Tag Archives: Jelly Gardner

“A Blatantly-Cruel Job”

14 Jun

After James “Cool Papa” Bell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974, “an old-time Negro League baseball star—one of the all-time greats for certain,” had a few thoughts on Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame.

The former player, who, “is not the beneficiary of big-time publicity,” talked to Andrew Spurgeon “Doc” Young of The Chicago Defender.

Bell

Young said:

“The old-timer knows he was better than many of the Negro League players who are being touted for that ‘special niche’ reserved in the Hall of Fame for unfortunate blacks—those superior blacks who were barred out of organized baseball by racial bigots.”

The “old-timer,” according to Young said the committee instituted by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1971 and chaired by Monte Irvin, “has done a terribly bad job…a ridiculous job, a blatantly-cruel job.”

His chief complaint:

“Andrew, ‘Rube’ Foster should have been the first man from Negro League ball admitted to the Hall of Fame. He did more for Negro League baseball than anyone else. He was outstanding on four levels: Player, manager, team operator, and league czar.”

Young recalled that Joe Green, who played with and against Foster during his nearly two decades with several Chicago clubs, told him:

“Joe Greene [sic] knew Rube Foster well and he told me: ‘When Rube Foster died, the league died with him.”

Foster

The “old-timer” said:

“I know something about Rube Foster first-hand. He was a great man…One reason why Rube hasn’t been honored is that the committee is dominated by Easterners, Foster’s greatest triumphs were achieved in the Midwest. It’s a damn shame, really.”

 Then, he called out the most recent honoree:

“It’s got to be a damn shame when players who were twice as good as Cool Papa Bell can’t make it. I played against Cool Papa Bell, and I know he wasn’t an all-around star. He could run fast but he couldn’t throw and couldn’t hit with power. I think Satch (Paige) helped to promote him into the Hall of Fame.”

Young would not share his opinion of Bell but said the “old-timer” was “essentially right” about the failings of the committee.

“’Sure, I’m right,’ the old-timer said. ‘Jelly Gardner was a better player than Cool Papa Bell. Martin Dihigo was one of the greatest players who ever lived. Oscar Charleston, Bullet Joe Rogan, Bingo DeMoss—all three of them were better than Cool Papa Bell.’

“’You should know,’ the writer said. ‘You played against them all.’

“’Absolutely,’ the old-timer said. ‘And he didn’t crack a smile.”

Young never revealed who the “old-timer” was.

Foster was finally inducted in 1981, after Charleston (1976) and Dihigo (1977). Rogan would not be honored until 1998. Gardner and DeMoss have remained overlooked for induction.