Updated: Apr 1
In 2006 I wrote this letter and sent it to the Kansas City Star. It was my response to an article Posnanski wrote about the Hall of Fame's up coming vote on Negro League players.
Joe Posnanski’s article, “Buck’s Best Shot Is Now,” was a sad commentary on the spirit of the African-American Hall of Fame initiative. In his zeal to have John “Buck” O’Neil inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame he minimized such, “on the diamond legends” as John Donaldson, Chet Brewer, Willard Brown and Jose Mendez. I only mention these men because of their Kansas City connection. Let me assure you though, the national list of African-American candidates is far more numerous than your article led readers to believe. A number like 20 to 30 is more realistic, and that number may be too low. J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, 1920 to 1948, once pointed out that, “There aren’t as many Negro ball players as there are white, but when a colored boy is a good athlete, a good baseball player, he’s very apt to be mighty good.”[i] Does Posnanski know more than Wilkinson? Other than following O’Neil around, how much research has Posnanski done?
Let me share what my twenty-five plus years of African-American baseball research has taught me.
John Donaldson, a left-hander from Glasgow, Missouri who played with various Negro League and independent teams, (playing career 1911-1939), struck out nearly 5,000 batters in his lifetime. And this is just estimation from what has already been located - it was probably more like 7,000. It might interest you to know that he too was a big league scout with the Chicago White Sox. Donaldson was widely known as one of the most congenial and influential personalities of his generation. Try telling the good citizens of Glasgow that Donaldson is unworthy and see the negative response you will get. There is also the Leavenworth, Kansas born pitcher named Chet Brewer (playing career 1923-1947). He had shut outs galore, perhaps 150 of them. He also had a slew of no-hitters. An equally great spokesman for baseball, a scout and a gentleman as well, after his professional career had ended, he dedicated the remainder of his life to the youth of Los Angeles. His sandlot efforts produced, Bob Watson, the man who scored baseball’s one millionth run, Roy White the first full time Yankees player to perform an entire season without making an error, “Doc” Ellis of no-hit fame and Reggie Smith an American League rookie of the year candidate. Try telling the good citizens of Los Angeles that Brewer is unworthy and see the negative response you will get. And there were others, many others. Who could forget Willard Brown, (playing career 1933-1954), a man who hit more home runs than Josh Gibson (who is already in the Hall of Fame), and a he was a Kansas City Monarch too. He may not have been a scout, but he was certainly a world class ambassador. His career took him to such illustrious locations as Mexico, Cuba, Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In fact, he still holds the season’s record for the most home runs hit in the Puerto Rico Winter League season. In addition to becoming the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League, he pounded over 100 home runs in the minors, nearly 100 in the Caribbean and over 500 for the Kansas City Monarchs. Try telling the old-time fans of the Monarchs that Brown is unworthy and see the negative response you will get. How about Jose Mendez, nicknamed “El Diamante Negro” which means in English “The Black Diamond,” (playing career 1908-1925)? A Cuban, he led the Monarchs to their first World’s title in 1924. Too dark for the major leagues, in 1908 he beat Christy Mathewson and Eddie Plank, both Hall of Famers. When the Cincinnati Reds came to Cuba that same winter Mendez beat them, 1-0, on a one-hitter. As one of baseball greatest pitchers he won hundreds of games in his native Cuba and many right here in Kansas City. Try telling the good citizens of Cuba that Mendez is unworthy and see the negative response you will get. I could go on, but why, “let’s be brutally frank,” as you said in your article, “They are all dead.” Your “brutally frank” comment totally minimizes these legendary men and their families. A heritage like grandchildren, cousins, brothers and sisters is something that your article never addressed. If a ball player is deceased it doesn’t mean that his family is also “dead.” How insensitive can you be, while simultaneously trying to convince us that you care. African-Americans have a family heritage too.
Longevity has its place, as Martin Luther King once stated, and O’Neil certainly has that. Without question he is a living legend for our time. Baseball however, is a game for all generations. Perhaps you should challenge the Hall to go one step further and create a new category for the baseball ambassadors that have, sadly, been overlooked for generations. There are many, like O’Neil that dedicated their entire lives to baseball and deserve some kind of consideration. In the mean while don’t feel sorry for “Buck” he is right on time with all of his contributions to the greater game. So let us go back to making the Hall of Fame a home for the baseball playing immortals regardless of their color. Isn’t it bad enough that we need a Negro Leagues Hall of Fame Ballot and a “special election” in the first place?
Spike Lee coined the phrase, “Do the right thing.” Joe Posnanski you ought to try doing the right thing. Start campaigning in behalf of the men who played baseball at the legendary level instead of doing self-promotion for your book on O’Neil. Why don’t you beat the drum for them also and reflect on the greater good of the game like the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The museum informs the public about hundreds of African-American athletes that were victimized by our nations’ other national pastime – racism.
It is indeed a story that no one man can claim as an exclusive and a legacy for all generations, even if they are deceased. "
[i] Antique dealer’s hobby keeps him on the road. (1936, May 3). Springfield News Leader, p. B4.