MLB announced today that a special Hall of Fame election will take place for Negro League players and for African-Americans in the pre-Negro League period, one for each of the two categories. It is the culmination of a five-month study on pre-integration African-American baseball.
Apart from finally putting Negro League ambassador Buck O'Neil in the Hall, I have to agree with Negro League guru Larry Lester, who said, "It's unprecedented." The Hall has had Negro League Committees in the past, but no one has specifically set up a procedure for the largely forgotten players who were unlucky to play before the advent of the Negro Leagues (usually dating from 1920 when Rube Foster's Negro National League began play, though there were some scattered leagues prior to that).
So the voters can look at Moses Fleetwood Walker, Bud Fowler, George Stovey, and Frank Grant as pioneers without having to throw them in with more recent players like Mule ("Kick Mule!") Suttles and O'Neil. Really, the only true "pioneer" who has made it into the Hall was the great Rube Foster, whose playing career predated the formation of his Negro National League, and amazingly he was overlooked until 1981.
Oddly, the Negro Leaguers were thrown in with the rest of the players that were no longer eligible for the writers' ballot in 2003. This overhaul of the Veterans Committee procedures was supposed to be boon to the cronyistic, ineffectual committee.
I think this is the first chink in the armor of the new Veterans Committee. Maybe it's the first step in reconstituting the poorly conceived committee or maybe it's just the first step in paring down the committee's scope. If the Hall can close the book on Negro Leaguers and possibly 19th century players, then they can focus on the players who have fallen off the writers' ballot.
Whatever it is, the approach is solidsit down with the scholars, research the topic, and submit the results. I wish that they just had the research committee sit down and come up with a final list instead of going to another ballot, but then again, that could produce the kind of single-mindedness and cronyism that has plagued the Vets since day one.