Negro League selections draw criticism
O'Neil's omission from Hall of Fame class questioned
Baseball historians Dick Clark, Larry Lester and Leslie Heaphy can't shake the criticism.
And no matter how often they've tried to explain the process that went into selecting 17 players, managers and executives from "black baseball" for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the three members of the selection committee still find critics galore.
On the verge of the induction ceremony in Cooperstown on Sunday, much of the criticism still centers on who didn't get into the Hall of Fame, not on who did.
Since the announcement of the inductees in February, people have debated the latter without much rancor. But the critics have fired verbal broadsides at the 12-member selection committee for its omissions, particularly of Buck O'Neil, one of the few surviving stars of the Negro Leagues.
"I think criticism of who didn't go in is valid, as long as it's not stupid," Clark said.
Those "stupid" things haven't died, and with Cristobal Torriente, Jud Wilson, Cum Posey, Louis Santop, Effa Manley, Biz Mackey and the other 11 inductees ready to take their spots alongside Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, criticism continues.
"That's to be expected," said Heaphy, an associate professor of history at Kent State University. "To a certain degree, people are always going to disagree with how things turn out. But I'm very proud of the work I did. I was very honored to be a part of it, and I'd do it again."
For induction, each of the 39 candidates on the final ballot needed nine votes from the 12-member selection committee, which former Commissioner Fay Vincent chaired as a non-voting member. Each candidate had his credentials put under tough scrutiny, and the voting members of the panel cast their ballots in secrecy.
Even today, no one on the committee knows how many of the 12 votes any of the 39 candidates received, Lester, Heaphy and Clark said. The Hall of Fame has kept those vote totals confidential, and Lester, Clark and Heaphy seem to acknowledge that the secrecy has stoked the criticism and fueled wild rumors.
The most persistent of those rumors is that the committee went into its closed-door sessions in Tampa with an anti-Buck O'Neil mindset. Lester, Heaphy and Clark dismissed such talk as baseless. O'Neil's career in "black baseball" got the same review that other candidates did, they all said.
Clark pointed out that no one went into the discussions expecting all 39 people on the ballot to get in.
"I was thinking, 'If we did five, we failed; if we did 39, we failed,'" said Clark, a respected writer and authority on the Negro Leagues. "So I guess 17 was pretty good. For myself, I'd have liked to have seen 25 or 30."
Many who didn't get in simply lacked the statistical record in their bios to support their selection, Clark said. Their case for induction might improve in the years ahead as baseball historians like he, Lester and Heaphy sift through more records from obscure leagues or rummage through newspaper archives in search of information.
Lester, Clark and Heaphy stressed that Hall officials, who received a $250,000 grant from Major League Baseball to fund this initiative, have not ruled out revisiting Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues players for future consideration if one day new, substantial research is uncovered, above and beyond the research already unearthed.
The scholarship on "black baseball" will likely uncover more bits of information as historians try to paint a clearer picture of the Negro Leagues, said Raymond Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and one of the 12 members on the selection committee.
Lester, however, isn't sure how much gold is there to mine in terms of new information. He did agree that the mining would continue. He said he can see hundreds of stories that are worth telling in more detail, if those details are there for historians to unearth.
But a research team, comprised of about 50 people from across the United States that actually did the legwork for the list of 39 candidates whose names made the ballot, did much to flush out the historical record. Its work spawned Larry Hogan's book "Shades of Glory."
Lester, one of the foremost authorities on "black baseball," said the research team left thousands of pages of information, and that information, whenever the Hall of Fame decides to release it to the public, will provide baseball historians and fans more insights into the lives of the men and the women in "black baseball." The information should also lead to other books, which will put those people's lives under a microscope again.
Another round of Negro League inductions could grow from it, too. With it, could come more criticism over who didn't get selected, Lester said.
"I've got two favorites that did not get in," he said. "So I'm gonna go back and do more research."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.