02/01/06 9:00 AM ET
Hill mentioned among all-time greats
Negro Leagues hitter called best outfielder in Dead Ball Era
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
His career began with the Pittsburgh Keynotes in 1899, and Hill played two seasons each with them and the Cuban X-Giants. During those years, he established a reputation as a line-drive hitter who used the entire field, including the infield.
He was just as likely to bunt for a hit as he was to line a double into the outfield gap. Hill was, however, more than just a good hitter. He was one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and his superb play helped his Philadelphia clubs win championships in 1905 and '06.
It is Hill's all-around talent that has him under consideration for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Hill is among the 39 players and executives from black baseball that are being considered for induction into Cooperstown. A panel of 12 baseball historians and Negro League experts will decide which of the 39 will reach the Hall of Fame.
The panel will announce its decisions Feb. 27 in Tampa, Fla., and J. Preston "Pete" Hill should have a strong chance of his name being called.
"Hill was a complete ballplayer and, although slightly bowlegged, could field and run the bases as well as hit," wrote James A. Riley in "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues." "The star center fielder was one of the fastest outfielders in the game, fielded flawlessly and had a deadly arm."
Like his contemporaries, Hill bounced around from team to team in black baseball. In 1903, he began a long association with Rube Foster when he joined the Philadelphia Giants. With the Giants, Hill won championships in 1905 and '06, before he and Foster moved on to the Leland Giants in '07.
In 1910, Hill and Foster left the Leland Giants and set up their operations in Chicago with the American Giants. Both figured prominently in the great success the American Giants had.
According to Riley's "Biographical Encyclopedia," Hill was credited for hitting safely in 115 of 116 games during the 1911 season. The American Giants went on to post a 106-7 record that season. Foster, a Hall of Famer himself, called that 1911 squad the greatest team ever assembled -- black or white.
Hill, considered a "money player," didn't rest on the greatness of 1911. He continued to play -- and play well -- until 1926, when he retired.
How good was Hill at his best, though?
In 1910, an article in The Defender seemed to answer that question. It said Hill would have been a star in the Majors if skin color had not barred him from the field, said Leslie Heaphy, a Negro Leagues historian.
The article said, "[Hill] can do anything a white player can do. He can hit, run, throw and is what could be termed a wise, heady ball player."
In 1944, legendary Homestead Grays owner Cum Posey was asked to put together his All-Time All-Star team, and who was one of the outfielders that Posey included? Hill, of course.
In explaining the selection, Posey called Hill the "most consistent hitter of his lifetime," who "was the backbone, year in and year out, of great clubs."
Eight years later, The Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper with a long history of chronicling "black baseball," followed Posey and announced a similar team of Negro League greats, and the newspaper included Hill on its second team. He lost out by one vote to Monte Irvin, a Hall of Famer.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. MLB.com staffer Brian Wilson contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.