The Negro Leagues and the History We Are Losing

The Negro Leagues were home to some of the best baseball players in the world during the time they were operational. The further away we get from the last game of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960’s. In the half century since, the number of living Negro League players has dwindled to critically low numbers.  Each time a former Negro League player passes away, we all lose a little more history. Some of this history we will never be able to get back. The incomplete records from the Negro Leagues leave a hole in our understanding of the players, both those as great as Josh Gibson or those who only played briefly.

The rich history of the Negro Leagues is chronicled in Kansas City at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the door through which individual players can be honored in Cooperstown has been shut, hopefully the door can be reopened. The 2006 balloting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame also included The Committee on African-American Baseball. Major League Baseball sought to do extensive research into the history and the people who were involved in the Negro Leagues and/or African-American baseball. The focus on African-American baseball was a long time coming, and resulted in the nomination of 94 individuals for enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After the ballots were cast, 17 of the 94 individuals were elected to Cooperstown; seven Negro League players (Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackay, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, and Jud Wilson), five pre-Negro League players (Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, and Ben Taylor), four Negro Leagues executives (Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, and J.L. Wilkinson), and one pre-Negro Leagues executive (Sol White).

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent start for Major League Baseball at giving Negro League, and pre-Negro League, players the recognition they so richly deserve. However, more individuals need to receive the honor they have long been denied. Determining who was and was not a Hall of Fame caliber player or executive for all of baseball during segregation is an enormous task. Players who would have had excellent career in the Negro Leagues, like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, have not been over looked because they were given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Mays and Aaron are among the greatest baseball players of all time, how many players like them were never given the opportunity to play in Major League Baseball because of their skin color?

Plenty of Negro League players have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Greats, including Monte Irvin (Class of 1973), James “Cool Papa” Bell (Class of 1974), and Josh Gibson (Class of 1972), have been inducted, even before the Committee on African-American Baseball. Their elections have in some small way helped to correct some of the wrongs that necessitated the Negro Leagues. The call made by many, including Ted Williams during his own Hall of Fame induction speech, has led to a sort of reexamining of Major League Baseball’s past actions. This process should be on going. New information continues to emerge, thus the credentials of players continue to change. The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent beginning, but the work has not come to an end.

 Buck O'Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

Buck O’Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

If there was ever a reason to renew the Committee on African-American Baseball it is Buck O’Neil. He held nearly every job in baseball, and through it all he never lost his love for the game. He played for 11 seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs and Memphis Red Sox, both in the Negro American League. His career .283 BA prove his abilities on the field. He managed the Monarchs, coached for the Chicago Cubs, scouted for the Cubs and Kansas City Royals, and led the charge for the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. O’Neil may not have had the credentials as a player or manager to gain enshrinement to Cooperstown, and no scout has ever been given the honor (which should be seen as a travesty). Buck O’Neil should be inducted as a contributor to baseball. Unfortunately, Buck O’Neil has passed away and was not able to receive the honor of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame need to act, and act soon, so that more people who were involved with the Negro Leagues can be honored. The longer we wait to honor these individuals the more history we are losing. Time is of the essence, it is past time that we honor these individuals.

D

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