How many Negro Leaguers should the Hall of Fame have elected? This is an answerable question. At least kinda. As with all things to do with the Hall and the Negro Leagues, the straightforward answer never turns out to be all that straightforward.
Thing is, though, we ought to know the answer. Parity, equity, these goals feel important in this matter, especially in an era that was supposed to be post-racial but has turned out very much racialized. So, as usual, let’s dig into the numbers, the variables, and the politics to see whether we can come up with an answer that’s more than just “because the Veterans Committee said so.”
Negro Leaguers in the Hall Now
Without going into excruciating detail, here’s what we know about the Negro Leaguers in the Hall of Fame:
- The Hall has elected 29 Negro Leagues players
- These players’ careers approximately span the years 1885–1960.
- Several additional players elected for their Major Leagues exploits got their starts in the Negro Leagues (Aaron, Banks, Campanella, Doby, Mays, and Jackie Robinson), although they were not elected on the basis of those seasons.
- The Hall has elected 1 Negro Leagues manager.
- The Hall has elected 5 Negro Leagues pioneers/executives. This includes a white man, J.L. Wilkinson, who owned the famed Kansas City Monarchs. We are counting him as a Negro Leagues man, even though he wasn’t a dark-skinned individual.
Members Elected to the Hall from Organized Baseball for work during the Negro Leagues Era
What about the white players, managers, and pioneers/executives in the Hall? How many white fellows were elected for achievements during the same 75-year span as their Negro Leagues counterparts in the Coop? Here’s the lowdown. I looked at anyone whose career started no earlier than 1882 and no later than 1948. Why did I pick 1948? Because a number of Negro Leagues players of that era played in the minors and majors through the early to mid 1960s. It’s the last batch of fellows whose careers intersected with the Negro Leagues in a meaningful way.
- 132 players total from John Clarkson and Bid McPhee (starting in 1882) to Roy Campanella, Richie Ashburn, and Robin Roberts (starting in 1948)
- 12 managers (from Ned Hanlon to Leo Durocher)
- 18 pioneer/executives (from Al Spalding to George Weiss)
Does it mean anything that the Negro Leagues are represented by 29 players and the majors by 132?
If we’re going to compare the big leagues and the Negro Leagues, we’ll need to know the rates of induction for each. So I counted up all the MLB players whose careers began from 1882–1948.
- A Play Index search reveals that 12,420 rookie players appeared during this time (7,772 batters and 4,648 pitchers)
- That means that of all players to kick off their careers from 1882–1948, the Hall inducted 1.06% of them.
- The smallest number of PA among Hall members was about 5,000, and 358 men who debuted during this time met this criterion. That’s about 4.6% of all the hitters who got started from 1882–1948. Our criteria does exclude a few guys whose primes were in the 1880s and who debuted before 1882, but it’s good enough for what we’re up to.
- So far, the Hall has honored 95 of these batters, or 26.5% of all hitters with at least 5,000 PA.
- The smallest number of IP among Hall members was Dizzy Dean’s 1967.33, so let’s call it 1,950 IP. There were 203 pitchers who went 1950+ innings during this era.
- Cooperstown includes 37 pitchers from this time period, or 18.2% of everyone with 1,950 or more innings pitched.
- The smallest numbers of games managed by a Hall manager was 1,770, and the smallest number of seasons managed was thirteen. Among the 313 people who made their managerial debut from 1882–1948, 28 managed at least 1,500 games, and none of this subgroup managed fewer than 11 seasons.
- Cooperstown has pulled the lever on 3.8% of all managers debuting during the period in question.
- The Hall’s twelve managers represent a whopping 42.9% of all long-time managers of this epoch.
- However, eight of these 1,500-game managers were inducted as players or execs, so the real electable total is 20, and the real percentage is sixty percent.
- Overall, the Hall has thus far chosen 19 of its 30 executives and pioneers from those working from 1882–1948. I’m counting Walter O’Malley and Bill Veeck in this group. These 19 men operated during a span of approximately 1,300 team seasons, or an induction rate of 1.5% of all team seasons.
This doesn’t mean that any of these specific percentages are the correct rate of induction. Just the facts, ma’am. But this means we can now look at the Negro Leagues to see whether they have been elected at similar rates.
Before we do so, however, some ground rules.
- We’ll use data from the US Negro Leagues, and include only players that appeared stateside but use their Cuban Leagues and Mexican League stats too.
- We won’t count touring games against big leaguers, minor leaguers, or Cubans.
- A lot of other information is just too big a pain in the butt to run down, such as locating minor leagues PA/IP for every single guy who crossed over. Maybe someday.
Here’s what we found after some Exceling:
- The Negro Leagues Database currently includes 835 hitters and 1,063 pitchers that meet the ground rules above for a total of 1,898 players.
- That means that of all the players to kick off their careers during this time (whom we have data for), the Hall has enshrined 1.52%. That’s very close to the Hall’s rate for organized baseball (1.06% as noted above).
- The highest total of PAs from this period was Ty Cobb’s 13,099, and 5,000 PA is 38% of that top total. The highest PA total we have on record right now at the Negro Leagues Database is Oscar Charleston’s 5,825, and 38% of it is 1,989 PA. Call it 1,950.
- Around 110 Negro Leagues hitters in the database crossed that threshold. More will arrive with subsequent updates of the database, but it’s good enough for now. One hundred and ten hitters is about 13% of all the batters. That’s about double the majors’ rate, but maybe that’s not an issue. The Negro Leagues tended to have smaller rosters and no minor leagues system, so it’s possible that in league games, they concentrated a higher percentage of playing time in their regulars.
- Applying the majors’ 26.5% induction rate, we’d get 29.2 batters. Let’s call each of Dihigo and Rogan ½ pitcher and ½ hitter. In that case, the Hall currently is home to 20 Negro Leagues batters.
- Using the same idea as with hitters, Cy Young tossed 7,356 innings, and our 1,950 IP threshold above is 26.5% of it. The innings leader at the Negro Leagues Database (with our ground rules noted) is Ramón Bragaña and his 3209.33 frames. Twenty-six and a half percent of that is 850 innings.
- Another 70 fellows have reached 850 innings.
- Applying the majors’ 18.2% induction rate gives us 12.7 pitchers. The Hall has actually inducted nine (again, counting Dihigo and Rogan as a total of one pitcher).
- Cornelius Mack managed an astounding 7,755 games. Our 1,500 cutoff total above is 19.3% of Mack’s total. The highest total currently in the Negro Leagues Database is the 1,542 games that Candy Jim Taylor skippered. 19.3% of that total? Two-hundred ninety-eight games. Let’s call it 300 among friends.
- So far about 29 managers have 300 recorded games as managers in the Negro Leagues database.
- Applying the majors’ induction rate of 42.9% of these fellows, it’s 12.4 managers. The Hall’s elected Rube Foster only.
- But let’s pause a second on this one like we did above. If we eliminate any duplication of managers already enshrined as players, we knock off six names, leaving us with 23 guys, and the Hall’s actual induction rate of 60% yields 13.8 managers.
- Seems high, what if use the Hall’s 3.8% induction rate among all managers? A total of 194 men managed a game in the Negro Leagues. At 3.8%, that’s 7.4 managers, a more reasonable total, certainly.
- For the Hall’s five Negro Leagues pioneers/executives, we have a smaller set of team seasons, 701 to be exact.
- If we apply the same exec induction rate as the majors then we’re looking at 10.6 Negro Leagues pioneers and execs.
- That said, I’d advocate for cutting that 701 total down a bit. Some of these team seasons consist of less than twenty, less than ten, and sometimes just one or two games. If you said to cut it in half, I’d probably be OK, and we’d already be at the number we’re looking for.
Now that we’ve looked at this a little analytically, let’s look at the gaps.
- Hitters: Missing about 9 hitters
- Pitchers: Missing about 4 pitchers
- Managers: Missing about 6 managers
- Pioneers/Execs: Probably OK as is, one or two more would be fine but not mandatory
If this way of looking at the question makes sense, then the Hall may want to consider adding more Negro Leagues folks. Here’s some suggestions of key names to look into:
- Batters: Grant Johnson, Heavy Johnson, Dick Lundy, Hurley McNair, Dobie Moore, Alejandro Oms, Quincy Trouppe, Burnis Wright
- Pitchers: Dave Barnhill, Ramon Bragana, Bill Byrd, Dick Redding, Lazaro Salazar (a two-way great), Roy Welmaker
- Managers: Frank Duncan, Vic Harris, Dave Malarcher, Felton Snow, Candy Jim Taylor, Frank Warfield
- Pioneers/Execs: Ed Bolden, Gus Greenlee, Buck O’Neil, Larry Lester (Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy are already Spink Award winners, or I’d list them here)
On the other (non-pitching) Hand
Thing is, though, thanks to Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry, and the rabbit ball, the 1920s and 1930s are the most over-represented era in big league history: Chick Hafey, Pop Haines, Jim Bottomley, Freddie Lindstrom, Travis Jackson, High Pockets Kelly, and Ross Youngs are the chief beneficiaries of the VC’s cronyism. Knock those guys out of the pool, and we shave two points off our induction rate for hitters, dropping the total to 27 instead of 29 hitters. For the pitchers, the induction rate drops to 17.7%, resulting in 12.4 pitchers rather than 12.7.
There are other issues to consider as well. Other than Dick Redding, the pitchers who look like the best candidates outside the Hall aren’t as obviously mistakes of omission as those among the hitters. That’s a far tougher group to pick through than the numerous good position players still at large, and I might, in the Hall’s shoes, be willing to forgo one of those pitchers or two to get more great hitters.
One more word about managers. It’s very hard to say how much a manager influenced his teams in the Negro Leagues. It seems as though some managers, like Candy Jim Taylor, were renowned dugout gurus. In some cases, however, it also seems like some star players managed because it was a promotion of sorts that gave them a little extra money and prestige. It’s hard to know how much they contributed as strategists versus playing middle managers on road trips. In addition, some teams with strong ownership may have had an advantage in player retention, making their field managers look good. This could be the case with Vic Harris (or Jose Mendez for that matter), managers of wealthier and more successful teams.
Let’s zero in on Harris for a second. He managed the amazing dynasty of the Homestead Grays for nearly its entire run, and his best players mostly stayed with the team. It seems unlikely that a poor manager and communicator would have retained such a constellation of talent no matter how deep ownership’s pockets were. The history of the Negro Leagues is rife with stories of players battling managers and owners, skipping out of contracts in midyear, and otherwise creating a wide range of disruptions. The ability of someone like Harris to remain in place for a very long time with relatively little turnover and disruption suggests something very positive about his managerial acumen. As we know, working well with the front office is an important ability for managers to possess, and if Harris worked especially well with owner Cum Posey, he contributed quite a lot to the ongoing success of the Grays franchise.
That said, I can see an important argument for electing fewer managers than the major league rate of induction. Namely, Wilbert Robinson and Bucky Harris were mistake choices from this era. We probably don’t need seven managers. Removing these two duds and applying the resulting 3.195% induction rate pushes the total down to 6.2 managers. In other words five more than we have now. I would push for strong consideration for Harris, and then we’d have to do a lot of research to be sure we’ve got the right candidates. It’s possible that given what we know about Negro Leagues managers, we might want either elect fewer or shift a couple of them over to the pioneer/executive ranks where Bolden and O’Neil have strong credentials.
A Decent Job, Sometimes Well Done
Generally, we can say that the Hall has done a decent job, though it’s progress has been halting. It might, however, benefit from adding a few more people to its current Negro Leagues roster. The Hall of Merit with 31 honorees who would qualify as Negro Leagues careers is closer to the likely magic number for players, if such a number exists, than the Hall is. That is if we think that a fairly close degree of parity is a goal. I would, but others’ opinions may differ.
Thing is, there’s little negative that can result from the Hall increasing its Negro Leagues representation. Only positives, really. The Coop can get carried away with good ideas sometimes, so they need to take a little care. But overall, why not? If they need a little help, we’re on call at any time. But please drop us an email, Mr. Idelson, because we want to help.