Monday, June 23, 2003

Larry Doby and the Negro League Justice

Larry Doby died last week. His place in history is not just as the Cleveland Indians' star outfielder of the 1950s, but as a pioneer of the sport. Virtually unknown outside of the baseball world, Larry Doby was the first African American to play in the American League.

Now I've always been a fan of Larry's for just that reason. I own a baseball card of his from the 1950s, and I've tried to learn a little about him, and been saddened about how little his story is known. So when I looked up his record after his death last week on Baseball, I was surprised to see that there were no comparable ballplayers to him, at any point of his career, who were Hall of Famers.

While there have been some questions about Doby's age, there is only a question of a year or two, so it appears that he made his Major League Debut at the age of 23. Baseball Reference finds equivalent players by age, but I doubt a year would change it much. Here are the most similar players by age:

Most Similar by Age
24 - Jackie Brandt
25 - Tony Gonzalez
26 - Wally Judnich
27- Kal Daniels
28 - Jim Edmonds
29 - Bill Nicholson
30 - Charlie Keller
31 - George Foster
32 - Tim Salmon
33 - George Foster
34 - Fred Lynn
35 - David Justice

This concerned me. Was Larry Doby not really a Hall of Fame caliber ballplayer? Is he in mainly because of historical importance? I didn't want to believe it.

I know what most baseball fans know about the Negro Leagues, maybe a little more, and always approached that historical story with an open mind. I can believe that Josh Gibson was as good a hitter as Babe Ruth, that Satchel Paige may have been the greatest pitcher that ever lived. I know that the Hall of Fame had gone back and honored so many Negro Leaguers that they were inducting people I had never heard of. So then the thought came to me, as ugly as it was. Had we gone to far in the other direction, and elected too many Negro League players?

I felt there was an easy way to study this. I could go back and see what percentage of Hall of Fame inductees are African American since they have been allowed into the majors, and then see how many players there are total, and we could get some kind of round figure as to how many should be in there.

Below is the list of players who have been voted into the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers since Ernie Banks was inducted in 1977. The reason I chose this year was because it took some time for the flow of players to grow, for some to have a HOF career, and then for five years to pass after retirement. It was only then that players could be elected. Before 1977, there were only three African Americans inducted. One was the originator, Jackie Robinson, and the others had their careers cut short by horrible circumstances, Roy Campanella and Roberto Clemente.

Because we can assume that Spanish players before 1947 would have wound up in the Negro Leagues, we are including them with the African Americans.

Its an imaginary world. Major League and Negro League history, 1947-2003

Major Leagues - Eddie Mathews, Duke Snider,Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Catfish Hunter, Carl Yastremski, Johhny Bench, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, robin Yount, George Brett, Nolan ryan, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter

Negro Leagues - Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Lou Brock, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Fregie Jenkins, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Tony Perez, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray

If it makes you uncomfortable to look at the players this way, it did me too. And maybe that's the way it should be. If its disgusting to think of these players of the last fifty years separated by race, then maybe we should approach what happened in the previous fifty years with that same level of discomfort.

There are 23 Major League and 20 Negro League players on that list. That leaves the Negro Leaguers with .465 of the HOF pie, the Major Leaguers with .535. There really is no reason to believe that in the previous fifty years the percentages would be radically different. Baseball was the American Pasttime before Baseball, or America, was ready to admit it.

So I take my percentages to the HOF website, and as it turns out, there are 207 players in the Hall. with 164 being white. If we are to assume that white players, taken for all of history would have continued to make up .535 of the pie, then that means there should be 307 total players. . .

We could be short 100 Negro League players! I was completely stunned by this news. 100?! Even if you don't believe that the Negro Leaguers could have kept up that .465 percentage (something with no basis) can there be much doubt that the Hall is short at least 50 Negro Leaguers?

So, who are these guys?! I found this great site,, with lots of great Negro League information, and I found this:

Q. Who were the best Negro Leaguers?

A. There's too many to list, but a Pittsburgh Courier newspaper poll in 1952 listed the following players:

First team: (1B) Buck Leonard, (2B) Jackie Robinson, (SS) Pop Lloyd, (3B) Oliver Marcelle, (OF) Monte Irvin, (OF) Oscar Charleston, (OF) Cristobel Torriente, (C) Josh Gibson, (C) Biz Mackey, (P) Joe Williams, (P) Satchel Paige, (P) Bullet Rogan, (P) John Dondaldson, (P) Bill Foster, (Utility) Martin Dihigo, (Utility) Sam Bankhead, (Mgr) Rube Foster, (Coach) Dizzy Dismukes, (Coach) Danny McClellan.

Second Team: (1B) Ben Taylor, (2B) Bingo DeMoss, (SS) Willie Wells, (3B) Judy Johnson, (OF) Pete Hill, (OF) Cool Papa Bell, (OF) Chino Smith, (C) Roy Campanella, (C) Bruce Petway, (P) Dave Brown, (P) Dick Redding, (P) Nip Winters, (P) Dizzy Dismukes, (P) Don Newcombe, (Utility) John Beckwith, (Utility) Newt Allen, (Mgr) Cum Posey, (Coach) C.I. Taylor, (Coach) Dave Malarcher.

Third Team: (1B) Jud Wilson, (2B) Bill Monroe, (SS) Dick Lundy, (3B) Jud Wilson, (OF) Rap Dixon, (OF) Larry Doby, (OF) Fats Jenkins, (C) Double Duty Radcliffe, (C) Louis Santop, (P) Slim Jones, (P) Bill Holland, (P) Phil Cockrell, (P) Webster McDonald, (P) Bill Byrd, (Utility) Emmett Bowman, (Utility) Dick Wallace, (Mgr) Ed Bolden.

Fourth Team: (1B) Ed Douglas, (2B) George Scales, (SS) Doby Moore, (3B) Ray Dandridge, (OF) Jimmy Lyons, (OF) Mule Suttles, (OF) Spotswood Poles, (C) Frank Duncan, (C) Bill Perkins, (P) Double Duty Radcliffe, (P) Frank Wickware, (P) Danny McClellan, (P) Leon Day, (P) Bill Jackman, (Utility) Rev Cannady, (Utility) Jose Mendez, (Mgr) Vic Harris.

Fifth Team: (1B) George Carr, (2B) Bunny Downs, (SS) Pelayo Chacon, (3B) Dave Malarcher, (OF) Frank Duncan, (OF) Turkey Stearnes, (OF) Jelly Gardner, (C) Doc Wiley, (C) Speck Webster, (P) Stringbean Williams, (P) Ray Brown, (P) Rats Henderson, (P) Luis Tiant, (P) Leroy Matlock.

Others receiving votes: (1B) Leroy Grant, Mule Suttles; (2B) Nate Harris, Sammy T. Hughes, Frank Warfield, Ray Dandridge, George Wright, Harry Williams; (SS) Gerard Williams, Bobby Williams, Morton Clark; (3B) Bill Francis, Jim Taylor; (OF) Minnie Minoso, Jap Payne, Blaine Hall, Ted Strong, Ted Page, Vic Harris; (P) Jose Mendez, Laymon Yokely.

*Some players that weren't listed that I believe should have been: (1B) Buck O'Neil, Red Moore, Steel Arm Davis, George Giles; (2B) Bonnie Serrell; (SS) Jake Stephens; (3B) Alec Radcliffe, Bobby Robinson; (OF) Jumbo Kimbro, Willard Brown, Bill Wright, Neil Robinson, Ducky Davenport; (C) Quincy Trouppe, Larry Brown, Buck Ewing, Pops Coleman; (P) Chet Brewer, Hilton Smith, Barney Brown, Ted Trent, Max Manning, Sug Cornelius, Harry Salmon, Barney Morris; (Mgr) Buck O'Neil, Double Duty Radcliffe, Quincy Trouppe.

I've put the HOF members in bold. Now, what's interesting to me is how closely the first team of this Pittsburgh poll resembles the complete HOF membership of the Negro Leagues (in case you don't know, Pittsburgh was one of the hotbeds of Negro League Ball). What this amounts to is that the HOF has allowed in the absolute superstars of Negro League Ball, and virtually no one else. Think of a HOF that had only Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams for outfielders for a fifty year period, and that's what you get for the Negro Leagues.

You may have noticed that Larry Doby is on the third team for Negro League players. This is a 1952 poll, before Doby had even turned thirty, and these voters thought he was one of the top ten Negro League outfielders of all time. Then you add in everything he accomplished as a Major League player, and there is just no question. Larry Doby is absolutely one of the all-time greats, and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

But where is Oliver Marcelle, Cristobel Torriente, Biz Mackey, and John Donaldson? How about Sam Bankhead, Ben Taylor, Bingo DeMoss, and Double Duty Radcliffe? Where is there justice for the Negro Leagues?

I'm stopping now. But I am in no way done with this yet.


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