Tim Benz: 1st Pirates Hall of Fame class has an important inclusion, a glaring omission and a contentious debate

Looking at the list of inaugural Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame inductees, my immediate thought was that the decision makers involved got one important name right, one omission glaringly wrong, and there is one debate that could get harder to reconcile the longer the player in question stays out.

In all, the Pirates inducted 19 people into the franchise’s first Hall of Fame class. Not all were Pirates. Four men played in Pittsburgh with the city’s Negro League teams before Major League Baseball became integrated in the 1940s. They are Ray Brown and Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays and Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston, who played for the Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords.

The next 12 men have all been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, as Pirates:

  • Honus Wagner
  • Paul Waner
  • Lloyd Waner
  • Fred Clarke
  • Jake Beckley
  • Max Carey
  • Pie Traynor
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Ralph Kiner
  • Arky Vaughan
  • Willie Stargell
  • Bill Mazeroski

According to a team press release, three more ex-Pirates who are not in Cooperstown — Dave Parker, Danny Murtaugh and Steve Blass — made the cut as «accomplished, successful and beloved former Pirates.»

Parker is getting enshrined. He’s already in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. It would’ve been a sin for the Pirates Hall of Fame to exist for one day without «The Cobra» in it.

Plus, Parker is 74 years old now. He’s battling Parkinson’s disease. After decades of being snubbed for enshrinement in Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and the Modern Baseball Era Committee, he should at least be allowed to see himself inducted into the Pirates Hall of Fame after winning an MVP trophy (1978), three Gold Gloves (’77-’79), two batting titles (’77-’78), and a World Series ring (’79) with the franchise.

For some of those reasons, shortstop Dick Groat should’ve been on the inaugural list.

That includes all the National Baseball Hall of Famers at once made sense. To honor the Negro Leaguers was a nice touch. But if Parker, Murtaugh and Blass are going in as a separate category, why not include Groat in that batch with them?

I mean, why stop at 19 alumni? That’s weird. Why not 20? Four Negro League players got in on a special designation. Why not four on the «accomplished, successful and beloved» designation, too? Groat certainly qualifies as all those.

Like Parker, Groat won an MVP (1960) and a batting championship (’60). Like Murtaugh, Blass and Parker, Groat also has a World Series ring with the Pirates (’60). Furthermore, the team’s press release says, «The Club launched the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame to recognize former players and managers who have made a significant impact on the franchise, the game of baseball and the Pittsburgh community.»

A native of Swissvale, Groat checks those boxes. He’s going to get in. At 91 years old, why make him wait? Or make all of us wait to applaud him?

Then there is the Barry Bonds debate. As baseball’s all-time home run leader and a seven-time MVP (two with the Pirates), Bonds’ candidacy should be a no-brainer. But the cloud of steroid allegations against him and the acrimony he had with the team and the city ​​on his way out of Pittsburgh makes his inclusion dicey.

But if the Pirates think it should ever happen, they should do it sooner rather than later. Because every year that goes by without Bonds getting inducted, the more contentious the conversation will become. And Bonds may be less interested in publicly embracing the honor.

According to Pirates team historian Jim Trdinich, «the inaugural class was determined by an internal committee.» How many people and who they were is unclear.

«Many players were considered, including Dick Groat, Barry Bonds and others,» Trdinich said via email. «With more than 135 years of history to consider, even with a very large inaugural class, there are bound to be many names that are worthy but not yet nominated. Part of the excitement and enjoyment of establishing the Pirates Hall of Fame will be the ongoing debate of who should be included. It is a great way to educate future generations on the accomplishments of the past. We look forward to expanding upon the list of members in the years to come.»

In 2023, hopefully, Groat’s name will be the first on that list.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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