Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame will mark Negro Leagues players’ contributions

02/02/2012 5:00 AM

02/02/2012 9:00 PM

The Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame will become a little more comprehensive on Saturday when it introduces a special induction of 14 Negro League players along with Dave Bingham, Darren Dreifort, Bob Homolka, Lee Stevens and Arky Vaughan as its 2012 class.

“We’re trying to give it more texture, in a lot of ways,” said Jim Kobbe, the board of directors member who led the effort to increase Negro Leagues representation in the Kansas Hall. “We’ve been trying to right some of the wrongs, in terms of some forgotten players. I think we’re really getting there, in terms of having a true Hall of Fame.”

A free hour-long reception will start at 10:30 a.m. at the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame. The banquet, which will be held at Hillside Christian Church, begins at noon. Admission is $15.

The 14 players being inducted, all posthumously, are Chet Brewer, Elwood “Bingo” DeMoss, Eddie Dwight, Oscar “Heavy” Johnson, “Topeka Jack” Johnson, Dudley “Tullie” McAdoo, Caroll “Dink” Mothell, John “Buck” O’Neil, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, George Sweatt, Richard Whitworth, Frank Wickware, and T.J. Young.

Phil Dixon, a pioneer in the study of Negro League baseball history, will be the event’s featured speaker and accept the award on behalf of the 14 players.

“When it comes to telling the complete story of baseball in Kansas, you can’t tell it completely without these gentlemen,” Dixon said. “I can’t explain how excited I am really. This will be one of the greatest days of my life.”

After last year’s induction ceremony, Jan Johnson, a Topeka resident and member of the Society for American Baseball Research, made Kobbe aware of the lack of representation for the Negro Leagues in the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame.

Together, they sought out the advice of Dixon, originally from Kansas City, and fellow accomplished Negro League author and historian Larry Lester. Dixon and Lester came up with around 40 potential names with Kansas ties for induction.

“So I went back to them and asked if they were to just pick a few, who would be the ones that really had an impact,” Kobbe said. “Those are the ones that are going in Saturday. We’re not saying these are all of them, but this is a representative class that is deserving and is symbolic of the Negro Leagues.”

It will be a proud day for Kansas baseball history, says Paul Savage, the president of the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame.

“There’s no question I’m very proud of what has been done,” said Savage, who is also on the board for the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame. “I’m absolutely thrilled at the way our organization has responded by making sure these players are honored in the proper manner.”

Dixon, whose book “The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History” won the prestigious Casey Award for the best baseball book of 1992, can’t think of a higher honor than being asked to speak for the 14 players being inducted.

Some of the players he even grew up with, which he hopes will add a personal touch to his speech.

“I’m going to tell you some stories that you can’t find in any book,” Dixon said. “These are things that I know personally. These are things that I’m going to tell so the audience can really relate to these players and see why they are important to history. I’m going to bring a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of fire because these are men who should have been known all along.”

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