Hall to embrace Negro Leagues ballot

Hall embraces Negro Leaguers

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum knew it had a decision to make: Either fill in the missing history on black baseball or ignore it.

In the minds of Hall of Fame officials, it was an easy choice. No museum that prides itself on telling the full story of an event, an organization, an era or a sport can slam its doors on finding out all it can about the past.

And the Baseball Hall of Fame didn't.

"The record of the African-American contribution to our National Pastime was largely missing until recently," said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "With extensive research and a statistical analysis now complete, the Board felt it was the right time to review Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues individuals with regards to Hall of Fame election. The guidelines adopted will allow for any worthy candidates to have another chance at election in 2006."

Two ballots -- one containing Negro Leagues players, managers and executives, and one listing pre-Negro Leagues players and pioneers -- will be made public by the Hall of Fame on Monday, with results of the special election announced on Feb. 27. Any candidates elected by the Hall of Fame's voting committee will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 30 in Cooperstown, along with any former players who might be enshrined in 2006 based on the annual Baseball Writers Association of America balloting that will be announced in early January.

With what could be a lean year on this season's BBWAA ballot, there is a strong likelihood that this new process will be reflected in a dominant way at next summer's induction ceremony.

The February election will mark the culmination of the Hall of Fame's extensive five-year study into black baseball from 1860-1960. The research project was funded by a $250,000 grant from Major League Baseball in 2000.

"The Negro Leagues are a very important part of baseball history, because it really parallels American history with a lot of African-Americans -- and dark-skinned Latinos," said Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey. "It's not just African-Americans.

 PlayerYear of Induction
 Satchel Paige
 Josh Gibson
 Buck Leonard
 Monte Irvin
 Cool Papa Bell
 Judy Johnson
 Oscar Charleston
 Martin Dihigo
 Pop Lloyd
 Rube Foster
 Ray Dandridge
 Leon Day
 Bill Foster
 Willie Wells
 Joe Rogan
 Joe Williams
 Turkey Stearnes
 Hilton Smith

"If your skin was light enough, you could play in the Major Leagues, pre-Jackie Robinson, if you were Latino. If it was too dark, you couldn't play."

Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Hall of Fame began recognizing previous Negro Leagues players in 1971 with the election of Satchel Paige. Seventeen more Negro Leaguers joined Paige in Cooperstown, before the special ballot ended after the 2001 election of Hilton Smith.

Those Latinos mentioned by Petroskey who were dark-skinned were left to play baseball in Cuba, Mexico and the Negro Leagues with black players, and both blacks and Latinos left a trail of accomplishments that needed to be documented. The study that Major League Baseball funded did just that.

"It's unprecedented," said Larry Lester, a Negro Leagues historian and one of three men who coordinated the work of some 50 scholars, historians and researchers on the project. "I think it opened up a lot of eyes as to the achievement and contribution of African-Americans to baseball history."

The research on the project began in February 2001, and the findings and statistical analysis that the researchers produced have opened eyes.

"They did a lot," said former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, who serves as the chair of the screening and voting committees. "They reconstructed a number of box scores, but it's still very limited. During these meetings, we'd see where we'd have guys who'd played in 80 games, and we might have box scores from 25. So there's a lot of stuff that's missing."

The research produced raw narratives and bibliographies of nearly 800 pages, and the men and women who worked on the project came up with a statistical database that included 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The information came from box scores from 128 newspapers that reported on sanctioned Negro League games from 1920-54.

Much of the information that was unearthed showed baseball historians, scholars and Hall of Fame officials that the excellence of some great ballplayers of color had been overlooked.

"We found a lot of history that's never been published," Lester said. "Hopefully, people will appreciate the hard work that went into this."

The Hall of Fame certainly did. Based on the comprehensive study, which will be published in a book at some point in the next year to 18 months, the Hall's board of directors approved the special election.

Under Vincent's leadership, the five-member screening committee was charged with sifting through the research and assembling two ballots of Hall-worthy candidates.

"As I said to people, if it weren't for the Negro Leagues and the guys who played and kept baseball alive in the black community, we wouldn't have Willie Mays or Ernie Banks or Jackie Robinson," Vincent said. "They kept the game going when the big leagues were closed to black players."

Yet, some of the contributions of those black ballplayers didn't get the scrutiny they deserved, and those men who played before the 1920s never seemed to cast the same shadow as those who played later when the Negro Leagues became a formal collection of teams.

With their play under a microscope, some of the forgotten men who pioneered black baseball should find their way into Cooperstown. Now that the ballot has been announced, the 12-member voting committee will meet for two days in February, discuss the names on the ballot and vote on candidates for induction.

Lester said the Hall put no limitations on how many of the candidates the committee can induct. Any candidate with "yes" votes on at least 75 percent of ballots cast will earn election to the Hall of Fame.

In addition to Vincent and Lester, others serving on both committees include Dick Clark, Larry Hogan, Adrian Burgos and Jim Overmyer. The remainder of the 12-member screening committee includes Greg Bond, Ray Doswell, Leslie Heaphy, Neal Lanctot, Sammy Miller and Robert Peterson. During the process, the Hall stepped back and let the researchers and the two committees do their work unfettered.

"I would say the biggest ground rule or the biggest direction we gave was to keep the standards high," Lester said. "The baseball writers and the Veterans' Committee select the top one percent of players who play in the Major Leagues -- the top one percent.

"That was the overriding direction we gave."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.