With the Times' sports hole shrinking faster than the Dodgers' pennant hopes, it was nice to see Lonnie White given space to write about two Negro League legends, Josh Gibson and Buck O'Neil, before the upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony in Cooperstown. (Full disclosure: Lonnie and I share the same publisher, Angel City Press.)
This weekend, seventeen former Negro League players and execs will be inducted into the Hall. Gibson, of course, is already a member, but O'Neil was snubbed. The thrust of White's story was that, while Buck probably didn't deserve HoF honors for his playing career, he deserved entry for his "ambassador" skills.
No argument there. As Keith Olbermann put it: "For all the many stupid things the Baseball Hall of Fame has ever done. . . This is the worst."
I just wish the Times had focused on another, more local snub. According to many Negro League experts, Chet Brewer had the pitching credentials to be in the HoF. He played for 25 years including stints with the Kansas City Monarchs and the Cleveland Buckeyes and outdueled the great Satchel Paige on occasion. He's known for the legendary "Battle of the Butchered Balls" game in 1930, when he and the Homestead Grays' Smokey Joe Williams traded strikeouts in a game played under dim lights (Brewer racked up 19 Ks, Williams had 27 in 12 innings). That year, Brewer won 30 games; his lifetime ERA in the Negro Leagues was 2.89.
Papa Chet also had impeccable "ambassador" credentials. He played all over the world including Cuba, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines and is a member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. He also managed Jackie Robinson before he signed with the Dodgers. After his playing career, Brewer settled in L.A., scouted for the Pirates, and mentored a generation of Major League stars from the inner city, including Reggie Smith, the Murray brothers, Bobby Tolan, Dock Ellis, Joe Black, Willie Crawford, Enos Cabell, and Bob Watson.
Phil Pote, the Seattle Mariners scout who coached at Fremont and Locke high schools and befriended Brewer, once told me: "[Chet] could've been very bitter over the fact that he had the ability to play many years in the major leagues and perhaps have been a star and yet he was deprived of that. Instead of withdrawing from baseball, you got the feeling that he said to himself: 'Maybe I can help some of these kids get to what was not possible for me.' In that sense we were blessed by his presence."
Brewer might not have been bitter, but he knew all too well that he'd been deprived of a major league career solely on the basis of his skin color. Before his death in 1990, at age 83, Brewer used to tell this story: "There was a time when a colored man bugged the white man to let him play. And he bugged him and bugged him and bugged him. And the white man said, 'Boy, get outta this dugout before I call the police.' "But the colored man wouldn't let him alone. So finally the white man puts him into a uniform, to embarrass him. Sent him in front of this big, mean relief pitcher and says to himself, 'This'll teach that boy.'
"Well, don't you know the first ball that big old white man threw, the colored boy hit into right field, with the bases filled. And as the colored boy takes off, the white man says, 'Well, will you look at the Cuban go!'"
Chester Arthur Brewer, the soul of black baseball in L.A., deserves his place in Cooperstown.