Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame created a special “Veteran’s Committee” to look at Negro League baseball and determine if there were players, owners, managers, executives, and/or others that had been ignored by Cooperstown. A great deal of research went into the files handed to the committee. For the layman, the most important bits of the research was published as Shades of Glory. A panel of baseball historians eventually came up with a list of 94 African-Americans involved with baseball prior to 1946 for the committee (now called the Committee on African-American Baseball) to look over and pass judgment on. Of that list, 39 made the initial cut. The committee then selected 17 for enshrinement in Cooperstown. After all the hoopla of induction and fuss and feathers about who got in and who didn’t, a great stillness settled over the Hall. It was as if they were saying, “OK, team, we’ve done our bit. We put in a bunch of people, so now that’s all. There won’t be anymore.” Of course they never really said that, but any push to add further Negro League players or executives has come more from fans than the powers that be.
So it’s a fair question to ask what about the 77 nominees who didn’t make the cut in 2006? Are they now relegated to the dustbin of history or do they have a chance to make the Hall at a later time? Another question that needs to be asked is this, have we truly reached the end of those Negro League players who should be commemorated in Cooperstown?
If you look over the list of 77 non-inductees (and it’s available on Wikipedia under “Baseball Hall of Fame Balloting, 2006”) there are some really fine players being pushed to the sidelines. Where, for instance, are Bud Fowler and George Stovey, arguably two of the three finest black players of the 19th Century (Frank Grant, who made it, being the other)? Spottswood Poles was an excellent fielding, but not great hitting middle infielder in the early part of the 20th Century. Between 1911 and 1919 “Cannonball” Dick Redding was 40-20 in documented games, a .667 winning percentage. In the formal Negro Leagues of the 1920s through 1940s Newt Allen played middle infield, managed, and eventually moved to third base for the Kansas City Monarchs in a career that saw him play in the 1924 Negro World Series and the 1942 Negro World Series. John Donaldson was a crack pitcher for years, then became the first fulltime black scout in MLB when the White Sox signed him in 1949. And then there is Buck O’Neil, manager, first baseman, scout, coach, batting champion, and spokesman for the Negro Leagues.
It seems appropriate to end Black History Month (and my yearly journey through black baseball) by asking what do we make of these men being left out of the Hall of Fame? Perhaps nothing. Their stats are blurred, they are in many cases more legend than fact. But they were real players and they played at the highest level they were allowed. Maybe none of them are Hall of Fame quality players. In O’Neil’s case he is more than worthy as a contributor and ambassador, but maybe some of them are of sufficient quality as players. What I don’t want to see is the Hall of Fame now grow complacent and say “Well, we’ve got enough of these guys. Close the door.” I hope that the Veteran’s Committee that reviews the “Segregation Era” (pre-1947) will continue to look at Negro League players and eventually induct a few more.