Doug Moe's column Friday described my recent lunch with Greg Bond, a UW PhD candidate who has a vote in this month's special election for the Baseball Hall of Fame:
THE OTHER day at J.T. Whitney's restaurant and brew pub, former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin did a little lobbying.
This was nothing new for Soglin, of course. In his two long stints as mayor he often fought to get Madison a fair shake from some of the rubes in the Legislature, who often seemed reluctant to share state revenues with the city.
At this recent lunch, however, the stakes for Soglin were infinitely higher than merely ensuring Madison's financial stability.
This was about getting Minnie Minoso in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Soglin's table mates that day included UW-Madison cable TV expert Barry Orton, who edits Soglin's blog. A few recent blog entries have been devoted to Minnie Minoso and his deserving a spot in the Hall of Fame.
The third man at the table was a Madison resident who will actually have a say in whether or not Minoso makes the hall.
Later this month, in Tampa, Fla., Greg Bond will be one of 12 experts on African-American baseball players who will vote up or down on 39 Hall of Fame candidates from the old Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues baseball teams. Minoso is one of the 39. Players getting at least nine of the 12 votes will be officially enshrined into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
How Bond, who is in graduate school in American history at UW-Madison, became expert enough to sit on such a prestigious committee - the non-voting chairman is former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent - is an interesting tale.
At 33, Bond is the youngest member of the committee. He first fell under baseball's spell while growing up in Vero Beach, Fla. - the winter home of the Los Angeles Dodgers - and he first got interested in the old-time African-American players when he read David Zang's book, "Fleet Walker's Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball's First Black Major Leaguer."
Ask baseball fans who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball and most everyone will name Jackie Robinson. In fact, it was Moses "Fleetwood" Walker, who in 1884 played 42 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, which was then recognized as a major league.
Still, baseball - reflecting society - remained largely segregated and, by the 1890s, segregationists had carried the day. The Negro League Baseball Players Association Web site notes the following: "During the 1890s, most professional black players were limited to playing in exhibition games on 'colored' teams on the barnstorming circuit."
In 1920, Rube Foster organized the first black professional baseball league and Foster is known as the father of black baseball.
Greg Bond's interest lay in the Fleet Walker era - the more obscure black players from pre-1900. He wrote his UW-Madison master's thesis on them and, in doing his research, Bond corresponded with and got to know the top experts in the United States on black baseball. In time, Bond himself became a leading expert on the pre-1900 era. He is now working on his Ph.D.
Recently, the Hall of Fame received a grant of $250,000 from Major League Baseball to try to determine if any deserving Negro League or pre-Negro League ballplayers missed being inducted when the hall's Veterans Committee began considering them for induction in the 1970s (the great Josh Gibson, for instance, was inducted in 1972).
A screening committee settled on 39 potential candidates, one of whom is Minnie Minoso, who had a great career in both the Negro Leagues and later with the Chicago White Sox. Paul Soglin, as mentioned, believes passionately that Minoso should be in the hall. He hit for power, stole bases and was a gifted outfielder.
On his blog, Soglin writes poignantly of first seeing Minoso play at Comiskey Park in 1952. Soglin was just a kid but knew he was witnessing greatness.
Soglin continued: "The closest I ever got to Minoso was in 1954. The Chicago White Sox stayed at the Piccadilly Hotel, just two blocks from my home. Once the season started, every day after school we headed up to the Piccadilly about 3:30 p.m. The White Sox would be returning from the day game by 4 p.m. Every White Sox player stayed at the Piccadilly except for two. Jack Harshmann had his entire family with him and lived in an apartment about a mile away.
"Minoso drove up to the hotel in his dark green Cadillac convertible; it was a '54 El Dorado. He dropped off the first of the great Venezuelan shortstops, Chico Carrasquel, and then headed further south. Word was that he lived somewhere near 63rd Street.
"Minoso was black. He was the first black Cuban to play in the major leagues. He was the first black Latin player.
"From 1954 until 1960, my last summer hanging around the hotel, I never saw a black, man or woman, ballplayer or not, go through the front doors of the Piccadilly Hotel."
Around the holidays, Barry Orton was on the Internet when he learned that one of the 12 people who will meet Feb. 25 in Tampa was a Ph.D. candidate at UW-Madison. The meeting at Whitney's was arranged. During lunch, Soglin produced and passed around Minoso's 1954 White Sox contract. Soglin had bought it on eBay.
"Did he press you to vote for Minoso?" Bond was asked recently.
"He did a little advocating," Bond recalled.
Greg Bond will decide how to vote for himself, of course. He's looking forward to his weekend in Tampa. There will be discussions Saturday and Sunday and finally a vote. A press conference is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 with Fay Vincent presiding, where the results will be announced. Most likely, Paul Soglin will have never been more nervous about an election - even one of his own.
I hate to disagree with my good friend Doug, but the 2004 election made me much more nervous than any of my races: after four years of George W, I feared the worst was yet to come from an administration that would never have to face the voters again...