When Hall of Fames Are Halls of Shame by Harold Bell


Buck O’Neil with “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks and Lou Brock


The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is supposed take place on Sunday July 26, 2020 in Cooperstown, New York depending on Pandemic Coronavirus.  If all goes well once again, Buck O’Neil, Curt Flood, and Maury Wills will be nowhere to be found during the induction ceremonies.  Their being overlooked won’t be because of steroids.

Major League Baseball should be a shame of itself for omitting Buck O’Neil from the hall of fame in 2006 when it was obvious he belonged.  Buck was an outstanding player in the Negro League with the Kansas City Monarchs.  After his playing days he became a scout for MLB and later became the first black coach.  I met and interviewed Buck in Northern Virginia in the 80s while he was playing the role he loved, acting as an Ambassador for a barnstorming black team.  He was an officer and gentleman. He made you feel like you had been his long lost friend.  I am still looking for that interview in 2020?

I met Curt when the Washington Senators defied the baseball Gods/owners and signed him.  I encountered him having lunch in Frank’s Restaurant on Florida Avenue NW  on a rainy day in 1971.  I introduced myself and he treated me to lunch.  The next week he was gone.  We would not meet again until San Francisco somewhere in the 80s.   Former DC weekend sports anchor Martin Wyatt was working as a sports anchor at KGO TV in the Golden City he was hosting a tribute to Legends of the Game.  He invited me and Hattie to the tribute.  Curt Flood, Jim Brown, Al Attles were among the legends being honored.



Curt is the author of the most heroic individual acts of resistance in modern Major League Baseball history, will be excluded.  This year’s inductees — Harold Baines, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith — are incredibly worthy. But none of them has Flood’s revolutionary resume, although each benefited from Flood’s act of defiance. After the 2000 season, for example, Mussina used free agency to leave the Baltimore Orioles and sign a six-year, $88.5 million contract with the New York Yankees. None of July’s inductees sacrificed as much so that future generations of major league players could reap the rewards.  Curt has been a thorn on a rose that still sticks in the side of Major League Baseball.  While most players were too cowardly to support Flood, Jackie Robinson showed up in court and openly embraced him.  Thanks to Robinson, baseball has become a global game. Flood, to this day, is seen by some as antithetical to the big business interests of baseball — of all sports.  He was a star player who pushed back against the restrictive status quo.  His absence from the MLB Hall of Fame is further proof an “Even Playing and Forty-Acres & Mule” proves we are the only ones who are playing fair.

Maury ‘Sonny’ Wills is a native Washingtonian and one DC’s great all-around athletes while attending Cardozo High School.  He also excelled as a running back and kick-off returner and guard on the basketball team.  He was signed after a baseball tryout at Griffin Stadium in the early 50s and his road to Major League was not the Yellow Brick Road.  I was up close and personal and watched his struggles and never give up attitude.  During the off season he would come back to our old neighborhood a housing project called Parkside.  He would stay in shape by playing football with the Stonewalls a legendary DC amateur football team.  His brother Donald aka Duck and I were high school teammates at Spingarn High School.  Our football coach Dave Brown would bring the Stonewalls into scrimmage us–it was a controlled scrimmage, but it was really Boys vs Men.    Sonny would line-up at QB, RB and DB just to remind us he still had it and he did.  I ran what I thought was my best pass pattern-Down and Out against him.  He picked the ball off and ran it back all the way.  He never let Duck and me forget it.  He later told me I would have to become a better actor if I was going to be any good as a pass catcher.  I had no clue what he was trying to tell me until I got to college.
He was finally called up to Major League Baseball by the LA Dodgers IN 1959.  Sonny got off to a slow start in the 1959 World Series, in six games he went 5-20 and stole one base.  1960 was his first full season, he hit .295 and led the league in stolen bases with 50 making him the first National League player to steal 50 bases since Max Carey 51 in 1923.  The best was yet to come, in 1962 he stole 104 bases to set a new MLB stolen base record, breaking the old modern era mark of 96 set by Ty Cobb in 1915.  He revolutionize MLB with the stolen base it was a bigger threat than the home run.   He stole more bases than all the other teams that year, the highest total being his hometown Washington Senators who had 99.
His success as a base stealer that year led to another remarkable stat, he was caught stealing just 13 times all season.  He hit .299 for the season , led the NL with 10 triples and 179 singles, and was named the NL MVP over Willie Mays.  Willie had a great year he hit .304 with 49 hr and 141 rbi.  Sonny and the stolen base had become such a threat in that 1962 swason, San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark ordered ground crews to water down the the base paths hoping the muddy field would slow him down.  He played a full 162 game schedule, plus all of the best of three regular season play-off series with the Giants, giving him a total of 165 games played, a MLB record that still stands for most games played in a single season. The record still stands today.
Maury Wills 104 steals remained a Major League record for switch-hitters until 1985 when Vince Coleman eclipsed the mark with 110.   Vince is the major league player who once told a group of reporters, he was not aware of Jackie Robinson knocking down any doors for him!   Maury Wills was a true super star and a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer, but his singing in the shower with vocalist Doris Day cost him the Hall of Fame.
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