One of the neat things about Negro League History is how fact turns to exaggeration; exaggeration to legend, and legend to myth.

Josh Gibson hit a scorching line drive which whizzed inches above the head of Satchel Paige. The ball wound up in the center field bleachers of Yankee Stadium, well over 500 feet in the distance. It has been said that Gibson once knocked a speaker off the roof of Comiskey Park. When Gibson was with the legendary Homestead Grays, he played Babe Ruth to Buck Leonard’s Lou Gehrig. Leonard, also immortalized at Cooperstown, stated that one time Josh hit a ball “out of existence.” There are many stories where the real truth of the tale is difficult to discern. But some things would be wonderful if they were true, and this nugget is certainly one of them.

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There was rumor of a young ballplayer in California, a first baseman that could play the position as perhaps it had never been played before. Now this young man was handsome, charismatic, and more than a bit arrogant concerning his talent, but considering the grace and skill he displayed on the field, that was not surprising. He was, even at that young age, more than a bit lacking in the moral virtues. He was described by friends and teammates as a compulsive liar and kleptomaniac.

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When the subject involves evaluating the greatest baseball players of all time, there are certain standard arguments that make me want to cringe. Perhaps the worst of these goes something like this: no Major League ballplayer that played before 1947 can be considered to be the greatest at his position because he never had to face any ballplayer from the Negro Leagues. Because no African Americans were allowed to play in the Major Leagues, the quality of ball was diluted, and therefore the competition was inferior to that faced after the sport was integrated. At some point in a future article I hope to go into a lengthy discussion of this fallacy; however, the only thing that I will point out for now is that if you use this as a frame of logic, then you must also say the same about the converse – no player from the Negro Leagues could be considered to be an all-time great; for if the Major League talent base was diluted by 10% (the percentage of African American’s in the U.S.), then the dilution would be 90% in the Negro Leagues, making the standard of play likely equivalent to Single A Ball, which is frankly ridiculous. However, many historians, while they don’t state the converse logic openly, perhaps because it is safer to use the politically correct rationale, site the statistical chaos that was part and parcel of the Negro Leagues as the “apparent” reason used in refusing to consider any of these legendary players on their all time lists.

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Recently I wrote an article about Minnie Minoso, one of the first players to play in MLB after having played in the Negro Leagues. In honor of Jackie Robinson, and the movie “42”, I will write a number of other pieces about players who starred in the Negro Leagues, never having the opportunity to compete against elite white ballplayers. Without a doubt, the most influential black baseball player of all time who played his entire career in Negro League ball was Buck O’Neil.

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In 2006, a special H.O.F. committee was appointed for the task of reviewing the qualifications of ballplayers, managers and owners from the Negro League, in order to determine who might best qualify for admission to the Hall of Fame. After review, 17 individuals, including players, management and owners, all deceased at that time, were admitted. The two living participants — as worthy of admission as anyone on that list — Buck O’Neill and Minnie Minoso, were rejected.

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There has been much discussion concerning whether players known/suspected of using P.E.D’s should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. What has been lost in the debate is that there are a number of former players on the ballot that should be inducted at Cooperstown. Perhaps the player who has the most credentials, but is continually overlooked, is Tim Raines.

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I was introduced to Major League baseball, like millions of my generation, by my dad, an inveterate fan of the New York Giants. Time upon end, I heard wondrous tales of the 1951 miracle pennant chase with the hated Bums of Brooklyn, beating them in the playoffs with the three run homer hit by Bobby Thomson off of Ralph Branca, forever known as “The Shot heard round the World.”, with Russ Hodges endlessly repeating “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!

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The two greatest defensive catchers during the Fin de siècle of the late 19th – early 20th century were the Bergen brothers, Marty and Bill. Both have distinct legacies in the annals of baseball history. Bill Bergen is undoubtedly the worst hitter in the history of the National Pastime.

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Pete Browning was the hitter’s version of Rube Waddell. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of the 19th century, as well as one of the most colorful and oddest individuals in the history of the game. Like Waddell, he was immensely popular wherever he played, both for his immense talent as well as his eccentric personality.

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