O'Neil must wait longer for Hall call
Legendary Negro League star passed over in special election
The official and long overdue recognition of the contributions of Negro League baseball, of the history of African-American baseball, is now more than ever a matter of record. This is a good day for baseball.
The Hall of Fame announced Monday that a panel of Negro League and pre-Negro League historians had elected 17 candidates to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The election was the culmination of an in-depth, painstaking five-year study of the history of African-American baseball.
There will be some eyebrows raised in some quarters, if only because individual Hall of Fame elections do not typically produce 17 inductees. The most recent election by the writers produced one inductee, Bruce Sutter. The most recent Veterans Committee election produced none.
But this was an election that was designed to honor, finally, an entire portion of the American population whose contributions had not been fully appreciated. It is a one-time election. And it is compensating for decades of overlooking these contributions.
The raised eyebrow here will come not for that reason, but because Buck O'Neil was not among those elected. It is difficult to imagine how this process could be held without electing Buck O'Neil to the Hall of Fame. Even those of us who cannot claim comprehensive historical knowledge in this area are aware of his exploits and his importance.
In more recent years, O'Neil has come to be a truly national figure, a symbol of an entire era when great American baseball was not played only in the Major Leagues. His omission is entirely regrettable, not to mention, for many of us, completely inexplicable.
This may prove that even the best of intentions do not create perfection. Even democratic elections do not always guarantee perfection. While reflecting the freedom of choice that we all value, elections also lend themselves to demonstrations of shortcomings in collective judgment.
2006 Negro Leagues
And in all honesty, every year the conventional Hall of Fame balloting leaves most of us wondering how in the world one of our favorite candidates could not be elected. In this regard, the special election might not be different from most Hall of Fame elections. But there still should be a place for Buck O'Neil in the Hall of Fame.
Apart from this glaring omission, the effort and the intention behind this election must still be applauded. The history of American baseball has been too often thought of by the general public, or at least the general Caucasian public, as the history of the Major Leagues.
But the Major Leagues were, like nearly every other part of American society, rigidly segregated. It can be argued that baseball, with Jackie Robinson's emergence in 1947, played a major role in the eventual desegregation of society. But that does not take into account the fact that prior to that time African-American baseball in America was in a separate-but-not-equal status, even though the talent, by all reasonable accounts, was equal to that on display in the white game.
This election finally comes closer to recognizing, through the honor of Hall of Fame induction, the contributions of the great players, the great figures, who were not allowed to become great Major Leaguers. The game thus takes a step closer to becoming what it always said it was; the national pastime. You cannot be the national pastime if the ultimate individual awards are skewed in favor of just one of the nation's demographic groups.
So this election represented progress; long-delayed, much overdue, but still progress. And now, apparently, we still need one more election to get Buck O'Neil into the Hall of Fame.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.