Does Bud Fowler belong in the Hall of Fame? (Photo from the BHOF)
I earnestly love the Baseball Hall of Fame; I’ve been there many times, and it’s only a few hours from my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. Since the publication of Only the Ball Was White — Larry Lester wrote a phenomenal commentary here about the influence of Robert Peterson’s seminal 1970 tome — the Hall has gone a long way to making up for the decades of segregation in its hallowed halls and the century-long exclusion of persons of color from organized baseball.
But has it done enough? And has it returned to that de facto ostracizing of segregation-era African-American players, managers, owners and executives.
Unfortunately, many in the Negro League research community and extended fandom — including me — think so.
In 2006, a special Negro Leagues committee elected 17 new segregation-era figures into the Hall. In a July 31, 2006, article about that magnanimous gesture, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Ira Berkow wrote after the induction ceremony, quoting Rachel Robinson:
“In the sunshine on this broadly glorious afternoon, and looking elegant, at age 83, as she sat in the first row at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Rachel Robinson said: ‘For me, personally, this is a historic day. I’m very proud. It’s been a long time in coming.’
“Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson, was referring to the 17 players and executives of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues who had been named to the shrine. A committee of a dozen researchers determined who they considered most deserving of, essentially, no longer being excluded from the Hall of Fame.
“‘I’m not going to moan and groan about how long it took,” she said. “Social change takes time. We feel very impatient when it doesn’t happen fast enough, but, in this one area, anyway, this brings a kind of completeness.’”
That was a pretty nifty thing for the Hall of Fame to do; especially bold and immensely gratifying was the induction of so many blackball legends.
However, at the same time, that massive induction class was declared the final Negro Leagues admittees into the Cooperstown institution.
That’s it. Kaput. Done. Over and out.
No more Negro Leaguers. No more pre-Negro Leaguers. They were once again excluded from the Hall of Fame.
And the injustice seemingly began again. And that was almost a decade ago.
But how, exactly, is this an injustice? How is it the resumption of segregation?
Because, while pre-integration era African-American figures are no longer eligible for admission, every year the Hall elects several white baseball figures from that time period.
And what about Rap Dixon?
That comes in the form of the Pre-Integration Era Committee, a 16-member panel of voters and SABR members, mostly from the media.
Each year the group selects white [my emphasis] men — and it is undoubtedly only men — from the time before Jackie Robinson came along.
Again, no Negro Leaguers. At all.
This year’s Pre-Integration Committee vote came today (Monday, Dec. 7) at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville. Ten men in all were in the pool of potential inductees; each one needed receive at least 75 percent of the votes of the Pre-Integration Committee.
There were 10 men on the ballot (no women, of course), and none of them earned enough votes to garner induction status, but Doc Adams, Bill Dahlen and Harry Stovey came closest. Here’s an excerpt from the press release from the HOF’s Web site on the vote:
“The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Pre-Integration Era Committee announced balloting results Monday for its 2015 election of players, managers, executives and umpires. The ballot featured six former players, three executives and one of baseball’s earliest organizers and was considered by a 16-person committee featuring four Hall of Famers, four veteran baseball executives and eight historians/media members.
“Doc Adams received votes on 10 of the 16 ballots for a percentage of 62.5, while 19th century players Bill Dahlen and Harry Stovey each received votes on eight of the 16 ballots (50 percent).
“Sam Breadon, Wes Ferrell, August “Garry” Herrmann, Marty Marion, Frank McCormick, Chris von der Ahe and Bucky Walters received three or fewer votes each.
“The Pre-Integration Era Committee considered the ballot of candidates whose contributions to the game were most significant from baseball’s origins through 1946. Committee members could vote for zero to four candidates on each ballot.
“The 16-member Pre-Integration Era Committee commissioned with the review of the 10-name ballot met Sunday and Monday in Nashville, Tenn., …”
Now, it’s hard to quantify the argument that more segregation era African-American figures belong in the Hall. It’s hard to come up actual numbers that show that segregation-era black baseball stars are severely underrepresented in the Hall. But a while ago my buddy Ted Knorr attempted to do so, with fairly clear results. Here’s an email he sent to me:
“There are 344 players in the Hall — 315 MLBers; plus 29 Negro Leaguers. Of those 344 players (NOTE: players only), 166 began careers during the segregated era — 137 MLBers (83 percent) and 29 NLers (17 percent).
“Since Integration, an additional 78 Hall of Fame players began their — 45 (58 percent) of whom could have played MLB prior to integration, and 33 (42 percent) who could not.
“Given greater opportunity for Negro Leaguers to play baseball at the highest level during the segregated era, it is interesting that the Hall of Fame roster would indicate greater achievement during the integrated era.
“The truth is that the achievement is more accurately recognized today than yesterday. It is important, as an educational 501c3 non-profit, that the Hall of Fame renew its practice, ended in 2006 (in place 1971-2006), of recognizing those Negro Leaguers worthy of the Hall of Fame.”
Ted vehemently believes that, for example, his fellow Harrisburg native, stellar outfielder Rap Dixon, belongs in the Hall, and he’s provided a plethora of supporting evidence. Blog posts about the subject are here and here. He added in that email to me:
“In order to equal the demonstrated and recognized level of Negro League Hall of Famers during the segregated era as in the Integrated Era (42.3 percent), it would take an additional 71 Negro League players.
“However, I don’t necessarily feel that 71 additional Negro Leaguers need to be inducted. I do feel that all players remaining on the 2006 ballot — 19 by my count — should be inducted as soon as possible by the Hall. After all, MLB paid $250,000 for the study that was used by the Hall of Fame appointed panel to induct 17 players and personages in 2006, and we might as well use the results of that effort.
“Following that action, ideally in 2016 (the players and families have waited long enough), I think another $250,000 should be invested by MLB in further statistical compilation, further biographical work and the induction of up to 52 additional Negro Leaguers in order to properly fulfill the educational mission of the Hall as it realistically portrays baseball in the first half of the 20th century.”
“It is my opinion that the greatest omissions with regard to deserving Negro Leaguers are Gus Greenlee (a non-player), John Beckwith, John Donaldson and Dick Redding. For an outfielder, Rap Dixon would be my choice; and a second basemen, could be George Scales (or Monroe, DeMoss, Allen or Hughes).”
All of those are certainly worthy of induction (although one or two might be problematic, such as Greenlee, the (in)famous owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords who made his fortune largely through numbers running and other shady dealings in the underworld), and I personally believe Cannonball Dick Redding is particularly deserving. After all, I’ve blogged a lot about him, such as here, here and here.
Another Hall of Fame advocate is Jeffrey Laing, who feels — as do I, and as do many other blackball enthusiasts — that ubiquitous, seemingly ageless 19th-century star Bud Fowler more than earned a spot in Cooperstown.
Fowler played for decades for dozens of teams across the entire country, manning just about every position on field at one point or another and even launching numerous new teams and ventures as manager, owner and promoter.
But Bud is still shut out, despite his innumerable achievements before and around the turn of the century, and Laing, who wrote this comprehensive biography of Fowler, isn’t happy. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail he sent me last month encapsulating his arguments for Fowler’s massive importance to the history of the American pastime:
“Fowler gave the lie to the racialist theory that was a strong cultural strain in creating and maintain the colored line: He was intelligent, perseverant, industrious and emotionally fit for the extremely competitive nature of 19th-century baseball. His exclusion from Cooperstown is a travesty.
“It appears that the lack of newspaper sources — box scores, interviews, and profiles — by both black newspapers (who were concerned more with political and social issues rather than sports) and mainstream (white) media (who viewed the black game and players as “minor” in importance and interest) is a major contributing factor in Fowler’s being ignored.
“So, too, I believe, is the lack of reliable statistics on the team and individual levels. Finally, the fact that Fowler was never extended a contract for a second year by any club for whom he performed may suggest that he was a curiosity more than a talented player who faced daunting social and cultural odds.”
But despite such eloquent advocacy on Fowler’s behalf, for now at least its all for naught.
True, there are valid arguments for the exclusion, and there could be several reasons, regardless of validity, for the Hall’s ongoing position.
That includes counterpoints to the lobbying for 19th century players like Fowler.
When I asked Peter Mancuso, chair of SABR’s 19th Century Research Committee, he said he couldn’t really take any particular public stance on the issue. However, as someone who advises the Hall of Fame on matters — although he stressed that he has no say in the election of inductees — he speculated about a few possible reasons why (again, he made no judgment on these arguments either way) the Hall might continue to eschew induction of 19th-century African-American players:
“One reason might be that the HOF has in the fairly recent past inducted a large number of African-American players using a fairly exhaustive process to select the very best.
“Another reason, in regards to the 19th-century African-American players, only Fleetwood Walker actually had a ‘major league’ playing season. Of course, the need to dig deeper into 19th-century African American’s baseball careers — albeit minor league or independent team play — is necessary to elevate public’s awareness of these individuals.
“Again, sheer speculation. Bud Fowler has been getting the attention of our Overlooked 19th-Century Baseball Legends project, because they recognize that he should have been a major leaguer if the racial playing field had been level in his day. Whether he will rise to HOF selection status is still yet to be seen, [but] one could only hope so.”
And Peter points out a key actuality — 19th-century blackball figures are certainly eligible for the Overlooked Legends recognition.
Or the Cannonball?
Plus, the Hall also bestows the prestigious Buck O’Neil Award, details of which can be found at this Hall site.
But, to wrap things up, here’s an excerpt from a commentary by Trentonian contributor Steve Buttry in the Oct. 5, 2015:
“Jackie Robinson ended segregation in major league baseball, but not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“The Hall of Fame has a Pre-Integration Committee that considers only white players and contributors from long ago for honors in Cooperstown. But the Hall no longer has a Negro League Committee to consider the stars excluded from “major” league baseball. Those two facts revive and perpetuate the exclusion of a bigoted era that is a shame to the sport and our nation.
“I hope this result is unintentional (as many actions with racist results were and are), but that doesn’t make it excusable. …
“Adding still more players from the Bigotry Era cheapens the Hall of Fame in two ways:
“1. Whatever their achievements, the “major league” hitters before 1947 didn’t have to face Satchel Paige, probably the best pitcher of his time, and other Negro League pitching stars. And the “major league” pitchers didn’t have to face some of the best hitters of their time, such as Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. So all of the career statistics and other achievements in baseball before 1947 should be discounted.
“2. At all levels of Hall of Fame selection — the Baseball Writers Association of America voting and second-chance elections by various Veterans Committees — standards were not as demanding of players before integration as they have been since.
“Lots of players from recent decades who will never make the Hall of Fame had better careers than players from the 1920s and ’30s who are already in Cooperstown (especially the cronies and teammates of Frankie Frisch, who spent six generous years on the Veteran’s Committee).
“Last year the Golden Era Committee, considering players whose prime years fell between 1947 to 1972, rejected all 10 players on the ballot. African American Dick Allen and dark-skinned Cuban Tony Oliva each came up one vote short of election, receiving 11 of 16 votes (75 percent of the vote is required). Other minority players rejected by the Golden Era Committee were Maury Wills, Minnie Miñoso and Luis Tiant.
“Each of those players clearly measured up to or surpassed multiple counterparts from the Jim Crow Era who are in the Hall of Fame.”
I apologize greatly for the length of this post, but I think this issue is pressing and urgent enough to require address immediately, and there’s a plethora of evidence and examples to support the general opinion expressed by several commentators in this post — that the Hall of Fame has once again shut out the Negro Leagues and thus rekindles and perpetuates the segregation that plague America’s pastime for so long.
So … what do you think?