If you never heard of the Negro leagues you can’t call yourself a baseball fan.
In a recent announcement, Major League Baseball (MLB) stated that it would recognize the League and the players records’ from the old Negro league.
Most early Black players played in the league and when Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947 that opened the door for these great players to play where they belonged.
Players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchell Paige, Larry Doby and even Henry Aaron played in this league and made a name for themselves as great players even before some of them played in the Majors.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I walked and played where some the Negro league greats walked and played. I strode to the mound at Hinchliffe Stadium, where the New York Black Yankees played and perhaps stood the 60 feet 6 inches away looking at home plate, just like Satchell Paige did in his heyday.
The first book I read, besides Dick and Jane, was the story of Paige and I always remembered his famous quotes: “Don’t look back; something may be gaining on you.” and “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”
That biography caught my imagination, and I was hooked. When Satchell pitched three scoreless innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 at the age of 60-something (They say 59, but no one ever knew how old he was) everything I read came back to me. He was a magician with the baseball and, once again, my imagination ran wild. He always said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
Josh Gibson is rumored to be the only player ever to hit a home run completely out of Yankee Stadium onto the street, but because no one really recorded the event it has become folklore.
Now, MLB finally will recognize the Negro leagues and its players’ records and list them right next to today’s players, where they belong.
I suspect that there will be an asterisk next to all the names and their records, but I will look at the asterisk and consider it a star, status those players deserve.
If you haven’t done this before, read a book about the Negro leagues. You may just be taken back to a time when Satchel was on the mound and Josh Gibson was hitting balls out of the stadiums at a record pace.
Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J., is being restored after years of neglect. Go there, and just stand on the field, and I bet you can hear the crowd cheering and the chatter of the players on the field and in the dugout. They are all smiling and laughing now because they are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
The players were no different than any other kid with a ball and a dream. Now, their dreams are fulfilled and their names are in the MLB record books.
Great move, MLB. It is about time.
(Roy Slezak, a former Rio Rancho city councilor, is an accomplished photographer and lifelong baseball fan. His columns appear occasionally in the Observer.)