September 17, 2019

The “technically …not” Hall of Fame

February 14, 2019 by · 5 Comments 

In 2006, a Baseball Hall of Fame Special Committee on Negro Leagues, made up primarily of expert blackball scholars, elected 17 Negro Leaguers to the Hall of Fame, almost doubling the total number of players and executives whose careers were primarily in the Negro Leagues from 18 to 35. If we use Sol White and Frank Grant as the ‘beginning of scope’ for blackball Hall of Fame consideration, that’s 35 honorees (29 players and 6 executives) for roughly a fifty-year period of Negro Leagues play. This 2006 special election certainly was a defining moment, and something to be celebrated.

However, since the 2006 election, no additional Negro League players have been honored, and other than Minnie Minoso, who would not fit the Hall of Fame’s definition of “primarily a Negro Leaguer”, there seems to be little momentum towards considering any further additions. But this is not the first time there have been interruptions or obstacles in the attempt to, in a small way, right some past wrongs and bring honor and attention to pre-integration blackball via the Hall of Fame. You might even say it’s just another mountain to climb in the battle to get some recognition for those whose greatness remained anonymous for so long due to their skin color.

The first induction year for the Baseball Hall of Fame was 1936. However, it wasn’t until 1966, when Ted Williams in his induction speech said “I hope someday Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance” that the Hall of Fame began to seriously consider honoring the Negro League veterans. The Hall of Fame is a separate institution from Major League Baseball and is not technically under the authority of the Commissioner of Baseball. Yet the Hall of Fame cannot be considered an equal partner with MLB either. MLB can exist without the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and Museum, but the Hall of Fame could not really exist without MLB, whose support sanctions and legitimatizes the Hall of Fame. William Eckert was the Commissioner of Baseball when Williams made his speech, but despite a growing number of sportswriters getting behind the idea of honoring Negro League players, little progress seemed to be happening until Bowie Kuhn became Commissioner in February of 1969.

Also in 1969, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America formed their own committee to push for Negro Leaguers to be included in the Hall of Fame. Then the book “Only the Ball was White” came out in 1970, with author, Robert Peterson, arguing for specific players to be honored. Kuhn publicly said he supported inducting Negro League players. The Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame, however, seemed to have reservations about honoring the Negro Leaguers in exactly the same manner as MLB players. In February of 1971, after some negotiations between Kuhn, Paul Kerr, President of the Hall of Fame, and the HOF board of directors, the Hall of Fame created a 10-man special committee to select players based on the following criteria:

1. The candidates shall be selected on the basis of their playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the teams on which they played and to baseball in general.

2. Only one man will be selected yearly and only one election will be held each year, preferably in the first week of February.

3. The player must have had at least 10 years of experience in the Negro baseball leagues and must have performed prior to 1946.

4. A player to be selected must receive 75 percent of the committee’s vote.

NOTE: The National Hall of Fame and Museum has the right to review the rules and regulations each year and exercises the right of approval. i

While certainly a step forward, there still was controversy about the plan. Joe Durso of the New York Times noted “The tablets honoring the black stars will be separate from the 117 that have been placed in the museum during the last 33 years…”ii Satchel Paige was quickly selected as the first honoree by the new committee, and a special dinner/news conference for Paige was held on February 9th at the famous Toots Shore restaurant in New York for Kuhn to make the official announcement. “However, some misgivings were expressed yesterday when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced Paige’s election…The misgivings were prompted by the fact that Paige and the other former stars, who will be picked at a rate of one a year, will occupy ‘special’ niches at Cooperstown.” “Technically, you’d have to say he’s not in the Hall of Fame,” Kuhn said in reply to persistent questioning in front of Paige and his wife….”But I’ve often said the Hall of Fame isn’t a building but a state of mind. The important thing is how the public views Satchel Paige, and I know how I view him.”iii

In the following days, several critical articles were written. Wells Trombly of The Sporting News wrote: “…Jim Crow still lives… So they will be set aside in a separate wing. Just as they were when they played. It is an outright farce. If the commissioner had any shame, he would suspend the rules. Had baseball truly been a pastime for all the nation from 1882 to 1947, those ancient and honorable black athletes would have made it to Cooperstown on their own, a fact Kuhn seems to have overlooked.”iv Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times detected this lingering racism and wrote, “They segregated the Hall of Fame! … To have kept Satchel Paige from playing in the white leagues for 24 years and then bar him from the pearly gates on the grounds he didn’t play the required 10 years [in the major leagues] is a shocking bit of insolent cynicism, a disservice to America. What is this – 1840? Either let him in the front of the hall – or move the damn thing to Mississippi.”v

Black sportswriter A. S. (Doc) Young noted that, “As far as I’m concerned, the overriding factor is this: The oldtime Negro league greats were ready, willing, able and anxious to play Organized Ball, but they were barred for reasons of race and color. The least they should receive now is full-fledged honors….It’s salvation is in the spirit of good intentions, “ but he declared there should be a simultaneous, mass induction of all eligible oldtime Negro greats – or “this thing could drag on for fifty years.”vi Black sportswriter Wendell Smith added “It is quite possible this special category will be eliminated and Paige and other black players will be moved into the official Hall of Fame.”vii Paige himself played down the controversy, saying “As far as I am concerned, I’m in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know nothing about no Negro section. I’m proud to be in it. Wherever they put me is alright with me.”viii

It took until July 7th, only a month before the induction ceremony, but the Hall of Fame board of directors did change their minds and agree that all honorees of the Negro Leagues selection committee should have full membership in the Hall of Fame.ix Later in his 1987 autobiography, Kuhn claimed he “knew that the furor would be heard by the board of directors and that the public outcry would be hard to resist. That is exactly what happened.”x

The following year, the rules were amended slightly so that selection was not just limited to one player, but to any players who received over 75% of the committee vote. However, it seems clear that the direction from the Hall of Fame was not for any “mass induction” of players as Doc Young had advocated, but simply permission to elect two players instead of just one. When the Hall of Fame originally started voting on inductees in 1936 and was faced with a backlog of players from the previous 60 years, 26 player and executives were elected by 1939. As former Negro League shortstop and committee member Bill Yancey had passed away the previous April, and no replacement was named, nominees had to receive 7 out of the 9 possible votes.xi Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard were elected, with Gibson receiving all nine votes and Leonard receiving seven votes.

The trickle of players inducted continued for the next few years. Monte Irvin was elected in 1973, followed by Cool Papa Bell in 1974, Judy Johnson in 1975, and Oscar Charleston (finally?!) in 1976. In 1977, Pop Lloyd and Martin Dihigo were selected for induction. Then the Hall of Fame decided the work was done, and that the special committee should be disbanded. Sportswriter Red Smith wrote: “It was the last official act of the committee, which is being disbanded in the naïve belief that when Dihigo and Lloyd were tapped…the committee’s job was finished…So nine blacks have been named, and that’s a full team, and baseball is tired of doing penance. When the committee has ceased to be, players like Richard (Cannonball) Redding, Rube Foster and Willie Wells will be out in the cold forever.”xii Robert Peterson wrote a letter to the New York Times editor stating “I could easily name another dozen men who would do honor to the Hall of Fame” and then went on to specifically urge at least adding Rube Foster as an executive.xiii Red Smith commented that “…by that time [induction ceremony day] the special committee on Negro leagues will have been dissolved, unless this injustice can be forestalled.

For the last six years this committee has been sending to the Hall of Fame players who would have qualified for Cooperstown if racial prejudice had not kept them out of organized ball.”xiv Negro Leagues expert John Holway wrote “…unless Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and the 14 other directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame save him at a special meeting next Sunday, baseball’s shrine will shut its doors in Joe Williams’s face, perhaps forever…the committee voted to disband, saying no other candidates could get the 75 percent of its vote needed for election…Kuhn denies the knowledge of a ‘quota,’ but his spokesman, Joe Reichler, concedes that the commissioner has been under pressure from those who want to end the black nominations.”xv Noting that there was not just controversy about the special committee on Negro leagues but also on the veterans committee, an induction day column by Michael Strauss said: “Last night Kuhn, at a meeting of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, appointed a committee ‘to review the situation and to suggest changes if it was deemed necessary”.xvi

The review resulted in the end of the Negro leagues committee, which was combined into a new veterans committee instead. The new committee could only elect a maximum of two people overall and only one from each ‘category’: MLB player, Umpire, Executive, Manager, Negro League player. Out of the 18 committee members, only two – Roy Campanella and Kuhn assistant Joe Rechlier – were retained from the Negro leagues committee. “The politics of this thing were important,” said one former member of the committee, who preferred not to be identified. “At first, they wanted a separate wing, then they felt we were going too fast in electing people. When we started, we drew up a list of 25 stars of the Negro Leagues who looked like sure things for the Hall of Fame. We got up to nine.

Then, rather than hassle it every year, we decided to disband.”xvii The first year with the new committee resulted in no Negro League players being elected for the first time since they were eligible. Under the new setup “…somebody’s going to get the short end of the stick, and the committee needed only one meeting to realize that unless the rules were changed, the losers would be the blacks. They are an almost silent minority, and by comparison with the voluminous dossiers that the records provide on nearly everybody in organized ball, too little is known about their credentials. At least some members of the committee feel that the rules should allow them to consider the old black players separately and elect any who can get 14 votes.”xviii

The 1979 and 1980 elections also passed with no new Negro League players being elected. In the spring of 1980, John Holway wrote: “Last summer, at Willie Mays induction, 15 old time black stars petitioned Cooperstown’s board of directors to liberalize the committee’s voting. They asked that membership be evenly divided, with nine blacks and nine whites. They asked that, in view of the long delay in naming any black veterans, the quota of one-a-year be removed. The board rejected both requests.”

In 1981 Rube Foster was elected in the category of Executive, but no Negro League players were elected. The 1982 election returned no Negro League players or executives for induction. The day before the 1982 Hall of Fame induction ceremony the New York Times noted: “A petition with 742 signatures has been sent to the directors of baseball’s Hall of Fame, asking that they ease regulations on the admission of ‘old-timers’ so that more men who starred in the Negro Leagues can be admitted to the Hall of Fame. And tomorrow, when Albert B. (Happy) Chandler is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., he plans to speak out for that cause.” “Black players get excluded not because of prejudice against these gentlemen but because of lack of knowledge of their accomplishments,” said Phil Lowry of Detroit, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. The petition to the Hall of Fame was written by Lowry and Nettie Stearnes, the widow of former Negro League star Turkey Stearnes.xix

The 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 Hall of Fame elections came and went, and no former Negro Leaguers were elected. In September 1984, Bowie Kuhn’s time as Commissioner had ended. What had started out in the early years of his term as a promising beginning to honoring a classification of overlooked ball players had come to a halt. On induction day 1986 the New York Times published a letter to the editor from John Holway: “…for the seventh year in a row, there will be no veterans of the old Negro leagues receiving plaques on the dais.” Holway gave several possible options to change the system, such as adding more blacks to the veterans committee, changing the quota from two overall to two white and two black candidates, or going back to the original separate Negro league committee concept. In his concluding remarks Holway said “The Hall of Fame election policy is the last bit of blatant racism left in baseball.”xx

1987 saw Ray Dandridge elected to the Hall of Fame. However, this turned out not to be a breakthrough, but an anomaly. From 1978, the first year the special Negro leagues committee was disbanded, through 1994, Dandridge was the only Negro leagues player elected. Finally in 1995, Leon Day was elected, which started a run of one Negro league player per year:

1996 – Bill Foster

1997 – Willie Wells

1998 – Bullet Rogan

1999 – Joe Williams

2000 – Hilton Smith

Then the electing of Negro league players stopped again, at a total of 17 players and 1 executive elected. No one was elected from 2001 through 2005, which lead to the (new) Special Committee on Negro Leagues. That special election gave us the 17 additional members in 2006, and that’s where we are today. Since Negro Leaguers became eligible in 1971, with all the stops, starts, and roadblocks discussed above, the longest the Hall of Fame has gone without electing someone connected to blackball has been the eight years between the election of Ray Dandridge in 1987 and the election of Leon Day in 1995. So here we are in 2019, and with no candidates seemingly under consideration, and the recent “Early Baseball” Committee not meeting until 2020, we’re looking at 2021 as the earliest a Negro leagues candidate will even be nominated.

This will be a precedent-setting fifteen-year gap. We’ve seen in the past that whenever the Hall of Fame has seemingly been “finished” electing Negro league stars, public pressure led by either newspapermen or by researchers like John Holway has served to finally get the ball rolling again. But with the more well-known, major stars already elected, will there be any impetus to get the process moving again? With no obviously overlooked candidate, how will support for more honorees be banded together? And if no Negro League candidate is nominated for 2021, the Early Baseball Committee is not scheduled to meet again for 10 years! Have we seen the last Negro league inductee into the Hall of Fame?

I think there is reason for at least a little optimism. One of the arguments against the Negro league players being inducted has always been the lack of statistics. With researchers like those in the SABR Negro Leagues Committee, many of whom are responsible for the data currently on baseball-reference.com, and those I work with at Seamheads.com, adding new data almost monthly, there’s certain to be new light shed on the abilities of some additional overlooked players. Then there’s the newer mediums on the internet, such as blogs and bulletin boards and Facebook and Twitter, where groups of like-minded fans and researchers can be formed and grow quickly, meaning less reliance on traditional newspaper sportswriters to get the public motivated and together for a common and just cause. In addition, there are still some overlooked candidates remaining, such as:

Nip Winters

Dick Lundy

John Beckwith

Bill Byrd

Rap Dixon

John Donaldson

and others.

The Hall of Fame is an established institution, and sometimes institutions are slow to accept any change, especially from outsider influences. But if there are still many deserving players not yet recognized within its walls, the Hall of Fame IS technically not a Hall of Fame, but only a partial one, and falls short of what it could ultimately be – a place where ALL great players are honored.

Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in the February 6, 2013 edition of “Outsider Baseball Bulletin”, which is on file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
i “Place for Ex-Negro Stars in Shrine”. The Sporting News: p.30. February 13, 1971.
ii Durso, Joseph (February 4, 1971). “Baseball to Admit Negro Stars of Pre-Integration Era Into Hall of Fame”. The New York Times.
iii Durso, Joseph (February 10, 1971). “Paige Is First Star of Old Negro Leagues to Be Selected for Hall of Fame”. The New York Times.
iv Trombly, Wells (February 20, 1971). “Crumbs for the Outcast”. The Sporting News: p. 41.
v Murray, Jim (February 15, 1971). “Baseball Did Paige Great Disservice”. Los Angeles Times: p. 2, part 2.
vi Spink, C. C. Johnson (February 27, 1971). “We Believe….”. The Sporting News: p. 30.
vii Spink, C. C. Johnson (February 27, 1971). “We Believe….”. The Sporting News: p. 17.
viii Lang, Jack (February 20, 1971). “Proud to Be in It! Beams Satchel After Earning Shrine Spot”. The Sporting News: p.42.
ix “Baseball’s Front Door Opens to Satchel Paige”. The New York Times: p. 45. July 8, 1971.
x Kuhn, Bowie (1997) [1987]. Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner. University of Nebraska Press. p. 110. ISBN 0-8032-7784-9.
xi “Josh Gibson at Hall of Fame Door”. The New York Times: p.S5. February 6, 1972.
xii Smith, Red (February 6, 1977). “The Last Outcasts”. The New York Times: p. S3.
xiii “Sports Editor’s Mailbox: A Hall of Fame Nominee”. The New York Times: p. 170. February 20, 1977.
xiv Smith, Red (July 27, 1977). “The Outcasts of Cooperstown”. The New York Times: p.39.
xv Holway, John (July 31, 1977). “Shutting the Door on Negro League Stars”. The New York Times: p. S2.
xvi Strauss, Michael (August 9, 1977). “Humor and Emotion Prevail as Cooperstown Inducts 6”. The New York Times: p. 52.
xvii Durso, Joseph (January 29, 1978). “A New Hall of Fame Committee Tackles an Old Problem”. The New York Times: p.S1.
xviii Smith, Red (February 14, 1978). “From Jim Crow to Cooperstown”. The New York Times: p.44.
xix “Chandler in Plea For Black Stars”. The New York Times: p.16. July 31, 1982.
xx “Bringing Balance to the Hall of fame”. The New York Times: p. S2. August 3, 1986.

Comments

5 Responses to “The “technically …not” Hall of Fame”
  1. nrwillick says:

    Never forger Buck O’neil also.

  2. Patrick Rock says:

    While I would disagree with the previous poster, in that I think that Buck O’Neil’s qualifications for the Hall are overstated (okay BA, but relatively poor OBP and SLG; mostly, he was famous for being famous).

    OTOH, I would not argue with Kevin’s list (well, I would a little, but that’s just what we do). Among the “others” that I might add would be C.I. Taylor, Candy Jim Taylor, Vic Harris, and Frank Duncan.

    The first two were brothers of HoFer Ben Taylor, and I’ve always thought C.I.’s bona fides to be better than Ben’s. Candy Jim was an excellent hitter during his career, and was a long-term manager who passed his wisdom and skills onto others. Besides being a good player, Vic Harris managed the Homestead Grays to six pennants in a nine-year stretch. Two of the years he didn’t win, he was in military service, and the pennant-winning manager was . . . Candy Jim Taylor.

    Frank Duncan’s offensive numbers were not impressive, but he was possibly the best handler of pitchers among Negro League catchers, with a powerful and accurate arm. He effectively handled some of the best Negro Leagues staffs (including Mendez, Rogan, Cooper, Paige, and Smith), playing in the first two Negro World Series, and managed the Monarchs to their last two pennants (including one World Championship) before integration, and then umpired to several years after having retired as a manager.

    We should at least consider Minnie Minoso as a combined Negro Leagues/Indegrated Major Leagues player.

    I would argue in favor of Dobie Moore, who was a HoF-quality player in his NNL years, and played for the 25th Infantry Wreckers from 1916-1920.

    I would also urge that there were some Negro Leagues umpires who deserve consideration, Bert Ghoulston and John Craig being among them.

  3. Thanks Patrick for the very thoughtful comments.

    I agree about Buck, but that tends to be a very unpopular position to take in the Negro League research community.

    C.I Taylor as Owner/GM/Manger would be an excellent choice, but I’d like to see some additional players get recognized before any more executives are considered.

    Candy Jim Taylor was almost good enough just as a player to be a serious candidate, so adding managing and his team building “GM” work with the St. Louis Stars is impressive, but I just don’t see a groundswell of support happening for him.

    Frank Duncan reminds me of Petway – his hitting was so weak it’s hard to build a case that his defense would be able to lift him up to be a HOF player. I like Quincy Trouppe as the next catcher that should be recognized, but his case is way too complicated due to playing in ‘outsider’ leagues, missing data, etc.

    I didn’t mention Minoso just because I thought the HOF doesn’t consider him a “Negro Leagues” candidate – he certainly should already be enshrined.

    Dobie Moore was probably only surpassed by teammate and two-way player Bullet Rogan in value during the early years of the NNL, so I would really like to see him be seriously considered.

    I don’t know much about Negro League umpires, but I have run across Bert Ghoulston many times in contemporary writing.

  4. Ted Knorr says:

    Good to see you Patrick!

    Buck O’Neil (as an ambassador), John Donaldson (as a barnstormer, entrepreneur, scout), Minnie Minoso (as a MLBer), Dovie Moore (with a couple more years of service), in a perfect world all merit the Hall … until we get closer to that perfect world none of them get my vote … there are so many no brainer Hall of Famers – both by stats in the Negro Leagues and by legends – yet to be inducted for me lead by Gus Greenlee, John Beckwith, Dick Lundy, several second basemen (my choice is Scales) and outfielders (my choice is Dixon, more for his legends, but I’m biased). Until more the Negro League deserving players get in I can’t get too excited about ambassadors, barnstormers, MLBers, and short careers … now, if the Early Baseball Vet Committee in another 18 months wanted to induct all 22 remaining players and personages remaining on the 2006 ballot (which includes, I think, the quartet mentioned earlier) I’d be thrilled and ready to consider other including your suggestion Patrick – umpires!

  5. Patrick Rock says:

    Kevin & Ted,
    I’ll try to reply to both posts here.

    My argument in favor of Frank Duncan was his generalship as catcher of several pennant-winning Monarchs teams, and his leadership as a manager (and still backup player) of the same team later. His OPS was similar to HoFer Rabbit Maranville (who was elected for his defensive prowress), and not for his managerial acumen. Duncan was both an excellent defensive catcher and handler of pitchers (he caught three no-hitters, two of them involving five pitchers, three of them HoFers), and was a starter in two World Series. As a manager, he won the NAL pennant in his first season, along with a World Series sweep, and after enduring the war years, brought the team back for another Series. All told, he played in two and managed two Series, and there were a total of only 13 in Negro Leagues History.

    My mild advocacy for Minoso is that he has always been caught in a no-man’s land, not being allowed to have his combined career considered. The Veterans Committee should do that at least once.

    Rap Dixon and John Beckwith were on the list already, I would support them whole-heartedly; I just didn’t mention them in my own post because I didn’t want to be redundant. I’m less impressed with Lundy, but no problem were he to get in, other than I think that Dobie Moore is being unfairly handicapped, NOT because his career was cut short in 1926, but because he started playing in 1916 with the 25th Infantry Wreckers (who were arguably as good as the teams playing on the continent) and lost four years when there wasn’t a league in which to play. Some men played on independent pro teams; Moore (as well as Wilber Rogan, Oscar Johnson, Lem Hawkins, Hurley McNair, Branch Russell, and Bob Fagan all joined the U.S. Army (Buffalo Soldiers) and got assigned to play for the Wreckers.

    I don’t think that my opinion of Buck is actually all that “unpopular” with that many of the Negro Leagues research committee, just with people who have not studied the issue dispassionately. I can remember that there was at least one sportswriter who seriously thought that the whole committee was there primarily to put Buck in the Hall.

    Buck was a wonderful guy who died too soon, but his career in the Negro majors did not start till 1937, when he was 26. Had there been no segregation, it probably would have ended in 1948. His offensive numbers tell me that they placed him out of position, and he probably would have been a right fielder in an integrated majors. I can’t give him any extra credit as a minor league manager (which is what he was in the 1950s), or as a scout or coach, OR ambassador. I give him credit for a 10- to 12-season playing career, and a 3-year managing career; not enough for the call.

    I have to say that my biggest surprise in the 2006 vote was that Ben Taylor was chosen, but neither of his (IMO) more-deserving brothers. Well, okay, Alex Pompez was my biggest surprise, but that’s just because I was at the time a poor student of most of the eastern teams’ managers and owners.

    Scales is excellent as well, I was just trying not to overload. : – )

    I mentioned Ghoulston because he was one of the original Negro umpires hired by Rube Foster in 1923, and was STILL umpiring in the Midwest 20 years later

    Other names I might add to the already-growing list: Newt Allen, Sam Bankhead, Bernardo Baro, Fats Jenkins, Alejandro Oms, Dick Spot Poles, Dick Redding.

    Just my opinion. I could be wrong, and often am. YMMV, etc., etc.

    Good to hear from both of you.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!