Pete Hill’s Legacy Celebrated as Hall of Fame Unveils Re-cast Plaque for Negro Leagues Hero

New Genealogical Research Leads to Formal Name Change for 2006 Inductee

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

COOPERSTOWN, NY – The ballplayer known as Pete Hill earned election to the Hall of Fame in 2006.

On Tuesday, the man who was known at birth as John Preston Hill was honored in Cooperstown – his identity secure for all time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum hosted Pete Hill Day on October 12 – the date of his birth – to recognize the genealogical roots of a Hall of Fame hero. Thanks to recently unearthed information by a group of dedicated researchers, the Hall of Fame was able to re-cast Hill's Hall of Fame plaque to properly reflect his given name as well as to reflect his hometown of Culpeper, Va.

"While Pete Hill's contributions as a ballplayer were beyond doubt and his legacy firmly established in the baseball research project that led to his Hall of Fame election in 2006, far less was known at the time about Pete Hill the man off the diamond," said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. "Just as baseball research had focused on unearthing the contributions of Pete Hill as a ballplayer, a group of researchers and historians began research that would reveal that Pete Hill had a different identity and hometown than was believed at his Hall of Fame induction. Today, we are making sure that fans will remember John Preston Hill for his accomplishments on the baseball field, and that no one will doubt his identity."

Pete Hill's accomplishments as a pre-Negro leagues star in the early 20th century led to his posthumous induction to the National Baseball 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 one of 17 legends elected to the Hall of Fame that year following the work of the Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues project which, though a grant from Major League Baseball, researched baseball achievements by African Americans from 1860-1960.

Research on Pete Hill's real identity was delivered to Cooperstown in December when Zann Nelson, a researcher and writer based in Culpeper County, Va., received an assignment on Hill from her editor at the Culpeper Star-Exponent. Hill was thought to have been born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but new information suggested that Hill was actually born in the Culpeper, Va., area. Using data such as census reports, Social Security documents and death certificates, Nelson produced a series of articles detailing Hill's roots and proper formal name, John Preston Hill. Earlier this year, a thorough review conducted by the Hall of Fame, using Nelson's research as a guide, confirmed the new research.

Pete Hill's Hall of Fame plaque was updated to reflect his given name – John Preston Hill – replacing the "Joseph Preston Hill" that originally appeared at his 2006 induction. Additionally, the official records in the Hall of Fame Library will reflect a change in his birthplace from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Culpeper, Va., on October 12, the day records indicate Hill was born, though his exact birth year, sometime between 1880 and 1884, remains unclear. A roundtable discussion of Hill's baseball career was also held on Tuesday as part of the tribute.

Among those in attendance at Tuesday's ceremony were 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.

Ongoing baseball research has previously resulted in the recasting of Hall of Fame plaques, such as the plaque representing Roberto Clemente, which was recast in 2000 to present the correct version of his formal name "Roberto Clemente Walker." Other plaques have been re-cast since their unveiling, including most recently, Jackie Robinson's Hall of Fame plaque, which was updated in 2008 to reflect his role in breaking baseball's color barrier.

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