It’s time for the Arkansas Sports HOF to honor Negro Leaguers


In 1974, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame voted to posthumously induct the late, great Reece Tatum of El Dorado. “Goose,” as he was known to fans, newspapers and pretty much everyone else, was an all-time great Harlem Globetrotters star who brought smiles to the faces of countless basketball fans. At the time of his induction into the ASHOF, seven years after his death, Tatum was the first and only black athlete to be honored by the institution. Many other black Arkansans have since joined him, but Tatum remains the ASHOF’s only connection to a significant chapter of black sports history. A lesser-known detail of Tatum’s legacy is the decade he spent playing segregated baseball in the Negro leagues. As a lanky, long-armed first baseman, Tatum entertained black baseball fans with all the same personality and genuine athleticism he brought to the basketball court. (This old footage of Tatum playing baseball with the Indianapolis Clowns is pure gold). His comedic antics likely made him the most famous Arkansas native in Negro baseball, but he was far from the only or the even the best. Dozens of other black Arkansans populated the Negro National and Negro American leagues during baseball’s pre-integration era. Andy Porter, Booker McDaniels, Floyd Gardner and numerous others were genuine Negro baseball stars with championships and awards to their credit. Yet, as the Negro leagues have steadily faded from memory into lore, the ASHOF has failed to recognize any of these players. And with Tatum’s baseball career essentially a mere footnote in historical memory, the ASHOF remains just as underrepresented by Negro leaguers as it did before 1974.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame’s omission of Negro baseball players has been compounded in recent weeks by Major League Baseball’s statement in December 2020 announcing that MLB would recognize seven Negro leagues from the period of 1920-1948 as “Major” leagues. This decision has been criticized by some, and perhaps rightly so, but I think I join the majority of baseball fans in celebrating the announcement. The integration of stats and records will be certainly be messy, but I consider the reckoning and rethinking of baseball history that will inevitably follow to be, in balance, a good thing. By my count, around fifty Negro baseball players from Arkansas are now likely to be recognized as big leaguers by MLB, and I believe that there is a great deal of potential to celebrate the lives and history of these players. The ASHOF offers perhaps the best and most necessary example of this kind of recognition. Small tributes to black baseball in Arkansas have been presented elsewhere, but the ASHOF is the most visible and permanent celebration of athletics in the state. I’m hopeful that MLB’s decision will finally force the ASHOF to reckon with the way it has ignored Negro leaguers and pre-integration black athletes in general. To put it simply, the time is right for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame to induct a Negro league player.

Let me be clear that I don’t think the ASHOF is entirely at fault in this matter. Arkansas is by no means alone in the challenge to properly honor the legacy of the Negro leagues. Even the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown continues to provoke a few calculated qualms for its handling of the greatest black baseball players. Each of Arkansas’ neighboring states have inducted at least one Negro leaguer in their corresponding institutions, but the majority of deserving Negro baseball candidates remain unrecognized. The challenge is for the ASHOF to lead the way in helping clear the national backlog of Negro leaguers deserving of recognition. This won’t be easy, but a lot of the groundwork has already been laid by baseball historians. A major obstacle in the past was the lack of available information on Negro league players, but much work has been done to reconstruct statistics and biographical data. We will never have a perfect record of the Negro leagues, but the incredible work of modern Negro league historians like Larry Lester and Gary Ashwill has made this a moot point. The fruit of this labor is the incredible Seamheads Negro League Database, which offers stats that rival in precision some of the well-accepted records of the early white major leagues. I’ve also done my best to aid in this effort through my research and writing for the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia. But even with more scholarship and documentation on the Negro leagues than ever before, I acknowledge that some valid concerns about inducting a Negro leaguer may still exist. Here are some of the remaining obstacles, as I see them:

  • They’re all gone. It’s unfortunate that nearly all Negro leaguers have at this point passed on. Ollie Brantley, one of the last surviving Negro leaguers from Arkansas, died in April 2020. I was once told that a lack of living Negro league representatives would be a big problem for the ASHOF. As a small institution, the ASHOF relies on its annual induction banquet and ceremony for publicity and revenue, and the attendance of living athletes helps garner interest. Deceased players also face a more difficult balloting process, since they are voted on separately. But the ASHOF does nevertheless regularly honor athletes posthumously, as they did with Tatum. To accept the honor, surviving descendants of Negro league players could likely be found. Moreover, my hope is that inducting a Negro league player would draw enough interest and collective memory from the larger black community in Arkansas to offset the absence of a living player. 
  • They didn’t come home. Most Negro league players from Arkansas did not return home after their baseball careers ended, instead settling in larger, industrial cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and New York. There were likely many reasons for this, including greater migration patterns, job availability, segregation politics, etc. The ASHOF would surely prefer to select athletes who returned to Arkansas, but there are already many inductees who did not. Take for example baseball players Lou Brock and Arky Vaughan who moved away from Arkansas during babyhood. It should be no issue then for Negro leaguers to be held to the same standard.
  • We don’t know their personal character. An important component to the selection of a lot of local sports heroes is their admirable character and civic contributions. I acknowledge that this is one of the most genuine concerns facing the induction of a Negro leaguers or any athlete from the past. It’s difficult to determine the personal character and community impact of an athlete merely from newspaper clippings. My best suggestion is that we remember the pride that hometown athletes bring to their communities and acknowledge Negro league players surely provided similar inspiration to the black communities of Arkansas.

This topic may seem trivial, but baseball has a funny way of mirroring greater cultural movements. It has taught me that we, both privately and institutionally, need to be intentional about recognizing those on the periphery of society. The consequences of when we do not have been clearly exemplified in American history. To give a low-stakes example, it took sixteen years and sixty-six inductees before the ASHOF inducted Tatum as its first black athlete. Yet, it was through this choice to integrate that a path to induction was given to other black athletes, including baseball players Lou Brock and Torii Hunter, and most recently, Johnny Ray. In the same way, I believe that the inclusion of Negro League players in the ASHOF might open the doors to the greater inclusion of more obscure athletes as a whole. Or even better, it might become symbol of our state’s goodwill toward remembering those most often forgotten by society. Thus, I put forth below (in no particular order) nominations for seven Negro league baseball players for inclusion in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.


Andy Porter (1910-2010)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Sweet Home, Arkansas (Pulaski County)
  • Position: Right-handed Pitcher
  • 22 Professional Seasons (1932-1953)

Achievements:

  • 2x East-West All-Star (1937-1949)
  • 2x North-South All-Star (1939)
  • Mexican League All-Star (1939)
  • 2x Mexican League Strikeout Champion (1940, 1941)

Andrew “Pullman” Porter was a tall right-hander with a powerful fastball, good control and an intimidating stare. Although he never quite became an elite pitcher, he drew comparisons in pitching style to the great Satchell Paige. Over the course of twenty-two years in professional baseball, Porter built a lengthy resume that included numerous All-star game selections and a couple of strikeout championships. In a 1936 exhibition against a team of white all-stars, Porter threw four innings on only one earned run while striking out eight, including twice striking out Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby. During Porter’s transient career, he played from coast to coast in the U.S., as well as in Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Canada. While pitching for Nueve Laredo in 1940, Porter went 21-14 with an ERA of 3.34 and 232 strikeouts. In all, he put together a known career record of 145-115 with an ERA around 4.00. It’s probably not a stretch to say he won more than 200 games in his career, which would put him in the top ten all-time among Arkansans in that category. Porter grew up on his family’s cotton farm in rural Pulaski County and retired after baseball to Los Angeles. He was more than 100 years old at his death in 2010.

Learn More:

Andy Porter at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Andy Porter in the Seamheads Negro League Database.


Red Longley (1909-1977)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Position: Utility
  • 21 Professional Seasons (1931-1951)

Achievements:

  • 2x East-West All-Star (1938, 1944)
  • 2x North-South All-Star (1934, 1935)
  • NAL Pennant Champion (1938 Memphis Red Sox)

Wayman “Red” Longley was a fan favorite in his hometown of Little Rock. He was a short and stout utility player who rookied with the local Little Rock Grays and played the majority of his lengthy Negro league career with the other hometown favorites, the Memphis Red Sox. Though he was a poor hitter, he was the Jose Oquendo of his era who could play every position on the field. His versatility earned him several all-star selections, as well as the esteem of fans. In September, 1941, “Red Longley Day” was declared in his honor at Travelers Field in Little Rock during an exhibition game between Memphis and the New York Black Yankees. He also moonlighted during his career as an umpire before retiring to Memphis, where he died in 1977.

Learn more:

Red Longley at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Red Longley in the Seamheads Negro League Database.


Booker McDaniels (1913-1974)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Blackwell, Arkansas (Conway County)
  • Position: Right-handed Pitcher
  • 13 Professional Seasons (1940-1952)

Achievements:

  • East-West All-Star (1945)
  • 3x North-South All-Star (1943, 1944, 1945)
  • Mexican League All-Star (1946)
  • Cuban Winter League All-star (1945-1946)
  • Mexican Pacific League All-Star (1948-1949)
  • 2x Mexican League Strikeout Champion (1946, 1947)
  • 3x NAL Pennant Champion (1940, 1941 1942, Kansas City Monarchs)
  • Negro World Series Champion (1942, Kansas City Monarchs)
  • First Black Player with Los Angeles Angels

Booker McDaniels pitched like gunfire, just as his Mexican nickname “Balazos” suggested. Hailing from the Arkansas River bottoms of Conway County, McDaniels grew to be a powerfully-built right-handed pitcher who at his peak was probably the most dominate pre-integration black baseball player from Arkansas. He was a key member of the Kansas City Monarchs during their most successful years, bolstering an elite pitching staff included Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. He earned numerous all-star game selections in the U.S. and abroad, and was consistently among the league’s leaders in ERA and strikeouts in both the Negro American League and the Mexican League. According to Seamheads, McDaniels went 24-10 with an ERA+ of 121 between 1941-1945 with a strikeout rate well-above the league average. After several successful seasons in Mexico, he became the first black player with the Los Angeles Angels in 1949 and played two years in the Pacific Coast League. He retired from baseball in 1952 and later lived for many years in Kansas City where he died in 1974.

Learn More:

Booker McDaniels at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Booker McDaniels in the Seamheads Negro League Database.

Also, I put together a short video on McDaniels a few years ago. Check it out above.


Floyd Gardner (1895-1977)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Russellville, Arkansas
  • Position: Outfielder
  • 15 Professional Seasons (1917-1931)

Achievements:

  • Negro World Series Champion (1926, Chicago American Giants)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame Preliminary Ballot Nomination (2006 Special Negro Leagues Committee)

Floyd Gardner, known to the black baseball world as “Jelly,” was one of the Negro League’s all-time great lead-off hitters. True to form, Gardner was a small and speedy left-handed hitter with an excellent eye. Both patient and aggressive at the plate, Gardner was consistently among the league’s top stolen base artists and base on balls accumulators. He began his baseball days at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock and spent the majority of his professional career with the Chicago American Giants, one of the era’s best black teams. In 1926, Gardner helped the American Giants earn the Negro World Series championship by singling and scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 9th of deciding Game 11. On another occasion during league play in 1928, he scored a game-ending run by stealing home in the bottom of the 16th inning, giving Chicago a 1-0 win. It was this kind of scrappy play that earned Gardner an enduring reputation as one of the era’s most valuable outfielders. Even well after he left baseball, Gardner was consistently named by fans and writers to “all-time” negro league teams. In 2006, Gardner was one of ninety-four preliminary candidates nominated to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Special Negro Leagues committee. After retiring as a player, Gardner spent many years working for the railroad in Chicago. He died in Chicago in 1977.

Learn More:

Floyd Gardner at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Floyd Gardner in the Seamheads Negro League Database. 


Connie Rector (1892-1963)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Arkadelphia, Arkansas
  • Position: Right-handed Pitcher
  • 26 Professional Seasons (1919-1944)

Achievements: 

  • American Negro League Win Percentage Leader (1929)

Cornelius “Connie” Rector spent more years in Negro baseball than any other Arkansan. The Arkadelphia native began playing with local semipro teams during the 1910s before turning pro in Texas and spending a quarter-century playing in New York. Despite picking up the moniker “Speedball Rector” along the way, he was in actuality a small, “chunky” pitcher known more for endurance and good pitch movement than speed. It was this under-powering pitching style that gave him his remarkable longevity. On one occasion while playing with the Fort Worth Black Panthers in 1920, Rector pitched 18 innings on one run while issuing only one walk and striking out fourteen batters. He went on to have a number of successful seasons in the 1920s, but his career year came in 1929 with the New York Lincoln Giants in the short-lived American Negro League. According to Seamheads, Rector went 18-1 with a 4.21 ERA (143 ERA+) in 25 games. His performance waned with age, but he was still capable of throwing complete games for the New York Black Yankees well into his 50s. Rector was also a decent hitter and was used as an outfielder and an occasional pinch hitter throughout his career. He finally retired from baseball in 1944 at age 52 and died in New York in 1963.

Learn more:

Connie Rector at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Connie Rector in the Seamheads Negro League Database.


Darltie Cooper (1902-1944)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Arkadelphia, Arkansas
  • Position: Right-Handed Pitcher
  • 23 Professional Seasons (1921-1943)

Achievements: 

  • 2 No-Hitters (6/16/1921, 6/26/1921)
  • Eastern Colored Baseball Champion (1930, Homestead Grays)
  • Eastern Colored League ERA Champion (1927)

For a time, Darltie Cooper was one of black baseball’s genuine aces. He was a steady and composed starter with excellent pitch control and very good earned run averages. One of many black baseball products from Arkadelphia, Cooper once pitched two no-hitters in a span of ten days while pitching in his teens for Nashville. He rose to the top of black baseball while playing in Pennsylvania in the late 1920s alongside his longtime friend and teammate Oscar Charleston on the Harrisburg Giants and the Hilldale Club. Cooper was at his best in 1927 and 1928, compiling a combined 26-12 win-loss record and completing 32 of 33 starts. According to Seamheads, he posted a league-leading 2.51 ERA (179 ERA+) in 1927, followed by an even better 2.39 ERA (182 ERA+) in 1928. He also helped the Homestead Grays win the Colored Baseball championship of the East in 1930. His promising career dwindled in the 1930s when he became bogged down by injuries, on-field misconduct, salary disputes with team officials, and his successful attempt to sue the Newark Eagles for disability compensation. Nevertheless, he remained in professional baseball nearly until his untimely death from illness in 1944.

Learn More:

Darltie Cooper at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Darltie Cooper in the Seamheads Negro League Database.


Henry Spearman (1909-Unknown)

At a glance:

  • Hometown: Arkadelphia, Arkansas
  • Position: Third Base
  • 14 Professional Seasons (1933-1946)

Achievements:

  • North-South All-Star (1943)

Henry Spearman was the second youngest of the six Spearman brothers who played Negro league baseball. He grew up in rural Clark County, Arkansas and began as a semi-pro pitcher in Montana before developing into one of black baseball’s most valuable third basemen. Although he was a good all-around hitter with some power, he was overshadowed most of his playing days by the league’s more elite batsmen. While bouncing around the Negro National League, Spearman saw action with several of Negro baseball’s top franchises, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, and New York Black Yankees. He won few accolades, but finished his career with a 109 OPS+ (Seamheads) and once hit three home runs during 1935 double-header. Spearman is also remembered for being part the blockbuster 1937 trade that sent Hall of Famer Josh Gibson to the Homestead Grays. After Spearman left baseball, he settled in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Sometime later, he went missing and was presumed dead by 1957.

Learn more:

Henry Spearman at the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

Henry Spearman in the Seamheads Negro League Database.


In addition to these seven players, there were many, many other Arkansans to play pre-integration professional black baseball. You can read about more than one-hundred of these players on the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia where I regularly add new information and research. There’s still time to keep the memory of the Negro leagues alive, and I hope that the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will join me in being a part of the preservation work. 


Caleb Hardwick

About Caleb Hardwick

Caleb is the creator and administrator of the both Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia and Yakker. He's a lifelong baseball fan and native Arkansan currently marooned in Boston, Mass.

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