Posts Tagged ‘Bud Fowler’

And We Have a Winner

May 18, 2017

Joe Start

Back in 2012 I was happily going along content to know that I had Deacon White pegged as the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. I’d been going along with that knowledge for years, then the Hall struck and in 2013 elected the good Deacon to the Hall. Well, that created a problem for me, I no longer had an acknowledged, at least by me, best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown. So I began to look for a replacement. I’ve been fairly public in my quest, occasionally letting readers in on how my search was going. I’ve narrowed the list down a couple of times right here on this site. And now it’s time to announce my newest pick.

The picture above should tell you I went with Joe Start. Ultimately my choice came down to a pick ’em between Start and Bud Fowler. Fowler was the first prominent black player. He played on several high level teams in the era when integration of baseball teams was still possible. It finally came down to the simple fact that his numbers are so hard to verify that I had to decide he simply couldn’t be my top choice. I’m reluctant to make that statement because I’m aware that I might just be wrong and Bud Fowler is indeed the best 19th Century player not elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s just that I can’t prove it.

Start has some of the same problems. He began his career with the Atlantic (Brooklyn) in 1862 and apparently wasn’t a rookie even then. He was born in 1842 and joined the Enterprise, one of the lesser Brooklyn teams in 1860. He remained with the Atlantic until the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871. The Atlantic refused to join the league and Start jumped to the Mutual (New York) where he stayed through the rest of the Association’s years, then moved with the Mutual to the newly formed National League in 1876. With Hartford and Chicago in 1877 and 1878, he ended up with the Providence (Rhode Island) Grays in 1879 and helped them to two National League pennants (1879 and 1884) along with a victory in the 19th Century’s version of the World Series in 1884. Providence folded after 1885 and he spent his last year with Washington in 1886. He was 43 when he retired. He died in Providence in 1927.

The years with both the Enterprise and the Atlantic are not well documented. Anecdotal evidence indicate he was one of the premier players on a team that regularly won the National Association of Base Ball Players pennant in the 1860s, but exact numbers are unavailable. Once we get to the professional Association in 1871, better number are available for us. His NA numbers (all from Baseball Reference) include a triple slash line of .295/.302/.363/.665, an OPS+ of 110, 386 hits in 272 games, 262 runs scored, and 187 RBIs. In the NL his triple slash line comes in at .300/.330/.370/.699 with an OPS+ of 125, 1031 hits in 798 games, 590 runs scored, and 357 RBIs. His overall WAR is 32.2 with a peak of 4.1 in 1882 (82 games).

So there he is, my answer to the best non-Hall of Famer of the 19th Century. Start was a premier player as early as 1862 and remained a fine player through 1885 (his last year when he was 43 is the only year he shows a minus WAR of -0.1). Now I have to hope the Veteran’s Committee isn’t reading this.

 

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Outside Waiting

May 4, 2017

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown decided to right a wrong. They’d already begun making strides towards that goal in the 1970s, but made a big splash in 2006. What did they do? They created a special Negro Leagues committee to look over all the information available and decide on a long list (about 100) of Negro League players, managers, and executives to be enshrined at Cooperstown. They had people comb through all the info they could find to prepare a set of statistics and other pertinent facts (and not a few legends) to lay before the select committee. They got, in Shade of Glory, a pretty fair book out of it too.

So the committee met, whittled the list down to about 30 and then made one final vote. Sixteen players, managers, executives, and whatnot got in. It was a heck of a list. It is, at least in my opinion, one of the best jobs the Hall of Fame has done over the years. And you know there’s a “but” coming. “But” they also announced, sort of announced (they never actually said it officially), that they were now through with the Negro Leagues. They done what they could. They’d found the best people (including Effa Manley, the only woman in the Hall), gotten the best available stats, gotten the best experts, so they could now say that the Hall had the Negro Leagues taken care of, period.

In the years since 2006, there has not been one player who was primarily a Negro Leaguer who has appeared on any ballot in any of the versions of the Veteran’s Committee. Not a single one. Minnie Minoso showed up, but he could be excused because he had an excellent (and possibly Hall of Fame) career, but he was being looked at as a Major Leaguer. For 10 years that standard has held.

And they are wrong. There are a number of good choices for enshrinement in Cooperstown among Negro Leagues who are currently outside waiting for their chance. Not a one has even been considered by a Veteran’s Committee. Maybe none of them are of the quality necessary for the honor, but they ought to at least be considered. Take a look at the pre-1950 players showing up on the recent ballots and tell me that no outside Negro Leaguer was better (or at least as good) as the people on the list. Frankly, I don’t think you can do it.

This is a plea for the Hall of Fame to begin again to consider Negro League players for inclusion on the early Veteran’s Committee ballot. Don’t say “we have all we need” or “we have all there is.” Look harder, people.

And to give you some sense of who’s left out, here’s a pretty fair team of Negro Leaguers who currently aren’t in the Hall of Fame:

Pitchers: “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Bill Gatewood, Rube Currie, Phil Cockrell, Nip Winters, Bill Holland

Infielders: Lemuel Hawkins, Frank Warfield, Bud Fowler, Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss, John Beckwith, Dobie Moore

Outfield: Heavy Johnson, Steel Arm Davis, Spottswood Poles, Hurley McNair

Cacher: Bill Pettus, Bruce Petway, Double Duty Radcliffe

Manager: Buck O’Neill, “Candy” Jim Taylor

That’s 20 of a 25 man roster (plus the managers). I left a few holes for you to fill in with your own favorites that I left out (like a Dave Malarcher or a Terris McDuffy).

I’m not saying all of them are Hall of Fame quality. What I’m saying is that all of them deserve a look.

BTW got the above picture from a blog called “The Negro Leagues Up Close.” Definitely a site worth looking at if you’re interested in the Negro Leagues. Type it in on Google.

Narrowing my Options

December 1, 2016

As I’ve mentioned before I used to be one up on the Hall of Fame. For years I spouted on and on that the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame was Deacon White. I was right. I was sure I was right. And I was sure the Hall of Fame committees were a bunch of idiots (maybe I’m still right about that one). Then the damned Hall elected the Deacon and there I was without a best player of the 19th Century not in the Hall of Fame.

So I’ve been on a multi-year quest to find the current best 19th Century player not enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ve periodically kept you up on this trip through that far gone time. And now it’s time to do so again. I’ve gotten it down to two players. But first, I want to discuss a possible third candidate for the job.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler is easily, at least in my opinion, the best Negro League player of the 19th Century not in Cooperstown. I use the words “Negro League” but I am referring to the segregated teams and leagues that flourished (or didn’t) in the 19th Century, not the more familiar “Negro Leagues” of the 20th. There are other contenders like George Stovey, Fleet Walker, and others (Frank Grant is the only 19th Century black player currently in the Hall of Fame), but Fowler seems to be the best. As with all black ball players of the era there is almost no information of a statistical nature available to compare him to his contemporaries, either white or black. So his record is unknown, and probably unknowable. Is he the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame? The answer is “possibly.” But I can’t prove it. It requires an amount of intuition I’m not willing to use to state “yes,” so he remains the great unknown for me in dealing with this project.

Now, the final two contenders, in alphabetical order:

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes was one of the finest players in the era of the National Association (1871-75) and for a couple of years in the National League. It’s easy to argue that Albert Spaulding was the finest of all NA players, but Barnes was only a small notch below him. Along with guys like Andy Leonard and Cal McVey, Barnes ranked as the best hitter in the NA. His career prior to 1871 is a bit foggy, but it is evident that he was a good player and his NA stats are excellent. He flames out after a couple of NL years (the reason is somewhat murky and is ascribed to a couple different causes), but what stats we have show he was not done when the NA collapsed. Because almost all his great seasons are with the NA and the powers-that-be in baseball don’t want to recognize the Association as a big league, he’s gotten scant support for the Hall. Hopefully the new Vets Committee that now begins in 1871 will change that at least a little.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Joe Start both predates Barnes and plays long after Barnes is gone. If Barnes’ stats are foggy, Start’s are absolutely pitch black. He begins his career in the 1860s with the Atlantic of Brooklyn, helps lead them to championships in the era of the American Civil War, then joins the National Association with the Mutuals, and finishes with the Providence Grays in 1886 at age 43. He stays in baseball at the highest level from prior to the Civil War through the first of the 19th Century’s playoff series’ in 1884. His NA stats are good, his NL stats even better. What’s missing are his pre-1871 stats. There is general agreement that he was one the best players the Atlantics had in the 1860s, but there’s no information to indicate just how good he was in the period. The team won a lot, but Start wasn’t their only good player and exactly how much influence he had on the team’s ability to win is debatable. Of course we also have to deal with the problem that the Atlantic played fewer than 50 games a season.

So that’s where I am now. Hopefully, I can make a final call at some point, but I wanted to keep you advised on an issue I’m certain you were just dying to know how it was going. I’ll get back to you when/if I know more. You may feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

 

 

Finding the Best 19th Century Player not in Cooperstown

December 28, 2015

As I mentioned several years ago I had the great joy of being able for a long time to know that I was smarter than the Hall of Fame’s Veteran’s Committee. For years I argued that Deacon White was the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame. Then the committee agreed with me and White was enshrined. Great for him, lousy for me. I now had to come up with a new choice. Well, I still haven’t quite honed in on the guy, but I’m now down to five guys that get my vote for best 19th Century player not in Cooperstown’s gallery of greats.
Knowing you just can’t wait to find out who they are (still your beating hearts, team) I’ll get to them in a few sentences. But first I want to make clear this is supposed to be the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame, not the best 19th Century player eligible for the Hall of Fame. There’s a difference in those two categories and in makes a great deal of difference when you look at two of my five finalists (Five finalists? Geez, I feel like I’m doing the Miss Universe Pageant and know it’s Phillippines.). And remember this is players, not “contributors,” which to me is a different category. Also be aware that there is much speculation here because statistics for the period prior to 1870 are almost non-existent and it surely colors my choices. So having said all that, here we go (alphabetically).

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes is one of the players who isn’t exactly eligible for the Hall of Fame. Barnes was a star prior to the founding of the National Association in 1871, then was arguably the best player in the Association. When the NA folded after 1875 he moved to the new National League, had a couple of good years then it was over (sources vary on if what happened was age, illness, or a rule change). MLB does not recognize the NA as a “Major League” so Barnes doesn’t have 10 years in the “Major Leagues”, which makes him ineligible for the Hall of Fame. None of that means he wasn’t a heck of a player. He, along with Lip Pike, Cal McVey, and maybe Andy Leonard all have the same problem. They have career too short in the NL to make the Hall of Fame. For my money Barnes is the best of that lot.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

To be absolutely honest I don’t know if Bud Fowler is one of the five best 19th Century players not in the Hall of Fame or not. His stats are almost completely non-existent. I do know that with Frank Grant in the Hall of Fame, Fowler is the best black player of the era (George Stovey and Fleet Walker not withstanding). How good was he? No one really knows, but the stories of his ability are formidable. Some of them are surely exaggerated (but so are some of the stories about the white players). It is reasonable, after noting the quality of black ball players in the 20th Century, to presume that a fairly significant number of black players would be of Hall of Fame quality in the 19th Century. So far the Hall has let in Grant and exactly no one else who plays the bulk of his career in the 19th Century. And with the current Hall of Fame mantra that they’ve got all the Negro League players they should have there’s little chance of him being added to the Hall (Did you see any Negro Leaguers in the last two Segregation Era Veteran’s Committee ballots? Neither did I.). My candidate for best black player left out is Fowler. I wish I could prove he fits in the top five, but frankly it’s just a feeling.

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock

Jack Glasscock is arguably the best shortstop not currently in the Hall of Fame and eligible; with suitable apologies to Bill Dahlen, who spends too much of his career in the 20th Century to make this list. Glasscock played from 1879 through 1895 and died in 1947. He hit .290, had an OPS+ of 112, 61.9 WAR (BBREF version) along with 22.3 dWAR, which is terrific for 19th Century players without gloves. He won a batting title (1890–the Player’s League year) and two hits titles (1889 and 1890), didn’t strikeout much, and led the league in a bunch of fielding categories during his career. So far he’s been totally overlooked by the Hall of Fame (he appeared on the ballot once, in 1936, and garnered all of 2.6% of the vote). The Hall really needs to look at him again.

Dave Orr

Dave Orr

Dave Orr is one of the best first basemen of the 19th Century. He has one significant problem. He doesn’t get 10 years in the Major Leagues. He plays from 1883 through 1890, almost all of it with the American Association (which was generally considered the weaker of the two big leagues), then suffers a stroke and is through. So he’s one of those players I mentioned as being ineligible for the Hall of Fame (the other is, of course, Barnes). He leads the league in hits twice, in triples twice, in RBIs once, wins a batting title, two slugging titles, and lead the league in total bases twice. His OPS+ is 162. In other words, he’s really good, but he doesn’t have the 10 years. It seems to me that a physically disabling thing like a stroke should be considered when a player is up for Hall of Fame consideration. They let Addie Joss in with nine years (although he died rather than be disabled) so there’s nothing sacred about 10 years if the Hall decided to waive it. In Orr’s case they should at least consider a waiver.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Then there’s Joe Start who might actually be the best of the lot. He’s a major player with the Atlantic when they dominated baseball (that’s Civil War era, people), then he plays in the National Association, hits .295, has an OPS of .665, an OPS+ of 110. Then at age 33 he moves to the National League where he hits .300, has an OPS of .699, an OPS+ of 124. His team (Providence) wins two NL pennants and wins the first postseason series against the American Association. He’s 41 when his team wins in 1884 and still a significant force on his team (although no longer the big star). He plays his last game at 43 (when he’s over the hill). His putouts, assists, and range indicate he was also a very good first baseman.

So there they are, the five guys that I’ve decided include the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame (with something of a tip of the hat to Cal McVey as the last guy I eliminated). At this point only Glasscock and Start are strictly eligible (Fowler is technically, I guess, but the Hall doesn’t seem to think so). I suppose that both Barnes and Fowler could be put in as “pioneers” or something and Orr needs the Hall to waive its 10 year rule for an extraordinary circumstance. I’m still trying to put a finger on which of these five is the best. Will let you know when I figure it out.

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Midway

July 3, 2015

The selection of the Class of 1917 marks the mid-point of the My Own Little Hall of Fame project. I began it last year in March and intend to go through this year and finish in December next year with the 1934 class. Here’s a summary of some of the things I’ve discovered.

1. I have a much greater appreciation of how hard it is to be a Hall of Fame voter. I fully expected I would be able to simply look through some newspapers, a few journals, the contemporary guides, and come up with a quite obvious Hall. Oops. It actually takes a lot to make the determinations necessary to elect a Hall of Fame. If you do it right, or at least attempt to do it right (which is all I’ll admit to) it gets complicated fast. What stats are available? Which matter? Why? I’ve been very critical of the Hall of Fame voters on a number of occasions. I’ve discovered that it’s harder than it looks (which doesn’t mean the actual voters haven’t made mistakes). I have a new respect for those voters who are trying to get it right (which is different from all voters).

2. So far I’ve elected 52 members, or about 3 a year. By contrast the real Hall of Fame elected 62 members in its first 17 years (about 3.6 per year). So I’m actually being a bit more conservative than the real Hall voters. That kind of surprises me. I thought I’d probably end up adding more than the real Hall.

3. The number of people added each year has dropped. That makes sense. Any newly established institution like the Hall of Fame is going to begin with a backlog of quality candidates for membership. It takes a few years to clear that backlog, but once it’s gone, then the number of newly eligible quality candidates should, in most years, be considerably fewer. In my case that’s been absolutely true.

4. I’ve made it a point of  doing two things that the real Hall doesn’t do. First, I elect at least one for each class. There is no requirement the real Hall do so. Second, I’ve added three Negro League players already (Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, and George Stovey). I know that probably wouldn’t happen in 1917 and with the rise of racial tensions after World War I  it certainly wouldn’t happen between 1920 and 1934. However, I still intend to buck that and add Negro League players as I feel appropriate. It just seems like the right thing to do.

5. I was initially concerned with the number of “Contributors” I was adding. These are people added because of something they did for baseball other than play the game (William Hulbert, founder of the National League, is an example). Then I got to looking over the real Hall’s inductees in the first several years and noted they also added quite a number of “contributors” early. The number of contributors elected by Cooperstown has decreased in the last 40 or so years (although there are still several). As I look at my preliminary list of contributors going out to 1934, I note that I’ll probably be electing fewer also because the first couple of generations of contributors will be pretty much gone and the new group is, as a whole, less impressive (which does figure).

6. It’s interesting, and frankly obvious, how uneven the quality of players available in a given year becomes. Some years there are an entire list of quality candidates, not all of which will make it, but all of which will deserve study. Other years I simply want to say, “Yuck.” Of course that was destined to be true, because all the good players don’t retire at once and not every year has a bunch of good players leave the game. It does help to clear some of the backlog, but I’ve found it too tempting to simply add someone because he’s the best available guy not because he’s truly a Hall of Fame caliber player. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a time or two and let someone in based on that, but I try to watch it closely.

7. I knew that statistics were going to vary, but, frankly, was surprised by how much. From a preliminary look forward, that seems to start changing in the 1920s, especially with the Elias Sports Bureau’s arrival (maybe I should look at Al Munro Elias a bit more closely as a Hall of Famer). It does make it difficult to determine exactly who should get in my Hall because every time I look to hang my hat on a particular stat it changes. For instance, RBIs aren’t yet an official statistic and what I find concerning RBIs changes. I have to admit I sometimes go to Baseball Reference.com to determine which number is the one I should use. It’s not quite fair, but it does make it easier for me. When I do, I have to resist the temptation to look at the newer stats (OPS+, WAR, etc.). They weren’t even thought of yet and I don’t want to be influenced by them.

8. It has been an education for me to do this. I’ve had to read stuff I didn’t know existed, had to sort through things that sometimes were contradictory, had to almost flip a coin occasionally as to what do I believe. And it’s astounding how quickly the pioneers (pre-1876) guys have disappeared.

9. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had to determine how much “fame” mattered over “greatness”. I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last. Go back a couple of months and look at my comments on John McGraw and you’ll get a feel for the structure of the question itself. It first manifested itself in trying to determine why Bill Lange, a 19th Century outfielder with Chicago, was so utterly famous (he’s now very obscure). I looked at his numbers and they were good (I even fiddled around with his newer SABR-style numbers, which aren’t bad–123 OPS+, five years of 3.5 or more WAR in a seven year career) and he came off as a very good player, but I wasn’t sure he was great. It began to dawn on me that the two things (famous and greatness) were not interchangeable and that came to a head in the John McGraw problem. That may be the most profound observation I’ve discovered on this project (and profundity from this site should scare you to death). If I ever figure out the complete answer, I’ll have a book (and a number of you telling me I got it wrong).

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1903

May 1, 2014

After a couple of posts that I’d done earlier and saved for a rainy day, the eye is better and I’m back with new stuff finally.  So it’s time again for the newest inductions to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This is, for those of you who have forgotten, a once monthly exploration of how the Hall of Fame might look different if it had been started in 1901 rather than in the 1930s. First, a reminder of who’s in from the Class of 1901 (Ross Barnes, John Clarkson, William Hulbert, Tim Keefe, George Wright) and the Class of 1902 (Dan Brouthers, King Kelly, Charles Radbourn, Albert Spaulding, Harry Wright). Now the latest class with commentary below.

Cap Anson

Cap Anson

Adrian “Cap” Anson was a career .300 hitter who became the first player to amass 3000 hits. He won four batting titles in his 27 year career. As manager of the Chicago National League team, he won five pennants.

Roger Connor

Roger Connor

Roger Connor is the all-time leader in home runs. In 1890 he won the Player’s League home run title but his peak was 17 in 1887. A solid first baseman, he led the Giants to consecutive pennants in 1888 and 1889, helping his team to capture both postseason matches against American Association opponents. Additionally, he won a batting title in 1885.

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

Greatest catcher of the Nineteenth Century. Captain of the Giants when they won back-to-back pennants in 1888 and 1889. In 1883, became the only catcher to win a home run title. Served as manager of the Cincinnati team at the end of his career.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Considered the first “Colored” professional. Credited with inventing shin guards. Played for a number of integrated minor league teams and for many of the premier “Colored” teams of the Nineteenth Century. Helped form the first all black league.

Now to answer your questions before you ask them:

1. You did notice you only put in four, didn’t you, Dummy? Yeah, I noticed that. My feeling was that a 1903 voting group would be so overwhelmed by the numbers and legends of Anson, Connor, and Ewing that there would be a tendency to vote only for the three of them and leave off everyone else. You’ve seen this happen recently a lot and I decided it probably wouldn’t be any different back in 1903. So I went with four inductees.

2. Fowler? Really? OK, I know there is no chance that a black ball player in 1903 is going to be elected to a Hall of Fame. I’m sure that in some areas where I’ve lived he’s not even going to be allowed into the building except maybe for an hour our two every other week, but I stipulated when I set up this Hall that I would allow in black players despite the mores of the day. And Fowler is the first (expect Frank Grant when he becomes eligible). Fowler could have gone in earlier, but I put him off until 1903 for a reason. With all the fuss Anson made about playing against black players in the 1880s, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put a black player at the same time. I’d love for this to have really happened. I would love to see if Anson would even show up for the ceremony or appear on the same stage with Fowler. I call it a bit of poetic justice. I know that has no place in a real Hall of Fame, but I just couldn’t resist.

3. “Colored”? Most of the documentation of the era used “colored” more often than “Negro” “black” “African-American” or any other word to describe black Americans. The term “Ethiopian” also shows up a lot. I went with “colored” as the word most likely to be used despite my own misgivings about the use of the word. Expect to see it replaced by “Negro” as we get deeper into the 20th Century.

4. Again, the statistics are all over the place. Anson won several RBI titles but I find almost no contemporary record that acknowledges that, so the stat wasn’t mentioned. I’m not sure, from what I’ve read, that they even knew Connor had more homers than anyone else (especially Brouthers) but I listed it anyway.

5. I’ve made one change in how I categorize my Hall. I’ve lumped everyone not an everyday player or a pitcher into the contributors category. So it’s now owners (Chris von der Ahe, William Babcock), managers (Jim Mutrie, Charles Comiskey), players with a major career prior to 1870 (Jim Creighton, Candy Cummings, Bob Ferguson, Lip Pike, Joe Start), writers (Henry Chadwick), pioneers (William Wheaton, Monte Ward) umpires, etc. all in one group. I have to admit I’m woefully uninformed about very early umpires, so I’m just beginning research on them. Also, I’m finding that after compiling my initial lists, I’m only adding one or two new players each year to the list. That seems to be about on par with what the real Hall adds. I know the real Hall puts out a lot of new names, but there are really only a couple or so that have a chance at getting in. As an example in 1908 Dummy Hoy and Wilbert Robinson are the only everyday players new to the list worth even a quick list and there are no significant pitchers. But in 1907 you have Billy Hamilton, Cupid Childs, and pitchers Amos Rusie and Gus Weyhing to look over. That seems to fit in pretty well with how the real Hall works.

Who Got Left Out?

February 28, 2014
"Cannonball" Dick Redding

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

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, and not bad hitting outfielder 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. Bill Gatewood was almost as good. 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.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Bud Fowler

February 18, 2014
Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

1. John W. Jackson, Jr. was born in Fort Plain, New York in 1858. He was the son of a barber and learned the profession from his dad.

2.In 1860 the family moved to Cooperstown (of all places), where Jackson (Fowler) learned to play baseball.

3. In 1878 he joined the integrated Chelsea, Massachusetts amateur team, now using the name Fowler (the exact reason for the change is unknown). His habit of calling other players “Bud” got him his nickname.

4. Later that season he played for the Lynn Live Oaks, a team in the International League, becoming the first acknowledged black professional.

5. He spent the next several years in and out of the minor leagues playing for integrated teams or for all black independent teams.

6. He began his career as a pitcher, but in 1884 moved to second base, where he played most of the remainder of his career.

7. In 1886, he helped form the League of Colored Base Ball Players, the first “Negro League.” The league folded 10 days into its first season.

8. In 1887, he played for Birmingham in the International League. He was released, apparently because of racial turmoil on the team, in late June. In July the International League formally banned black ball players, grandfathering in a handful who were currently on team rosters.

9. Fowler spent the remainder of the Nineteenth Century moving from team to team playing second and watching team after team either fold or implement segregation rules. He formed several teams of his own, none of which were successful in the long run.

10. He played his last game in 1909, retiring to Frankfort, New York.

11. He died in 1913.

12. He is credited with inventing shin guards to protect his legs from sliding players while covering second. Those guards later became standard equipment for catchers. It’s fair to note that Frank Grant is also credited with inventing shin guards.

Fowler's grave. Stone provided by SABR

Fowler’s grave. Stone provided by SABR

The Grand Experiment

February 1, 2013
Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third ffrom left top row)

Fleet Walker (far left of middle row) and Welday Walker (third from left top row)

It’s now black history month in the USA, so it’s time for my annual journey into black baseball. For this blog it’s a very successful month. I’ve noted a major uptick in hits during February. Most of the hits are on articles involving black baseball. I ascribe this to a bunch of school kids trying to find something to write about or present for black history month. So, I think I’ll oblige all those students who need the help. Don’t take it too badly, kids, you’ll survive even this.

When Moses Fleetwood Walker died in 1924, the Brooklyn Eagle commented that his one year in the Major Leagues in 1884 was a “Grand Experiment.” Walker was black and played a single year in the Majors. The 19th Century was a tough century for black ball players. They were allowed to play, they were excluded, they were cheered, they were vilified. It was, in other words, a fairly standard period of black Americans.

The close of the Civil War may have changed the nature of freedom in the US, but it didn’t do much for the acceptance of Black Americans in baseball. Many universities were open to integrating teams, some not so much. The newly emerging professional teams and leagues tended to follow current trends. Some teams were integrated, others segregated. Some leagues were integrated, others segregated. The first truly professional league (and quasi-major league), the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, had no black players in its 1871-75 existence. I can find no evidence it was official policy to segregate the league, but when players the quality of Bud Fowler aren’t playing in the league you have to wonder.

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

Bud Fowler (middle of back row)

The National League replaced the National Association in 1876 and things improved (sorta). As early as 1879 a black player may have been on a Major League team. On 21 June 1879, the Providence Grays first baseman, Joe Start, was unable to go. The team added a one-day replacement named Bill White to the team. White went one for four and scored a run. In 2003 SABR research noted that the Brown University baseball team had a player named William Edward White on its roster. White was of mixed race (which in 1879 American made him “black” regardless of his skin tone). They concluded that the two White’s were probably the same person, thus making White the first Black American (and only American born a slave) to play in the Majors. There is much speculation about this so don’t take it to the bank just yet.

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

Frank Grant while playing at Buffalo

By the mid-1880s black players like Frank Grant, a middle infielder who is in the Hall of Fame and pitcher George Stovey were excelling in minor leagues. Neither ever got a chance to play in the Majors. Fleet Walker did. He was a catcher for the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings when Toledo made the move from the Northwestern League (a minor league) to the American Association (a Major League) in 1884. Toledo finished eighth, Walker caused a great deal of controversy for not only the opposition but also within his own team. As a catcher he was supposed to be superior. If you line up his hitting stats with the other first string catchers in the 1884 American Association he ends up firmly in the middle of the pack. In 1885 Toledo, and Walker, along with his brother who played a handful of games with Toledo in 1884, were back in the minors. As a short aside, Hank O’Day, who was just elected to Cooperstown as an umpire, was a teammate of Walker’s.

After 1884 the National League (followed by the American League after its founding in 1901) became a segregated league. There was never an official written policy excluding Black Americans, but none ever showed up on either an NL or AL field during a game. Cap Anson of the Colts (now the Cubs) gets much of the blame for this. He was apparently an ardent racist and led a move to exclude blacks from the game. But it’s a little unfair to blame Anson for the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” (considering what was being agreed to the word “gentleman” certainly seems out-of-place here, doesn’t it?). It’s not like Anson was a bastion of reaction in a sea of tolerance. The mass of players, executives, owners, and fans had to acquiesce to Anson’s views or they could not have prevailed.

By 1890, segregation in both baseball and the United States in general was firmly in place. There were still a few places where a black ball player could join an integrated team, but the number of such places was dwindling. The black response was to form all black teams that would play either independently or in leagues of their own. Some of them did well, others poorly. This system was to remain in place in to the 1940s when it would be broken down gradually and a modern integrated Major Leagues would emerge.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Frank Grant

June 27, 2011

Frank Grant while at Buffalo

1. He was born in 1865 in Massachusetts and named Ulysses Franklin Grant. Being black and born immediately after the Civil War, it is possible he was named for Union General U.S. Grant, but that can’t be confirmed, at least as far as I can determine.

2. His parents were both from Massachusetts and freemen, an unusual combination for 1860s America. Both were alleged to be of mixed race, which in 1860s American made them “colored” (bet you can guess which color).

3. He was 5’7″ and weighed 155 pounds, making him big for a middle infielder of the era.

4. He joined the Eastern League’s Meriden, Connecticut team in 1886, one of three black players in the league (Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey were the other two). He hit .316 over 44 games, most at second base (although he pitched three times going 0-1). The team disbanded in July and Grant ended up with Buffalo, playing in Olympic Park at the Northeast corner of Richmond and Summer Streets (I know some people in Buffalo and thought they might like to know the location of the park.).

5. Race was already becoming an issue. He was refered to by his own team as either “Spanish” or “Italian” in order to lessen the problem. As an aside this seems to be a subterfuge as late as the early 20th Century when John McGraw hired at least one black player and called him an “Indian.”

6. In May 1887, Grant hit for the cycle. That same season, the International League (Grant’s league) voted to ban the hiring of more black ball players, but “grandfathered” Grant and the handful of blacks already in the league. Most leagues began banning black players about the same time and didn’t bother with the “grandfather clause.”

7. In 1888 Grant held out for a salary of $250 per month (not bad pay in 1888), which is great chutzpah considering the just completed vote on race. He got the money and ended up playing 84 games and hit .346.

8. In 1889 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first Negro League teams. The Giants wandered in and out of the minor leagues for the next several seasons. Grant stayed with the Cuban Giants off and on into 1891, when he signed with the Gothams, another black team. He went back to the Cuban Giants in 1892 and remained there through 1897. This kind of team jumping was fairly common among Negro League players of the era. And here I’m using “negro league” in a more generic sense, rather than refering to the more well established leagues that begin in the 1920s.

9. The end came at age 38 after the 1903 season. At the end of the season he participated in what some refer to as the first Negro League World Series (it isn’t generally credited as such). His team lost.

10. He’s credited with inventing shin guards in order to keep white players from ripping up his legs when they slid into second base. Unfortunately, a couple of other black players (Bud Fowler is one) are also credited with the invention. I have no idea who really did it.

11. He died in 1937.

12. The Hall of Fame selected him for enshrinement in 2006, one of several Negro League players brought in at the same time.

As is usual with black ballplayer who spent their careers in the Negro Leagues, stats are hard to come by. That’s especially true for 19th Century players who only had options in the black leagues or the minors. There’s not much in the way of statistical information on Grant, but there seems to be a consensus that he was among the finest black players of the century, if not the finest (it’s usually a fight between supporters of Grant and supporters of Fowler with a smattering of Walker fans thrown in). Second base was a weak enough position in the 19th Century anyway (except for Nap LaJoie at the very end of the century), so some people make the case for Grant as the best second baseman of the century. Maybe, but I’d like to see a little more statistical information before I buy off on that.