Negro Leagues managers and the Hall of Fame

 

Gentleman Dave Malarcher

According to Baseball Almanac, the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has inducted 23 people primarily as managers. However, only one of them, Rube Foster, is from the Negro Leagues (or even just African-American). With the doors of the HOF cracking open again to folks from Black baseball, there’s been little, if any, discussion about possibly inducting some Negro League managers.

But there needs to be.

If the Hall of Fame, as well as the larger baseball zeitgeist, is ever to achieve a full measure of diversity, justice, inclusiveness and historical accuracy, then the people who guided and shaped the abilities of players like Josh Gibson and Willie Wells and Bullet Rogan, and then molded them together to produce winning teams, deserve recognition and respect as well.

There would be no Homestead Grays dynasty without Vic Harris skippering the squad, and the Chicago (and later Cole’s) American Giants wouldn’t have remained a title-winning powerhouse after Rube Foster’s tragic departure without Dave Malarcher’s steady hand and strong principles.

Larry Lester, multi-book author, SABR award-winner, longtime co-chair of SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee, and friend and mentor Larry Lester said it’s time to give Black baseball managers their due.

Author, colleague and friend Alex Painter added simply:

“Managers in the Negro Leagues remain among the most criminally-overlooked constituency in baseball history, particularly when analyzing Hall of Fame inductions.”

“Great managers like CI Taylor, Candy Jim Taylor and Vic Harris labored behind the color curtain of inopportunity,” he said. “As we celebrate the Centennial of the Negro Leagues, let’s pull back this curtain and expose their deeds and contributions to every field of dreams. These men transformed how the game is currently played and re-shaped the attitudes of the naysayers.”

Plus this isn’t even to mention figures like Rube Foster himself — guys who excelled at multiple roles in the baseball world. Dick Lundy was a stellar manager, but many folks (including me) believe he deserves to be in Cooperstown for his playing career as an infielder. Buck O’Neil played, managed, scouted and served as an ambassador for the sport. And where do we even begin to describe, verbalize and quantify all the reasons that the incomparable Bud Fowler deserves induction?

As a result, below are brief commentaries by fellow Negro Leagues researchers, writers and fans about several Black ball managers and why these skippers deserve recognition in Cooperstown. What do you think?

C.I. Taylor

CI Taylor, by Geri Driscoll Strecker (also suggested by Ted Knorr)

[CI Taylor is Hall-worthy] for his role in professionalizing the game with the ABCs, setting the foundation for the Negro National League with sportswriter Dave Wyatt, sacrificing his own life to save the league at the 1922 winter meetings, and training many of the men who went on to become great managers themselves, including his brothers Jim, John and Ben; Dave Malarcher; Bingo DeMoss; and Oscar Charleston. I know I’m missing names here, but I don’t have a roster in front of me. When you look at the “family tree” of great Negro Leagues managers, CI is at the root of most branches. His influence is undeniable.

Candy Jim Taylor

Candy Jim Taylor, by Steve Kuzmiak

Candy Jim was one of four brothers to play in the Negro Leagues. His career as a player and manager ran the course of 44 years. In 1943, he led the Homestead Grays to their first Negro League World Championship. He managed for 30 years and is the winningest manager in Negro Leagues history with 907 wins. He died at the age of 64 in Chicago and was buried in an unmarked grave. That problem was rectified when a headstone was placed on his grave in 2004. Apparently, he was a World War I veteran as well.

Vic Harris

Vic Harris, by Will Clark

Vic Harris. A name that should be etched on a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Anyone who leads his teams to eight pennants (six of them consecutively), while winning close to 70 percent of the games (Joe McCarthy, who is enshrined in the Hall, won eight pennants, but not quite 62 percent of his games), logically speaking, is a “no brainer” for Hall honors. Heck, it’s difficult enough to win even one time, but eight? That’s very rarefied atmosphere stuff. (Sure, Casey Stengel and John McGraw won 10 pennants, and Connie Mack  won nine, but none of them even won 60 percent of their games.)

Additionally, you’re also talking about a guy who had a lifetime batting average of .307 for that 25-year career, which is pretty darn good. It isn’t easy maintaining that kind of average for that long. Oh by the way, he also batted .364 against MLB pitching, so he was “the real deal.”

Nobody in Negro League baseball history comes close to Harris’ eight pennants won (no MLB manager EVER won six straight). He also played in six East-West All-Star games, and managed the East squad eight times (four more than Oscar Charleston, who ranks second on the list of East-West All Star game managers).  All in all, it’s high time that Vic Harris receives his long overdue Hall of Fame honors. 

Winfield Welch

Winfield Welch, from a 2015 article at myneworleans.com

The headline is unequivocal in its assertion. The Sept. 16, 1944, issue of the New York Amsterdam News, one of the country’s leading African-American newspapers of the time, makes no bones about it.

“Baseball’s Top Pilot Is Winfield Scott Welch,” blares the headline.

And why shouldn’t the Black media have made that conclusion? Welch, who lived and breathed the national pastime, had just guided the Birmingham Black Barons — a squad with no superstars or future Hall of Famers — to their second Negro American League pennant using guile, strategy and a knack for getting the most out of his players.

In the days before the integration of America’s sport, when the country’s African-American baseball talent was forced to form their own teams and leagues if they wanted to pursue the game they loved, Winfield Welch was on top of the world, a so-called player’s manager, one who endeared himself to all his hardball charges.

 

Dick Lundy

Dick Lundy, by Alex Painter

Dick Lundy, also known as “King Richard,” enjoyed a baseball career that spanned over two decades, spent mostly with the Bacharach Giants in Atlantic City, N. J. A dynamic ballplayer in every sense, the switch-hitting Lundy sported a .319 career batting average, logging more hits than other shortstop in Negro Leagues history excepting a pair of Hall of Famers in Willie Wells and John Henry ‘Pop’ Lloyd.

As prolific of a hitter Lundy clearly was, his defense somehow dazzled even brighter; possessing perhaps the best infield arm in Negro Leagues history, paired with incredible defensive range, he registered the fourth-most defensive “runs saved” of any player in any position.

It was his natural leadership ability and cerebral approach to the game that led him to be named team captain/manager for the Giants while Lundy was still in his mid-20s. Lundy led the Giants to consecutive Eastern Colored League titles in 1926 and 1927 as player/manager (though his Giants lost to the Chicago American Giants both years). In 1934, Lundy was named the manager of the East All-Star team, with the likes of Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Rap Dixon, Jud Wilson and Cool Papa Bell rounding out the roster. They defeated the West All-Star team in a 1-0 ballgame. 

Lundy continued to manage after his playing career was over, taking the reins of Newark Eagles from 1938-1940, finishing just two games behind the Homestead Grays for the league championship in 1939. Complimenting his stellar play on the field, only six managers in Negro Leagues history won more games than “King Richard.” 

Gentleman Dave Malarcher, by Ryan Whirty

Gentleman Dave Malarcher is my all-time favorite baseball player, regardless of color, league or era. Aside from the fact that he was born and raised in small-town Louisiana, about on hour or so from where I live, Malarcher was a Renaissance man who graduated from college, wrote poetry, became a civic and community leader, served in the military and combined grace, sportsmanship, competitiveness and braininess, on and off the field.

He went from a dependable, steady infielder who learned about teaching, coaching and winning baseball from the feet of the master himself, Rube Foster. As a Chicago American Giant in the 1920s, Malarcher soaked up every lesson Rube imparted, so much so that when Foster’s life began a tragic slide downward from health issues, Dave was able to step up and fill such massive shoes.

As a manager himself, Malarcher played Rube’s brand of hustling, crafty, savvy, gritty “small ball,” and, in so doing he guided the American Giants to three league pennants and two straight Negro World Series titles. He skippered the storied franchise almost continuously from 1926-34, always preserving Rube Foster’s legacy while also forging one of his own.

Lon Goodwin

Lon Goodwin, by Bill Staples Jr.

Alonzo “Lonnie, Lon, L.A.” Goodwin is a worthy candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his unparalleled career as the only Negro Leagues manager to make his mark in Asia before WWII.

His West Coast ballclubs dominated teams of all ethnicities during the 1910s, and he managed the perennial favorites in the California Winter League during the 1920s. He then led several Transpacific Goodwill Tours of the Philadelphia Royal Giants to Asia and the Hawaiian Islands during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Historians on both sides of the Pacific credit Goodwin’s tours as major influences for the start of professional Japanese baseball in 1936. Goodwin led teams on international goodwill tours in 1927, 1931, 1932-33 and 1933-34, traveling for an estimated 517 days and over 42,000 miles.

A native Texan, as a player Goodwin competed as a pitcher and shortstop with the Austin Reds, and later joined the Waco Yellow Jackets where was teammates with Andrew “Rube” Foster. Notable players who competed on Goodwin’s teams include: Oscar Charleston, Andy Cooper, Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, “Bullet Joe” Rogan, “Rap” Dixon, Walter “Dobie” Moore, George Carr, Carlyle Perry, Lemuel Hawkins, Hurley McNair, Frank Duncan, O’Neal Pullen and Connie Day.

**********

With that, how does the Hall of Fame itself view the possibility of inducting more Negro League managers? And what might the process of selection and voting look like pertaining to such candidates? I inquired to the Hall of Fame for comments on or explanations regarding such matters, and, with the assistance of Director of Communications Craig Muder, here are some thoughts by Jon Shestakofsky, the institution’s Vice President of Communications & Education.

(I included the entire comment verbatim because I was worried that any paraphrasing by me might misinterpret or omit key details or lose the important nuances of such an important, complex process.)

Said Shestakofsky:

“The Hall of Fame does not play a role in the nominating or voting process for election. While retired players are first evaluated by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, retired managers move straight to the Era Committee process. Each Era Committee ballot is constructed by a veteran group of baseball writers called the Historical Overview Committee and consists of 10 players, managers, umpires and executives whose greatest contributions to baseball were realized during one of four time periods.

“A 16-member Era Committee then convenes to consider the candidates on the ballot, with any candidate receiving a vote from at least 12 members of that committee (75 percent) gaining election to the Hall of Fame, to be formally inducted during ceremonies the following July.

“All former managers with 10 or more years in baseball, and retired for at least five years (with the exception of candidates who are 65 years or older, who are eligible six months following retirement) – including those from pre-Negro Leagues, the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball – remain eligible via the Era Committee process. Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues candidates are next eligible for consideration in winter 2021 via the Early Baseball Era Committee.

“In addition to those Negro Leaguers elected via various Veterans Committees, the Hall of Fame convened a Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues, which selected nine candidates between 1971-77, and the Special Committee on Negro Leagues, which in 2006 elected 17 Negro Leaguers after a multi-year evaluation and voting process that included the foremost historians on the subject of African-American baseball.

This Committee’s work resulted in substantial research that provided new statistics and information about individual careers in the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues eras, which was utilized by experts in the topic in making their voting decisions. The newfound material from this wide-ranging research study further resulted in the publication of a book, Shades of Glory, which traces the dramatic history of Black baseball from the Civil War to present day.”

The Hall of Fame

I also asked about the lack of African-American managers, in general, in the Hall of Fame, and why more Black post-integration managers haven’t really come up for consideration. (One Facebook friend rightfully suggested Cito Gaston, for example, who won two World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992 and ’93.)

Shestakofsky offered the case of the legendary Frank Robinson, a second-generation, post-integration African-American Hall of Famer. Robinson presents an interesting case because, just like the aforementioned Negro Leaguer Dick Lundy, he excelled as both a player and manager.

Shestakofsky said:

“When considering Frank Robinson, who was inducted in 1982 during his sixth year as a big league manager, please note that each candidate’s entire contributions to the game are a part of Hall of Fame evaluation. For that reason, Robinson’s role as a trailblazing MLB manager is considered a significant part of his Hall of Fame legacy. While Black managers make up a relatively small percentage of total managers in Major League Baseball history, eligible candidates continue to be considered by the Era Committee processes as these groups consider all candidates for potential Hall of Fame election.”

This returns to the point about how many baseball greats, regardless of color or era, accumulated careers that included multiple roles — player, manager, executive, representative, etc. — that, taken collectively, support his or her candidacy and possible induction at Cooperstown.

In terms of segregation-era Black baseball, the example that immediately jumps out in Rube Foster himself, who played so many crucial roles in the development, popularity, viability and legacy of the game that he stands today as the Father of the Negro Leagues.

Sol White

Another already-inducted example is Sol White, who, over the span of several decades from the late-19th-century to the early-20th-century, excelled as a player, manager, team founder and, later on, as an author, journalist and historian.

And that brings us to the longstanding elephant in the room — no, not the Denver White Elephants, the continued lack of induction for Buck O’Neil.

Buck has a prestigious award named after him, and a permanent, bronze, life-size statue of him greets all visitors to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

However, O’Neil has yet to be actually elected to the Hall as an inductee, which many fans and observers view as a near-tragic omission that must be rectified, post haste.

 

The Buck O’Neil statue

True, Buck O’Neil might not merit induction based solely on his career as a player, and he might not merit induction solely as a manager. He was certainly very capable and accomplished in each of those roles, but perhaps not enough to get over the election hump by themselves.

But Buck’s impact on the tradition and history and research of Black baseball history moves beyond his batting average or winning percentage. As an ambassador of the Negro Leagues and of baseball as a whole; as the driving force behind the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; as a commentator and source for journalists; as the author of the seminal book, “I Was Right on Time”; as the first African-American scout in MLB history … his overarching role in the Negro Leagues and Black baseball’s preservation is absolutely undeniable. Buck more than merits induction under the tag of contributor or something similar.

Another such case from segregation-era Black baseball is, of course, the ubiquitous, the enigmatic, the incomparable Bud Fowler. The 19th great was truly a Swiss Army knife of America’s pastime, a guy who could do it all — and quite frequently did.

 

Bud Fowler

Fowler’s exploits are too numerous and storied to go into here. Suffice it to say, he was recently selected as SABR’s 2020 Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend. While that designation hasn’t guaranteed eventual HOF induction, it did happen for one previously winner — third baseman Deacon White, who received the SABR honor in 2010 and was subsequently elected to the Hall in 2013.

Several of the other previous 19th Century Overlooked Legend recipients, such as Doc Adams (2014) and Jim Creighton (2019), have generated a groundswell of popular support for Hall membership, much like Fowler.

However the cases of Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler will remain for another day …

Two final notes. First, another of my own personal Hall of Fame suggestions, Dizzy Dismukes, will hopefully be addressed in a later blog post, because in my mind, he was a next-generation Sol White — player, manager, journalist, scout — and as such deserves special mention at some point.

Second, as Kevin Deon Johnson pointed out, Seamheads has produced a quantitative listing of the best Negro League managers, by the numbers. Check it out here.

One thought on “Negro Leagues managers and the Hall of Fame

  1. Really great article. Buck should definitely be in. He has so much experience with the Negro Leagues and was a great scout/coach for a few major league teams.

    Like

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