02/27/06 6:41 PM ET
Big leaguers pleased with election
MLB stars owe debt to Negro League pioneers
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
And the Major Leaguers were more than eager to say so after hearing that 17 players and executives from "black baseball" had earned induction into Cooperstown.
"It's good those players are recognized, because it means a lot for all of them, and for the Latin players in the Negro Leagues," Giants reliever Armando Benitez said. "We are grateful for them. Baseball has gone through cycles, and times change, and this has been coming for a long time."
Indeed, nobody argued that fact. Members of a 12-member committee that made the selections emphasized the tardiness of it. But none of them was willing to dwell on the tardiness at the expense of ruining the moment.
They were more eager, instead, to applaud Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, Jud Wilson, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, Ben Taylor, Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson and Sol White for earning spots in Cooperstown.
"This recognizes the African-Americans that played in the Negro Leagues," Rockies left-hander Ray King said. "They get a chance to be recognized on both sides of the fence. I think about the [Negro League] guys I've known, Joe Black and Buck O'Neil, and listened to them talk about guys that had stats that were just unheard of ... 600, 700 home runs
"And these were guys that went to work Monday through Friday and played baseball on the weekends, yet still put up the numbers they put up. It's a reflection on baseball that we're turning the corner to where we're recognizing everybody that played the game."
That's what the selection process was about -- taking the statistical record from black baseball and then honoring the best of the best.
Over the weekend, the committee of voters looked at 39 candidates on the final ballot and held discussions on each before coming up with the 17 inductees. They will go into the Hall of Fame on July 30 along with closer Bruce Sutter, the lone '06 electee from the baseball writers' vote.
2006 Negro Leagues
"I think it's great for these worthy gentlemen to get their due in Cooperstown," Padres infielder Eric Young said. "They paved the way for all of us, and we owe them a debt."
Mariners outfielder Matt Lawton agreed.
"Every chance I get when I go to Kansas City, I try to see the [Negro Leagues] museum," Lawton said. "I also read on the history. And when you read about it, you look at the numbers these guys put up, man -- they had great careers.
"When they played the Major Leaguers, they either won or played at the same level. That says a lot. It's nice to see them getting some recognition."
The inductees include Manley, the first woman selected for the Hall, and three other owners (Pompez, Posey and Wilkinson) who teamed with Manley and Rube Foster, an earlier inductee, to help black baseball thrive.
"For them to join the pantheon of other Negro Leagues greats is outstanding," said Raymond Doswell, a voter and the curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "I expect that we'll be doing a lot of work with our exhibits now to extol the exploits of these great individuals."
Yet Doswell did lament the committee's rejection of 94-year-old O'Neil, a star first baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs and one of the surviving voices from the Negro Leagues. It was somewhat of a bittersweet moment for the museum in Kansas City, where O'Neil, its honorary chair, has been its most prized asset.
"I didn't get to see him play," said Maury Wills, the Dodgers great. "But I know that, as a baseball man, he is what the Hall of Fame is all about. He's an ambassador of the game. Buck O'Neil definitely should go into the Hall of Fame.
"I would like to see that. He is known by baseball fans black and white, all fans of all ethnicity know the name Buck O'Neil, even though he never played in the Major Leagues."
But Monday wasn't about the players who missed induction; it was about the players and officials were voted in.
"This is a validation, in many respects, to what the Negro Leagues in general and what they meant to the nation -- and what they mean to baseball," Doswell said. "It's an exciting time for us at the museum as well."
It's an exciting time for the museum and for the Major League players themselves, King said.
"Baseballs haven't changed," King said. "They've been the same color for years and years. Now there is not really a color barrier in baseball the way there was back then. So let's recognize the guys that played the game the right way and deserve the recognition that they're getting."
The announcements in Tampa caused Reds' outfielder Tuffy Rhodes to pause and reflect on the significance of the Negro Leagues story.
"I'm just a small fish in the big pond of professional baseball," Rhodes said. "I'm very proud of and proud for all those who made it. A long time ago, they all went through a lot to make it easier for a guy like me."
Reds coach Billy Hatcher is also delighted that the number of Hall of Famers from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues will nearly double in July, from 18 to 35.
"Everybody has heard about Jackie Robinson, but you don't hear as much about the great ones who came before Jackie," Hatcher said. "I've had the good fortune to sit and talk with people who know a lot about the Negro Leagues and there are some great stories. It makes you want to go do more research about those individuals who made it all happen. It's a thrill that they are being recognized."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Robert Falkoff contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.