This just in!

malarcher

I got word yesterday that Gentleman Dave Malarcher will be the second Negro League figure to be inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame! Once the late Herb Simpson became the first Negro Leaguer to be so honored last year, the floodgates are opening, and Gentleman Dave will enter the NOPBHOF during a ceremony during the New Orleans Zephyrs game on June 6!

In addition, I recently completed a feature on Malarcher for the Zephyrs’ 2015 game program that will hit the streets next week.

I’m thrilled with both of these developments, because there are many of us who believe Gentleman Dave simply hasn’t gotten the recognition and accolades he deserves. Dave Malarcher belongs in Cooperstown — like so many other Negro League greats do — but he remains shut out of the National Baseball Hall of Fame because once again, Cooperstown has shut the door to Negro Leaguers.

In addition, it’s certainly worthy to note, Dave Malarcher currently is also excluded from the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, even though he was one of the greatest player/managers in the history of America’s pastime.

So, now hopefully begins a trend that will see Gentleman Dave honored properly.

And in honor of his election into the NOPBHOF, I want to post a few thoughts from Dave himself — his ideas on fame, recognition, racism and self-respect. The first quote comes from a June 17, 1972, letter written on letterhead from Malarcher’s real estate business in Chicago and addressed and sent to dozens of former Negro Leaguers, encouraging them to help the National Baseball Hall of Fame chronicle the history of blackball:

“To the Forerunners Of The Black Baseball Players Now in Organized Baseball:

“This letter is addressed to each and all of the old Negro professional baseball players — those living, and to the relatives or descendants of those now dead — who played baseball as a livelihood from the time of the end of the Civil War down to 1946, when the first Negro player was admitted to Organized Baseball.

“I urge you, or any relative, or descendant, to complete and send your questionnaire, or the record of any deceased player, to The National Baseball Library at Cooperstown, New York. …

“… the history of Negro baseball players reveals the fact that members and peoples of the Negro race in America were engaged in and starring in baseball as long as the game has been played here. …

“And now, the efforts of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to include all professional baseball players in its records and history is a valiant demonstration of its will to ‘right the wrong’ done the Negro player in this phase of American sport.”

That excerpt strikes me, today, as very ironic but noble, especially given that Dave Malarcher hasn’t been admitted to many halls of fame, even after all these years and despite his worthiness. Gentleman Dave was always, well, a gentleman, a humble, self-effacing and selfless soul who always believed in the eventual righteousness of the human spirit and the value of giving of one’s self for the benefit of the greater good.

The second quote is from a Feb. 9, 1974, letter from Dave to Joe Molitor Jr. of Chicago’s Old Timers Baseball Association, and I think it perfectly encapsulates the intellect and honor of the man:

“It is to be remembered that the history of American Baseball is far vaster than merely the history of Organized Baseball. It comprises the great game from the sandlots and campus, the backwoods, and the city independent teams to the countless yet independent and unorganized teams throughout North and South America, Cuba, Mexico, and the Virgin Islands. Thus The Old Timers Association Of Chicago is one representative of the beginning and continuation of what we so jubilantly describe, ‘The Great American National Game!'”

‘Nuff said, methinks …

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Training camp travails

Today I had published this article published in philly.com about the 1940 Philadelphia Stars’ spring training and how radically it differed from the preseason camps of today’s MLB teams. It was neat reading and writing about how chaotic the whole process was 75 years ago. Many thanks to editor Lou Rabito for green-lighting the article and to Courtney Smith for once again graciously providing comments for one of my stories.

Birmingham museum and reunion updates

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Former players at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Birmingham museum

What perhaps intrigues me the most about the new African-American baseball museum being built in Birmingham, Ala., isn’t that it will feature artifacts and items from players from the top-shelf Birmingham Black Barons and other big-name ’Bama natives like Satchel Paige and Willie Mays.

It’s that the facility, the brainchild of Dr. Layton Revel of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research, will keep a largely regional and local focus that includes, most fascinatingly for me, the vibrant, lively industrial leagues that sprang up in the wake of the city’s rapid development of factories and foundries.

It was those intensely competitive industrial circuits that featured not only excellent semipro baseball (and helped provide factory jobs for working-class African Americans), but gave birth to dozens of talented fellows who went on to the big time, including organized baseball, after proving their mettle on Birmingham’s sandlots.

“There’s more to the history of black baseball than just the Negro Leagues,” Revel says. “A lot of the industrial teams were proving grounds for players. What we’re saying is that  it’s an important part of the history. You can’t forget the grass roots, where these guys started.”

How good were some of these industrial teams? One of them, the 1942 American Cast Iron and Pipe Co. (ACIPO) team that featured future big-time greats like Piper Davis and Artie Wilson, went a mind-boggling 83-5.

The intensely local focus and inclusion of all levels of Birmingham hardball will be what separates the new facility with the longstanding, existing Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which is more national in scope.

The new building has been a labor of love for Revel, who says the museum should be ready for its grand opening ceremony in a few months. After several lengthy funding snafus and roadblocks, such challenge appear to have been surmounted, and construction is well underway and will hopefully be completed by the start of May, Revels says.

After that it will take about six weeks to install the facility’s exhibits, story boards and memorabilia, which will be the final big step toward the museum’s grand opening.

But before the doors to the new building swing open for the first time, Birmingham will play host to the sixth annual African-American baseball players reunion, which is slated for May 26-27 and will include a luncheon and other events that will give fans a chance to mingle and talk with living players from both the Negro Leagues and Birmingham’s industrial leagues. Every event on the menu for the weekend is free and open to the public, Revel notes.

Last year a total of 84 players made the trek to the Alabama city for the fifth edition of the reunion, and Revel hopes for just as many this year. However he knows that the Negro Leagues community has suffered the passing of numerous former players over the last year, which might cut into player attendance at this year’s reunion.

For example, the great trailblazer Minnie Minoso spoke with Revel recently and said he would definitely be in attendance at this year’s gathering. But since then, Minoso has died, a development that will only add to the bittersweet nature of the reunion.

“That’s why it’s so important to meet these men while they’re still alive, to interview and talk with them,” Revel says. “But we still have a lot of ballplayers alive. If you’re interested in Negro League baseball, now is the time to do this.”

For more information on both the new museum and the upcoming reunion, keep checking back at http://www.cnlbr.org or email Revel at drrevel@cnlbr.org.

Stuff to check out

I think I’m going to step back a bit from the down ‘n’ dirty, heavy research for a couple weeks, maybe, and write some points involving interviews with people, photos, updates on events and links to other cool stuff. The basic journalist in me is kind of coming out now, and I’m kind of wanting to do interviews instead of combing through databases (databasi?) and looking at microfilm while trying not to get motion sick.

I also have a long-term project on which I’d really like to focus for a little while; while it doesn’t involve the Negro Leagues, it does involve African-American sports history. I’ll give a hint: Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

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In this post, I want to include some links for other nifty stuff that’s going on. First and foremost is the registration packet and information for the 17th annual SABR Jerry Malloy Leagues Conference this August. You can find registration links, PDFs and information here.

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Another item I’d like to offer up is this Facebook story on the impending grave marker ceremony for the legendary George “Rabbit” Shively in Bloomington, Ind. This story holds particular interest for me because I spent a total of seven and a half years in Bloomington as an undergrad and grad student at IU-Bloomington.

Finally, here’s a press release — 2015 March Press Release – They Played for the Love of the Game — for a fascinating exhibition on Minnesota’s rich African-American baseball heritage at the Ramsey County Historical Society Gallery’s Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minn., that’s running there from now until June 7. The free exhibit has been spearheaded by Minnesota blackball writer and researcher Frank White, whom I interviewed for an upcoming article I wrote for City Pages newspaper about the 1909 St. Paul Colored Gophers.

So, if you’re around Bloomington, the Twin Cities or the Steel City, take a day or more to check this stuff out!

East Tennessee goldmine

I got an email this evening from a gentleman named Mark Aubrey, who was very gracious and complimented my work, and I, needless to say, am honored and humbled.

Mark has several blogs that he writes, including a couple about baseball history in East Tennessee. He touches on all kinds of subjects, including college baseball and the 19th-century game, and the stuff he finds is pretty darn neat.

This post in particular caught my attention, for obvious reasons — it’s about African-American baseball; in this case, the 1913 team at Knoxville College.

It seems to me that baseball history at HBCUs is a woefully unexplored subject, and Mark’s post has inspired me to look into the history of hardball at NOLA’s two HBCUs, Dillard and Xavier. That’s also not to mention the larger HBCUs in the Pelican State, like Southern, Grambling, etc.

So check out Mark’s stuff if you can. It’s pretty cool.

‘I learned how to be a man’

Taking a little break from Dave Malarcher for a few days, I wanted to give an update on the Wesley Barrow grave marker. I was also very fortunate to have a short talk with Mr. Paul Lewis, who played under Barrow circa 1950 for the New Orleans Black Pelicans, at that time a semipro team.

With the grave stone, Gretna Councilman Milton Crosby said he’s going today to pay the balance on the stone cost, and he’s got a couple sturdy guys volunteering to help get it in the ground.

Once the marker is at the site and situated, that just leaves the dedication ceremony, which is slated for Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m. at the New Hope Baptist Church cemetery. Councilman Crosby has lined up a minister to give a prayer and dedication, and I’m pulling together a few people to say a few words.

One of those people will be Mr. Paul Lewis, who played second base for the 1949 New Orleans Black Pelicans, one of the later incarnations of that squad. The team was skippered by Wesley Barrow, who by that time had roughly 30 years of organized baseball under his belt.

“We played all over Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, everywhere,” Mr. Lewis said.

He said the Skipper had such a charismatic and electric personality that people were drawn to him.

“If you ever met Wesley Barrow, you never forgot Wesley Barrow,” Mr. Lewis, who is 88 years young, told me last night. “He was also one of the nicest fellows you could ever meet. He always had a great attitude with everyone he met.

“I learned from Wesley Barrow how to be a man,” he added, “and to treat people right, to have the right attitude with all mankind.”

I’ll keep coming back with updates on the situation, especially when we get the grave marker in the ground and when I’ve got a press release ready in preparation for the dedication ceremony. Keep checking back for details!