And we need your help!
Yesterday (Thursday) I met with Dave Sachs and Tim Grubbs, the New Orleans Zephyrs’ director of media relations and director of broadcasting, respectively. Dave has always been a fantastic guy to deal with, a really big help when I was working at the Advocate, and Tim is kind of the director of the Zephyrs-sponsored New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, which has been in existence for roughly 10 years.
The NOPBHOF has always been, truthfully, a source of irritation for me because if its complete lack of pre-integration African-American players, managers, owners and promoters.
That, to some extent, is certainly not the NOLA Hall’s or the Zephyrs’ fault; so little is known about the Negro League scene here in the Big Easy and, indeed, across all of Louisiana. That ignorance is both local as well as, honestly, national — many historians, researchers, writers and enthusiasts in the modern Negro Leagues community have no idea that New Orleans was indeed a blackball hotbed from which great things sprang. When I’m pretty much the national “expert” on New Orleans and Louisiana Negro Leagues, it’s basically by default because no one else has studied it or even acknowledged it.
(The one exception, however, has been longtime New Orleans sportswriter Ted Lewis, who worked for the Times-Picayune for years until the soulless company that owns that paper unceremoniously laid him and hundreds of others off. He’s now the head NOLA sports guy for the upstart New Orleans Advocate daily newspaper. For decades Ted has been just about the only guy writing about figures like Dave Malarcher, Oliver Marcell, Willard Brown, Johnny Wright and other great blackball figures from Louisiana and New Orleans, so much respect and thanks to Ted for keeping the flame alive for so long.)
Ever since I first wrote this article for the T-P back in 2009 — before the paper betrayed the city that loved it — I’ve worked to bring light to the Negro Leagues scene in New Orleans and educate people about what a rich blackball tradition existed here.
Once I moved down here in February 2012, those efforts have gone into overdrive, and lately I’ve seen a great deal of success and progress. The first positive sign came a couple weeks ago at the semi-annual meeting of the Louisiana SABR chapter, at which I raised the need to research and honor Louisiana Negro Leaguers and educate the public about them. At the meeting, which I wrote about in this post, I received a great deal of support and enthusiasm from the other members, which left me elated.
My next step came yesterday, when I meet with Dave and Tim of the Zephyrs about promoting the Negro Leagues through two primary means: 1) Getting more Negro League figures inducted into the NOPBHOF; and 2) Exploring the possibility of a Negro Leagues Night at a Zephyrs game.
And, once again, I came away from a meeting with a great deal of optimism, nay, ebullience. Dave and Tim were extremely receptive to the possibilities of both ideas. Regarding the Hall of Fame, they were honest in saying that they like to look for living inductees who can actually be personally honored in a ceremony. Lacking that, they like to at least have family members to receive the induction honor in their progenitors’ absence.
Needless to say, option B will have to be the case here. The Zephyrs inducted Herb Simpson last year, who was a perfect selection to “crack the historical color line” of the NOPBHOF. A successful and groundbreaking professional ballplayer on several levels of the sport — especially the top Negro Leagues and the minor leagues — Herb is also thankfully and wonderfully still alive and kicking.
So now the challenge becomes this: Find New Orleans Negro League figures who deserve induction into the local Hall, and especially ones that have living and reachable descendants.
The obvious place to start, for me, is to induct promoter/owner Allen Page, who was black baseball in New Orleans for 30 years and who was an extremely influential figure on the national Negro League stage. Plus, many of his children, including my good friend Rodney, are still alive and eager to help educate people about their legendary father.
But beyond that, there are just so many Negro League greats who were either from New Orleans or played here on their way to the blackball big-time — Dave Malarcher, Oliver Marcell, Johnny Wright, J.B. Spencer, Groundhog Thompson, Winfield Welch, Peanuts Davis, Wesley Barrow, sportswriter Eddie Burbridge, to name a very few.
And Dave and Tim of the Zephyrs were very enthusiastic about doing what they could to honor as many such figures as they could. I was thusly tasked with coming up with a list of Negro League candidates and brief bios stating their qualifications.
Which is the first thing with which I need your help — if anyone has any suggestions I haven’t mentioned, please let me know, either by leaving a comment on my humble little blog or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(My thought — or my dream — would be to have an initial induction class of two: Allen Page and Dave Malarcher, in my mind the greatest Negro Leagues manager to come out of this city, with Winfield Welch and Wesley Barrow close runners-up. The greatest player from New Orleans would, in my humble opinion, be Oliver Marcell, but, well, he might not be the best candidate to break the barrier, given that no matter how brilliant he was on the field — and he certainly was brilliant — he was, personality-wise, well, an irascible, short-tempered, jerk with a strong affinity for the bottle. Maybe not the best PR move to induct him first, especially when he have Gentleman Dave Malarcher, Marcell’s complete polar opposite, as a viable option.)
Now, on the second goal rattling around in my head — a Negro Leagues Night at Zephyr Stadium — the prospects are a bit iffier, not because the Zephyrs aren’t willing to do it — both Dave and Tim thought that, theoretically, it could be a great idea.
But they key word there is “theoretically.” The three of us agreed that no matter how well intentioned, if it’s not done well, a Negro League Night could end up being a disastrous insult instead a glorious, much-deserved success.
Dave, Tim and I also agreed that to do it right, “we” would need money, i.e. sponsorship, that could, for example, put together a video montage and buy or at least rent Negro League jerseys for the players to wear.
So, I left with the feeling of a second task — find money! And that’s the second area in which I need your help. If any of you have any connections or any ideas whatsoever about where we could get sponsorship — businesses, individuals, non-profits, etc. — please send them my way.
So that’s where we stand. I — and the Zephyrs — need your help! I feel like we are on the cusp of something really great and special. We just heed a little aid and encouragement and, well, money, to get there. Please help, and many, many thanks in advance! Many thanks as well to Dave and Tim being gracious enough to meet with me and for being so receptive to my thoughts. Guys, I hope it’s OK that I use the team logo at the top of this blog. If it isn’t, it’s totally cool, I can take it off. 🙂