Occasionally there are baseball players who deserve to be Hall of Famers but do not get voted in for reasons other than gambling (Pete Rose) or performance enhancing drugs (Barry Bonds).
Shortstop/manager Alvin Dark, who died last week at age 92 in Easley, is one of those unfortunate people.
Despite a brilliant 14-year career as a player and 13 years as a manager he went 0 for 15 in annual HOF balloting.
After a terrific three-sport career at LSU and serving as a Marine officer during World War II, Dark was signed by the Boston Braves for a $50,000 bonus in 1946.
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He was rookie of the year in 1948 when the Braves went to the World Series. After being traded to the New York Giants in 1949, Dark became captain and with a leadoff single set up Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World home run in the 1951 playoff victory over Brooklyn.
Dark was an All-Star three times, went on to play in three World Series and hit over .400 in two of them.
Dark’s lifetime batting average (.289) was better than two Hall of Fame contemporaries, New York Yankee Phil Rizzuto and Brooklyn Dodger Pee Wee Reese, who were also superb shortstops in the early 1950s.
In managerial stints with the San Francisco Giants, Kansas City, Cleveland, Oakland and San Diego Dark won a World Series and is one of seven managers to win a pennant in both the American and National League.
But Dark made one big mistake and it haunted him throughout his career and beyond. He said the wrong thing.
Dark was manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1964 when a Newsday columnist quoted him as saying: “We have trouble because we have so many Negro and Spanish-speaking players on the team. They are just not able to perform up to white players when it comes to mental alertness.”
In a news conference the next day, Dark said he had been misunderstood. “I do not believe you can judge people by groups — Negro, Spanish, white or any other way,” he said.
Was Dark, a born-again Christian,also a “racist”?
I interviewed him a number of times over the years — at the World Series in 1974, in Miami at the annual Baseball Players Golf Tournament and most recently at the Celebrity Golf tournament here in Hilton Head — and there was not a trace of bigotry.
Two baseball icons, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, expressed similar beliefs over the years.
Robinson once said: “I have known Alvin Dark for many years and I have known him to be a gentleman and above all, unbiased.”
After hearing of Dark’s death last week, Mays called him his mentor who helped him adjust to the big leagues when they were teammates with the New York Giants in the early 1950s.
“It’s a sad day for me with all the help he gave me,” Mays told the San Francisco Chronicle. “A very nice man.”
One of Dark’s severest critics was Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, who played on the 1964 Giants team. In his 1998 autobiography Cepeda wrote: “Dark was the wrong man for the job (manager). That team would have won more pennants if it wasn’t so divided.”
However, in recent years Dark and Cepeda had friendly exchanges and last week he left a condolence message for Dark’s wife, Jackie.
“I was a young kid when I played for Alvin,” Cepeda said. “It’s a sad day. He was a great baseball man.”
In 1980 Dark also wrote an autobiography titled “When In Doubt Fire the Manager.”
Dark conceded: “There are not enough words to heal the wound. Every stop I made in baseball after 1964 was cause for somebody with a scalpel of interrogation to open it again.
“I suppose when I die it will be included in my obituary.”
He was right.