Preserving a Legacy

With re-cast plaque, Hill’s heritage is properly documented

October 12, 2010
Researcher Zann Nelson (front,center) poses with Pete Hill's family members in front of his recast plaque. (Milo Stewart Jr.)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Pete Hill was a giant of baseball. He played for the Cuban X Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Leland Giants and Chicago American Giants as well as the Pittsburgh Keystones and Detroit Stars from the turn of the century to the early 1920s.

But it was because he was one of the greatest line-drive hitters of his era and had a rifle arm from center field that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, as part of a special election of candidates who emerged through a five-year study on the feats of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues stars.

Hill was honored in Cooperstown, Tuesday, as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated Pete Hill Day and installed a re-cast plaque featuring his correct given name that was recently discovered by a group of researchers.

"Today is a very, very special and historic day in Cooperstown," said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. "Pete Hill is today in every sense of a Hall of Fame talent."

When he was inducted in 2006, far less was known about Pete Hill off the baseball diamond. Hill's plaque listed his formal name as Joseph Pete Hill and research showed Pittsburgh, Pa., as his hometown. Since then, the Hall of Fame was presented with a comprehensive research report that unearthed new information about his name and hometown.

"Along with Hall of Fame researchers and Jim Gates, Hall of Fame Librarian, it was confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt that John Preston Hill was the Pete Hill of baseball lore," said Idelson. "Pete Hill is one of only 292 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is reserved for the best of the best. Now his heritage is properly documented."

The new research was headed by Zann Nelson, a freelance writer for her local paper The Culpeper Star-Exponent.

"I do a lot of historical research and somewhat investigative work," said Nelson. "When my editor introduced me to a baseball blog explaining that Pete Hill's given name was really John, I recognized place names that were in and around Culpeper County, Va."

Nelson became hooked and worked with a group of baseball researchers and with the help of Hill's great nephew Ron Hill on providing an academic document with supporting material to the Hall of Fame. They were able to show that the baseball great Pete Hill was indeed John Preston Hill from Culpeper, Va.

"It took four to five months of digging and was quite a team effort. This type of discovery doesn't happen with just one person," she said.

Six great nephews and nieces of Pete Hill – Ron Hill, Marcella Hill-Grimett, Leslie Hill Penn, Loretta Hill Embry, Kenneth Embry and Michael Hill Sr. – along with their family members gathered in the plaque gallery to watch as the re-cast plaque was installed in the Hall of Fame's Plaque Gallery.

"The legacy of Pete Hill is now properly preserved," said Idelson. "And this date – October 12 – Hill's birthday will always mark the celebration of a true legend."

Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum