"When we talk about the Negro Leagues, they played defense as well as anyone. You couldn't play in that league if you didn't play defense. They built that brand of baseball around pitching and defense," said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "This, I think, is a tremendous honor for baseball fans to get an understanding of just how great these players were."
The panel is made up of Kendrick, baseball historian and author Phil Dixon, National Baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, USA Today writer Joe Posnanski, Negro Leagues researcher Dr. Layton Revel and baseball historian and author James Riley.
Dixon said the task of selecting one player from each position would be extremely difficult.
"It's almost like an impossible task," Dixon said, "but it's a worthy one. Those people actually stood out amongst their fellow teammates for their outstanding defense, and in every era there are players that stood out that never got any recognition. They're certainly not in the Hall of Fame. I think this gives us an opportunity to really showcase some of those players. ... I think this whole selection process is going to give us an opportunity to showcase individuals who knew how to play this game and play it well on the defensive side."
So how will the panel go about selecting the winners? Without the assistance of recorded video of the games, the process will be a hard one, and Kendrick said he expects the panel to have a few sleepless nights, but he stressed the oral history of the game will be the biggest aid to the panel.
"That's why I felt that it was really important to have somebody like a Monte Irvin to be a part of this committee," Kendrick said. "[Dixon] had an opportunity to talk to many of these legendary Negro Leaguers, and it's always interesting to hear them talk about who was the best. You do have to depend a lot on oral history. You do have to depend a lot on research. You do have to depend a lot on what the fans said about these guys as part of this process."
Kendrick pointed out that the candidates for the awards will be players who did not go on to play in the Major Leagues. Some players, such as Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, played in the Negro Leagues before becoming big league superstars and eventual Hall of Famers. These awards will recognize those players who didn't make the jump to the Major Leagues and recognize exclusively Negro Leagues performances.
"Most of those Major Leaguers were young stars in the Negro Leagues, who went on to the Major Leagues and did their thing in the Major Leagues" Kendrick said, "but there were so many guys who played before them who, depending on which Negro League player you're asking, were even better than they were. The old-timers all say that Oscar Charleston was Willie Mays before we even knew who Willie Mays was."
The Negro Leagues Rawlings Gold Glove Award team will be unveiled at the museum on June 28. Royals legend Frank White and Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith will host the event. The pair boasts 21 Gold Gloves between the two of them.
"What an honor to be honoring the men that have afforded us the opportunity to play this wonderful game called baseball," Smith said. "There is nothing more artistic than watching a glove man work his magic. It truly is a great art form."
Once presented, the awards will permanently be on display at the museum.
Kendrick said he hopes the Gold Glove team is just the beginning of a partnership with Rawlings. He said Rawlings will do a national auction to help raise money for the museum, and there will be a Gold Glove golf tournament on July 22 and 23 in Mayetta, Kan., that will also help raise money for the museum.
Kendrick and Dixon both said that they hope to use the awards as a teaching tool to let baseball fans learn more and get excited about the Negro Leagues.
"There's going to be nine names associated with these awards, but it's really symbolic of the 2,600 men and women who played in the Negro Leagues," said Kendrick. "So what it does is put a strong focus on how great these leagues were."