’42 for 21′ joins the Hall of Fame battle

Rap Dixon is one of the top 10 baseball luminaries tabbed by the 42 for 21 Committee for Hall induction.

To kind of follow up on my last post, in which I excoriated the National Baseball Hall of Fame for completely botching the election process partially designed to – allegedly – give Negro Leaguers a renewed shot at induction, I reached out to the creators of the “42 for 21” Committee to get a little background, as well as reassurance that it’s not just me screaming wildly into the void.

Around the time the members of Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball Era Committee were preparing to cast their votes – something the committee will as of now do just once every decade, with the next election not scheduled until 2031 – Ted Knorr, Gary Gillette and Sean Gibson drew up a list of segregation-era African-American baseball figures who’ve frequently been mentioned as potentially worthy of induction in Cooperstown.

They then sent their ballot out to their friends, Romans, countrymen and co-conspirators in the Negro Leagues community to get a sense of who the fans and historians of such legendary players, managers and owners from bygone days, i.e. those people today who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to Black baseball, think should be elected to the Hall. 

In all, several dozen of those prospective balloteers responded with their choices; a Dec. 15 press release details the results.

The words and efforts of Ted, Gary and Sean – the first two of whom answered a few written questions about the 42 for 21 project and its results – prove that there’s a larger number of folks out there, in addition to me, who are steamed that the Early Baseball Era Committee only elected three new segregation-era African-American members when it voted last year. The ranks of the frustrated Negro Leagues enthusiasts who are peeved at the Hall are large in number and overflowing with rancor.

For us, the Hall needs to know there’s a lot of us who are upset that the hallowed institution in upstate New York and the way it continues to blatantly, coldly and insultingly perpetuate the injustice and bigotry that pre-integration Black baseball legends endured while they were living and playing.

It’s a subject that I’ve tried to address on this blog several times before (such as here, here and here), both quantitatively and qualitatively, and it’s a fight that now has been enjoined the the 42 for 21 project and the folks (including me) who’ve so far cast votes. (I’ll give the results from my ballot at the end of this post.)

In addition to appealing to baseball folks’ sense of justice and fairness, the 42 for 21 Committee also underscores that when the Hall’s current membership is analyzed and tallied, the numbers don’t add up. From the project Web site:

“There are several ways of looking at how equitably the Negro Leagues & Black Baseball are represented in Cooperstown. One way is to compare the percentage of Negro Leagues & Black Baseball players in the Hall of Fame who debuted in the Segregated Era to the percentage of African American or Latino players in the Hall of Fame who debuted in the Integrated Era.

“Currently, only 17 percent of players in the Hall from the Segregated Era come from the Negro Leagues & Black Baseball, while 44 percent of players from the Integrated Era are African American or Latino. That is a huge disparity and shows how much more attention needs to be paid to players from the Negro Leagues & Black Baseball.” [Emphasis in original.]

The goal of 42 for 21, as the Web site says, is “to bring much needed attention to these distinguished but overlooked Negro Leagues & Black Baseball players, managers, umpires, executives and pioneers.”

For more background on and media coverage of “42 for 21,” check out this and this. Without further ado, here’s the lightly edited transcript of my email interview with Ted and Gary:

Ryan Whirty: Why did you guys launch the 42 for 21 effort? Were you frustrated by the Hall’s indifference, or was it more of just an informative type of thing for the public?

Ted Knorr: To gently nudge the Hall into realizing that, now that the Negro Leagues are finally recognized as Major League, it needed to up the census count of Negro Leaguers in the Hall. Previously, it was the only league outside of the Majors with any representation (now, only Frank Grant – among players – has that distinction, i.e. having never played in a Major League). I think we all have been frustrated since 2016 when the Hall announced the 2020 election and the 10-year wait for the next one. The 42 for 21 movement is more of an informative thing for the Hall of Fame.

Gary Gillette: From my standpoint, it was extreme frustration that the Hall could be so indifferent to the injustice still being perpetrated on Negro Leaguers. Also, frustration that their solution – one token election every 10 years – seemed reasonable to them and, apparently, to the public, as the only complaints I saw were from the Negro Leagues’ community.

RW: What has been the reception to the 42 for 21 project and its results? Have they been welcomed by the HOF, researchers, and Negro Leagues fans? Has the effort been productive and worth it?

TK: Early with exposure from Jay Jaffe, Adam Darowski and now Ryan Whirty, the response has been great. We are up to about 80 respondents to our survey and seek more.

[With] the results, i.e. the early results, the 42 have not raised any controversy, but we do need to get the word out. The effort will be worth it in the end. I think the three of us (and now the nine-person steering committee) are confident of that.

GG: Reception has been good among those who know about our campaign, but we definitely need to reach a much wider audience. That will be our focus in the next few months.

RW: Briefly run down the results of the voting. Who made up the top 10, for example, and were you surprised by the results?

Cannonball Dick Redding also placed in the committee’s top 10. He’s also this writer’s No. 1 choice for induction.

TK: Since we made you wait so long for our response, gonna give you a scoop … this is the first rendering of the current top 10 since we went live for the first time on. Here is the top 10 in order:

Rap Dixon

Dick Redding

John Beckwith

Gus Greenlee

John Donaldson

Vic Harris

Dick Lundy

Grant Johnson

Newt Allen

Spottswood Poles

I like all 10 for the Hall … I should note that O’Neil, Minoso and Fowler were in the top 10 but have been removed since they have been inducted.

I was surprised by Dixon being No. 1. He isn’t even No. 1 in my opinion. I suspect perhaps my name being associated with the poll might have had some influence, but when I look at the pedigree of the voters I realize that perhaps I’m overrating my influence. Dixon is a very deserving candidate through his statistics, feelings of his peers and the legends he left. For me, Greenlee, Beckwith and Redding were my top three, and they are all right at the top.

GG: The voting results were quite erudite, IMO. No one will agree with every choice, so there were a few players I thought deserved more support and a few whose level of support surprised me. Overall, however, it is a solid slate, and our list of 43 (because of a tie for 42nd place) deserves serious discussion and meaningful debate.

RW: Where do you guys want to see this go from here? What is the next step, and are you optimistic about efforts like these and their prospects for affecting change?

TK: I think we need to get to work, publish editorial/informational pieces on the 42 for 21 website, perhaps petition the Hall for action … the clock is ticking. The upcoming Malloy Conference is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Publicity is something we all need – we appreciate your interest.

Given our cause, I can’t help but be optimistic. Also, I think the Hall’s efforts from the fall and the successful election of the Negro League candidates (with Minoso going in as an integrated-era Major League) was very well received and celebrated by the public.

GG: I am very optimistic about eventual success, as our cause is just and there is simply no plausible way to defend holding the next election in 2031 for a 2032 induction. To quote the estimable Spike Lee: the Hall needs to “Do the Right Thing,” and soon.

Blog readers and baseball fans are encouraged to learn more about the 42 for 21 committee. Feel free to send the guys an email or give them a call: Gary Gillette (313) 306-2233, Sean Gibson (412) 589-1906, Ted Knorr (papabell@aol.com) or 42for21@gmail.com.

Finally, here’s the people, in alphabetical order, I checked off on the 42 for 21 ballot who I believe belong in the NBHOF:

Newt Allen, John Beckwith, Ed Bolden, Chet Brewer, Bingo DeMoss, Dizzy Dismukes, Rap Dixon, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Gus Greenlee, Vic Harris, Bill Holland, Grant Johnson, Dick Lundy, Dave Malarcher, Oliver Marcell, Minnie Minoso, Dobie Moore, Alejandro Oms, Buck O’Neil, Bruce Petway, Spot Poles, Dick Redding, George Scales, George Stovey, C.I. Taylor, Quincy Trouppe, Frank Warfield.

There were several over whom I hemmed and hawed but ultimately didn’t vote for, including Sam Bankhead, Frank Duncan, Bill Francis, Fats Jenkins, Max Manning, Dan McClellan, Double Duty Radcliffe, Chino Smith, Candy Jim Taylor and Frank Wickware.

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