KANSAS CITY, Mo. (May 1, 2018) – In honor of its fifth induction class, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) has selected five baseball legends to be inducted into its “Hall of Game.” The announcement was made during a press conference held at the NLBM today.
This year’s class includes 1972 AL MVP Dick Allen, multi-year All-Star and Gold Glove honorees Kenny Lofton and Eddie Murray, and electrifying pitchers James Timothy “Mudcat” Grant and James Rodney “J.R.” Richard. The five Major League Baseball (MLB) greats will be inducted into the NLBM Hall of Game during ceremonies at the Gem Theater on Saturday, June 9, at 8 p.m. Hy-Vee, Inc. will be the presenting sponsor for the fifth consecutive year.
Established by the NLBM in 2014, the Hall of Game annually honors former MLB greats who competed with the same passion, determination, skill and flair exhibited by the heroes of the Negro Leagues. The 2018 inductees will join baseball greats from the previous induction classes, which have included legends such as Roberto Clemente, Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith and more. In addition to the induction ceremony, Hall of Game honorees also will 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 to honor five former MLB greats this year in honor of our fifth Hall of Game anniversary,” said Bob Kendrick, who has served as the NLBM President since 2011. “These men were truly captivating to watch every time they took the field, and they played with the same spirit, passion and hustle as the men who made the Negro Leagues so special. ”
In one of baseball’s least offensively productive eras, Dick Allen stood out as one of the most dynamic players of the 1960s and early 1970s. Spending time with five teams between 1963 and 1977, Allen twice led the American League in home runs and slugging percentage and once in on-base percentage, while also leading the National League in slugging percentage and on-base percentage for one season each. The 1964 NL Rookie of the Year, Allen earned seven All-Star appearances in 15 seasons, including his unmatched 1972 AL MVP season in which he led the league in home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), on-base percentage (.422), slugging average (.603) and OPS (1.023). The first player in the modern era of baseball to hit two inside-the-park home runs in a single game, Allen was added to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park in 1994.
The first black pitcher to both win 20 games in a season in the American League and to win a World Series game for the AL, James “Mudcat” Grant spent 14 seasons as a Major League pitcher, racking up a 145-119 win–loss record and pitching in 571 total games. Earning All-Star nods in both 1963 and 1965, Grant was named The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year in 1965 after going 21-7 for the Twins and helping lead the team to the World Series. Following his retirement from Major League Baseball, Grant dedicated himself to studying and promoting blacks in baseball, releasing his book The Black Aces, Baseball’s Only Black Twenty-Game Winners in 2006 and receiving subsequent recognition from President George W. Bush at the White House in 2007.
Six-time All-Star Kenny Lofton was a dynamic crowd favorite from the start. During his first full MLB season in 1992 he stole 66 bases for the Cleveland Indians, breaking the all-time record for an American League rookie. Playing for 11 franchises in his 17-year career, Lofton spent the most seasons with the Indians, helping the organization win six division titles in his 9.5 seasons. Known as a smart, complete player, Lofton complimented his six All-Star appearances with four Gold Glove Awards (1993-1996) and led the American League in stolen bases five times (1992-1996). Making 11 total postseason appearances, Lofton appeared in two World Series, earning a trip to the Fall Classic in 1995 with the Indians and 2002 with the San Francisco Giants.
Considered one of the best first basemen to play the game, “Steady” Eddie Murray played 21 MLB seasons, predominantly for the Baltimore Orioles. As a mainstay in the Orioles lineup from 1977 to 1981, Murray earned three Gold Gloves, two of his three Silver Slugger Awards and seven of his eight total All-Star appearances. Helping the O’s to a World Series victory in 1983, Murray had his jersey retired by the team in 1998 and was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame a year later in 1999. Just the third player in history to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits following Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Murray was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2003.
After making his MLB debut as a September call-up for the Astros in 1971, James Rodney “J.R.” Richard would develop into one of the League’s premier pitchers. Between 1976 and 1980, Richard was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball, striking out an Astros franchise record 313 batters in 1979. Leading the NL in strikeouts in both 1978 and 1979 and in ERA in 1979, Richard won at least 18 games in each season between 1976 and 1979. After starting the 1980 season virtually unhittable, Richard earned his first and only All-Star selection before suffering a career-ending stroke on July 30. Regarded as one of the great talents of his era, Richard was named by two-time National League MVPs Johnny Bench and Dale Murphy as the toughest pitcher they ever faced.
“Each of these players were phenomenal athletes who achieved remarkable stats and records,” Kendrick said. “Buck O’Neil 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 how these guys played. Fans couldn’t take their eyes off them because they might miss an incredible play. This year’s honorees embody that wonderful Negro Leagues spirit, and we are delighted to welcome as our fifth induction class of 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 the award namesake’s daughter, Sharon Robinson. Just 7 years old when her father retired from baseball, Robinson grew up watching the iconic barrier-breaker embrace key roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Following in his difference-making footsteps, Robinson now serves as the educational consultant for Major League Baseball and manages Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life, a baseball-themed national character education curriculum that helps empower students to face obstacles in their lives.
“There’s no one we would rather honor on this special anniversary year than Sharon Robinson,” said Kendrick. “She’s been a phenomenal voice and champion for diversity in sports and is carrying on her father’s legacy in a powerful and effective way. She has continued to make a positive difference not only in the sport of baseball but also in American culture as a whole. It’s our honor to present 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, 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.
“Hy-Vee continues to be a proud presenting sponsor of the NLBM’s Hall of Game induction ceremonies,” said Drew Holmes, senior regional vice president for Hy-Vee’s Kansas City market/southwest region. “We congratulate each of the players for this well-deserved honor.”
The June 9 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. The event will be produced by Kansas City-based sports agency Premier Sports Management.