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Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Obligations

Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game of baseball back in 1839, in Cooperstown, New York. This story was created in 1905 by Abner Graves, and taken for historical fact in 1907 by the Mills Commission, a panel convened to ascertain the origins of the game of American Baseball.

The Hall of Fame itself opened in 1939, built upon that very myth, in Cooperstown. For 32 years, the Hall recognized the acheivements of ballplayers, creating a hallowed ground of artifacts and history. It was not until 1972 though, well after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers in 1947, and nearly 5 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that the Hall of Fame finally began to recognize the contribution of African-American players to the game.

Over the next 30 years, 18 Negro League players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, 9 between the years of 1971 and 1977 by a special committee, and 9 between 1977 and 2001 by the Veterans Committee.

The 18 individuals who have been recognized do not begin to account for the stories, the legends and the talented individuals who were excluded from playing in Major League Baseball (or its previous incarnations) between 1898 and 1947.

In order to recognize indivduals overlooked so far by the voting process, the Hall of Fame has been gathering game data and taking suggestions for names to be voted upon and inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony in February, 2006. Estimates of the number players who have a decent chance of being inducted by a 12 person committee range from 5 to 20. In addition, this is designed to be a "definitive vote," as the 5 year study by The Hall of Fame is thought to have unearthed all the extant evidence of the African American players and games that is likely to be found. Therefore, this will be the most important ballot regarding the Negro Leagues ever.

While the sentiments and efforts of Major League Baseball are to be applauded, I cannot say I approve of their marketing strategy.

This summer, a Negro League travelling exhibition made its way around the United States, stopping at Major League stadiums. I happened to be at the Nationals game when it stopped in Washington, D.C., but I unfortunately did not get to see it.

As I walked into the stadium, I looked around for the exhibit. I noticed a woman carrying a large check dedicated (I believe) to the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City, and she informed me that not only was the exhibition gone for the day, but that it had been outside the stadium, in a parking lot. Not only were the exhibition times posted wrong online, but there had not been any indication of where the exhibition would be.

Furthermore, in what I deem a more egregious error than failing to adequately promote the February ballot and the history of Negro League Baseball over the summer, I have seen scant mention of the upcoming induction in papers or online or on TV.

Why this is, I do not know, as the public can hardly be expected to appreciate the gravity and importance of inducting more Negro Leaguers (and likely not allowing further inductions of Negro Leaguers) into the Hall of Fame without more notice.

Two days ago, I finally saw two articles published on MLB.com.

I sincerely hope that there will be more in the news about this, as it deserves the attention.

I would have hoped that ESPN would have created some documentaries to profile potential Hall of Fame entrants.

I would have hoped that more sportswriters around the country were paying more attention to this project, and to the ballot in February.

While I know there is a TV movie in the works documenting Buck ONeil and Ted Radcliffe, that is not scheduled for release until late 2006, and I feel that it is vitally important to spread awareness around this upcoming Hall of Fame vote.

Since I have not heard of any plans by ESPN to profile players, and I feel it unlikely that sportswriters will take the initiative to profile players and encourage public knowledge, I would like to issue a call to sportswriters across the country. With the number of readers who may be reached through our newspapers, I think the result could be truly inspiring.

The Task Ahead

As journalists, the obligations of sportswriters do not end at reporting and analyzing the events of the present.

The last Negro League games were played in the 1950's. Although six decades of Negro League baseball were written into history due to the unfair and unsportsmanlike segregation of the sport, Negro League Baseball became an integral part of the game's character. The Annual East-West game, the barnstorming of teams all over the nation, and the performance of players like Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, and Josh Gibson became defining moments in the lives of adults and children across the country.

In particular, African Americans growing up under the shadow of Jim Crow could not look forward to Major League baseball. They could not idolize individuals like Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. Instead, they often looked to the Negro Leagues for inspiration.

Those children are now in their declining years. If their stories and their accounts of the game are not recorded now, they will never be heard firsthand. There may still be someone who saw Willie Foster pitch in the late 1930's. There could still be individuals who saw Buck Leonard play with Josh Gibson in the late 1930's, a pair which would rival the Ramirez-Ortiz tandems of today in terms of offense. There might even be individuals who remember the 1931 Homestead Grays.

But in five to ten years, we might never be able to hear those stories firsthand again.

As journalists, sportswriters have an obligation to document and report history, to make their readers aware not only of what is happening, but also of how the events of today relate to the events of yesteryear. I would ask sportswriters, between now and February, to write at least one article that calls attention to the vote that will take place on February 27th, and which profiles one Negro Leaguer who has or had local ties.

At the end of the article, I would ask the writer to append a plea to the readers - to send stories or pictures of their experiences with the Negro Leagues to the papers.

After a suitable amount of time, and hopefully, several responses, a follow-up article could then be penned detailing the answers.

If we get enough articles written in papers across the country, a compendium could be created, of hundreds or thousands of stories of how the Negro Leagues looked and felt firsthand.

It is admirable that Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame is currently compiling the game data, and that soon, we will recognize more of the legendary individuals who played the same game as their white peers but were relegated to secondary status, as human beings and baseball players, but played with joy and determination because they loved the game.

But think of how much more we can accomplish by reaching out through our newspapers and our media. In addition to immortalizing these individuals and their contributions through statistics and a plaque in the Hall of Fame, we can spread awareness of the history of the game. We can compile our memories of these players, so that their contributions to all our lives can endure, and continue to inspire and educate.








At this moment, I am still wondering about the feasibility of this plan - how would I get the attention of sportswriters, and is there a "critical mass" after which I could call this a success? do I need to try to get a version of the above column in an op-ed somewhere? should I get sportswriters to sign up? would getting word to college newspapers be a good place to start, perhaps? should I start a new blog dedicated to this, and post suggestsions and player biographies so that sportswriters might have a good starting point? or would that be too presumptuous?

So please, if you are reading this, please leave me feedback or ideas about how to make this proposal better and how to promote it.

At the moment, I am thinking about creating a new site dedicated to this topic, asking visitors to email their local sportswriters directing them to the site, and asking sportswriters to email me so I can put their names and/or their projects on the site. I think if there is interest, getting attention through op-ed columns would be a good way to get more writers to sign on.

If anyone can come up suggestions, please leave a comment or email me at will.li@gmail.com




If anyone feels strongly enough about this subject to write their local sportswriters, please do so and tell them to email me at the above address so I can gauge interest.

And if you happen to be a sportswriter, please email me to tell me how I can help writers with their research, with suggestions for players, and with feedback about the topic. Also, if I do start a website devoted to the topic, I would like to record the names of writers planning on devoting a column to the subject, even if the text of the column itself does not need to be posted to the website.

Thank You

Update

I have started a blog at Remembering and Recording The Negro Leagues

Further updates and interest on this topic will be directed there. I will do my best to update the site in terms of appearance and links, and hopefully, I will soon be able to start getting some feedback. If the project gets big enough, I'll open another site that isn't a blog, but that seems a little cocky at the moment.

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