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A Brief History of Elections of Negro Leagues Candidates

The Early Days/The Committee on Baseball Veterans 
"Inside this building are plaques dedicated to baseball men of all generations, and I'm privileged to join them. Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game, and I've always been a lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, to have struck out, or to have hit a tape measure home run. And I hope that someday, the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance."

These were the words spoken by Ted Williams during his induction speech in 1966. With Williams championing the cause of the stars from the defunct Negro leagues for election to Cooperstown, the ball started rolling. Five years later, the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors formed the Committee on Negro League Veterans.

The committee, which operated from 1971 to 1977, was charged with electing Negro leagues stars to Cooperstown. The committee was comprised of 10 men: Eppie Barnes, a former major leaguer; Hall of Famer Roy Campanella; Frank Forbes, a former Negro leagues player; Eddie Gottlieb, who owned the Philadelphia Stars; Monte Irvin, a Negro leagues and major leagues star, who would earn election to the Hall of Fame in 1973; Judy Johnson, a 1975 Hall of Fame electee; Sam Lacy, a veteran sportswriter with Baltimore's Afro-American; Alex Pompez, who owned the Cuban Stars and scouted numerous Latin American and African American players; Wendell Smith, a longtime sportswriter in Pittsburgh and Chicago; and Bill Yancy, a Negro leagues shortstop. The Committee elected nine men in those seven years, before voluntarily choosing to disband.

The first man elected was Satchel Paige. "We chose Satchel because he was so good and because his name was more recognizable than anyone else's," said Irvin. "Even the major league fans had heard about him. We wanted to pick a player who would have a major impact that first year, and Satchel was a natural. In 1972, we chose Gibson and Buck Leonard, which was like putting in Ruth and Gehrig together. They were teammates with the Homestead Grays and both were unbelievably talented."

Said Paige, a media darling with his home-spun tales, during his induction speech: "We played up in Canada, and if I didn't pitch every day, they didn't want the ball club. I pitched in 165 ball games in a row. I began to learn how to pitch by the hour, or by the week, or whatever you may call it. And so I guess all that got me up here to Cooperstown." His ability in the Negro and major leagues is what earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.

Upon learning he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972, Leonard told the media, "Sometimes we baseball players think our greatest thrill comes from something that we do on the baseball field, but my greatest thrill did not come from a home run that I hit, nor a catch that I made, or stealing a base. I ought not to have said that, maybe, but anyway, my greatest thrill came from what somebody did for me, and that was select me for the Baseball Hall of Fame. I will do everything in my power to honor and uphold the integrity of baseball. I will do everything in my power to try to take care of this selection and this induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame."

Josh Gibson, Jr., speaking on behalf of his deceased father at the 1973 Ceremony said, "I would like to say something personal to my father. 'Wake up Dad, you just made it in.'"

The Next Steps 
After the committee disbanded in 1977, the Veterans Committee inherited the responsibility of electing Negro leagues stars, and in 1981, Rube Foster was elected, with Ray Dandridge earning election in 1987.

In 1995, the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors established a five-year window for a separate ballot for Negro leagues candidates to be considered by the Veterans Committee. From 1995-1999, Leon Day, Bill Foster, Willie Wells, Bullet Joe Rogan and Smoky Joe Williams were elected. The Board extended the ballot for two more years, paving the way for Turkey Stearnes and Hilton Smith to earn their rightful place in Cooperstown.

Today, the Hall of Fame is home to 18 Negro leagues stars, with the possibility of that honor roll increasing when a special election for them, and pre-leagues stars, takes place February 27. The election stems from a landmark research study.

More Research Unearthed 
In July 2000, the Museum was awarded a $250,000 grant from Major League Baseball to initiate a comprehensive study on the history of African Americans in Baseball, from 1860 to 1960. The funds have allowed the Museum to expand the scope and depth of its historical collection on Baseball and American culture. It marked the first time in Museum history that an academic research study had been sponsored.

"The Hall of Fame Library has the most complete Baseball archive in the world," said Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at the time. "Just like all great research facilities, the quest for greater knowledge is ongoing. The Hall of Fame's collections on the history of African Americans in Baseball is unsurpassed, but there is a lot about this subject that is not known - information that needs to be professionally researched and documented. What's learned over the next few years will greatly expand our knowledge about African-American baseball history."

In February 2001, the Board selected "The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group" research team, led by Dr. Lawrence Hogan of Union County College (NJ), Dick Clark, and Larry Lester, to conduct the comprehensive study. The three historians led a diverse group of more than 50 other authors, researcher and historians in this first-of-its-kind academic study.

"The documentary record of the African American contribution to our National Pastime is incomplete, and this endeavor will go a long way toward filling those gaps," said Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey. "This is an extremely important research project, allowing us to further our mission as an educational institution, and we could not be happier with the selection of Dr. Hogan, Dick Clark and Larry Lester and their team."

The team worked tirelessly over four years to create an unparalleled resource. The research resulted in a comprehensive, objective and properly documented historical narrative of nearly 800 pages on the history of African-American baseball between the years 1860 and 1960; a compilation of biographical essays on members of the African-American community who participated in, or contributed to, this baseball experience; and a comprehensive bibliography of resources and a comprehensive resource guide to these sources.

The research also resulted in a statistical database, which includes 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The research was culled from box scores from 128 newspapers of sanctioned league games played from 1920-1954. With the research now complete, the study includes sanctioned league game box scores from almost 100% of games played in the 1920s, in excess of 90% of the box scores from games played in the 1930s and box scores from 50-70% of games played in the 1940s and 1950s, during which time the various leagues began to disband and newspapers ceased to report game information. The end result is the most comprehensive compilation of statistics on the Negro leagues that have ever been accumulated.

From the research, a major work on the Negro leagues and African-American baseball has been published by National Geographic, in association with, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Titled SHADES OF GLORY: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, the book documents the story of black baseball from slavery days when it was played on plantations in the pre-Civil War South to the first organized games of the mid-19th century to the glory days of the Negro leagues in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. This comprehensive, 432-page work, illustrated with more than 50 vintage photographs, details the game's rich cultural history and profiles the players, owners and fans.

New Voting Committee Established
As a result of the study, the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors approved holding a special election of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues candidates to the Hall of Fame in 2006.

"The record of the African-American contribution to our National Pastime was largely missing until recently," said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. "With extensive research and a statistical analysis now complete, the Board felt it was the right time to review Negro Leagues and pre-Negro leagues individuals with regards to Hall of Fame election. The guidelines adopted will allow for any worthy candidates to have another chance at election in 2006."

The Board then appointed screening and voting committees and appointed former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent to serve as the non-voting chairman of both committees. Hall of Famer and Board member Frank Robinson was asked to offer his advice and assistance to Vincent and both committees.

Written recommendations for inclusion on the ballots from fans, historians and the Hall of Famers, who were not a part of either committee, were accepted during the summer of 2005.

The five-member Screening Committee met in November to develop two ballots: One ballot of Negro leagues players, managers, umpires, executives; and one ballot of candidates who preceded the formation of Negro leagues. The Screening Committee used the statistics and narrative from the landmark study to determine the ballots. The Screening Committee members included Adrian Burgos, Dick Clark, Larry Hogan, Larry Lester and Jim Overmyer, each of whom contributed to the reports and have a deep knowledge of the subject.

During two days of deliberations at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., the committee selected 39 candidates for review by the voting committee: 29 on a ballot of former Negro leagues players, managers and executives, and 10 on a second ballot of pre-Negro leagues pioneer players and builders. Any candidate to receive votes on 75% of ballots cast will earn election. Every candidate will be voted upon individually. View the two final ballots.

"I'm very satisfied with the work done by the screening committee," said Vincent. "The committee members had some difficult choices to make, but because they are extremely knowledgeable, had strong research at their disposal and spent a great deal of time reviewing all candidates thoroughly, they did a tremendous job. The final ballots represent players, managers, executives and builders who are top-tier candidates and worthy of review for consideration for election to the Hall of Fame."

"The screening committee did a great job of handling the first step of narrowing the list of candidates to those who should be seriously considered for election to the Hall of Fame," said Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey. "The election guidelines allow for worthy candidates to have a chance at election in February 2006, and this step produced two excellent ballots for the voting committee to consider."

Written recommendations from fans, historians and Hall of Fame members were accepted and reviewed by the screening committee. The list was pared down and as a result, the screening committee began with a roster of 94 candidates.

A 12-member Voting Committee, inclusive of the Screening Committee, appointed by the Board of Directors, will meet in February 2006 to review the final ballots of candidates. After open discussions over two days, committee members will cast paper ballots and vote "yes" or "no" for each candidate. Any candidate with "yes" votes on at least 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the Hall of Fame. The twelve voting committee members and their areas of expertise in African-American baseball history include:

Todd Bolton, Latin America 
Greg Bond, 19th Century 
Adrian Burgos, Latin America 
Dick Clark, Negro leagues 
Ray Doswell, overall knowledge 
Leslie Heaphy, Women’s History
Larry Hogan, overall knowledge, Negro leagues
Larry Lester, Negro leagues
Sammy Miller, Eastern and Western teams
Jim Overmyer, Eastern teams and 19th century 
Robert Peterson, overall knowledge
Rob Ruck, Eastern teams

Any electees to emerge from the two ballots will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 30, 2006, along with Bruce Sutter, who was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of American January 10 of this year.

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