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Hall of Fame to hold Negro Leagues vote

Monday's announcement won't get anywhere near the attention of the Hall of Fame's annual election.

But for those who played in the Negro Leagues, studied the Negro Leagues, understand the historical significance of the Negro Leagues, it will be a monumental development.

"A very significant milestone," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president of communications and education.

Essentially, Hall directors are holding a special election for players from the Negro Leagues and before, creating what amounts to a one-time shot to honor some of the game's earliest stars.

The project started as a comprehensive study of the history of African-Americans in baseball from 1860-1960, and included establishment of a statistical database from sanctioned games in 1920-54, allowing for apples-to-apples comparisons of the players.

A screening committee whittled the initial field of candidates to 39, and a panel of 11 experts are meeting today and Monday morning in Tampa to review their careers and vote on which deserve to be in the Hall. A 12th panelist, Robert Peterson, passed away on Feb. 11 but had already filled out his ballot.

Only two of the 39 are living, Minnie Minoso and Sarasota's Buck O'Neil, whose ambassadorship of the game makes him a stronger candidate than his on-field accomplishments. The group includes two other Floridians, Alex Pompez and Dick Lundy. Some think as many as 15 could be elected.

"So many good players were in obscurity for so long," Idelson said. "This allows us to fill a massive void."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Sportsbook.com's over/under on Rays wins for the season is 69. While Delmon Young moved up from third to No. 1 on Baseball America's 100 top prospects list, Jeff Niemann dropped from No. 20 to 70. With Jason Hammel 79th, the Rays' total of three prospects matches their fewest since 1999. Baseball Prospectus also had Young first on its top 50 list, but included no other Rays. (B.J. Upton is no longer eligible for the lists). Though the new Ted Williams exhibits at the Trop initially will be open only on game days, the museum is likely to expand and eventually become a year-round attraction. In return for getting free office space at the Trop, the major-league alumni association will put memorabilia on display and occasionally arrange for former big-leaguers to sign autographs. Coolstandings.com is playing the 2006 schedule with 2005 stats; after a 6-1 start the Rays are 17-18 and in third place. The Rays put about 25 of their younger players through two 90-minute media training sessions with Tampa-based consultant Lisa Brock. One player who caught some eyes in camp is pitcher Juan Salas, a converted infielder with a tremendous arm. Former bench coach John McLaren's duties as a special assignment scout will include pro and amateur duty as well as some work with the Rays' expanding international program.

MISCELLANY: Barry Bonds obviously doesn't care about his image by going ahead with the stunningly ridiculous plan to decline interviews unless the reporters sign a release waiver allowing footage to be shown on his upcoming ESPN reality show. Yankees people have to be thrilled to see George Steinbrenner back on his game, like last week's made-for-tabloid prediction: "We're going to win it this year." Tampa's Brad Radke says he'll decide whether to retire at the end of what will be his 12th season with the Twins. Mets manager Willie Randolph came to the same conclusion last year about erratic Victor Zambrano that Rays fans did years ago: "I know Victor can drive you a little crazy, but this is who he is." Sportsbook.com has the Dominicans as 7-4 favorites to win the World Baseball Classic, followed by the U.S. team and Venezuela. D'backs officials are already raving about B.J. Upton's little brother Justin. "You spend any time around him, he doesn't act, look anything like an 18-year-old kid," manager Bob Melvin said.

Information from other news organizations was used in the report.

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