Negro Leaguers may finally be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame
Twelve historians will meet Feb. 25-27 in Tampa, Fla., to discuss the merit of each candidate, including O'Neil, one of two living players on the ballot with Minnie Minoso. The summit will end with a vote, and anyone who garners nine or more votes will be inducted July 30 into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I can't wait to see what happens," O'Neil said last weekend at a banquet in Kansas City. "They're going to put some guys in. I don't know who, but everyone on that list is qualified."
That's what will make this so difficult for Larry Hogan.
A history professor at Union County College in New Jersey, Hogan approached the Hall of Fame in 2001 to pitch a project that would result in the most complete Negro Leagues research ever gathered.
The Hall of Fame solicited the grant for MLB, and Hogan enlisted nearly 50 authors, including University of Delaware history professor Neil Lanctot, to produce 800 pages of narrative history.
Additionally, they recovered nearly 100 percent of box scores from the 1920s, 90 percent from the 1930s and 50 to 70 percent from the 1940s.
"We've been at this for a long time, and now that we have a statistical record that we're comfortable with, we can make comparisons of Negro Leaguer to Negro Leaguer," said Hogan, who has published the findings in a just-released book, "Shades of Glory."
"There's always been a gap problem. It's been the most recent Negro Leaguers who've gotten the attention. This is a wonderful opportunity to educate in all sorts of ways about black baseball in the '20s and prior to the '20s."
Lanctot has written two books on the topic, including "Negro League Baseball" in 2004. The focus of his research for Hogan's project was 1928 to 1933.
Many famous Negro Leaguers -- Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson -- played later and landed in the majors. Others, like Josh Gibson and former Wilmington resident Judy Johnson, were inducted to the Hall of Fame in the 1970s after commissioner Bowie Kuhn appointed a Negro Leagues committee.
"Some of the Negro Leaguers have been long forgotten," Lanctot said. "You say the name Smokey Joe Williams, and most people will say, 'Who's he?' I'd like to see more of them get in."
Lanctot isn't among the 12 voters, but he will pay rapt attention to the verdict. Hogan said the panel will base its choices largely on statistical data, and guessed a "goodly number" of candidates will gain entry.
But it's not an undertaking Hogan takes lightly. The vote represents the latest, best and possibly last chance for O'Neil, Minoso and the others to win induction.
Unlike the Veterans Committee, which convenes every three years to vote on players no longer eligible to be on the writers' ballot, the Hall of Fame has no plans to schedule a later vote of the Negro Leagues panel.
"The way our board looks at it, this election is necessary and needed," said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communication and education for the Hall of Fame. "Is it the last time? Based on the study we've commissioned and the research we have, it is, but we would never close the door completely on anyone."
So on Feb. 27, O'Neil will be near a phone.
"He's probably going to hang out here at the museum," said Negro Leagues Baseball Museum spokesman Bob Kendrick. "For him to get into the Hall, it would be one of the biggest things to happen in Kansas City since George Brett went in.
"And what would make this day so special is he could bring a voice for all of those guys. He could speak, literally, on their behalf, and I think having that voice would make that celebration that much more meaningful for him."
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