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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Teddy Ballgame makes difference for Negro Leaguers to enter Hall
By Tom Singer

Ted Williams' Hall of Fame induction speech

"The other day Willie Mays hit his five hundred and twenty-second home run. He has gone past me, and he's pushing, and I say to him, 'Go get 'em Willie.' Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as anybody else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game.
"I hope some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren't given the chance."

-- Ted Williams, Hall of Fame induction speech, July 25, 1966.

Monte Irvin still vividly remembers his reaction to those words, spoken unexpectedly, uttered from a podium in Cooperstown, with the entire world listening.

"I was surprised. I hadn't known that's how he felt," says Irvin, a spry 82-year-old, 46 years after the end of his belated eight-season Major League career. "But I was so happy that he did.

"What Williams said, a lot of others were thinking. But he said it, and it paved the way and made it easier for a lot of Negro League players to get into the Hall of Fame."

 On to Cooperstown
The list below shows all the Negro League Players who were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame starting in 1971.
Name Position Team best known for Year inducted into HOF
* Hank Aaron Shortstop Indianapolis Clowns 1982
Cool Papa Bell Center field Homestead Grays 1974
Oscar Charleston Center field Pittsburgh Crawfords 1976
Ray Dandridge Third Base Newark Eagles 1987
Leon Day Pitcher, second base, outfield    Newark Eagles 1995
Martin Dihigo All New York Cubans 1977
** Larry Doby Second base Newark Eagles 1998
Bill Foster Pitcher Chicago American Giants    1996
Rube Foster Pitcher/manager Chicago American Giants 1981
Josh Gibson Catcher Homestead Grays 1972
Monte Irvin Shortstop Newark Eagles 1973
Judy Johnson Third base Hilldale Daisies 1975
Buck Leonard First base Homestead Grays 1972
Pop Lloyd Shortstop Chicago American Giants 1977
***Willie Mays Center field Birmingham Black Barons 1979
Satchel Paige Pitcher Kansas City Monarchs 1971
****Jackie Robinson    Shortstop Kansas City Monarchs 1962
Bullet Rogan Pitcher Kansas City Monarchs 1998
Hilton Smith Pitcher Kansas City Monarchs 2001
Turkey Stearns Center Field Detroit Stars 2000
Willie Wells Shortstop St. Louis Stars 1997
Joe Williams Pitcher New York Lincoln Giants 1999
**** Best known for breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record in the Major Leagues while playing for the Atlanta Braves.
**** Best known for breaking the color barrier in the American League while playing for the Cleveland Indians.
**** Best known for his home run and defensive prowess with the New York/San Francisco Giants.
**** Best known for breaking the Major League color barrier while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Why did The Splendid Splinter say it? What prompted Williams, baseball's last .400 hitter, to devote 64 words of an economical 527-word speech to a subject that was hardly a burning issue of the day?

"I don't think anyone at the time anticipated anything like that," says James A. Riley, a noted researcher of Negro League history and prolific author on the subject. "I've talked with Williams several times, and I never got a true sense of why he felt that way, of why he felt about it so deeply."

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It's unlikely that personal experiences fueled the sentiment. Born and reared in San Diego and a precocious rookie star in Boston by 20, Williams had little personal exposure to the prejudices that had excluded Black players. And he certainly wasn't venting pent-up frustration from years of playing with these delayed athletes; not until the season before Williams' 1960 retirement did the Red Sox become the last of the 16 Major League teams to integrate, with Pumpsie Green.

"I think Ted has a natural affinity for the underdog. He was prompted by that," Riley says.

Chances are Williams, ever the iconoclast, simply intentionally wanted to stir it up. And to his credit, he used his forum for a noble cause worth stirring.

"Williams was the first to say it, and for someone of his stature, so respected by the game, to take time out of his shining moment to recognize from his platform that there was a problem … it sheds light on him as a man," says Ray Doswell, curator of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

"When someone that respected speaks, people listen. What Williams said served as a message not only to people who make decisions, but to fans as well."

"That was a groundbreaking statement, and it opened peoples' eyes to the other half of baseball history," echoes Riley. "It definitely had a positive effect on getting Negro Leaguers into the Hall."

And quickly.

With Commissioner Bowie Kuhn picking up the ball, on June 10, 1971, the Hall of Fame created a committee to select for annual induction players who had been at least 10-year veterans of the Negro Leagues and were ineligible for regular Hall election.

In order, the Negro League Committee enshrined Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Irvin, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Martin Dihigo and Pop Lloyd.

The special committee was dissolved in 1977 and its vote passed on to the regular Veterans Committee, which has continued the induction of Negro Leaguers such as Leon Day, Willie Foster, Willie Wells, Bullet Rogan, Smokin' Joe Williams, Turkey Stearnes, Rube Foster, Ray Dandridge and Hilton Smith.

This bit of baseball history, casting Ted Williams as somewhat the Abe Lincoln of Negro Leaguers, remains a largely overlooked aspect of the game's legacy.

"His speech is part of our exhibit," says Doswell, the museum curator, "and visitors always remark that they're surprised that he said it. It's an awakening for them."

It is said that on the day he was inducted, following his speech, Williams, in his best maverick mode, did not even pay a visit inside the Hall of Fame building.

He may not have gone through those doors. But he sure held them open for heroes of the Negro League.

Tom Singer covers the Angels for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.