The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame announced its newest inductees on Wednesday, but the Chatham Colored All-Stars, despite their place in history dating back to 1934, were again not among the inductees.
Back then, the All-Stars defeated the Penetang Shipbuilders in the Provincial Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship and were credited with becoming the first black team to win the title, 13 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB.
88 years later, the team was finally inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2022. But they are still waiting to be recognized by the Canadian Hall of Fame.
This year’s members, who will be inducted in a ceremony on June 17 on the grounds of the Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario, include:
- Denis Boucher, former left-hander of the Montreal Expos (Montreal).
- Rich Harden (Victoria), former Oakland A right-hander
- Jesse Barfield, former Blue Jays right fielder.
- Joe Wiwchar, longtime baseball coach and Manitoba CEO.
Blake Harding, now in his 70s, is among the relatives of All-Stars team members who have campaigned for years to have them inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Blake wasn’t born when his father, Wilfred (Boomer) Harding, was one of the star players on the Chatham team. But he grew up hearing stories about the challenges the team faced because of the color of his skin.
Harding said it was disappointing waiting for the team to earn the Hall of Fame recognition it deserved, but facing adversity is nothing new for the All-Stars.
“They kept their heads up. They didn’t complain, they didn’t whine when they had a tough game in 1934 and 1935,” he said. “It was hard. They were spat on. Children, six years old, threw stones at them, encouraged by their parents.
“The team is probably having just as hard a time getting inducted into Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Harding said the team deserves recognition for its historical impact.
“It wasn’t just about baseball. It was how they changed the church. It opened doors for my generation and my children and my grandchildren and the local community.”
Harding’s two uncles, Len and Andy Harding, were also members of the All-Stars. Among other players was Ferguson Jenkins Sr., father of former MLB pitcher Ferguson Jenkins (who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991).
Long list of honors
To be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, individuals must first be nominated by a member of the public. After that, a selection committee (consisting of the media, former initiates, historians and executives) votes on the nominees in an annual ballot. People who receive at least 75 percent of the votes are admitted.
The Hall of Fame’s website cites the achievements of those selected for this year’s class, an announcement made on the first day of Black History Month.
“Each of this year’s inductees has, in their own way, made a significant impact on the game of baseball in Canada,” said Jeremy Diamond, chairman of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
However, Harding noted that the All-Stars have received notable recognition from other organizations.
“What we don’t understand is – they have been inducted into the local Chatham Sports Hall of Fame. You were inducted into the Negro Hall of Fame in Philadelphia, USA a few years ago. Then last year, 2022, they were inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, which was phenomenal,” he said. “They paid for all our expenses, rolled out the red carpet, the whole thirty feet.
“So that this team isn’t accepted is really disappointing,” Harding said, referring to the Hall of Fame.
The 1934 champions have also been brought back to life in MLB’s video game MLB The Show ’22.
In 2016, the University of Windsor received a $72,500 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to create an oral history project named Breaking the Color Barrier: Wilfred “Boomer” Harding and the Chatham Colored All-Stars (1932-1939)to preserve and share the history of the team.
For more stories about Black Canadians’ experiences—from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.