Bill Conlin’s article about undeserving Hall of Famers makes a lot of odd choices (if otherwise clearly qualified managers are to be excluded for using profanity, for example, the ranks are going to be pretty thin), considering the amount of low-hanging fruit out there. But it’s hard to get a better example of tendentious sportswriter logic than this:
We start with Adrian “Cap” Anson, whose “Get that n- off the field” order, directed at International League pitcher George Stovey in 1887, led to a league ban on black players the next day. The “Gentlemen’s Agreement” remained in force for 60 years. Anson played a variety of positions, most in the outfield. His 200 games at third base lead off the Least Deserving HOF nine plus manager.
THIRD BASE: Cap Anson
He was a big man for his time, a strapping 230-pounder regarded as baseball’s first superstar. Anson’s 27-year career began in 1871. In 22 seasons as the leader — and later manager — of the Chicago White Stockings, his batting average was .334. But in 221 games at third, his fielding percentage was .813. Yeech! … How much influence did Anson have on his game? Mainly those five words directed toward two black men (Fleet Walker was also on the field) that put baseball equality on hold for 60 years.
Evaluating a player based on unadjusted 19th-century fielding percentages at his non-primary position is pretty much the definition using statistics for support, not illumination. But the bigger problem here, as Bill James discussed a while ago, is the strange narrative that Cap Anson is singlehandedly responsible for segregation in baseball, because he had…pretty much the same white supremacist opinions most white men of his generation did, including those who had substantially more power within baseball than he did. I have particular inclination to defend Anson, but making baseball Jim Crow about one person is actually a comforting illusion that lets way too many people of the hook. And the idea that this Anson’s only influence over the game is utterly absurd.
Joe Posnanski offers a much better candidate for Cooperstown removal:
Tom Yawkey. Longtime owner of the Boston Red Sox who somehow managed in 44 years of ownership to never win a World Series and to be the last team in baseball to field a black player. He was, according to his plaque, the first man to have his team fly by plane. So he had that going for him.
While baseball almost certainly would have been segregated if Cap Anson had been an ahead-of-his-time civil rights crusader, Tom Yawkey kept the Red Sox segregated well after most of baseball had moved on from the apartheid era, and was comfortable having open bigots run his team into the 60s. And while Anson was a player of great accomplishment aside from his appalling views on race, while Yawkey did lift the Red Sox out the class of franchises who didn’t even try to compete he was otherwise an owner of no particular distinction in addition to having racist views that were much less common to his time. As long as he has a plaque in Cooperstown we shouldn’t even be discussing Anson.