Six legends of baseball

Hodges, Kaat, Minoso, O’Neil, Olivo, and Fowler

six legendsSix legends were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on December 5, 2021. “The Early Baseball Era Committee considered a 10-person ballot whose primary contributions came prior to 1950.”

They selected two. I was unfamiliar with Bud Fowler (1858-1913). Jeffrey Michael Laing wrote the book Bud Fowler: Baseball’s First Black Professional.

“Emphasizing the social and cultural contexts for Fowler’s accomplishments on and off the baseball diamond, and his prominence within the history and development of the national pastime, the text builds a convincing case for Fowler as one of the great pioneering figures of the early game.”

He played for the Binghamton Crickets, or Bingos, in the International Association in 1887, though there are no details on the Baseball-Reference site. In the book That Happened Here, George Basler explores how this 19th-century phenom was forced from his team because of racism. (h/t to Cee)

Bud Fowler“Playing second base, his best-known position, he established himself as a star. By the end of June, he was hitting .350, with 42 runs scored, and was acknowledged as the best player on the team. But he was gone only a few days later, after playing only 34 games, when nine white players staged a revolt by signing a letter stating that they would no longer play with a black man… 

“On July 14, two weeks after Fowler’s release in Binghamton, International League club owners — stung by complaints from white players and press comments that it was becoming a ‘colored league’ — voted to approve no more contracts with African-American players. The American Association and National League, two major leagues, followed suit shortly thereafter. The “color line” would last until 1946 when Jackie Robinson began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.”
Extraordinary effort

Buck O’Neil (1911-2006) was not only a star first baseman and manager in the Negro Leagues but an inexhaustible promotor of its history and legacy. He played primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs. “After his playing days, he worked as a scout and became the first African American coach in Major League Baseball… He played a major role in establishing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO.”

In fact, in 2008, the Hall created the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. It is presented “not more than once every three years to honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity, and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil.” He was posthumously named the first recipient.

Golden Days

“The Golden Days Era Committee considered a ballot of 10 candidates whose primary contributions came from 1950-69.” I had baseball cards of all four of these players at some point.

From the first time I saw him, I was captivated by Minnie Minoso (1925-2015), nicknamed “The Cuban Comet”. He was “the first Black Cuban in the major leagues and the first black player in White Sox history. Minoso lead the American League in being hit by a pitch for 10 seasons. He led the league in stolen bases thrice and being caught stealing six times. He played in five decades if you count five games total in 1976 and 1980.

Gil Hodges (1924-1972) was a solid first baseman, mostly for the Dodgers. But managing the 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets probably helped his cause.

My late father-in-law Richard would be pleased with the inclusion of two Minnesota Twins stars.  Tony Oliva was a .304 career hitter and thrice AL batting champ. Pitcher Jim Kaat pitched for a quarter-century and later was a baseball announcer for many years. I thought both deserved to be in the Hall earlier. At least they, who were both born in 1938, are still alive at this writing. Hopefully will be available for their induction in the summer of 2022.

Oh, and I’ll worry about the baseball lockout by the owners on January 31, 2022, but not before.

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