Friday, August 5, 2016

Redemption Draweth Nigh?

The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has made a decision that could allow it to once again be worthy of the name, reorganizing its veterans committees and re-opening the door to Negro Leagues players after shutting it in 2006.

The Sporting News article notes that the changes could help ease the logjam for players who have had Hall-eligible carers but who have been sidetracked by the vagaries of voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. It could also help pave the way for players caught in the Steroid Era who chemically enhanced their performance during years when that was not yet illegal.

As to those possibilities, whatever. The world turns as it always has whether Cooperstown features Alan Trammell's features on a plaque or not. Ballplayers have always sought an edge, and the reality that a needle should feature as prominently as a bat on a Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire display doesn't change that what they did was mostly legal when they did it. BBWAA members can vote them down if they want to, but making sure that the system gives them their chance is a good idea.

But as has been noted before, a special Hall of Fame committee set up in 2006 to take care of remaining Hall-worthy Negro Leagues players exhibited truly adamantine dumbitude by leaving out John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, about two years before O'Neil's death. The special committees had been necessary because the segregation of baseball by race had left too many great players shining on a less visible stage. Everybody knew how great Babe Ruth was. But not nearly so many knew how great Josh Gibson was, so extra effort was needed to research Gibson and top players like him so they could receive the recognition they deserved.

O'Neil himself didn't consider his stats Hall-of-Fame worthy. As this otherwise kind of corny column in the Kansas City Star notes, he carried his list of Cooperstown-caliber-but-overlooked Negro Leagues players in his wallet. He didn't list himself. But his contributions towards getting the biggest stars some of the attention they deserved and highlighting the untold story of Negro Leagues baseball are without peer. The committee that overlooked him did so to its eternal shame, especially since it was supposed to make the last recommendations from that era and then consider the case closed.

But by including Negro Leagues players in its new "Early Committee," the Hall now allows for the possibility that the face of Buck O'Neil could smile out at Cooperstown visitors sometime after 2020, when that committee first meets. And that's the kind of fame that can cross out a whole lot of chemically-enhanced infamy.

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