Monday, January 09, 2006

Larry Hogan works to set the records straight for the Negro Leagues

STAMFORD CT Larry Hogan says the exploits of Negro Leagues baseball stars barely were mentioned on the sports pages of newspapers he read growing up in Stamford.

But in the early 1970s, after a stint teaching history at Norwalk Catholic High School, Hogan was in Indiana studying for a doctorate in history and read about Negro Leagues players in African-American newspapers of the time.

"The black press was the key source in a very rich way across the entire history of black baseball," said Hogan, 61. "They took great pride in covering it."

Next month, Hogan will help make history. The college professor and Negro Leagues expert will convene with other scholars to elect players, coaches and other figures to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Of the 260 members of the Hall of Fame, 17 are Negro Leaguers, but a great number more deserve to be remembered, Hogan said.

"We realized as we got further into the subject many, many more players were qualified to be given consideration," he said. "It's been the culmination of about six years of work."

Like his doctoral dissertation on the American black press, much of the research team's work drew on newspapers in black urban communities, including the Amsterdam News, the Chicago Defender and the Black National News Service.

Like its white-only counterpart at the time, the Negro Leagues was split into National and American leagues, each with one division.

The heyday of the Negro Leagues was the 1920s, but after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, more of the best players in the Negro Leagues began to follow him, assuring its eventual demise, Hogan said.

"There were still great teams and players but no longer the same caliber of baseball that had been played," he said.

Hogan, who now lives in Fanwood, N.J., and other scholars formed their research group in 2000 and were selected for a $250,000 contract from the Hall of Fame to complete a comprehensive study of the Negro Leagues from 1860 to 1960, and earmark players and other figures for possible induction, Hogan said.

The result was an 800-page manuscript principally written by Hogan, plus a 3,000-page compilation of players' statistics, culled game by game from news reports and box scores, Hogan said.

On Jan. 31, to coincide with Black History Month, "Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball," a history book mainly written by Hogan, who teaches at Union County College in Cranford, N.J., will be published.

In 1983, Hogan organized a reunion of Negro Leagues players at Union County College. He became friends with some of them, including Monte Irvin, who hit .350 in a 10-year career, and Minnie Minoso, who played several years in the Negro Leagues before a stand-out Major League career in which he collected 1,962 hits.

"There are a whole host of great players and significant players I've come to know as personal friends who were wonderful sources," Hogan said.

Jim Gates, director of the Hall of Fame library, said Hogan's research has made the hall an authority on Negro Leagues baseball. The 800-page reference work and 3,000-page statistical compendium from 1920 to 1954 are available at the hall's library.

"One of the goals we have is to make this facility a centerpiece in the history of black baseball," Gates said. "We wanted to put together a comprehensive narrative about the history of the game off the field and how it interacted with the Afro-American community, which is just as important as on-the-field achievements."

Hogan said he would like to see more Negro League players inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"There are always more people that deserve recognition, so it would be good to remain open to the possibility of further elections," he said.

By Martin B. Cassidy Published January 9 2006 Stamford Advocate

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