NEAL CONAN, host:
Yesterday the Baseball Hall of Fame elected a new class of 17 members, all from the Negro Leagues, and it includes the Hall's first woman. We're also two days out from the opening pitch of the first-ever World Baseball Classic. It's baseball's version of he World Cup.
If you have questions about the new Hall of Fame members or about the new Baseball Classic give us a call, 800-989-8255, or zap us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us is our baseball pal, Alan Schwarz, senior writer for Baseball America and author of, The Numbers Game. He's with us by phone from Port Saint Lucy in Florida, where he's attending the New York Mets spring training camp.
Are you trying out, Alan?
Mr. ALAN SCHWARZ (Senior writer for Baseball America): Oh, happily, no. The Mets are far better than they would need to be to try out the likes of me.
Now, three or four years ago, they did extend me an invitation, but Omar Minaya has really taken care of things.
CONAN: Okay. Now these Hall of Fame elections were remarkable. This was sort of the end of a long process of reevaluating people who a lot of people, historians said were overlooked.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Well, yeah, the Negro Leagues were really, there was a bit of a black hole for a long, long, long time in terms of understanding the history of the Negro Leagues, understanding who were the excellent players. I mean, some were so obvious, like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, and then several others that have been in the Hall of Fame for a long time.
Mr. SCHWARZ: But there wasn't a lot of time spent, or there wasn't a concerted comprehensive effort, to understand everybody who played such a large role in that part of baseball history. And major league baseball did help fund a large statistical and otherwise study to better understand who were the great players back then? Who should be in Cooperstown with the likes of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb?
And that's why it culminated with the announcement of 17 new Hall of Famer's.
CONAN: The process, as you suggested, was unusual. A committee of twelve met, and you needed 75 percent, same as always, but 75 percent to be elected.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Yeah. And, I mean, it's an awfully large class, and my first instinct, to be honest with you is, you know, it's a little too many. Because I do think the Hall of Fame has been watered down a little bit by many white inductees. I mean, it has nothing to do with the fact that it's the Negro League or a special election.
But as I actually did the numbers, but when you look at it the Negro Leagues lasted about 30 years, and the National American League, you know, basically we think of as the major leagues has basically been around since 1876. And the American League since 1901. And so, roughly, you know, three-sixteenths of baseball history was the Negro Leagues; so maybe there should be three-sixteenths of Hall of Famer's, which is what they're getting close to now.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit about Effa Manley, who's getting most of the publicity in this new class of inductees.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Well, those who don't realize, Effa Manley was a woman. In fact, you know, there's some question as to her ethnicity. I believe that she had, she was believed to have mixed parents, but then again there's some belief that they in fact were not mixed and that she was indeed white. Nonetheless, she was the co-owner of the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, and just played a very large role in demanding respect for the Negro Leagues, for--I mean, it's staggering to think of it today. She actually had an anti-lynching day. I mean, it's, I'm sorry, I have nothing to say to that!
Um, I mean, but she really spoke up as to the rights of Negro League players and also of Negro League owners. Because, of course, when the major leagues started signing black players, started signing the likes of Jackie Robinson and players from the league, she fought for the teams to be compensated for the loss of their stars. Of course, those efforts only went so far. The Negro Leagues were dead within, effectively dead within five or six years, and they hung around for another five or six. You know, they were basically, their time was done very quickly.
But, you know, she was an immensely influential person within that quite misunderstood sphere.
CONAN: And on her tombstone I understand it reads, She loved baseball.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Yeah. Yeah, there are actually many tombstones like that.
There's a former pitcher for the Mets who I did a story on once, who had, he had only one baseball card from 1963, and it said, He achieved his dreams, with a picture of the baseball card etched into his tombstone. You'd be surprised how many of those there are.
CONAN: We're talking with Alan Schwarz. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And let's get Mary on the line. Mary's calling from Kansas City.
MARY (Caller): Hi, Neal. What a pleasure to talk to you.
CONAN: Well, thank you.
MARY: I, um, on the front page of the paper, of the Kansas City Star today, it talked about Buck O'Neal being overlooked, and you know, he's a hometown hero here. And I just was curious about your guest's thoughts about Buck O'Neal being overlooked.
CONAN: The other living candidate, Minnie Minoso, also over…did not get voted in. Alan Schwarz?
Mr. SCHWARZ: I'm glad you, I could see you, choosing your words carefully there, Neal. I guarantee everybody that Buck O'Neal was not overlooked. Buck O'Neal, for those who don't know, was an immensely successful player in the Negro Leagues, was a manager in the Negro Leagues, you know, and became the first African American coach in Major League Baseball--and then was the unofficial star of the Ken Burns baseball series telling all sorts of stories. And he's arguably the most beloved man living in baseball today.
However, I'm sure that this group of voters went to great pains to understand the qualifications of each and every candidate they had. They inducted 17 people. I'm sure they wouldn't have minded inducting 18, or 19, but there must've been a reason that I'm not aware of that they did not select Buck O'Neal. He was obviously a strong candidate, but he just didn't get the votes. But I'm sure he was not overlooked.
CONAN: Mary, people in Kansas City will dispute that, I'm sure.
MARY: Yes, I was just going to say that Neal. He's our Hall of Famer here. One of many, so…
Mr. SCHWARZ: And let's give him his due. I mean, he also has played an extraordinarily large role in Kansas City, in the development of the Negro League's Baseball Museum, Hall of Fame and Museum. I mean, I spent the day with him down there, he's just a delightful, delightful man.
However, of course, let's be fair, the Hall of Fame is not about popularity; it's about one's concrete play and then also contributions to the game. And while of course Buck O'Neal did very well in both of those categories, I'm sure that the committee had good reason to not, you know, select him. Because clearly they wanted to elect a lot of people.
CONAN: Mary, thanks very much for the call.
MARY: Thanks Neal. I appreciate it.
CONAN: We've got to move on. Thanks.
And, we've got to move on to talk about the World Baseball Classic which gets underway this Friday, I guess, in Tokyo. And these are national teams, the United States, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama… This is the--are the players you're talking to there in spring training, are they excited about this?
Mr. SCHWARZ: Some are, some aren't. To be honest, most of the ones who aren't, aren't playing. Because they chose not to, which is fine. I mean this is a little contrived, let's face it. The World Cup in soccer and some of the international competitions that we've seen in hockey and some other sports are, you know, are almost always the best players and it's the signature event for that sport.
Now this is something that's a little more contrived, it's done for marketing reasons on behalf of Major League Baseball and the Player's Association. They're doing their version of a World Cup. Here it is in spring trainings, and not all the players are ready, and not all of the players even want to bother playing, and, you know, that's okay. That happens. But there are an awful lot of stars who are playing: Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for the United States, and Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero for the Dominican Republic. I mean the list goes on and on, and I think, is it a perfect tournament? No. But is it going to be a lot of fun? Yeah.
CONAN: Hm. One thing that people have asked questions about, though, is spring training, they're imposing pitch counts on the pitchers so they don't hurt their arms before the start of, well, I guess what everybody sees as more important, the real season.
Mr. SCHWARZ: Oh yeah, exactly. And they have to do that, because some pitchers, and particularly those from Latin American countries who are more fervent, in general, are more fervent about their desire to play than the Americans because they, you know, the smaller countries, the Dominical Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, they really want to knock off the big bad Americans, you know, in a very healthy and competitive way. And, you know, their employers, who are paying them guaranteed contracts, don't want to have, you know, Frankie Rodriguez throw 70 pitches and blow out his arm for good ole Venezuela. I mean you can't, or Dominican Republic. I mean, you can't afford to let that happen. So you have to have pitch limits, you know, for relievers, for starters, have rest rules.
Where, look, if you pitch 60 pitches one day, you can't come back for another four days, or whatever it may be.
CONAN: Whatever it may be. Yeah.
Mr. SCHWARZ: You know. It, they have to do it for insurance reasons and also for the integrity of the major league season.
CONAN: Well a couple of weeks of Half pipe and snowboard cross, interesting enough, but hey, end of this week we get back to real sports: baseball!
Mr. SCHWARZ: That's right!
CONAN: Alan Schwarz, thanks very much.
Mr. SCHWARZ: My pleasure. Any time, Neal.
CONAN: Alan Schwarz is senior writer for Baseball America. He also writes the Keeping Score column for the Sunday New York Times sports section. He's author of, The Numbers Game, as well.
He joined us by phone from Port Saint Lucy, Florida, where he's attending the New York Mets' spring training camp.
This is TALK OF THE NATION, for NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.