I wanted to give a few more interesting nuggets and stories from Friday’s big first day in Seattle. I’ll start with this photo:
The 6th level (suite level) entrance features a wall of framed portraits and bios of several Negro League Hall of Famers, including this one of the inimitable Satchel Paige. One of Herb’s best stories from his baseball career is how he got two hits off of Satch in a game — a single and a double — and how ol’ Leroy congratulated him in person and bought him a Coke.
Another anecdote from yesterday comes from the RBI Club annual luncheon, at which we were guests. In addition to some tasty eats, the meeting included talks and appearances by a bunch of local Mariners, sports and media personalities, including SuperSonics legendary long-distance sharpshooter “Downtown” Freddie Brown; official Mariners broadcaster and “Voice of the Mariners” Rick Rizzs; ROOT SPORTS pregame and postgame host Brad Adam; and multimedia master and author of an upcoming biography about legendary Hall of Fame Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus.
The highlight of the luncheon (other than the recognition of Herb) was a brilliant, off-the-cuff presentation my M’s third base coach and grizzled MLB veteran Rich Donnelly, who regaled the audience with a slew of side-splitting anecdotes about his decades of involvement in the American pastime.
Coach Donnelly was seated at the table with Herb, Felton, myself, Lorri, Pete, Brad and others. When RBI Club head Bob Simeone gave me a shout-out at the start of the meeting portion of the luncheon, he noted that I was a journalist and researcher who specializes in the Negro Leagues.
A few minutes later, Coach Donnelly made a point of leaning over to me and revealing an incredible personal nugget of info: That he is from the same hometown, Steubenville, Ohio, as Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first widely accepted African-American to play in the major leagues. This was way back in the 19th century, when the sport was spelled “base ball” and the color line had yet to be drawn.
Coach Donnelly noted how proud he was to share a hometown with Fleet Walker (and Fleet’s brother, Weldy) and that he attended a recent memorial service for the hardball trailblazer.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, who shares a hometown with Mariners third base coach Rich Donnelly.
Finally, we capped off the evening at the Northwest African American Museum, where Herb was the guest of honor at a reception. I had a chance to swing through the “Pitch Black” exhibit (which I hope to write more about soon) courtesy of a tour by fellow SABR member David Eskenazi, and as I posted last night, we heard poems written by two local youth in honor of Herb’s visit.
Almost as soon as we walked into the gallery, we were struck by a huge version of a team photo of the Spokane Indians from six decades ago, when Herb integrated the team and the Western International League. Right there on the right end of the top row of players was Mr. Simpson himself. When Herb saw the picture, he was immediately drawn to it, walked up, pointed to his smiling face and broke out into a brand new smile last night. You could tell how important a sight it was for him.
A little ways into the reception, museum exhibitions coordinator Chieko Phillips gave a short presentation about Herb, his career and his importance to Seattle history. She also stressed his importance as a World War II veteran and the meaning of his service to our country. She said the city is proud of him and his accomplishments.
“Here in Washington, we get to brag a little about him,” she said.
She noted that he was a gap hitter whose career also included time with top-level Negro League teams like the Birmingham Black Barons, the Homestead Grays and the Chicago American Giants.
She said that because the West Coast Negro Baseball League lasted only about two months, the Seattle Steelheads unfortunately initially “faded into historical obscurity,” but thanks to the efforts of numerous local researchers, writers and historians, “the legacy of Herb Simpson and our Steelheads lives on.”
She capped off her comments by introducing Malcolm and Betty, the two local students and museum junior curators who penned poems about Herb and his contribution to baseball history.
“These poems are for you, Herb,” she said, drawing a huge smile and grateful nod from the man of the hour.