- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — A group of 12 former Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues players and five executives represent all but one spot in the largest induction class in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s history. None of the 17 are living, but today still will be a day of great recognition for blacks in baseball.

While 1970s and 1980s closer Bruce Sutter was voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the other inductees were elected from a pool of 39 nominees chosen by the Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors group, a body of 12 researchers and historians selected by the Hall of Fame’s board of directors after Major League Baseball presented the Hall with a $250,000 grant to conduct a comprehensive study on the history of blacks in baseball from 1860 to 1960.

Among the committee members was Robert Peterson, author of the quintessential volume on Negro Leagues history, the 1970 work “Only the Ball Was White.” Peterson cast his ballot two days before his death on Feb. 11 at the age of 80.

Several players and one executive who toiled for teams representing the District or Baltimore will be inducted today in Cooperstown.

One of those players is powerful left-handed slugging infielder Jud “Boojum” Wilson, nicknamed by Satchel Paige for the sound the ball made when his line drives hit outfield walls. Wilson played for championship teams in Baltimore and Washington. He was the captain of the 1931 Homestead Grays team often cited as the greatest in Negro League history.

Wilson led the league in hitting with a .373 average for the Baltimore Black Sox in 1923 and posted averages of .350 or better in nine of the next 14 seasons, never dipping below .315 and hitting for a career .345 clip. Paige considered Wilson one of the two best hitters in Negro Leagues history.

Wilson’s grandniece, Sha’Ron D. Taylor, lives in Capitol Heights and works for the federal government’s General Services Administration. She found out about Wilson’s election to the Hall while looking through a recent issue of Jet magazine and contacted Cooperstown.

“I doubt they would have found me until I found them. I let the Hall of Fame know that he has living blood relatives,” said Taylor, adding, “The more I talk about it, the colder I get. I get the little goose bumps.”

In addition to Taylor, Wilson has a niece, a nephew and many relatives from generations to follow, but Taylor will be the one accepting his Hall of Fame plaque.

“I feel privileged. I feel like royalty,” Taylor said, “This is history for my family. I feel happy for my grandmother. She’s deceased but she idolized her brother. This is a biased statement of course because he’s my uncle, but he must have really been someone of stature and greatness. When I read comments about him by someone like Satchel Paige, I know he must have meant something.”

Another inductee will be catcher Biz Mackey, who played for the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1938 and 1939 and mentored Hall of Fame catcher and pioneering black major leaguer Roy Campanella while “Campy” was a teenager. Mackey, an excellent hitter and fielder, had an almost 30-year career. He led Hilldale (Philadelphia) to three straight Eastern Colored League pennants from 1923 to 1925, defeating the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League World Series of 1925.

Among the founding fathers of the organized Negro Leagues, owner Cum Posey’s Homestead Grays team was one of the first successful Negro Leagues franchises both on the field and at the gate for 35 years. Fielding a team that included future Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Judy Johnson, the Grays won back-to-back Negro League World Series in 1930 and 1931 and nine straight Negro National League pennants beginning in 1937. Homestead split its “home” games between the District and Pittsburgh.

Crossing the racial divide

The first woman elected to the Hall of Fame, Effa Manley, was married to Newark Eagles owner Abe Manley and served as the team’s business manager from 1936 to 1948. Manley was a white woman who championed the cause of the Civil Rights movement and fought to improve the lot of black ballplayers, demanding compensation from major league teams that signed Negro Leagues players.

She also was a shrewd negotiator and famously attractive. Legend has it she was romantically involved with several of her Newark Eagles ballplayers and used her sex appeal during contract negotiations with them. “Signing Bonus,” a painting by Terry L. Beavers included in the “Shades of Greatness” exhibit on display at the Hall of Fame, depicts Manley seductively striding down a spiral staircase in a skimpy red dress while a rookie ballplayer waits at a table in the parlor.

Another maverick among Negro Leagues team owners, J.L. Wilkinson, was a white businessman who created the Kansas City Monarchs team that would become the most well known franchise in Negro Leagues history. Wilkinson’s Monarchs won 10 pennants from 1923 to 1946 and were the first team play night games, transporting their own lighting system from city to city on flatbed trucks. The Monarchs would send 27 black players to the big leagues, including Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks and Elston Howard.

Another dozen

The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors chose 12 other inductees for this one-time endeavor, and each player or administrator has quite a resume.

Ray Brown was the ace of the Homestead Grays staff during the team’s glory years and married Posey’s daughter. Brown pitched in seven Negro World Series games from 1942 to 1945. Brown continued going to college during the offseasons and graduated from Wilberforce (Ohio) University in 1935.

Power hitter Willard Brown posted a lifetime .350 batting average and led his league in both hitting and home runs in three years.

Andy Cooper pitched for 1929 Negro National League champion Kansas City Monarchs and managed the team to three Negro American League titles from 1937 to 1940.

George “Mule” Suttles played on championship teams in St. Louis in 1928, 1930 and 1931. He developed his powerful muscles as a coal miner in Birmingham, Ala., where he also played on semi-pro mining teams that would later become the foundation of the Birmingham Black Barons.

Cristobal Torriente’s career ran parallel with Babe Ruth’s and can be seen in some ways as a Negro league’s equivalent existence. Torriente was regarded as a franchise player for Rube Foster’s great Chicago American Giants teams from 1918 to 1925. Like Ruth he had a voracious appetite for the high life in the Roaring Twenties. During an exhibition series against a touring team that included Ruth held in his native Cuba, Torriente out hit the Bambino .378 to .345 while knocking three home runs to Ruth’s two as his Almendares club bested Ruth’s team by a game in the series.

Five pre-Negro Leagues players will be enshrined today: Frank Grant, a star second baseman during baseball’s formative years; Pete Hill, who often has been compared to Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker; Cuban-born Jose Mendez, a dominant pitcher for early Cuban Stars teams in the United States; rifled-armed, 6-foot-4, 240-pound catcher Louis Santop; and slick-fielding, hard-hitting first baseman Ben Taylor.

Alex Pompez, an owner and league executive from 1916 to 1950 who eventually became a scout and scouting director for the major leagues’ Giants in New York and San Francisco, also is part of the class along with Sol White, an infielder from 1887 until the early 1900s who wrote a history of black baseball.

The new inductees will join 18 previously elected former Negro Leaguers. Former Kansas City Monarchs player, manager, oral historian and Negro Leagues ambassador Buck O’Neil was not selected but he will give a speech along with Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, on behalf of the posthumous inductees.

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