Monday, March 13, 2006

An Open Letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame Special Committee on the Negro Leagues:

Since the middle of last week, when I gained access to a list of email addresses and phone numbers for members of the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, I have felt myself on the horns of a dilemma. The question that inevitably confronts any movement that seeks to change the status quo is how far is too far? Some answer this question, “There is no such thing as ‘too far’. The ends justify the means.” I disagree, as it is this kind of unwavering, dogmatic belief that often alienates and polarizes, forcing opposing viewpoints into opposing camps with a siege mentality.

It is this polarization that I wish more than anything to avoid. I firmly believe that if all sides act in good faith, the proper decision will be made with respect to honoring the great servant of baseball, Buck O’Neil. With due transparency, I have no doubt that the source of what many of us perceive as an error will become apparent. To the extent that this reconciliation has not proven immediately attainable, it is because one or both sides have failed to act in good faith.
There are three primary ways to break faith with an opposing viewpoint: one is to deceive, another is to harm, and the last is to stonewall. I prefer not be a party to any of the three, but cannot give a pass to those who fail to maintain the same standard of principled negotiation. Mr. O’Neil would not have us malign those who acted on behalf of the game he loves so much, among whom he counts many as friends, and as such, I intend to assume that every individual on the committee acted in good faith unless the preponderance of evidence suggests otherwise. And so, I approach you with this open letter, directed to the email addresses corresponding to 10 of the 11 living committee members, along with the request that it be forwarded to the remaining committee member, Raymond Doswell.
Your contact information has NOT been posted on our website, which serves as a platform for the petition to enshrine Buck O’Neil, and has been linked by the NY Times and Salon.com. After considerable deliberation, I chose not to print your contact information, as I feel to do so had the potential to open this Committee to a tide of public condemnation that would burden you unnecessarily. However, I feel we supporters of Buck O’Neil deserve an end to the stonewalling which has prevented the public from receiving a full explanation of the reasoning that denied Buck O’Neil, a man universally admired for his contributions to the game, and generally considered to be baseball’s greatest living ambassador, a place in Baseball’s Hallowed Hall.

I speak to you with all due respect, knowing that I reflect upon not only myself and like-minded persons, but Buck O’Neil as well. As such, I will try to bear myself in the manner appropriate to representing such a graceful and dignified man. I further bear in mind that you are not our enemies. In fact, many, if not most of you, likely agree that the sum of Buck’s contributions to the game far exceed the threshold for enshrinement set over the decades. And so, I choose to treat you with the respect I would grant any person acting in good faith in support of justifiable beliefs, in hopes that we may open a dialogue which will answer the following questions pertaining to the Hall of Fame balloting procedures that led to Buck O’Neil’s omission from the list of 2006 honorees, and the means by which this issue can be properly addressed. And so I approach you with the following series of questions. I ask on behalf of our 800+ signatories only that you give these queries due consideration and respond to them to the best of your ability:

1. One of the great difficulties in assessing the merits of Negro League players is that the lack of reliable statistics makes it difficult to compare players inside and outside the league. To what extent do you feel that this problem was resolved by the new research paid for by the HOF's grant to this committee, and what weaknesses remain in the statistics derived under this research grant? Do you feel that the added statistical information aided Buck O’Neil’s candidacy, or harmed it?

2. Which candidates do you feel benefitted most from the statistical research and analysis paid for by this grant, and which do you feel were most hurt by the new information?

3. What was the most surprising discovery about an eligible candidate that you made in the course of your research for this committee?

4. There has been some controversy among baseball fans and scholars about the composition of the inductee class, particularly the inclusion of Effa Manley and Alex Pompez. Could you state your opinion on the case for and against the inclusion of these candidates? What do you feel was the decisive factor in favor of their enshrinement?

5. Do you feel that issues of character, such as Pete Rose’s gambling, or Alex Pompez's alleged mob ties and involvement in gambling and racketeering, or on the other end of the spectrum, Buck O'Neil or Lefty O’Doul's service as an "ambassador for baseball" should be factored in considering a player for induction?

6. Do you feel that there is a potential conflict of interest when a committee member must vote of players whose induction may positively or negatively impact the sales of their books? If so, how was that conflict of interest managed within the voting committee?

7. It is well-known that in the early days of the Veterans Committee, committee members were accused of "horse trading", in which voters agreed to vote for each other's pet candidates, thereby increasing the chance of enshrinement of well-connected, but sub-standard candidates and dilluting the talent pool in the Hall of Fame. What guidelines were put in place to prevent this kind of activity from flavoring the voting patterns in this election?

8. If you feel enshrining Buck O’Neil at this point in time would be inappropriate, how do you feel is a more appropriate to honor this man, whose life was spent in service to baseball in a way that few can claim?

9. And of course, the key question, which we all would like answered: did you vote for Buck O’Neil? If so, what do you feel is the most compelling case for his enshrinement? If not, what was the missing element from his case for enshrinement?

I hope that you will participate in this interview, and by doing so, help to defuse a controversy that is still boiling among many baseball fans. With due respect to you and to the game we all love, I thank you for time and consideration,

Tom Kessler

Monday, March 06, 2006

Conflicts of Interest on the Committee?

A fellow Buck supporter, Elaine O'Brien, directed me to this column by one of America's best sportswriters, Joe Posnanski. The key grafs:

“We had a great process in place,” Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey said. “It’s our role to put in that process. We stand behind the process.” But when talking specifically about the 10 men, one woman and one deceased committee member who left Buck O’Neil out, Petroskey seemed to take a few steps back.

“We don’t elect,” he said. “We induct.”


It's unclear outside of context what Petroskey meant by that last statement, but I don't think it unreasonable to think the statement was intended to indicate a certain amount of wiggle room for the Hall in terms of accepting or rejecting the recommendations of the committee. Why would Petroskey wish to create this kind of wiggle room? Read on:

Jim Riley is [...] a leading Negro Leagues author — he’s written six books, including the groundbreaking Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues — but he was not chosen to be on the committee. That upset him.

“I’m trying to be charitable here,” he said. “But this was a committee of cronies.”

He knows that his words will come off to many as sour grapes. He can’t help it. He’s livid. He’s convinced that O’Neil was denied for all the wrong reasons, and that infuriates him. [...] But his real wrath comes down on some who did make it.

“I’m trying to be charitable here,” he said again, but he doesn’t sound too charitable about some of these choices, particularly these three:

■ Effa Manley is the first woman inducted to the Hall of Fame. She was a co-owner of the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe. There is some dispute about the importance of her role with the team. Her supporters say she was a pioneering owner and, even as a white woman, on the cutting edge of the civil-rights movement.

Her detractors say Abe ran the team, which was not especially good (the Eagles won one pennant) and complain that her biographer, Jim Overmyer, was on the committee.

“She doesn’t deserve it at all,” Riley said. “She was not an influential owner. Abe is the one who bought the team. Abe is the one in charge of the baseball part. … People talk about her role as a pioneer. I mean that’s ridiculous. You know what she was known for? She had ongoing extramarital affairs with her players.”


It seems highly probable that Jim Overmeyer was Effa Manley's greatest supporter on the committee. As such, he certainly spent considerable energy in convincing his fellow voters of her worthiness for enshrinement as "the first woman in the Hall of Fame", a title sure to result in a reprinting of Overmeyer's 1998 biography "Queen of the Negro Leagues". It is also highly likely that some committee members engaged in "horse trading" to ensure the election of their favored candidates, with one committee member agreeing to vote for the favored candidates of another in exchange for a vote for his own favorites. (Remember the Olympic ice dancing scandal of 2002?)

Speculation alert:
Might it also be possible that the condition demanded for voting for a favored candidate was NOT voting for Buck? Certainly a successful author like O'Neil could have engendered some animosity among the "baseball experts" whose books O'Neil's frequently outsold. Without open balloting, there is no way to know for sure.

We DO know that another successful scout, whose outside contribution to the game was almost wholly scandalous WAS elected by the committee:

Alex Pompez was a longtime Negro Leagues executive and owner in New York. After the Negro Leagues folded, he was a great scout, signing among others Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. In this way, his case is quite similar to that of Buck O’Neil, who also made a legendary mark as a scout, signing Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Lee Smith among many others.

The big difference: Pompez was a racketeer. He was a big numbers man in Harlem. He was involved with mobster Dutch Schultz. He was indicted, fled to Mexico, was arrested and returned to turn state’s evidence.

“It’s appalling,” Riley says. “I hope Pete Rose hears about this and tries to get reinstated.”


That's right, friends. The committee saw fit to induct a racketeer and gambler over Buck O'Neil. That's not a typo. I said "induct", not "indict". Meanwhile, the Good Son of Negro League baseball, the universally respected and admired Buck O'Neil, without whom the Negro Leagues might have become a forgotten whisper, is left standing outside the Hall with neither an explanation nor an excuse for his omission.

Aren't these three results, two false positives and one false negative, reason enough to throw the entire process into doubt? If the Hall wishes to escape this with a semblance of its dignity intact, it MUST reexamine this vote and this committee critically, and throw light upon the inner machinations that led to these gross errors of judgement. We call upon the Hall and the committee to open its records and let it be known how each of these selections were decided upon. As it stands, what once appeared to be a sin of omission begins to bear the sinister appearance of purpose. Keep the pressure on by signing the petition to Induct Buck into the Hall of Fame.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Who's Done More for the Game of Baseball Than Buck O'Neil?

I asked this question, and received a number of responses, most of whom were no-doubt Hall of Famers, and a few of whom were more spurious than anything. Perhaps I should have changed my tactic, and asked for someone who WASN'T in the Hall who's contributed more to the game of Baseball than Buck, but since I didn't I'm responding to the suggestions I was given. First among these were Frank Robinson and Lefty O'Doul.

One could certainly make a good argument that the sum total of Frank Robinson's contributions were equal to that of Buck O'Neil. Frank Robinson was obvious a far superior player (probably one of the 10-15 best ever to play the game), and as first black manager in MLB, his legacy as a pioneer is similar to Buck's. He was a winner whereever he went, and fine representative of the game in word and deed (with at least one notable, but fairly justifiable exception that I don't think it meet to go into in this space).

But if you asked Frank Robinson who paved the way for his ascendance to Major League manager, I'm sure Buck O'Neil would be at or near the top of his list. I don't think it snarky to point out that Buck O'Neil was a much more successful manager than Frank Robinson (whose career winning percentage is .478), and that Buck O'Neil, unlike Robinson, was one of the most successful scouts of his era. Does that negate the value of Frank Robinson's superiority as a hitter? Probably not.

But Buck O'Neil also played a role in baseball history that no one else can claim, by cementing the place in history of Negro League baseball. The very fact that the term "Negro League Baseball" is remembered by baseball fans is the direct result of Buck O'Neil's tireless efforts over the last thirty years. To the extent we are even AWARE of Negro Leagues baseball, it is primarily because Buck O'Neil refused to let that memory die, and for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude that we may never fully repay. Buck O'Neil transformed a shameful past into a glorious one, and that transformation is what, to my mind, earns him a spot in the Hall.

Regarding Lefty O'Doul, he is indeed an apt comparison. He had a relatively short playing career, a reputation as a great player-development manager, strong connections with some of the great names in the game (notably Joe Dimaggio), was the most successful manager in Pacific Coast League history (this during an era when baseball didn't stretch much past the Mississippi River), and success in extending and building the game of baseball in Japan. I thank the person who pointed out this very apt comparison, for Lefty O'Doul is probably the best approximation of Buck O'Neil's contributions that I have found to date. And he is deservingly in the Hall, as should Buck be.

Regarding the rest of the names given (Bill James, Vin Scully, Hank Aaron, Jose Canseco, Senator John McCain, Curt Flood, Marvin Miller, and the entire 2004 Red Sox), I'm not sure some were meant seriously, but I'll address them nonetheless.

Bill James has indeed contributed greatly to the game, and if you respect his opinion so highly as that respondent, you should read his column on why Buck O'Neil deserves enshrinement in the Hall (linked above by Curtis).

Vin Scully? Undoubtedly one of baseball's all-time great broadcasters. But I fail to see how what he's accomplished is unique and irreplaceable in same the way what Buck O'Neil has done.

Hank Aaron was a great player, and by all accounts, a great person. Not only was he instrumental is breaking down the last vestiges of racism in the game, but his on-field contributions dwarf anyone you care to name. As it's difficult to compare on-field and off-the-field accomplishments, and comparisons of this kind speak to the values of the comparitor more than anything else, I won't try to make this case. Instead, I'll cede the point. Perhaps Hank Aaron did indeed contribute more to the game than Buck O'Neil.

Jose Canseco? You've gotta be kidding me. That's like saying you credit the Black Sox for saving baseball from gambling. Likewise, Sen. McCain? What has he really and truly done, besides exert some pressure on the league to do what they intended to do anyway, once the scope of the problem was recognized by the league and the player's association alike?

Curt Flood and Marvin Miller will undoubtedly be remembered as pioneers. However, due to the controversial nature of their contributions, not to mention the difficulty in ascertaining whether their contributions were net positives, with respect to the future of the game, neither Miller nor Flood has been enshrined.

So to sum up, in response to my challenge, we have received 2 similar or better-qualified persons (Aaron and Robinson) for the claim of "baseball's greatest living contributor", both of whom are inner-circle, first-ballot Hall-of-Famers for what they accomplished on the field. We also received 1 strikingly similar case (O'Doul), who is enshrined in the Hall, and deservingly so. We received 1 contributor (James), whose contributions fall into the category of increased scientific understanding of the game who strongly advocates Buck O'Neil, based on that same rationalist perspective. We also received mention of one notable broadcaster (Scully), and 4 persons whose contributions to the game can't be judged this close to their moment in history (Miller, Flood, Canseco, and McCain).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Why Buck Belongs in the Hall of Fame

I know some of you may not yet be convinced that Buck is worthy of the Hall. Perhaps you've heard some columnist say that despite his All-Star appearances and Batting Titles, he wasn't a truly "great" player, or that the 5 Pennants and 2 World Titles that the Monarchs earned under his leadership shouldn't count as highly since they weren't among "Major League" competition. Perhaps you think that it's common for a single Major League scout to sign Hall of Famers like Lou Brock and Ernie Banks, and perennial All-Stars like Joe Carter and Lee Smith (it's not). Perhaps you think, "Sure, Buck O'Neil was the first African-American coach in Major League history, but someone else would have done that eventually." Perhaps you think that it's not right for a man to receive extra credit for his service to the game after his retirement, and his role in integrating the very history of baseball, helping us to move beyond the game's shameful past. I suppose one could make an argument that some of these things, by themselves, would not constitute a Hall of Fame career (though others would be awfully close).

The point we supporters are trying to make is that it is not SOME of these things that make Buck O'Neil a Hall of Famer, any more than it is Roberto Clemente's 240 Home Runs that earned him enshrinement, or Dennis Eckersley's 197 wins that place him among the greats. It is his total contribution to the game of baseball, as a player, manager, scout, and ambassador for the game which make him uniquely qualified for enshrinement. If there is a single living person, black or white, young or old, who has done more for the game than Buck O’Neil, I challenge anyone to name him. My email is BuckOneilHOF@gmail.com, and I await a response. But if you can’t answer that challenge, is it possible to argue that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame? How can we stand by and watch as one of the great men in the history of baseball misses what might be his last chance for induction, and the assurance that his name will be immortalized among the legends of the game? I urge you to sign the Buck O’Neil Hall of Fame Petition and let your voice be heard by those who still have the power to fix this historic mistake.

Buck Supporters Unite!

Good morning, everyone. I'm pleased to announce that this is officially a Team Blog. In the interest of increasing ability to keep this blog up-to-the-minute and maximize our combined efforts, Curtis has been so kind as to invite me to join him in his blog. My name is Tom Kessler, and like Curtis, I am deeply saddened by the omission of Buck O'Neil from the 2006 induction class of the Baseball Hall of Fame. My response was to author a Buck O'Neil Online Petition, and through the grass-roots efforts of Buck's fans, we have collected over 170 signatures to date. But we don't plan to stop there. Our goal is 100,000 unique signatures from around the country and around the globe. With your help, we can make it happen.

Our interest is simple: make it as easy as possible for the Hall of Fame to do what they already know is right, and give Buck O'Neil his due. We can't do it without your help, so if you would like to help us by contacting sports media, bloggers, sports message board posters and the like, please email me at BuckOneilHOF@gmail.com and let me know what you plan to do, or what you have already done, so we can avoid duplicating effort. I've seen the internet accomplish things people thought impossible (just ask Trent Lott :) ), and with all of our support, we will see the day that Buck O'Neil is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs.

Who's the Hall For?


I wonder why was the Hall of fame constructed? Was it constructed so a group of elitist writers and scholars could decide who they think is worthy based on statistics? I don't believe so. I think the Hall of Fame was formed to recognize the best of baseball. Buck embodies all that is good and can still be good with this game.

Tom Kessler has formed a petition and I urge all of you that read this blog to sign it. You can access it at :
http://www.petitiononline.com/BuckHOF/petition.htm
Tom also in the near future will become a major contributor to this blog. We are in the process of working out all of the details so look forward to reading some of Tom's work and getting another perspective on this issue.

In response to a recent post about Cum Posey's credentials I counter with Gus Greenlee. In a class that I once took over the history of baseball, Cum Posey's name was never mentioned. However Gus Greenlee was given much credit for the strength of the Negro Leagues. Greenlee must be forgotten, I guess, because of his involvement with the numbers game. If this is the case we might as well rid the hall of all the horrible people that have graced this game, and there has been a few. I recently read a biography on Satchel Paige and went back and read a few sections after this election. Effa Manley was mentioned but usually in context of her sexual exploits off the field and almost always in the same sentence with her husband.

I guess I should not attack people based soley on the fact that they were elected and Buck O'Neil was not. However the hall is about comparison and providing a standard for players and people associated with baseball to live up to. I don't think Buck should be elected exckusively because of the fact he is a good guy. There have been plenty of good people in baseball. I just think that the voters have to have some sense of what he means to this game. He is on a different level, and the purpose of this blog is to make sure that everyone realizes this.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Effa and the Man


Let me first start by saying that I am not a Kansas City homer, I actually live in Texas so this isn't a home town vendetta. As we go into day 2 of the Buck O'Neil blog I still have not heard a valid argument for Buck being left out of the hall of fame. I have heard some people say that he doesn't have the numbers and I will explore this fact in the next few days. I think that a few of the players that were named played in a time were the competition of the Negro Leagues was more than likely at an all time low. The players I think may be suspect are the ones who played before 1920. I have also been blasted on some message boards for going after Manley and maybe this wasn't entirely fair of me. However i do feel that Buck did more for Negro League players being recognized than Manly did and I still can't figure out the choice of Cum Posey. In another note I have contacted a few of the voters and ofcourse I have not received a response. For those of you interested here is a list of the voters and suposed scholars.

Todd Bolton
Greg Bond
Adrian Burgos
Dick Clark
Ray Doswell
Leslie Heaply
Larry Hogan
Larry Lesler
Sammy Miller
Jim Overmyer
robert Peterson
Rob Ruck