Commentary

Save room for Negro League players

Here's a dozen Hall of 100-worthy of the greatest players of all time

Originally Published: December 12, 2012
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

I understand the premise of ESPN's Hall of 100. The only criteria for our rankings are what the players did on the field and in the major leagues. It's a reasonable approach that is based on complete, authenticated and comparable statistics.

But it leaves out Negro Leagues players, and I feel they should be included. It wasn't their fault they didn't get a chance in the majors; it was the racism of others. And while we do not have major league statistics for reference, the available Negro Leagues stats, eyewitness accounts and common sense tell us that baseball's greatest players must include those who never had a chance to produce big league numbers.

Oscar Charleston
AP PhotoOscar Charleston, who played center field, was a dazzling combination of power and speed.

After all, if we're willing to make the enormous leap of faith that stats produced in the early 1900s -- when the balls were different, the gloves were inferior, the population base was both numerically and physically smaller, and entire races were excluded -- are equivalent to modern-day numbers, why not accept the much more reasonable assumption that a true ranking of baseball's greatest 100 must include the following dozen players?

OF Oscar Charleston: Charleston never played in the majors but Bill James ranked him as the game's fourth-greatest player in his 2001 "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," behind only Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Willie Mays. The Sporting News ranked Charleston 67th in its 1998 list of 100 greatest players. A speedy, powerful center fielder and driven competitor, he led the Negro National League in batting, home runs and stolen bases in 1921. He also managed one of the great teams in history, the 1930s Pittsburgh Crawfords dynasty. James quotes Buck O'Neil as saying Charleston was better than Mays.

RHP Satchel Paige: The most famous Negro Leagues player, the age-defying Paige stayed young long enough to pitch in the majors -- including the World Series -- as a 42-year-old rookie in 1948. He had enough left in that fabulous arm to throw a 12-inning shutout at age 46 for the St. Louis Browns in 1952 and throw three scoreless innings for the Kansas City A's at age 59. If he did that in his 40s and 50s, imagine what he could have done in the majors had he been allowed to pitch in his 20s and 30s. Paige was ranked 17th by James and was the first African-American inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

C Josh Gibson: The greatest slugger in Negro Leagues history, Gibson once clubbed a home run that hit just below the top of the Yankee Stadium roof. Bill Veeck said that Gibson, "at the minimum, was two Yogi Berras." Ranked ninth all time by James and 18th by TSN, Gibson died just three months before Jackie Robinson made his major league debut with the Dodgers.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gibson
AP Photo/FileCatcher Josh Gibson was one of the greatest sluggers in baseball, period.

SS Pop Lloyd: The shortstop was ranked 27th by James, who quotes Connie Mack saying that you could pick either Lloyd or Honus Wagner from a sack and be fine with whichever player you drew. Wagner, meanwhile, said that he considered it an honor to be compared to Lloyd.

OF Cool Papa Bell: Legendary for his speed -- Paige said he was fast enough to turn off the lights and be in bed before it was dark -- Bell is ranked 66th by TSN and 76th by James.

1B Buck Leonard: Monte Irvin said sneaking a fastball by Leonard was like sneaking a sunrise past a rooster. According to the Hall of Fame, the first baseman played in a record 11 East-West All-Star Games and played 17 seasons with the Homestead Grays. Ranked 47th by TSN and 65th by James.

OF Martin Dihigo: James ranked him 95th among all players and No. 1 among Negro Leagues right fielders, but he played every position, including pitcher. He is in Cooperstown as well as the Mexican and Cuban Halls of Fame.

P/OF Leon Day: Irvin called Day the best all-around player he ever saw -- and Irvin played with Mays in the majors. A pitcher and outfielder, Day threw an opening day no-hitter in his first game back from serving in World War II.

3B Ray Dandridge: A third baseman who could hit for high average and field superbly, Dandridge never made it to the majors but did play alongside Willie Mays with the 1951 Minneapolis Millers.

[+] EnlargeSmokey Joe Robinson
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty ImagesSatchel Paige might be more famous, but Smokey Joe Williams might have been a better pitcher.

3B Judy Johnson: A contact hitter, Johnson was the captain for the great Pittsburgh Crawfords teams in the 1930s. He was the first African-American coach in the majors and also signed Dick Allen as a scout.

RHP Smokey Joe Williams: According to the Hall of Fame, Williams struck out 27 batters in a 1-0 shutout -- talk about a game you would love to have seen. Considered by some to have been a better pitcher than Paige, he is ranked 52nd by James.

LF Monte Irvin: Kept out of the majors until he was 30, Irvin nonetheless made two All-Star teams and finished third in the 1951 MVP vote when he hit .312 with 24 home runs and 121 RBIs. By the way, Irvin is still alive.

Those dozen are all in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the first 10 have been honored with life-size bronze figures placed around a miniature diamond at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. It is a magnificent display in a wonderful museum that is both tremendously educational and entertaining. And much deserved by the players honored.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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