National Bobblehead Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, college and high school hall of fames as well as the major sports ones like the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This week I saw an article by one of my favorite sportswriters, Joe Posnanski. His article on NBC Sports, The Pre-Integration Committee quickly caught my attention. When I read it I was amazed (and frankly, pissed off) at his harsh tone and criticism of the Hall of Fame.
Criticism of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is nothing new. Just last year, the Golden Era Committee failed to elect anyone despite several noteworthy and deserving candidates (Minnie Minoso should have been elected!). (Note: There were no historians on the committee – see below.)
In 2010, the Hall changed the name of the Veterans Committee to the Eras Committees, creating three rotating committees: Expansion Era (1973-present), Golden Era (1947-1972) and Pre-Integration Era (1830s-1946). Each committee meets every three years on a rotation basis. In December 2010, Pat Gillick became the first person elected by an Era Committee when the Expansion Era Committee chose him to be inducted on July 24, 2011 with BBWAA electees Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven. (Note: Marvin Miller missed election by 1 vote.)
The Golden Era Committee followed in December 2011 by electing Ron Santo. The Pre-Integration Era Committee elected Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White in December 2012. In its second go around, the Expansion Era Committee elected a trifecta of managers: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
For the most part, I like the new veterans committee setup. By using rotating era committees, the list of candidates can be narrowed down and be more focused. However, the December 2014 vote proved there are still flaws with the election process. This is nothing new since there have been flaws with the system since the founding of the Hall of Fame. There were suppose to be nineteenth century representatives in the first class (1936) but that didn’t materialize. The following year Morgan G. Bulkeley was elected, when William Hulbert should have been selected instead and had to wait until 1995 to get inducted. Bulkeley, a prominent person in Connecticut history, should not be a member of the Hall. Harry Wright fans had to wait until 1953 to see this legend’s name on the Hall roster while his brother George, a great player in his day but not as historically significant as Harry, joined Bulkeley’s class in 1937. (Note: George is deserving of his election.)
The first attempt to create an “American Pantheon” occurred in 1900 when 29 people were elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. George Washington was elected unanimously with 97 votes. Abe Lincoln and Daniel Webster tied for second with 96 votes. No women were elected. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is still around on the campus of Bronx Community College and has 102 members but it is not the standard for hall of fames.
The standard for hall of fames is the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They were the first of today’s modern halls with induction ceremonies and associated museums. Basically, they had to start from scratch so tweaking had to be done and done and done and done…and still needs to be done.
But Posnanski’s harsh use of the race card, his ignorance of early baseball history and picking on the great Deacon White was surprising. I do not see anything wrong with the name of the committee. Was major league baseball integrated prior to 1947? No, so what is wrong with that name? What the Hall has wrong and hoping this controversy corrects, is the fact no black players or personnel were “eligible” for inclusion on the ballot. If Bud Fowler, George Stovey, Home Run Johnson, Dick Lundy or Clarence Williams were on the ballot would you still dislike the name?
Posnanski calls for the elimination of the committee saying no one from that era deserves to be in the Hall. Really? So the five overlooked legends I mentioned in the previous paragraph are not deserving candidates? You cannot tell the history of the game without Bud Fowler. How about Doc Adams? Do you know the importance of Mr. Adams? Who established 90 feet between the bases? Who created the shortstop position? Who was first to fix the distance between the pitcher and home plate? Aren’t these creations important to today’s game of baseball?
Posnanski’s attack on Deacon White is ignorance at its finest. The man should have been elected in the 1930s. He fell through the cracks of a system that was still in its infancy and was not corrected until the Hall put actual historians on the veterans committee. White was a pioneer and was the best catcher in baseball when the catcher was the most important player on the field. It is not surprising that his teams won five-consecutive championships. Tell his family to their faces that he is not deserving. Tell Doc Adams’ great granddaughter that Doc is not deserving to her face.
Posnanski says Bad Bill Dahlen doesn’t deserve to be elected because he was passed over so many times by various voting bodies. It is true he has been passed over many times but that is largely due to the lack of historians on these voting bodies. The year O’Day, Ruppert and White were elected, Dahlen missed by just two votes. The voters could only vote for four. I’m sure if it was a straight vote, he would have been elected and this year IF the Hall has historians on the committee, Dahlen should be an easy selection – a selection that is long overdue. Same can be said for Doc Adams and the great all-around player Harry Stovey.
Shutting down electing anyone pre-1947 would be a mistake. Not a single person should have their eligibility taken away for a possible election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. So Posnanski is wrong. So is the Hall for having what I hope is a temporary hold on electing figures from pre-1947 black baseball. After the incredible 2006 election (by historians) of 17 black baseball overlooked greats, the Hall conveyed that they were not going to consider members of the Negro Leagues and the pre-Negro Leagues for the time being. If my memory is correct, they said that research is constantly evolving and that if new discoveries make a strong case for potential candidates that they could revisit those individuals. Well it is time to add them to consideration. I hope to see at least Bud Fowler on the next Pre-Integration Committee ballot.
The tone of Posnanski’s article is what surprised me the most. The tone to me could start a campaign to label the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a racist institution. The Hall is not perfect, but I have never felt in my 30 years of visiting the Hall that it is a racist institution. I know the history of the Hall and that there was talk of putting the Negro League player’s plaques in a separate segregated room from the other plaques, but since then steps have been made to honor not only black baseball but baseball from all over the world. Their museum is second to none with great collections dedicated to Hank Aaron, black baseball history, Latin America, women in baseball, etc. Diversity is not the problem. The problem is how to handle thousands of candidates from 175 years of well-documented history.
The simple solution is making members of the Negro Leagues and the pre-Negro Leagues eligible for election by the Pre-Integration Era Committee in December 2018 and by announcing it NOW!