The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) today announced the 2015 class of inductees into its Hall of Game. The announcement was made on the historic 95th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City, Mo., by Andrew “Rube” Foster.
Established by the NLBM in 2014, the Hall of Game annually honors former Major League Baseball (MLB) players who competed with the same passion, determination, flair and skill exhibited by the heroes of the Negro Leagues. This year’s class includes stolen-base king Rickey Henderson, Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson “Fergie” Jenkins, three-time All-Star Luis Tiant Jr. and defensive “wizard” Ozzie Smith. The four MLB greats will be inducted in ceremonies at the Gem Theater (1615 E. 18th Street, KC, Mo.) at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 25, and Hy-Vee, Inc., for the second consecutive year, will be the presenting sponsor.
The exciting 2015 inductees follow on the heels of last year’s inaugural class that featured Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Dave Winfield and the late Roberto Clemente. In addition to the ceremony, Hall of Game inductees will also receive permanent recognition as part of the future Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center being developed by the NLBM at the site of the Paseo YMCA, the birthplace of the Negro Leagues.
“We’re thrilled with the Hall of Game selections this year,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the NLBM “These four men played with spirit and passion and truly captivated audiences. They displayed the same heart and soul of the men who made the Negro Leagues so special.”
Appropriately leading off this year’s Hall of Game class is legendary speedster Rickey Henderson, whose MLB record for career stolen bases may never be matched. During the course of his 25-year career, he swiped 1,406 total bases, nearly doubling the second place total of 938 held by fellow Hall of Gamer Lou Brock. Widely regarded as the game’s best leadoff hitter and base runner ever to play, Henderson was named to 10 All-Star games, earned the 1990 AL MVP Award and still owns the Major League record for career runs and leadoff home runs. He is the only AL player to steal 100 or more bases in a season—a feat he accomplished three times—and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson “Fergie” Jenkins was arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the height of his career during the late 1960s and early 70s. Over the course of his 19-year, four-team career, he won 20 or more games in seven seasons—six of those consecutively as a member of the Chicago Cubs—and threw 239 complete games. He was named to three NL All-Star rosters, awarded the 1971 NL Cy Young Award and, in 1991, became the first Canadian to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He led the league in wins twice, fewest walks per nine innings five times and complete games nine times. Since retiring, he has been recognized by two of his former teams with post-career honors being inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2004 and having his No. 31 jersey retired by the Cubs in 2009.
During the 1976 and 1977 seasons, Jenkins roomed with another outstanding pitcher as a member of the Boston Red Sox: fellow Hall of Game inductee, Luis Tiant Jr. Also a multi-season 20-game winner, Tiant was a three-time AL All-Star who twice recorded a season ERA below 2.0 (1968, 1972). His 1968 season ERA of 1.60 set an MLB record that stood until 1972 and a Red Sox franchise record that still stands today. In the 1975 World Series, Tiant started an incredible three games, one of which was a five-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds. His father, Luis Sr., was a two-time Negro Leagues All-Star who, in 1947, helped the New York Cubans to a World Series title.
Completing the list of inductees is the “Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Smith, who dazzled fans with his defensive magic at shortstop for 19 Major League seasons. A 15-time All-Star, Smith was awarded 13 consecutive Gold Gloves—two as a member of the San Diego Padres and 11 with the St. Louis Cardinals—and set Major League records for career assists (8,375) and double plays by a shortstop (1,590) as well as an NL record for games played in the position (2,511). Also talented on offense, Smith won the NL Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting shortstop in 1987 and notched 580 stolen bases in his career. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot (2002) and to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 2014.
“These men produced some of the most significant moments in baseball history,” said Kendrick, who has served as president of the NLBM since 2011. “Buck O’Neill once said of the Negro Leagues that fans couldn’t go to the concession stands because they were afraid they’d miss something they’d never seen before. That’s exactly the kind of sentiment fans felt about watching guys like Rickey Henderson, Fergie Jenkins, Luis Tiant and Ozzie Smith. They embody that same spirit, and we are delighted to welcome them into our Hall of Game.”
In addition to the Hall of Game inductions, the NLBM also will be presenting the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award for “career excellence in the face of adversity” to Wendy Lewis, the Senior Vice President of Diversity and Strategic Alliances for MLB and a longtime supporter of the NLBM. Since leaving her job at the Chicago Tribune to establish a human resources department for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1980s, Lewis has defied the odds and ascended to her top-level MLB position, becoming the highest-ranking African-American woman within the league. She now works to implement MLB’s diversity initiatives and has direct management responsibility over the League’s Executive Development Program and the Diverse Business Partners Program, the premier supplier diversity program in sports.
“What Wendy Lewis has done for securing diversity in Major League Baseball is phenomenal,” Kendrick said of Lewis, who has represented the League at the award’s presentation many times throughout her career. “Her work has helped ensure that Jackie Robinson’s life and courageous actions so long ago will never be forgotten. We’re thrilled to honor her with this award.”
The establishment of the Hall of Game and its annual celebration event holds two purposes: 1) to provide an avenue for the NLBM to continue garnering attention for one of the greatest stories in American history in conjunction with the date synonymous with the integration of baseball, and 2) to serve as a significant fundraiser to increase the NLBM’s ability to stay relevant with technology and community programming, and to complete the Buck O’Neil Education Center. A committee of the city’s most prominent business and civic leaders has been established to create awareness of and sponsorship for this exclusive event, with Bob Page, President and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Kansas Hospital, serving as chair.
“It’s an honor to serve in this role and to have the chance to team up with the NLBM,” said Page, now in his second year as committee chair. “The museum is more than just an important part of our city; it’s an important part of our country’s history. And with the inception of the Hall of Game, we have the opportunity to keep the spirit of the Negro Leagues alive and to celebrate it through the achievements of those who took center stage after baseball’s integration.”
The April 25th induction event will include a full day of activities including a press conference, VIP meet-and-greet, reception and dinner at the NLBM followed by the Hall of Game ceremonies at the Gem Theater. And, after producing the inaugural event in 2014, Kansas City-based sports agency Premier Sports Management will once again handle event production.