Next up: Bill Binga


Tomorrow, Saturday, June 28, a group of hardy SABR volunteers, led by Peter Gorton and Todd Peterson, will host a ceremony in Minneapolis to dedicate a grave marker for pre-Negro Leagues star third baseman William “Bill” Binga, about whom I wrote an article for Hour Detroit magazine as well as several posts on this blog. I’ll also be making a presentation about Binga’s roots in Detroit in August at the annual SABR Jerry Malloy conference.

But tomorrow the focus will be square on the folks in Minnesota who have given so much of their time, energy and heart to recognizing Bill Binga and the great’s time in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Yesterday I spoke with Peter for an article I’m drafting for the Twin Cities’ alternative newspaper, City Pages. That article won’t be published until mid-July (timed for the MLB All-Star game in Minneapolis) so it won’t focus too much on the ceremony itself.

As a result, I thought I’d share a few comments from Peter about the event tomorrow, its purpose and its creation.

He said the goal is to shine a light on a Major League-talented third baseman who has been overlooked because of his relatively low-profile but greatly undervalued position on the field, especially compared to a power hitter like Home Run Johnson or a flashy pitcher like John Donaldson, both of who have previously received grave markers from SABR’s Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project. He said a quality third baseman was crucial for a successful traveling aggregation of the day.

“Everybody knows about the guy who hit the ball over the fence, and everybody knows about the pitchers like John Donaldson, but no one cares about a third baseman,” Peter said. “But when it comes down to it, particular from the 1880s to the 1920s, third base was a key position on the field. You couldn’t have a good team barnstorming through the sticks without a third baseman.”

That’s why it’s especially important to fill in the massive holes in our knowledge about Bill Binga’s life and career, especially because Binga was, in fact, a great, possibly Hall of Fame-worthy third sacker. Fleshing out those gaps awareness gaps, Peter said, is needed to reignite Binga’s impact, as well as the impact of the so many other overlooked African-American stars from around the turn of the century.

“What we’re working toward is writing in that legacy, that quest,” he said. “That’s what he said in our press release about the William Binga dedication. That’s really the reason we’re having this for him. That’s the message we have with this Binga thing. If we get an opportunity like this to tell who he is, then we have to get that (knowledge) out there.

In fact, Peter said he and his daughter discovered Binga’s unmarked burial spot way back in 2008, saying “we could have put something in the ground right then.”

But he and other researchers wanted to know more about Binga so they could tell the public more about him when they did unveil a grave marker. He said that ever since that day six years ago, he’s almost felt an obligation to pursue the grave marker effort and dig into Binga’s past. Also, being the major force behind the Donaldson Network, a large and ever-growing group of people dedicated to preserving the memory of pitcher John Donaldson (who also lived and played extensively in Minnesota), was also an impetus to find the connections between the two players.

And that — each person or group focusing on researching and uncovering facts about a single player or a small group of them so the Negro Leagues community can collectively piece together the big picture — is how Gorton thinks research into the pre-Negro Leagues must be pursued. And there’s still a long way to go, he added, giving the example of pitcher Walter Ball, who was almost omnipresent in the northern Midwest around the turn of the century. “Someone has to pick it up on Walter Ball,” he said. “We need to know about these lesser-known people.”

But for now, it’s Binga’s turn in the spotlight.

william_binga (1)

“William Binga should be celebrated because his legacy was taken away from him,” Peter said. “It has to be about someone who paved the way (for later black players). We’re trying to give the modern reader an idea of the tribulations these people endured for the benefit of those who came later.”

One final note … Gorton said the Binga volunteers have informed the Minnesota Twins about tomorrow’s ceremony, and they were invited to attend. But Gorton isn’t holding his breath for Joe Mauer to show up to join them in honoring William Binga. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to have a former MVP like Mauer standing at Bill Binga’s grave? Talk about publicity for your cause.

“They certainly have the opportunity to come,” Peter said of the Twins. “And that would be great if someone did.”

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