That’s me on the left receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from Mr. Roger Webb. I chose this picture because the “deer in headlights” look on my face perfectly sums up the state of shock I was in. Many thanks to James Brunson for the photo.
For about two weeks, ever since the Malloy conference in Pittsburgh, I’ve been fomenting a post about receiving the conference’s Tweed Webb Lifetime Achievement Award, one that talks a bit about Mr. Webb himself and why the SABR Negro Leagues Committee has an award named after him.
However, life has predictably gotten in the way, and I’ve been conducting a great deal of personal introspection and examination lately, so I’m just now writing the post.
I reflect back to the recent conference’s concluding dinner and awards banquet, and, for me, there were two very moving facets of the event. One was the beautiful tribute to the late Dick Clark, who co-founded the Negro Leagues Committee and for so many years had been its heart and soul.
The other touching moment came when committee co-chair Larry Lester — who has been mourning the loss of Dick Clark, one of his closest friends and biggest inspirations — also speak of traveling to St. Louis and meeting Tweed Webb at Mr. Webb’s home.
Larry spoke about how much meeting such an important and influential black baseball historian — someone who was so widely respected and admired by his peers for his tireless and often thankless work in preserving the legacy of the Negro Leagues and African-American baseball greats — impacted the course of his own life and the trajectory of his own incredible (and incredibly influential in its own right) career as a researcher and chronicler of the American pastime.
It made me wish badly that I could have met Mr. Webb myself and learned from the feet of the master, because he seems to be the type of man and type of person who had so much to teach and so much knowledge to impart to those who were willing to listen.
How esteemed was Mr. Webb? In July 1975, Atlanta Daily World columnist Chico Renfroe succinctly and properly described him as “Black Baseball’s historian.”
Mr. Webb’s close friendship with another St. Louis great, Hall of Fame speedster James “Cool Papa” Bell, whose life and career was almost peerlessly supported and chronicled by Mr. Webb, led the latter to be sought out by Associated Press scribe Butch John for comment and input in a July 1990 article about the Negro Leagues, especially the blackball activity in Mississippi, Bell’s home state.
Tweed always maintained that Cool Papa played two decades to soon; if Bell had come along after the integration of the Majors, he could have set base-swiping and run-scoring records that might very well still be standing today, Rickey Henderson be darned.
Last week I asked Larry and SABR Negro Leagues committee do-it-all’er Leslie Heaphy, via email, for their thoughts on Tweed Webb. Here’s what Leslie wrote:
“I never had the pleasure of meeting him like Larry did but have always heard of him and been aware of his work as a historian and story teller. He worked hard to provide info for the early Negro Leaguers elected to the Hall of Fame.”
And this is what Larry wrote:
“Meeting Tweed Webb was a major turning point in my sports life. As a life-long baseball fan, I enjoyed the surface knowledge about the game, and knew little more. Upon meeting Mr. Webb, he taught me how to research, how to interview athletes, and also how to separate their facts from hyperbola. On one occasion I watched him correct a player several times as the player tried to taffy the truth. He knew his stuff … because he had seen them all.
“Webb introduced me to SABR, and encouraged me to join the organization in the 1980s. Joining SABR connected me with other like-minded aficionados of the national pastime. He was a humbly proud man with great attention to detail and emphasized accurate accounts of baseball history in every capacity.
“It was truly an honor to meet this unheralded St. Louis historian.”
What more can be said about Tweed Webb? That pretty much sums up how incredible a journalist, historian and man he was.
Add in to Webb’s immeasurable influence the heft of a lifetime achievement award named in his honor, to say the least I was never expecting to receive the award at the Malloy conference.
In fact, I spent much of the banquet taking notes on the proceedings, with the intent of reporting on the comments, presentations and awards, with nary a glimmer of thought to the prospect of receiving an award. That was especially true because just two conferences earlier, I had been thrilled and humbled to received the John Coates Next Generation Award. That, in itself, was extremely gratifying.
So at the banquet a couple weeks ago, I was taking notes on Larry’s introductory thoughts about Mr. Webb as a lead-up to the bestowing of the honor. As Larry paused to announce the name of the recipient, I had my pen in my hand and my eyes trained on my notebook in preparation of writing down the name of the winner.
So when I heard my name, everything kind of, well, went foggy for a moment. I glanced up from my notebook, and for a fleeting moment simply looked straight ahead and blinked me eyes. I then turned my head slowly toward the podium and almost blurted out with incredulity, “Umm, excuse me?”
Then I saw Leslie looking at me with a big smile on her face, and the clapping snapped me back into focus. But I was still a little physically unsteady when I got up from the table and walked slowly to the front of the front, my mind just repeating, “Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip,” with one additional thought of, “Oh man, I really hope my fly is up.”
After that, it was all kind of a blur. I just remember shaking the hand of Tweed’s son, Roger Webb, thanking him profusely and telling him what an honor it was. We posed for pictures briefly, I shook his hand again, then scurried back to my table, where I took my seat next to — this is true — SABR Executive Director Marc Appleman and across from Pirates Director of Player Personnel Tyrone Brooks!
My tablemates congratulated me, and while I had to practically hold my jaw in place lest it fall to the floor, my thought was, “I don’t deserve this.”
I thought that not because I didn’t believe I have done good, worthy work as a journalist and Negro Leagues historian, but because I felt there are so many other committed, dedicated, hard-working and deserving Negro Leagues devotees, researchers and writers who have been doing this much longer than I have.
That was the truly humbling notion of the whole thing — that out of such a great number of extremely worthy people, the SABR Negro Leagues Committee chose me.
Because of that, I felt, feel and will always feel completely honored, grateful and humbled to receive the award, and my deepest and eternal appreciation and gratitude to those people who were behind the honor. Thank you very, very much.
But now, back to work. There is still limitless African-American baseball history to explore and discover, and I, along with all of my esteemed and wonderful colleagues, still have a challenging, thrilling and gratifying task ahead of us.
So, to wrap this all up, I say, “Let us all keep up the fight and continue to proudly carry the Negro Leagues banner, and see you in La Crosse in 2016!”