This one’s for my buddy, Malloy Conference roomie and Harrisburg boy Ted Knorr, who possesses a singular devotion for two things: teaching people about the heritage of African-American baseball in his hometown, and getting outfielder Herbert “Rap” Dixon in the Hall of Fame.
Now, coinciding with that is the fact that I’m just wrapping up a story for Pennsylvania Magazine about the Negro Leagues in the Keystone State. So, naturally, I cyber-interviewed Ted for the story — the first draft of which stands at about 3,400 words — about his love of Harrisburg blackball, his impressions of the Negro Leagues in the average Pennsylvanian’s consciousness and, of course, Mr. Rap Dixon.
Much of this post will be in Ted’s own words, beginning with how he developed his devoted interest in the Negro Leagues:
“My earliest baseball memory was having a Brooklyn Dodger uniform given to me by my grandmom (of Brooklyn) … later my father (her son) told me about Satchel Paige, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords of his adopted hometown (and my birthplace), Pittsburgh. So I had a long ignored foundation when I joined SABR in ’79 and finally attended a conference in ’84, where I met John Holway … I was hooked.”
He adds, “My passion is fueled, I suppose, by my training as a school teacher.”
Before we discuss Rap specifically, it’s important to note that the Baseball Hall of Fame, that most hallowed of sports institutions, ushered in a huge class of segregation-era blackball figures in 2006, then declared that, Wham! The Hall’s doors were again closed to Negro Leaguers, a travesty that many enthusiasts of African-American baseball have been decrying and trying to change for the last eight-plus years.
One of those enthusiasts is Ted, who believes that numerous players still merit induction, including several, like Spots Poles, who played in Harrisburg at one point or another.
But specifically he’s an advocate for Rap Dixon, part of arguably the greatest outfield in baseball history — the 1924-27 Harrisburg Giants trio of Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston, Fats Jenkins and Dixon.
Aside from the fact that Rap’s contemporaries consistently testified to his greatness with tales of amazing talent and incredible feats, Ted believes that, compared to white players from Rap’s area who are in the Hall of Fame, Dixon’s numbers more than qualify him for induction.
I’ll let Ted explain, beginning now. (I’ll note that there’s so many names for possible hyperlinks that I’ll forgo that on this post):
Rap Dixon is a spectacular largely untold story, a story best told in statistics, opinions and legends.
His statistics, as established by the $250,000 MLB funded, Hall of Fame assigned, Negro League/Researchers and Authors Group study, merit the Hall of Fame. Of the five Negro League outfielders (Spottswood Poles, Fats Jenkins, Alejandro Oms, Roy Parnell and Dixon) remaining on the 2006 ballot, his SABRmetrics are the best.
The opinions, particularly those voiced long ago, on Rap also happen to be the best among those on the ballot, with the first three Negro League outfielders inducted in to the Hall of Fame – Monte Irvin (1973), Cool Papa Bell (1974), Charleston (1976) – all agreeing on Rap Dixon’s merits … Monte Irvin feeling Dixon is the most worthy of the five (based on his composite feelings in five separate sources), and both Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston going further – Bell naming his all-time outfield to include Hall of Famers Turkey Stearnes and Monte Irvin and Rap Dixon, while Oscar Charleston favored Hall of Famers Cristobal Torriente and Martin Dihigo and Rap Dixon.
Thus, all three of the first three Negro League Hall of Fame outfielders agree that Rap Dixon is the best of the five outfielders remaining on the ballot, with two of them placing Rap Dixon as the greatest right fielder of all-time.
Alas, it is the legends – like miracles required by the Catholic Church for sainthood – that define the man. The litany sounds more like fiction, but each of the following is documentable:
As a player:
· As a rookie in 1924, Rap Dixon was a member of the greatest outfield in Negro League history with Oscar Charleston and Fats Jenkins. They are the only Negro League outfield intact for four years. Only nine MLB outfields meet the four-year standard.
· In 1927, Rap Dixon toured Japan playing so well that the Emperor awarded him a Loving Cup Trophy.
· In 1929, Rap Dixon cracked 14 consecutive hits to set an unbroken, after-85-seasons, Major-League-equivalent record.
· In 1930, Rap Dixon hit the first HR by a Negro Leaguer in Yankee Stadium. I refer to the House that Ruth Built as the House that Dixon Rehabbed.
· In 1932, when Gus Greenlee opened his purse, telling Manager Oscar Charleston to field the best team his (Greenlee’s) money could buy … Charlie had Rap Dixon in right field for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
· In 1933, Dixon was elected, by the fans, to the initial East-West Classic. Dixon was a six time all-star.
· In 1934, when the Concordia Eagles captured the Caribbean title, they featured Luis Aparicio Sr, Lorenzo Salazaar, Tetelo Vargas, Hall of Famers Martin Dihigo and Josh Gibson, and Rap Dixon.
· In 1935, Rap Dixon was 6-for-18 with three homers and a double in leading the New York Cubans to the brink of the Negro National League championship only to lose when Dihigo tossed gopher balls to Charleston and Gibson of the Pittsburgh Crawfords late in game seven. Undaunted, Charleston picked Dixon up to barnstorm against Dizzy Dean after the season. Rap Dixon did not disappoint, going 2-for-4 against ol’ Diz.
As a manager:
· In 1934, Rap was the first professional manager of future Hall of Famer Leon Day.
· In 1937, when the suspended Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and the rest of the Trujillo All Stars returned from the Dominican Republic, they solicited Rap Dixon to manage their barnstorming tour, which culminated with the Denver Post Tournament championship.
· In 1942, Rap took an integrated Harrisburg Giant team (with four white players) to Philadelphia to play the Hilldale Club.
Thus, Rap Dixon is not just a great player with spectacular statistics and kudos from his peers, but a legend who was a baseball ambassador, leader in the advent of integration, manager of men, and a teammate of more Negro League Hall of Famers than any player not yet inducted.
Hi. It’s me again. After reviewing all that, it’s for me not to agree with Ted — Rap Dixon deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Let’s get him in there! Seriously, what more does the Hall need, except a swift boot to the fanny?