The Pre-Integration Committee

The Hall of Fame's recent announcement creates more questions than answers

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Monday, the Hall of Fame announced that something called the Pre-Integration Committee will meet at this year’s Winter Meetings to discuss and vote on 10 “pre-integration”candidates for the Hall of Fame. These would be people who, you know, played or managed or owned or executed baseball stuff before the game was integrated.

Um, I have some questions.

Question 1: The Pre-Integration Era?

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems — SEEMS — like the Hall of Fame is going out of its way to once again celebrate that time when baseball refused to let African-Americans and dark-skinned players play. Maybe it seems that way because I look at the above press release and it has “PRE-INTEGRATION” on top of the page in all capital letters and repeats the phrase “pre-integration” 21 times in total on the page.

Pre-integration. Hmm. What’s that? Do they mean before 1947, when Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers and the sport began to right the shameful wrong? Huh. Maybe they mean before 1950 when the Boston Braves became just the fifth team to have a black player. Maybe they mean before 1955 when baseball’s most prominent team, the New York Yankees, finally had a black player. Maybe they mean before 1959, when that beloved Hall of Famer Tom Yawkey finally allowed a black player to wear his team’s uniform.

Pre-Integration. Hmm. Such an interesting label.

Question 2: Is Baseball’s Segregation Era underrepresented in the Hall of Fame?

Oh, wait, did I say Segregation Era? I’m sorry. The press released clearly says it’s “Pre-Integration.” Let’s try that again.

Question 2: Is Baseball’s Jim Crow Era underrepresented in the Hall of Fame?

Well, is it underrepresented? Does ANYONE think so? Let’s take a look at some numbers. By my quick count, there are 217 “Major League” players in the Hall of Fame. I put “Major League” in quotations because I’m including pioneers and players from the 1800s when the game was anything but “Major League.” And it’s hard to tell how to label some of the so-called pioneers in the Hall of Fame, like Candy Cummings, who supposedly invented the curveball (“supposedly” can be read to mean “didn’t”).

But let’s go with 217. Of those, 127 spent the bulk of their careers in that “Pre-Integration Era,” you know, when African American fans had to watch the games in sections cordoned off by chicken wire and the best dark-skinned players were banned by rules that were not written down and across America there were, on average, 50-plus lynchings per year.

The majority of managers, umpires and executives are also from that “Pre-Integration” time, meaning that 60 percent of the Hall of Fame is made up of people who traveled by train, played in the daytime and/or kept the league lily white.

I don’t know. To me, that seems like enough.

Question 3: What about the Negro Leagues?

Ten years ago, the Hall of Fame put together a special committee to elect the remaining Negro Leaguers who were worthy of the Hall of Fame. You can argue about the job they did — they elected 17 people into the Hall, some of them particularly worthy, but they left out Buck O’Neil among others — but the larger point is when they were done, the Hall of Fame made it clear: The book on the Negro Leagues is now closed. The Negro Leagues have not been revisited by the Hall of Fame since.

But they’re still scouring the “Pre-Integration” Major Leagues for more people to induct?

Question 4: Really?

Really?

Question 5: Deacon White?

Here’s how you know that the Pre-Integration Committee should not only be renamed but ended promptly. Three years ago, with all the candidates on this year’s ballot available to them, the “Committee to keep honoring segregated baseball” — or “Pre-Integration Committee,” whatever — voted for only one player, a man named (perhaps poetically) James White. Everyone called him Deacon because of his virtuous and religious ways.

Who was Deacon White? He was a bare-handed catcher from a time when pitchers threw the ball underhand and people were still arguing about how many strikes should constitute a strikeout. He also, and I love this, was a fervent believer that the earth was flat. He used to regale his teammates with the ironclad evidence that if the earth was, in fact, rotating, an outfielder could never catch a fly ball. Think about it.

Now, no disrespect to the good Deacon but maybe when you are electing flat-earthers who played baseball in a time before catchers wore gloves, maybe you’re scraping bottom.

Question 6: Do any of these candidates have a real Hall of Fame case?

Sure you could make a case. Bill Dahlen was a fine shortstop around the turn of the century (and, love this, he purportedly used to get thrown out of games so he could go to the track). Wes Ferrell was a fine pitcher and, perhaps, the best hitting pitcher not counting Babe Ruth. Frank McCormick was probably as good as George Kelly, who somehow got into the Hall of Fame (McCormick was also probably about as good as Sean Casey who, so far, has not).

The point is, as long as there’s a Hall of Fame you can make cases for lots of people. And every borderline player you elect opens up new doors. Elect Bill Dahlen and the Herman Long people will come running. Put in Harry Stovey and and Ned Williamson’s fan club will be down your throat. Wes Ferrell probably wasn’t as good a pitcher as Tommy Bridges, who probably wasn’t as good a pitcher as Dave Stieb, who might not have been as good a pitcher as Kevin Brown. None of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Question 7: Why?

That’s the real question. I know that the correct philosophical answer is “Why not?” but in this case there are plenty of answers to “Why not?”

Why? What does the Hall of Fame hope to accomplish by consistently revisiting these players who have been rejected by Hall of Famer voters for more than a half-century? Look: It has been more than 100 years since Bill Dahlen retired. He got exactly one vote in 1936 from Veterans Committee members, who presumably were old enough to see him play. He got exactly one vote in 1938 from the Baseball Writers’ Association, some of of whom presumably were old enough to see him play.

Dahlen was a fine player, but he repeatedly, consistently and overwhelmingly has been disregarded by the dozens of Veterans Committees that the Hall of Fame has put together through the decades.

So why? Why continue to pick through a league when many of the best players alive weren’t even allowed to play? Is there even a single person who would make the argument that Bill Dahlen in his best year of 1894 (one year after the mound was moved back to 60 feet, 6 inches) was as good as Bobby Grich or Lou Whitaker or Willie Randolph or Frank White or a dozen other middle infielders who can’t get the time of day from the Hall of Fame?

I love baseball history as much than the next guy — more than the next guy — but this is historical malfeasance. Baseball fans care deeply about who goes into the Hall of Fame. They will argue relentlessly about the merits of Dale Murphy or Don Mattingly, Roger Maris or Maury Wills, Dick Allen or Shoeless Joe Jackson. And don’t get them started on Pete Rose. And REALLY don’t get them started on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and that crew.

Who goes into the Hall of Fame matters. And I’m not sure why we have to state the obvious again: There is no one left from that gently-named  “Pre-Integration Era” who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. No one. Heck, if we were starting over, we’d probably throw out 25 or 50 that are already in there. The Hall of Fame loves to brag about its high standards. Well, OK then, let’s stop this silliness. Let Deacon White be the last flat-earther inducted.