Hall should address real issues

Posted Aug. 24, 2009, at 12:43 a.m.

“Forget Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, put Louis Sockalexis in the Baseball Hall of Fame!”

To hear that truly great master of being disingenuous and champion of using “Straw Man” fallacies — using logic fallacies I’ve cautioned my students not to use on their peers in my oral communications classes for a decade — you’d think that is my position and the Penobscot Nation position, according to Bradford Horn, Na-tional Baseball Hall of Fame public relations director.

Of course, if you had attended the recent celebration on Indian Island, of the passage of State of Maine resolutions honoring the Sockalexis cousins and challenging, among others, the Baseball Hall of Fame for its continuing disrespect, you would know this is not true.

Unfortunately, Mr. Horn isn’t interested in a fair and honest, settled-on-the-field debate. No, he’d rather take advantage of TV news bunnies, with their silly little “What’s your reaction?” questions lacking in toughness or substance and their wholly inadequate eight-second sound bites, and also take advantage of unfamiliar-with-baseball general assignment print reporters.

This is now the second time, in my hometown newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, Mr. Horn has completely obfuscated real issues, and I think it’s high time we put our respective hits, runs and errors in order. Let’s play ball!

In 2005, as author of the book “Baseball’s First Indian,” I spoke at the Baseball Hall of Fame, as part of the institution’s 17th annual three-day symposium examining baseball’s impact on American culture. I made my arguments about how Louis Sockalexis is an unacknowledged pioneer, a man who broke a color line 50 years before Jackie Robinson but, tragically, gets no credit. Where better than the Baseball Hall of Fame to make amends on this score? I also discussed the terrible racism he faced in spite of being allowed to play. I talked about how he paved the way for other great Native Americans to play, and I connected the dots, in just One Degree of Separation each, to John Meyers, Charlie Bender and Jim Thorpe.

Indeed, it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame that wrongly stripped Sockalexis of the title of “first player” back in 1963 when the then library director Lee Allen anointed James Madison Toy, based solely on the hearsay of his relatives. By obtaining a death certificate for Toy several years ago, I was able to debunk that myth. But the Hall of Fame says it has no need to apologize, that it no longer issues such press releases and makes no such declarations.

No, but when you make an obvious mistake — and it’s proven — don’t you have an obligation, at a minimum, to do what’s right on behalf of the very athlete you wrongly discredited? Please answer that question, Bradford Horn.

Mr. Horn did not attend my talk back in 2005, but that didn’t stop him from responding to a BDN reporter, who was assigned to travel to Cooperstown and cover my talk, and characterizing my belief that Sockalexis is a Jackie Robinson figure as being pretty much “ridiculous,” that the comparison was not apt at all.

Yeah, sure Mr. Horn, nice use of a Straw Man fallacy: In Sockalexis’s day professional baseball was still in its infancy and of marginal societal interest. Of course the situations themselves weren’t “comparable” for media “sound and fury,” as there was no television coverage, there was no radio coverage, and, indeed, the wire service reports from city to city were considerably slower. It’s easy for Mr. Horn to be disingenuous, suggesting there’s no comparison between Sockalexis and Robinson.

But facing racism is what it is, no matter the era. I spoke again this past June at the 21st annual symposium at the Hall of Fame. Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said he would attend the Native American panel discussion and hear what we had to say. Then, after introducing himself to me and my fellow panelists, he very disrespectfully slipped out the door after only 10 minutes!

This was our big chance to attempt to persuade him that he was wrong to take the position he’d taken: You see, I deeply regretted he had already responded to me, prior to the symposium, that the Hall had “no plans” to do a Native American exhibit in spite of the fact the exhibition halls in the museum already feature — and have for many years now — a celebration of African-Americanplayers and a timeline, Hispanic players and a timeline, and even women players and a timeline.

The Hall has even made, I’ll bet, a substantial profit on a touring exhibit dedicated to the Native American pioneer players, created by the nearby (less than 50 miles) Iroquois Museum of Howes Cave, N.Y., by selling the photographic images of these Native American players from its library archives — that it won’t use for its own museum — to the Iroquois Museum for its exhibit!

So it’s ironic, this time, to hear Bradford Horn tell a BDN reporter that “induction into the Hall is reserved for the top 1 percent of all professional ballplayers” when he knows damn well the Penobscot tribe and I aren’t talking about getting Sockalexis, with his brief 94-game career, considered for induction. In fact, I stated that very clearly at the recent ceremony.

We are talking, ironically enough, Bradford Horn, about your museum’s devotion to, using your own words to the BDN, “telling the story of baseball using a timeline approach, highlighting the most compelling moments”… Exactly! We’re talking about pioneers, and breaking color barriers, and paving the way for other players.

What part of that “timeline approach” don’t you and Mr. Idelson understand? Using the Straw Man fallacy to knock over the idea that we’re absurdly trying to get Sockalexis inducted into the Hall makes it very easy for you not to have to answer the question: Why do you celebrate, with names, feats and a timeline, the history of African-American players, Hispanic players and women players, but you see no need to do the same for Native American players?

Answer that question, gentlemen!

If you, the readers, are interested in helping the Penobscot Nation and the State of Maine get an honest answer for a change, you can write Jeff Idelson at jidelson@baseballhalloffame.org or Bradford Horn at bhorn@baseballhalloffame.org or call them at 888-425-5633.

College adjunct instructor Ed Rice of Orono is author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis” (2003) and “Native Trailblazer, Andrew Sockalexis” (2008) and has a Web site at www.sockalexis.info.

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