Andy Cooper and the Lone Star State

Head & shoulders posed portrait of newly inducted Hall of Famer, Andy Cooper. Cooper is often ranked 2nd only to Bill Foster among the Negro Leagues left-handed pitchers. Image is cropped from 1920 Detroit Stars 2442.89 PD

This June 3 will mark the 75th anniversary of the death of Hall of Famer and Negro Leagues legend Andy Cooper in Waco, Texas. Thus, I’ve been angling to land a magazine or newspaper assignment about that milestone in Cooper’s legacy, and to that end, I did some googling to find a few publications in Texas to which I could send pitch emails.

When I tried to enter “texas sports magazines,” one of the options the ever-friendly Google filled in for me was “texas sports hall of fame.”

“Ooh,” I thought to myself, “let’s see when Andy Cooper was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.”

When I went to the TSHOF Web site and checked out the list of inductees, I found, much to my dismay, that Cooper isn’t in that particular Hall of Fame.

And, to my further consternation, I discovered that several other Negro League Texas natives and Cooperstown inductees — including Biz Mackey and (I thought) Joe Williams — weren’t on the list of those enshrined in the Texas Hall.

I was almost immediately incensed — and, let’s be honest, also sensing a juicy story as well — and fired off an admittedly angry and indignant e-mail to Jay Black, the TSHOF’s vice president of museum operations. The contents of my message — which was typed ever so eloquently and sent from my phone at the Dairy Queen on the Westbank Expressway in Gretna, La. — are contained herein:

“Dear Mr. Black,

“I’m an award-winning freelance journalist who is planning on writing a blog post and/or article about the fact that the three members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame — all of them, coincidentally, Negro Leaguers — are NOT in the TSHOF, which, at first glance, is a severe oversight and injustice that reflects very poorly on the TSHOF.

“I was wondering if someone with the TSHOF would like to offer comments regarding this omission so I can include the Hall’s side in my article.

“Thank you very much,

“Ryan”

First off, I readily admit that the inclusion of the term “award-winning” was absolutely self-aggrandizing and somewhat gratuitous. However, I do include such chest-puffing in many of my e-mails to both publications and possible sources so I can ramp things up and better encourage the receiver of the e-mail to write me back.

Beyond that, as I stated previously, that e-mail wasn’t exactly the most level-headed and so-called journalistically “objective” missive I’ve ever issued. (I want to note, however, that in recent years many scholars and media types, of which I probably am one, have advocated for an end to an increasingly outdated, toothless concept that defines “objective” as simply including the views of “all sides” or “both sides” in an article or broadcast. We feel that, in place of that crumbling standard, a new paradigm should be established and nurtured, one that values not just the non-critical regurgitation of information and viewpoints but also an interpretative evaluation and appraisal of that conceptions. But, of course, I digress …)

Jay Black, in response, was extremely gracious but also firmly championing his organization’s mission and efforts in this e-mail:

“Hello Ryan,

“Thanks for your email. There are eight Negro Leaguers from Texas in the National Baseball HOF. Four of these men have already been inducted into the TSHOF and there were three Negro League players on last year’s ballot. In fact, Smokey Joe Williams was inducted as part of our class of 2016. So I respectfully disagree with your premise that the TSHOF is willfully trying to exclude Negro League players.

“I could make the case that it is easier to gain entry into the National Baseball HOF than the TSHOF since we are an HOF that includes all sports – not just baseball. While I have great respect for the National Baseball HOF, just because an individual is in that HOF doesn’t mean they should automatically be in the TSHOF. Our members must go through a nomination and voting process.

“As you know, HOF voting can be subjective, with many deserving candidates lined up to get in (especially in a large state like Texas). I attend the nomination meetings and members of our selection committee have campaigned and reminded each other to vote for Negro League players. It is tough to get in since only two candidates are selected from our 12 person veterans ballot.”

Black then listed the Negro Leaguers who were in one or both of these HOFs and when they were so inducted. He also listed this year’s nominees for the Texas Hall:

   Cooperstown    TSHOF
Andy Cooper        2006
Rube Foster           1981                       1998
Biz Mackey             2006
Louis Santop          2006
Hilton Smith           2001
Willie Wells             1997                       2010
Smokey Joe
Williams                   1999                       2016
Bill Foster                1996                       1998

2016 VETERAN BALLOT NOMINEES
ANDY COOPER (deceased) – Baseball / Waco
KEN GRAY — Football / San Saba
LESTER HAYES — Football / Texas A&M University
KING HILL (deceased) – Football / Rice University
BILL HOWTON — Football / Rice University
LUCIOUS “LUKE” JACKSON — Basketball / Pan American College
DAVE MARR (deceased) – Golf / Houston
CYNTHIA POTTER – Diving / Houston
JAMES SAXTON (deceased) – Football / University of Texas
HILTON SMITH (deceased) — Baseball / Giddings
FLO HYMAN (deceased) – Volleyball / University of Houston
“SMOKEY” JOE WILLIAMS (deceased) – Baseball / Seguin

So they had three NBHOF Negro Leaguers on the ’16 ballot, and one, Joe Williams, got in, Black said.

I haven’t, in order to draw a more “apples to apples” comparison, been able to look up the national or international halls of fames in each of those other sports to see which members on the TSHOF 2016 ballot have been enshrined in their sport’s larger HOFs.

Plus, being a Negro League historian and writer, I’m manifestly at least a little biased in my original view that Texas blackball legends are getting short shrift from the Texas Hall.

Thirdly, as evidenced by the presence of five gridiron stars on that ballot, Texas is, as widely known, is bonkers over football, which has always seemed to loom and lord over the athletic scene and traditions in the Long Horn State.

Finally, Black is dead-on when noting that the Texas Hall must include all sports when it considers each year’s enshrinement class. On that note, the TSHOF ballots and votes include both genders (and, hopefully, the transgendered, but that’s surely problematic in such a diehard red, almost reactionary red state as Texas), unlike Cooperstown, which, thanks to lingering and unfortunate dearth of successful women at the highest levels of baseball, in reality has a miniscule pool of female talent from which to choose.

Given all those factors, it’s certainly understandable that all baseball figures, not just segregation-era African-American players, take a backseat to football folks in the TSHOF voting.

Which is not inherently or necessarily a bad thing.

So, the queries remain: 1) Can any sort of parallel be drawn between the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s current policy of excluding further Negro Leaguers from induction and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame’s practicality and situationally induced lack of blackball figures within its doors? and 2) Is it therefore fair to protest the lack of Negro Leaguers in the TSHOF and actively lobby for those circumstances to change?

But then, perhaps, there’s an even larger question here: Does it even really matter? Do such luminaries as Andy Cooper, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey and Hilton Smith need to be enshrined in a state athletic hall of fame to have their legacies and greatness burnished or validated? In the grand scheme of history, is it truly that important?

Those are the questions I pose to you today, and feel free to voices your thoughts either on this blog, on Facebook or via e-mail to me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com.

Now, hopefully, I’ll draw up an ensuing post that looks at Andy Cooper’s back and family roots in Texas in general and Waco in particular.

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3 thoughts on “Andy Cooper and the Lone Star State

  1. I think one of the things we, as people who, to varying degrees, are in interested in the history of the Negro Leagues and its players forget is that this area of baseball studies is a fairly esoteric slice of baseball history. Granted, there are many historical reasons why that is the case. But in the end, we are still dealing with a period of history that has a tenuous connection to the present (eg. there are only a tiny – and dwindling – number of living Negro Leaguers). Wrongly or rightly, most present day fans are only tangentially and sporadically interested in “the past” (the “white” past or the “Negro” past alike). The question of whether former and largely unknown to the wider baseball audience Negro Leaguers would be “honored” by induction to any HOF is problematic. Would it make those players more visible?
    Would it spur interest in their stories? I think the answer to both questions is, sadly, “No.” Some fans are inclined to view the past as alive and will take up the cause of Blackball on their own initiative – HOF or not. Others, the vast majority, will view the past as dead. To those, HOF or not HOF, is a status that is largely irrelevant. Placing HOF on the tombstones of the otherwise non-inductees will not revive them nor will it spark a flame of interested in the otherwise disinterested fans or powers that be.

    Rather than fighting this good fight, our time might be better spent simply doing the research and publishing the results. As long as we do that, these players and their exploits will be honored.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Andy Cooper, the early days? | The Negro Leagues Up Close

  3. Pingback: Andy Cooper Texas update | The Negro Leagues Up Close

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