Have you met “Pete” Hill?
John Preston “Pete” Hill was an outstanding Negro Leagues Baseball player often talked about in the same sentence as the better-known Babe Ruth. In July of 2006, a man named Joseph Preston “Pete” Hill, born in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1880, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Among numerous accolades, this Pete was called “one of the greatest line-drive hitters of his era.”
Despite an extraordinary career, spanning a quarter of a century playing ball in the Negro Leagues as an outfielder, Pete’s induction lacked fanfare and the expected “hometown hero” press.
There are a lot of halls of fame, but none as prestigious as Cooperstown. Having one’s bronzed image and accompanying stats selected for inclusion alongside other baseball greats is truly the accomplishment of a lifetime, the Pulitzer Prize of baseball.
As with many players, the selection was made long after Pete’s death in 1951, nonetheless, there was a distinct absence of fans. More importantly, there was not a single chest pounding, proud-as-punch family member present.
His induction ceremony was witnessed only by strangers present to share the glory of some other inductee. The few diehard aficionados who recognized his achievements, despite knowing little of his personal life, were more than a little puzzled and began to ask questions.
Their research was extremely thorough and led to a remarkable discovery: the man inducted in 2006, indeed was “Pete” Hill, but his real name was John, not Joseph, his birth date was not 1880 and he was not born in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Brad Horn Sr., director, communications and education, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, commented, “As an historical institution, providing the most accurate information is paramount to our responsibility as an education center.”
States and local communities lust after the claim to a world-class baseball player. Virginia officially claims only four of the 289 Baseball Hall of Famers, hailing from Remington, Culpeper, Richmond, and Norfolk.
By the summer of 2009, exhaustive research suggested that “Pete” Hill would become Virginia’s fifth baseball hall-of-famer and Culpeper County just might be able to claim a second member of the hallowed hall.
The question: Was “Pete” Hill born in Culpeper County, Virginia?
The challenge: If so, can it be proven?
I accepted the challenge and the ensuing four to six months were filled with days of the Internet and court record searches, field surveys and extensive discussions with baseball historians, local residents, and family members.
Over the next few weeks, I will share the highlights of the journey for the truth about “Pete” Hill and the results of that research. To whet your whistle or pique your curiosity be thinking on these hints: the names that were consistent in all official documents relating to “Pete” Hill’s life were Virginia, Buena, and Rapidan. And, there was the discovery of his maternal side of the family from across the river in Orange County.
Until next week, be well.
This article was previously published in the Orange County Review, May 24, 2018