Monday, December 21, 2015

Keep Hall of Fame door open for Negro League baseball

Image result for Herbert "Rap" Dixon     Rap Dixon         Image result for Newt AllenNewt Allen

Image result for CI Taylor CI Taylor                                       Image result for bill byrd negro league baseballBill Byrd

Two weeks ago the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Pre-integration Committee voted on ten candidates for induction next summer.  None of the ten were from the Negro League baseball era.   No one from that era has been selected for induction into the hallowed halls of the museum in Cooperstown, New York since 2006.  The 17 inducted that year are profiled in my book Last Train to Cooperstown.  Is the door for other candidates from the Negro Leagues closed?

For years the Hall of Fame’s Veteran’s Committee had been responsible for considering candidates who failed to get the necessary votes needed for induction during their initial years of eligibility.  However, in 2010 the committee was restructured into three separate committees.  The Pre-integration Committee was created to consider candidates that existed prior to 1947, the year Jackie Robinson crossed the “invisible color line” to become the first African American or dark-skinned Latino to play Major League baseball.  The other two created were the Golden Era Committee to consider potential Hall of Fame candidates from the period 1947 – 1973 and the Expansion Era Committee to consider those from after 1973.

With a grant from Major League Baseball, the Hall of Fame in 2006 created a special committee of baseball historians to give a thorough review of the Negro League baseball era.  Based on the committee’s work, 99 individuals were identified as eligible for Hall of Fame recognition.  Of those, a final vote was taken on 39 of which 17 were recommended to be a part of the 2006 induction class.

It will be the responsibility of the Pre-integration Committee for adding others that are deserving recognition from the Negro League era.  The committee meets every three years and so far there have been no nominations from that era.  The legitimacy of Negro League baseball is no longer in question.  It is time to give a second look at some of the 82 identified from the black ball era, but not chosen by the 2006 special committee.

As I stated in The Last Train to Cooperstown;

“It is uncertain as to whether any of the other former Negro League players and executives/managers not chosen during the 2006 selection process will be someday elected into the Hall of Fame.  Although one, John “Buck” O’Neil, has a statue now at Cooperstown recognizing him as Negro League baseball’s greatest ambassador, he did not get selected for induction in 2006 as a player.  Also not selected were:  “Cannonball” Dick Redding, who some say threw the ball as hard as Hall of Famer “Smokey” Joe Williams; Grant “Home Run” Johnson; Dick Lundy; Newt Allen; C. I. Taylor; or Minnie Minoso who also had an All-Star Major League career.  They will be included in the on-going debate along with former Major League players such as Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, and others about who deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.
But being a part of the black baseball era should not negatively affect the Negro Leaguers in this debate.  Negro League baseball has come from behind the “invisible color line” and is now clearly identified as an everlasting fixture of baseball history.  The 17 Hall of Fame inductees from the Negro Leagues that arrived on the train to Cooperstown in 2006 cemented that fact”.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

One of the last Negro League All Stars - Ernest Westfield

The following is an excerpt from my book, “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”:

“Jackie Robinson broke through the color line in 1947 and began his successful Major League playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  With the line erased by Robinson and as more African Americans began playing in the Major Leagues, the eventual future end of Negro League baseball became obvious by the early 1950s.  Instead of attending Negro League games, more and black baseball fans began following former Negro League players in the Major Leagues.  By the middle of the decade talented young African American players were bypassing the Negro Leagues and directly signing with Major League teams.  The death of Negro League baseball came by the early 1960s due to economic problems caused by a declining fan base and a decreasing level of talent.”

Born on November 30, 1939 in Cleveland, Tennessee; Ernest Westfield was the starting pitcher for the East squad in the last Negro League Baseball East-West All Star Game.  The contest was held on August 21, 1960 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the same as where the first was played in 1933.  In spite of the league being in decline, it was still an honor to be chosen to participate in the All Star Game.  Ike Brown, the West squad’s shortstop, went on to play for the Detroit Tigers in 1969 and was the last player from the Negro Leagues signed by a Major League team. 
A 6’3”, 160 pound  right handed pitcher, Westfield spent the 1958 season in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.  The next year he signed with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League (NAL). 
Westfield gave up three runs in the first three innings and the West squad won the game 8 – 4. 

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

John Kennedy - First African American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies

John Irvin Kennedy’s Negro League baseball career was wedged between his two attempts to play in the Major Leagues.  After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells.  Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy was released after one season in the team’s minor league system.  He played the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956. 

The talent level in the Negro Leagues had decreased by the mid-1950s as the best players had been signed by Major League teams.  However, Kennedy was an All Star while with the Monarchs and got the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who in 1957 were the only National League team without an African American player.  He was invited to the team’s spring training camp that year and made a strong effort to be their number one shortstop. 

However, just as other former Negro League players in the 1950s faced when signed by a Major League team, Kennedy a had problem about his age.  The Phillies discovered he was not 23 years old as told, but 30.  Some records say Kennedy was born November 23, 1934 in Sumter, South Carolina.  But, his official birthdate was October 12, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The team brought in a younger shortstop, but Kennedy remained with the team and on April 22 became the first African American player to appear in a game wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.  He entered the game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field as a pinch runner.   Kennedy appeared in four other games and then was sent back to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder; never to play in another Major League game.

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