Negro League Museum to honor modern-day players
'Hall of Game' to be created for those who performed with passion, determination
The Negro League Baseball Museum will begin honoring more modern players who exemplified the spirit and talent of the old Negro Leaguers with a shrine it plans to call the "Hall of Game."
"The focus of the Hall of Game, in its initial concept, is to recognize players whose careers began in the Majors after 1960, or after the completion of the integration process," said Bob Kendrick, president of the museum. "It will pay honor to players, regardless of race, who played the game with the same kind of passion, flair, dogged determination and skills that were exemplified by the greats of the Negro Leagues."
Kendrick has set no firm date for the first induction of Hall of Game honorees, but he sees the induction ceremony occurring around April 15, the day Major League Baseball honors Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in 1947.
Kendrick insisted, however, that the Hall of Game won't be a copy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a storied institution that keeps alive the on-field accomplishments of the game's greats.
But in some ways, the museum has always had a similar mission, Kendrick said. For it, too, recognizes greatness.
From the day the late Buck O'Neil and others met in midtown Kansas City and founded the museum in 1990, the place has told the story of black and Hispanic men who starred in "black baseball." Through film, photographs and narratives, it has chronicled their struggles to play the game in the face of racism and bigotry.
"It is important for people to understand that the Negro Leagues represented baseball being played at the absolute highest skill level," Kendrick said. "If you were talented enough to star in the Negro Leagues, then you would have been a star in any league."
Some of those Negro League stars now grace the walls in Cooperstown next to Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb and other legends from baseball's yesteryear.
Since the Negro Leagues disappeared in the late 1950s or early '60s -- baseball historians dispute exactly when it ended -- the museum has almost exhausted its list of players to honor. The best of the black players moved to the Major Leagues, a point of pride for black journalists like Sam Lacy, Doc Young and Wendell Smith, who campaigned tirelessly for the end of segregated baseball.
Yet the spirit of the Negro Leagues remained in many of the more recent talents, and Kendrick said the museum wants to salute those ballplayers who would have represented the league well.
The Hall of Game, which will be housed inside the museum in Kansas City and in the nearby Buck O'Neil Education Center, will feature an induction ceremony each year.
The criteria for induction will be high, and Kendrick said the first class will likely include marquee names from the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s -- men whose careers earned them spots in Cooperstown. But Kendrick also sees the Hall of Game inducting ballplayers whom baseball writers may have overlooked.
Yet Kendrick made clear he wasn't trying to second-guess the writers. He said two baseball fans can look at a set of statistics and come away with decidedly different conclusions about the talent behind the numbers. But in players like Tony Oliva and Frank White, he does see examples of slight, and he sought an alternative way to keep their legacies alive.
Kendrick's plan is to assemble a panel of baseball experts. They will sift through the statistical records of players who began their careers, or whose careers continued, after the Negro Leagues disappeared.
If a ballplayer -- black, white or Hispanic -- played like Satchel Paige, Double Duty Radcliffe, Bullet Rogan, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston or Cool Papa Bell, he can expect consideration, if not necessarily induction, for the Hall of Game.
"This not only speaks to the talent of the Negro Leagues but the universal acceptance that the Negro Leagues had for players of all color," Kendrick said. "They really didn't care about color; all they cared about was 'Can you play?'"
The Hall of Game induction will replace the annual Legacy Awards, by which the museum saluted current players for their performances each season. The museum will continue to hand out Legacy trophies, just not at the gala it had held each January.
Justice B. Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.