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

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