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Karl Lindholm: Mo, Schill, Panther Pride, the Baines Effect

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Posted on January 24, 2019 |
By Karl Lindholm



Lindholm, Karl ONLINE.jpg

January is Hall of Fame Season.

In the off-season, in the chill of winter, the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) selects the year’s inductees to the hallowed Hall, the Shrine, in Cooperstown — and then there’s a big party in July for their induction.

Those selected this year were announced just last Tuesday on the Major League Baseball Network (a five hour show!). Four hundred twenty five of those writers returned their ballots and every one of them voted for Yankee pitcher Mariano Rivera, the first ever unanimous selection.

He is joined by pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay, who tragically died in 2015 in a light plane crash; designated hitter Edgar Martinez, 18 years a Seattle Mariner; and Orioles and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. 

Rivera will be the last player to enter the Hall who as a player wore the number 42, Jackie Robinson’s number, retired by MLB. In the Hall of Fame show Tuesday night, Rivera discussed how meaningful the connection with Jackie Robinson is for him. 

There are some stars who fell short (Larry Walker, for example), and some others who provoke controversy: is it time to acknowledge the greatness of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds — or does their use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) doom them forever. Opinions are wildly variant. 

How about Curt Schilling? His overall numbers and his brilliant postseason performance would seem to qualify him. He claims he is being punished for his right wing views: he’s an ardent Trump supporter with a radio show on Breitbart News. The President of course has tweeted his endorsement of Schilling 

And then there’s the Baines Effect. He was selected by the so-called “Veterans Committee” of the Hall of Fame, which exists to “elect participants other than recently retired players.” It is, in essence, a second chance for some players. 

The reaction has been, “Baines is a nice player, yes, but a Hall of Famer?” Red Sox fans are complaining, “how about Dwight Evans?” And my Middlebury friend who’s a Braves fan, whines, “Baines, not Dale Murphy, two-time National League MVP! Baines never finished in the top eight in MVP voting.”

Baseball’s Hall of Fame was lily white, just as was the Major League game for 60 years, until Satchel Paige was inducted in 1971. Now there are 36 Negro league players in the Hall of Fame: after Satch, Josh (Gibson), and Cool Papa (Bell), how many can you name? 

For all his general orneriness, Ted Williams is endorsed by his induction speech in 1966 when he advocated for the inclusion of black players: “I hope that some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson could be added a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given the chance.”

In 1971, he added, “I’ve thought many a time about what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had a chance to play baseball. A chill goes up my back when I think I might have been denied this if I had been black.” 

I generally don’t get too worked up about baseball’s Hall of Fame. The discussion usually runs quickly to numbers, statistical comparisons of players, and my eyes glaze. 

This Saturday, however, I am heading up to Burlington where the Vermont SABR chapter (Society of American Baseball Research) will have its own debate and vote on who we think should be in the Hall of Fame.

Each of us will present two players who we believe deserve Hall of Fame consideration. Some of the worthies we will consider are Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Greg Nettles, Luis Tiant, Roger Maris. My two are H. Rap Dixon and John Donaldson. 

What? Never heard of them? I suspect my SABR brethren have likewise not.

They were blackball stars, playing during MLB’s half-century or so of discrimination. Statistical measures are always difficult for Negro league players because of the instability of leagues and franchises, the unreliability (or absence) of statistics, and the limitations of primary sources. 

Rap Dixon was a “five tool” player from the 1920s and ’30s. For every 150 games he played, he batted 315, hit 16 homers, stole 23 bases, and scored 125 runs. Cool Papa Bell named Dixon to his all-time outfield, along with Hall of Famers Monte Irvin and Turkey Stearnes. 

In the early 1900s, Donaldson, a left-handed pitcher, dominated the game. New York Giants Manager John McGraw said he would happily pay $50,000 for him had he been white. 

Now, closer to home, January is also the month when at Middlebury College a broadly constituted committee meets to determine just the sixth class to the college’s athletic hall of fame. I am fortunate enough to be on the committee that researches and evaluates candidates.

I tell people I do the research on players from way back when, many of whom are deceased, and that’s because I’m closest in age to that group.

When the idea was first floated that Middlebury might have an athletic hall of fame, I was opposed and wrote very cogently and completely against the idea in a letter to the college’s Big Dogs.

I thought it emphasized the wrong thing — individual performance as opposed to a participatory ethos, and so on (and on). They responded as they often did to my brilliant arguments: voila, a Hall of Fame. 

So I said, “OK, then, can I be involved?” and I have enjoyed myself enormously since then.   

Consistency has never been my long suit. 

Karl Lindholm is teaching a Winter Term course at Middlebury College on baseball’s Negro leagues titled “Segregation in America: Baseball and Race.”

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