Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

In 1934, the Chatham Coloured All-Stars became the first all-Black team in Canadian history to win a provincial baseball championship.Chatham Daily News/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Baseball’s opening day always brings a renewed sense of hope and promise, but as Thursday’s first pitch approaches, some fans in southwestern Ontario are having trouble letting go of the past. Last month, when the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., announced the six inductees who will make up its Class of 2024, many locals were upset that a groundbreaking Black team had failed to earn enough votes to be inducted.

You may have heard of that team, even though they played nine decades ago. The 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars have been getting a lot of press over the past few years – there was the publication of a deeply researched book about their landmark achievement, another about the uncomfortable history of race and sport in Canada, and even an illustrated children’s book about the team – partly out of a desire to fill in the sparse historical record about Black baseball in this country.

With their fast-paced, heavy-hitting style, the 1934 All-Stars became the first Black squad to win the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship (Intermediate B division). They had faced extraordinary resistance and racism – it would be more than another decade before the modern-day major-league colour barrier fell – but their victory earned them respect and admiration across the region. When they arrived back in Chatham after defeating Penetanguishene for the championship, thousands turned out to greet the team. The city held a parade and a banquet in their honour.

But 90 years later, some feel the team is still in a fight to get its proper due.

After the Hall announced this year’s inductees, and the Chatham team hadn’t made the cut, Blake Harding told CTV Windsor that he was hurt by the snub. His father and two uncles had played for the 1934 squad, which has been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2017. “It breaks my heart to see that St. Marys hasn’t recognized them in all this time. Give me a reason. Just tell me why.”

Michelle Robbins, the curator of Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, which commemorates a terminus of the Underground Railroad in southwestern Ontario, echoed the sentiment, telling CTV that it felt as though the Hall was making a statement, “but what is the statement?” It was impossible to know: CTV didn’t get hold of anyone at the Hall before deadline.

Trailblazing Chatham Coloured All-Stars make it to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

So, a few weeks ago, I called the Hall to ask how it goes about deciding whom to honour. It turns out that almost everything about the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Down in Cooperstown, N.Y., it’s clear how inductees are chosen for the U.S. National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall publishes a list of nominees – this year, there were 26. About 400 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America can each vote for up to 10 nominees. Players who receive the votes of at least 75 per cent of those casting ballots are inducted.

Everything about this is public: the vote totals, the names of the voters – often, so are their ballots.

For players and others who were active in previous eras, a committee of between 10 and 12 individuals selects nominees. Both the nominees and the names of those on the committee are also public – because why wouldn’t they be?

Cooperstown knows that if you want your fan base to feel a part of what you’re doing – if you want them to get excited, or to argue, or to get mad, or to really celebrate when someone is elected to the Hall – you have to give them something to talk about. The Hall also understands that it is a rare privilege to be given the responsibility of determining who will receive the highest honour of baseball’s fraternity – and, just as important, who will be denied that honour. At the very least, the names of those making the decisions should be public.

But that’s not how we handle things up here. Some weeks ago, I called the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and left a message with the receptionist for Scott Crawford, the director of operations. I followed up with an e-mail explaining that I’d like to talk about the All-Stars not being inducted.

He didn’t reply, so about a week later I rang the Hall again. This time, Crawford answered the phone. I introduced myself, mentioned that I’d been trying to reach him to talk about the All-Stars, and asked if he had a few minutes to chat. Sure, he said.

Nominations, he explained, can be submitted by anyone through an online form. Each February, they’re voted on by a selection committee of 24 members, “spread across Canada including media, past inductees, historians and executives,” according to a description on the website. As in Cooperstown, it takes votes from 75 per cent of committee members to be inducted.

But that’s where the similarities with the U.S. Hall end. The names of nominees are confidential. So is the number of votes each of them earns.

Why not announce the nominees? I asked Crawford.

“Because that’s the way the committee and the board of directors wishes to have it,” he replied.

Well, yes, I said. But can you help me understand the rationale for that?

“I can’t. No,” he replied. “That’s the way they feel that it’s best kept.”

Okay, then. Who are the committee members?

“We don’t publicize that,” he replied. “They’re a group of volunteers for us, and we keep their names in-house, just so they’re not answering a million questions throughout the whole year on the whole ballot, and everyone on the ballot. So, all the questions just come to us, to the office here.”

What does he think of the negative press the Hall has been getting over the years, for its failure to enshrine the All-Stars? “Negative press is never great press,” he admitted. “But the good thing about the Chatham team is, it’s bringing a lot of awareness to Black baseball in Canada.

“There’s so much about Black baseball history that hasn’t been found yet, and there’s so much to tell,” he added. “It’s a good thing that it’s in the news and people are talking about it.”

Well, some people are talking about it. The committee members don’t discuss why they make certain decisions, I noted.

“Correct,” he replied.

He didn’t wish to say much more.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe