Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame snubs historic all-Black team for 5th straight year

·8 min read
The Chatham Coloured All-Stars are still waiting for their call to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo via Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society)
The Chatham Coloured All-Stars are still waiting for their call to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo via Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society)

Sport in Canada, like the nation itself, is allegedly oblivious to considerations of race, where the playing field is level and merit is measured only by athletic ability.

As Azra Rashid wrote in an article for The Conversation, “Many Canadians watched the racism unfold in the United States with a sense of moral superiority and relief that ‘this kind of thing does not happen in Canada’.”

While Canada is often portrayed as a pluralistic nation, more equitable and inclusive toward Black citizens than the United States, in some circumstances, such as the recognition of historic Black baseball players and teams, the United States has actually advanced beyond Canada.

Historically, baseball was viewed as a threat to Canada’s whiteness from its first introduction in the 1870s. In Southern Ontario, Chatham newspapers called baseball “a degenerate game, compared with good old cricket.” The region’s white citizens were not pleased as baseball soon became “as much Canadian as it was American,” and “the diamond became another avenue for Blacks to reach personal fulfillment and public acclaim.”

It wasn’t only racism restricting Black players and teams, it was a complete absence of formal leagues. Without a Canadian equivalent to America’s Negro Leagues, teams had to survive on barnstorming alone. This left an absence of records and statistics, which institutions like the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame traditionally use as markers of acclaim and induction.

As Matt Kelly wrote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, “Many of those talented players [who have been inducted] would likely not have become the legends they are today without the visibility offered by an organized league in which they could play.”

In Canada, many Black heroes, in baseball as elsewhere, remain unknown. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, whose mission is to commemorate “great players, teams, and accomplishments of baseball in Canada” and create “a culture which champions education, respect, diversity and healthy lifestyles across generations” has continued to place Black history below white achievement.

While Canadian baseball remains silent, officials in the United States are slowly recognizing historically excluded Black baseball players and teams. After Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947, it took 24 years for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to induct a player whose primary achievements came in the Negro Leagues. Satchel Paige was inducted in 1971; twenty years later, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened in Kansas City to “pay rightful tribute to America’s unsung baseball heroes,” giving once-excluded athletes and teams their due.

In 2020, Major League Baseball elevated seven Negro Leagues to major-league status, conferring eligibility on roughly 3,400 Black baseball players. Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged that, “All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”

Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, concurred. “In the minds of baseball fans worldwide, this serves as historical validation for those who had been shunned from the major leagues and had the foresight and courage to create their own league that helped change the game and our country too.”

In 2021, Baseball's Hall of Fame class of players from the Negro Leagues grew to 37.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, by contrast, includes five Black baseball players predating Jackie Robinson reaching the major leagues, three of whom—Robinson himself, Charlie Culver, and Hipple Galloway—were American-born and raised but spent part of their career in Canada. Jimmy Claxton was born in Canada but played all of his top baseball in the USA and, while Manny McIntyre played substantially in Canada, his predominant successes came with integrated teams. Domestic players—historic all-Black teams and athletes, born, raised, and competing in Canada—are completely absent from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, despite some worthy contenders.

Recently, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, for the fifth straight year, shunned the 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars, a team that overcame segregation, discrimination, violence, and blatantly biased officiating to become the first all-Black team in Canadian history to win a provincial title. The team was on the verge of a second championship in 1939 when the playoffs were canceled due to war.

Entering the field, the All-Stars would face a barrage of spit, stones, and racial slurs hurled upon them. If they won, the players would often need to fight their way out of town. They were barred from restaurants and hotels when they traveled, and were forced to abide by the sundown rules of small towns, having to leave city limits before dark.

The All-Stars featured notable players such as Earl ‘Flat’ Chase and Wilfred ‘Boomer’ Harding, both described as major-league-calibre players, along with the likes of Ferguson Jenkins Sr. His son, Fergie Jenkins, would become the first Canadian ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Soon, a statue of his likeness will stand outside the Chicago Cubs' home at Wrigley Field.

The All-Stars did not receive the required 75 percent of votes from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's selection committee, but have four more years of eligibility. If they are still not inducted, they would be considered by the Veteran's Committee starting the following year.

Another noteworthy team was the ManDak League’s Winnipeg Buffaloes, an all-Black team that won the ManDak league title in 1950. Their roster that season featured Negro Leagues stars, including future Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Willie Wells and Leon Day, who pitched a 17-inning 1-0 shutout in the championship game that year. Also on the team were a trio of young Black players—Butch Davis, John Irvin Kennedy and Joe Taylor—who all went on to sign MLB contracts. Kennedy was the first-ever Black player to compete with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957.

Winnipeg Buffaloes. (Photo via Kennedy)
The Winnipeg Buffaloes had plenty of stars on their championship-winning team. (Photo via Kennedy)

In Saskatchewan, the Indian Head Rockets were a barnstorming all-Black baseball team in the 1950s composed of players from the Negro League’s Jacksonville Eagles. That team won many tournaments and will be inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame this year.

While both the Winnipeg Buffaloes and the Indian Head Rockets deserve recognition, their rosters were heavily American, leaving the Chatham Coloured All-Stars as the lone domestic roster seeking inclusion in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Raymond Doswell, Vice President and Curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hopes that the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, and other all-Black teams in Canada see the recognition Negro Leagues teams and athletes are now receiving in America.

“My hope is that communities and Canada can look at the history of Black people in their communities through the lens of baseball," Doswell said. "The fact that communities had teams and supported teams would be crucial to understanding the perseverance of the communities as a whole.

“And for the individual players, knowing that they may or may not have had opportunities to play beyond these community teams showed a tremendous love for the game and sustaining interest in the game for future generations.”

In recent years, Doswell has witnessed a “resurgence” of interest in Negro Leagues teams and history at the Museum. In his eyes, acknowledging and sharing this history is crucial to not only understanding baseball, but the people who make up these communities, and countries.

“Black baseball team histories are part of the grassroots stories in many communities,” he said. “It has everything to do with what the community values as important and what gets honoured and celebrated. By exploring these histories we shift our values to more inclusivity and pride for everyone.”

The model exists from America’s National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. In Canada however, as represented by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, this inclusivity and pride for all people is claimed, but not validated.

Canada’s Hall of Fame selection committee continues to ignore the domestic Black trailblazers, typified by the Chatham Coloured All-Stars despite strong local and national support, an outcry from the Black community, and an endorsement from Canada’s only MLB club, the Toronto Blue Jays.

“The Blue Jays take pride in representing and reflecting the diversity of our fans, players, and staff, but we recognize that baseball has not always been this way. The Chatham Coloured All-Stars helped pave the way to make the game more inclusive for Black players and all Canadians,” the organization said in a written statement. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the players of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, for their excellence and determination, and are honoured to acknowledge their legacy in Canadian baseball history.”

The exclusion of the All-Stars from the Hall of Fame typifies the paradox of Canadian identity. Canadians celebrate their history as heroes of the Underground Railroad and revel in their multiculturalism. Canadians look askance south of the border, secure in false denial of a parallel history of racism.

But the United States, at least when it comes to baseball, has acknowledged the generational impacts of exclusion and is moving toward restitution. Canada needs to admit it is not now, and never has been, a land of universal inclusion and do the same.

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