A Thanksgiving remembrance

“I remember him as a good-natured and interesting personality. I enjoyed conducting interviews with him. He was among a handful of Negro League players from the West Coast that ended up coming east to play black baseball. This surely brought unique experiences compared to his teammates. I also saw how proud his family was of him and his accomplishments in baseball. He will be missed.”

— Negro Leagues Baseball Museum curator Dr. Ray Doswell

“The parent organization, the Cubs, has been on the hunt for a good colored ball player for quite awhile [sic]. … The Cubs have two very good prospects at their Visalia farm, Charlie Pope and Walter McCoy, catcher and pitcher, respectively.”

—Los Angeles Sentinel sports columnist Halley Harding, in a January 1949 article

“I could have made it. I used to get Jackie Robinson out quite a lot.”

— Walter McCoy, in a Union-Tribune article

As we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted to write a second post about the passing of San Diego Negro Leagues great Walter McCoy, who did two weeks ago at the ripe old age of 95.

All of his family and friends say he was spry and chipper as he aged gracefully and gratefully, while along the way promoting the memory and history of blackball and become one of San Diego’s most beloved ambassadors for the grand American game.

Unfortunately, it seems like the local San Diego media just about ignored McCoy’s passing. For example, the Union-Tribune newspaper, after writing several articles about McCoy and other San Diego Negro Leaguers over the past decade, published just two sentences, practically hidden in the  depths of the obituaries section.

“At the end, to not close that out, it’s very said,” McCoy’s daughter, Robyn McCoy Jones, said about the Union-Tribune. “We wish [the paper] would have done so much more to wrap his life up.”

But for Robyn and the rest of Walter McCoy’s loved ones, that is probably water under the bridge, because it in no way detracts from Walter McCoy’s life, career, military service, legacy and impact on baseball history, both in Southern California and across the country.

The quotes at the top of this post, to me, encompass Walter McCoy’s baseball career, as well as the emotional impact he had on other people’s lives. While the final quote, the one by Walter himself, is heartbreaking given that he came so close to The Show — the goal of just about every professional baseball player, regardless of race, age, native country and even gender — and fell agonizingly short.

Walter McCoy made it all the way up to the Pacific Coast League when he signed with the Sacramento Solons in August 1950. But that’s where his career stalled.

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But McCoy still retained his pride and, more importantly, his love for the gain and his eagerness to spread the hardball word.

So, as we give thanks, remember Walter McCoy and the wonderful life he lived. His passing is indeed painful, and grief is part of that transition to another level of existence.

But give thanks for Walter McCoy, and for every single man and woman who took part in the Negro Leagues, from the owners and executives to the players and managers to the groundskeepers and popcorn hawkers.

Their story, their legacy, their history remain a shining light from a dark period of segregation and injustice. They created a glorious world of their own, and that, my friends, is worth our gratitude, our joy and our thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

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‘The most amazing dad’ — Walter McCoy

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A final farewell to a local hero: Friends and family gather to recognize Walter McCoy, Negro Leagues star, stalwart soldier, community fixture and wonderful father. Photo courtesy of Bill Swank.

Yesterday, family and friends of Walter McCoy gathered at Mananatha Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Skyline Drive in San Diego to not only mourn his passing, but to also celebrate his life and contributions to the world around him.

Because indeed, there were many contributions.

And when San Diego baseball historian and long-time friend Bill Swank gave his remarks about Walter’s life at the service, one sentence he said in particular perhaps summed it up the best.

“Walter McCoy was San Diego’s Buck O’Neil,” Swank told the gathered flock, “a beloved ambassador for baseball.”

That is certainly no overstatement. McCoy, a right-handed pitcher with a wicked fastball, blazed trails in multiple leagues in co-called “organized” baseball,” becoming one of the first former Negro Leaguers to integrate Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons in 1950, and also helped integrate the California League — as well as the entire Chicago Cubs’ organization — when he joined the roster of the Visalia Cubs in 1949.

Those terms of service followed successful successful stints in the Negro Leagues with the Chicago American Giants and the Kansas City Monarchs.

After McCoy retired from the game, he returned to his native San Diego — well, technically, he was a native of Kansas, where he was born in either 1920 or 1924 (depending on the source), but soon after his nomadic family settled in SD — and became a popular building contractor.

During his golden years, McCoy also became one of the West Coast’s leading lights in preserving the memory of segregation-era baseball and its legacy, blossoming into one of the city’s most beloved figures on the local baseball scene.

But even more so, Walter McCoy was one of the friendliest, most genuine and most loving people those who knew him had ever met.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” Swank told me earlier this week. “He was a good ballplayer, but he was an even better human being.”

This week I also had to very good fortune to speak with Walter McCoy’s daughter, Robyn McCoy Jones, who told me that her family looked up to their patriarch.

“My brothers and sisters and I were very proud of our dad and his accomplishments,” she said. “But even more so, he was just the most amazing dad anyone could ever wish for.”

What I personally found most inspiring and heart-warming about Walter McCoy’s story was that just as his professional pitching career was taking off, in June 1942, just six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, McCoy enlisted in the Army.

He was subsequently assigned to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where he became a private in a medical detachment. But, said his daughter Robyn, Walter’s commanding officers realized that his gem of a right arm could help boost morale for soldiers across Arizona by providing them with a stellar, entertaining brand of ball.

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“During his term in the Army, [his superiors] didn’t want to get him injured,” she said. “They wanted to keep him in baseball — they didn’t want anything to happen to him. They wanted to keep him in shape.”

The officers’ faith in McCoy’s pitching aptitude was well founded — McCoy ended up leading his Fort Huachuca squad to statewide greatness. Stated a September 1943 wire story:

“To win eight games without a loss, pitch one no-hit no-run game and two no-run games, while hitting six home runs himself in the past two months, is an accomplishment to conjure with and is the record of Private Walter McCoy, San Diego, California, a member of the Service Command Unit of Fort Huachuca …

“This remarkable feat was climaxed by the game in which the Service Command Team beat the best the 92nd Division had to offer. This game was played on the newly dedicated Rube Foster Field and seen by 15,000. Against the 92nd’s ‘All Stars,’ Private McCoy turned in one of his best games, a five-hitter which yielded only one run.

“The Service Command Unit Team has to date won 16 straight games and lost none. …”

While serving at Fort Huachuca — which is located near Sierra Vista, Ariz., at the foot of the Huachuca Mountains — McCoy became part of the base’s rich tradition, especially when it came to nurturing and developing African-American soldiers. Established in 1877, Huachuca in the early 20th century served as one of the headquarters of the famed “Buffalo Soldiers,” cavalry troops who were key to the Army’s campaigns against Native-Americans in the West. Huachuca was also a crucial installation in military’s effort to deal with unrest along the Mexican border.

But by the time the U.S. entered World War II and ramped up its military effort, Fort Huachuca had evolved into one of the most thriving bases in the West, with more than 25,000 men and women on duty.

Walter McCoy remained in the Army for three years, and after being discharged in 1945, he was snapped up by the Chicago American Giants, with whom he became the ace of the staff, a fireballing strikeout king who was unfortunately vexed by the poor support he received in the field and at the plate.

By the time the 1947 season rolled around, McCoy’s arm hadn’t lost any zing. Stated Helen Ross of the American Negro Press in January ’47:

“Walter McCoy, one of the mainstays in the Giants’ pitching staff, writes that he has won six out of seven games in the winter league in California against major and minor league competition.

“McCoy was the leading strike-out pitcher in the Negro American League last year, fanning 128 men in 16 games. This is his third year with the Giants and Manager [‘Candy’ Jim] Taylor predicts that he should be the leading right hander in the coming season.”

I’m going to try to write up another post over the week or so about Walter McCoy’s career in organized baseball, beginning with the 1949 season. But for now, I’ll conclude this post with one final thought from Robyn McCoy Jones, his daughter, who said the McCoy family relishes the memory of their father and what he did during his 95 years on Earth.

“We’re proud of everything in his life,” she said, “his career in the Negro Leagues, his time as a ballplayer, his time in the Army and his time in construction. All of it contributed to the great man he was.”

The push for Rap Dixon continues

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Ted Knorr at the grave of his hero, Rap Dixon, in Steelton, Pa.

Last December I wrote about my buddy and SABR Jerry Malloy conference roommate, Ted Knorr of Harrisburg, Pa., and his efforts to shine a light on his hero – segregation-era star outfielder Rap Dixon. Ted earnestly believes — and I’m convinced that he is right – that Rap Dixon belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This will be a recurring theme on this blog over the next few weeks — the fact that the BHOF has once again closed its doors to pre-integration African-American players. There’s a lot of us in the tight-knit community of Negro Leagues researchers, historians and fans — Ted and I certainly aren’t the only ones — who feel that’s a further injustice to the memories of so many phenomenal black players who, as a result, still, to a certain extent, remain in the shadows of hardball history.

And there’s no better place, Ted and I feel, to start than with Herbert “Rap” Dixon. To that end, Ted continues to tireless advocate, educate and overall just spread the word about Rap and the extremely sturdy arguments for his admission to the BHOF.

“Locally [in Harrisburg], he is definitely a hero and someone folks feel should be in the Hall. Else, they are usually amazed at his exploits and wonder how such a player could be unknown.

“I always use that realization as a teaching moment to point out that, while Rap Dixon was a unique ballplayer, there are so many other unique greats largely unknown to the mainstream. Even among hardcore baseball fans, the Negro Leagues are largely an unknown.

“This is a failing of the baseball establishment — Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.”

So here’s an update, penned by Ted himself, on what he’s been up to to promote Rap’s case since my last blog post about him …

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Ted Knorr, right, with fellow Rap supporters.

By Ted Knorr

Well, I speak wherever I can, including this past August at my wife’s family reunion — they are now big Rap Dixon fans. This year I had two events in Steelton, Rap’s adopted hometown, including one this past Saturday.

But my favorite audience this year was at the 18th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Research Conference when I was able to pinch-hit for a presenter who could not make it — it is always nice to speak to a knowledgeable crowd

In addition, I debuted an activity book for kids that features 18 former Negro League players, including Rap. I gave a copy to all attendees at the conference and have made one appearance in a Harrisburg school with more coming in both Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and anywhere else a kind, considerate, interested donor desires me to speak. The book was created by myself and Floyd Stokes, who runs an educational non-profit focused on encouraging kids to read.

Accordingly, Floyd and I have been appearing at literacy events in the central Pennsylvania area with the book and a set of trivia questions designed to spark interest in the Negro Leagues, with an emphasis on Rap Dixon.

Last month, I did an all-too-quick appearance on a local TV show touting Rap Dixon as a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Earlier in the year, Rap received some media coverage when the Steelton Borough Council dedicated a dugout at a Little League Park in his honor.

I suppose the craziest thing I did this year in support of Rap was sitting home one night in May (with three fellow travelers) and voting 1,000 times each for Rap Dixon to be one of the four Negro Leaguers recognized during the All-Star Game as part of an MLB sponsored event. The eventual winners were Satchel, Buck, Cool and Josh, but I’d very much like to know how our 3,000-vote, one-night effort ranked — voting 1,000 times over the internet in six hours.

I maintain two pages on Facebook dedicated to the Negro Leagues — one called Rap Dixon for the Hall of Fame that aims at keeping Rap’s name and achievements alive; the other called The Other Major League, which endeavors to make the case that the Negro Leagues were a third major league during the 1920-1945 period. Needless to say, Rap pops up there fairly often.

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Ted’s friend and partner-in-crime, Floyd Stokes, using the activity book to educate youngsters at the dedication of a mini-library at the Steelton Municipal Building earlier this month.

What I have not been doing is writing a 3000-word biography of Rap Dixon to which I have been assigned – too long ago for me to mention without sincere and deserved embarrassment – by SABR’s Biography Project. I must get focused and get that important task underway and complete in 2016.

Speaking of 2016, what might we expect next year? …

Well, keep on keepin’ on … a second activity book, perhaps a presentation at the Malloy, more engagements around the Pennsylvania mid-state region promoting Rap … Who knows, maybe I put pen to paper and complete the Dixon biography.

The one thing I know is that until the baseball establishment — the Hall of Fame — recognizes Rap Dixon alongside Paul Waner, KiKi Cuyler and Goose Goslin, all white outfield contemporaries of Dixon, my job is not complete.

Many thanks to Ted for contributing this blog commentary and for continuing to push for historical, hardball justice. To Ted I certainly say, “Thanks much, and good luck with your efforts on Rap Dixon, and see you in La Crosse, Wisc., for the 2016 Malloy!”

On one final note, if anyone out there would like to submit an essay, commentary or other sort of exposition, including reactions to previous posts, as a guest columnist for Home Plate Don’t Move, I’d love to take a look at it and hopefully publish it! I’m eager to present new and fresh voices here to balance out my rambling and rabble-rousing. 🙂 Just e-mail me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com.

Portland and the Hubbard Giants

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Lew Hubbard, right (April 24, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal)

One of biggest and most important lessons my buddy Ron Auther — West Coast Negro Leagues guru extraordinaire — has taught me about blackball out West, it’s that in the first couple decades of the 20th century, the African-American baseball scene frequently intersected with boxing culture. Fisticuffs frequently accompanied — or, in the case of the subject of this blog, supported — hardball on the Left Coast.

And the topic of this modest treatise is one Lew Hubbard of Portland, Ore. (Shout out to my brother, Nathan, who’s lived and thrived in that city for nigh a decade). Hubbard was a sporting magnate on the African-American sports landscape in and around Portland in the 1910s.

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A postcard picture of the 1914 Hubbard Giants (photo courtesy of www.sportingoregon.com)

For most of that decade, Hubbard managed/owned/played for a semipro, barnstorming baseball team called the Colored Giants. The formal name of the aggregation seems to have varied from year to year — alternately the Hubbard Giants, the Golden West Giants or just the Colored Giants. The team frequently played at McKenna Park.

And once in a while, Hubbard handed over the managerial reins to other guys, like a man named George Ellison (I haven’t had a chance to delve into his background, but, really quickly, he took over the piloting duties for a spell in summer 1912).

Before we delve in the tale of the Hubbard Colored Giants and their connection to the boxing world, a little background … Horace Llewelyn Hubbard was born on Sept. 28, 1882, in Illinois. He made his way to Portland, and by 1910, he was working as a mailing clerk at a fire-insurance company and living as a lodger on 13th Street.

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By the time the 1920 national Census rolled around, Hubbard, his wife Esther and his stepdaughter Jane Bryan were dwelling on E. 58th Street N.

Hubbard and his family held an interesting place in Portland society and race relations. Hubbard himself appears to have been mixed-race — the 1910 Census says he’s “mulatto,” while the 1920 document tabs him as black — and at both of his homes, he (and then his family too) were the only African-Americans in an otherwise all-white neighborhood.

Now, as far as the geographic setting goes … Portland is located in a quite unique topographical area. The hub of Multnomah County in the Willamette Valley region, rests at the foot of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood, at the confluence of Willamette and Columbia rivers and just east of the Pacific Ocean.

Culturally, Portland today is one of the nation’s most socially and politically progressive cities, with a steadily diversifying population in terms of ethnicity, a city-wide love of education and intellectual and spiritual exploration, and an emphasis on environmental appreciation and preservation.

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The city of Portland, with the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Hood in the background.

But, from what I’ve gleaned from limited historical studying and shooting the breeze with Nathan, Portland wasn’t always so liberal, and it underwent significant growing pains and sociopolitical upheaval during the 19th and 20th centuries. As different ethnic populations, including African Americans and Asian-Americans, started to gravitate toward Portland in search of its booming industry and status as a coastal port, the integration and assimilation processes didn’t always go smoothly.

OK, back to the story … With that backdrop, Hubbard steadfastly had overall control of the outfit, which seems to have been a feared one in the Portland area and was constantly looking for opponents with whom to cross bats. Take, for example, this little article in the April 13, 1914, Morning Oregonian:

“The Hubbard Giants (colored) want out-of-town games. Manager Lew Hubbard has collected a fast bunch of ballplayers and his roster includes some of the funniest coachers imaginable.”

Or this from the June 26, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal:

“Lew Hubbard wants to book his colored Portland Giants with out of towners during July and August. His outfit is working nicely now and is an attraction everywhere because of their fast, clean playing and funny coaching.”

(The excerpts display one of the ballyhooed attractions of early black baseball — funny base coaches, who jibed opposing players and riled up the fans playfully.)

I haven’t been able to pin down much proof that the Hubbard Giants were actually able to drum up a plethora of travel games, but there were a few. In July 1911, for example, Giants came from behind to beat a team called the TFBs despite the fact that the Hubbards were missing six of their regular starters. A brief write-up on the game in the Daily Journal further stated that “[t]he Giants would like to hear from the Portland Business College team concerning next Sunday’s game.”

Hubbard was also a solid player, displaying hustle and grit. In August 1910, he tore a few ligaments in his chest when he smacked into a fence chasing down a high fly ball. The muscular affliction kept him out of the lineup for a couple weeks.

But … what about boxing? Well, here’s the dope, as sportswriters declared waaaaaaay back in the day:
Lew Hubbard himself boxed on the amateur circuit and appears to have been pretty decent at it. In January 1910, Hubbard, fighting on the undercard at welterweight in a six-rounder, overwhelmed another African-American boxer, Casey Rhodes, earning a third-round TKO.

A few months later, Hubbard again flashed his fistic skills in another multi-card slate. Reported the April 30, 1910, Oregon Daily Journal:

“Referee Richardson stopped the bout between Lew Hubbard, colored, and Jack Farrell, a plump looking middleweight, when the latter was all but out. Hubbard gave away about 15 pounds and made a good impression.”

But to others, apparently, Hubbard was but a mediocre pugilist; in November 1910, a columnist at the Daily Journal said thusly, with a healthy dose of early-20th-century snark:

“Lew Hubbard (colored) played third base for the Columbia Hardware team yesterday. By the way, that reminds me that Hubbard was a boxer before one of the fight clubs a few months back, and the way he played ball yesterday I would recommend that he keep on playing ball instead of taking beatings in the padded arena.”

Whatever Hubbard’s talent as a boxer, he did seem to know the Portland fistiana landscape and economics, and he put that knowledge to good use to raise money for his baseball squad, the Colored Giants. Hubbard frequently threw together large entertainment bashes that included not only boxing bouts but other forms of extravaganza.

For example, in spring 1911, he assembled a slew of performers to raise funds to pay for new playing duds for the Giants. Reported the March 7, 1911, Morning Oregonian:

“Singing, dancing, rag-time piano playing, wrestling, boxing and pipes and tobacco for all will be the order of the evening at the smoker of the Portland Giants baseball team tonight at Eschles Hall at Second and Yamhill streets. Some of the best amateur buck and wing dancers and comedians of the Northwest are billed to appear to aid in refitting the Giants with baseball uniforms for the coming year.”

(A smokers, it seems, was a term for illicit boxing matches a century ago. That illegality will be important further down.)

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Hubbard turned the bash into an annual affair, too. In January 1912, he pulled together another “smoker” fundraiser for the Giants. Several three-round bouts were fought, including one between Hubbard himself and a fighter named George Spring. There was also a singing duet, as well more buck and wing dancing.

But here’s the thing — around 1910, the boxing world was going through some sturm and drang for several reasons. One, the “Fight of the Century”: the July 4, 1910, heavyweight showdown between powerful and controversial Jack Johnson, the sport’s first black heavyweight champion, and former titlist Jim Jeffries, who was drawn out of retirement to become the “Great White Hope” to dethrone Johnson.

The fight, which was held “out West” in Reno, Nevada, ended up with Johnson pummeling the over-the-hill and woefully under-prepared Jeffries. The result spurred “race riots” across the country as numerous cities banned the film of the fight to be shown in theaters.

It was a momentous moment in both the history of sport and the development of racial relations and American society.

And two (back to Portland), the sport, which had been technically illegal for decades in the country, was in the infancy of its legality. Leading up to a monumental showdown in 1892 — here in NOLA, as it turns out — between legendary heavyweights John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett, boxing in America operated in the shadows of sporting society, knitted together by an underground system of enthusiasts (who were sometimes called “sports”) who that frequently “encouraged” law enforcement and political authorities to look the other way. (Many boxing historians view the Sullivan-Corbett clash, which saw the solidification of the Queensberry Rules as the accepted guidelines, as the beginning of the sport’s modern era.)

And, it seems, in the first couple decades, Oregon — or at least Portland — attempted to outlaw boxing despite the fact that the sport was becoming legal across much of the country. In Portland, authorities seemed to have aggressively gone after not just fighters but also promoters.

And one of the guys in the cross hairs? Our own Horace Llewelyn Hubbard.

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In fact, in late April 1910, Hubbard, along with several other local boxing figures, was arrested by Portland authorities in what area media called a “test case” for the city’s crackdown on the sport. The arrests, on charges of arranging prize fights, were driven by an entity called the Municipal Association (which was also making plans to be joined by the “Ministerial Association.”)

Stated the May 1, 1910, Sunday Oregonian:

“The war which has been waged fitfully against boxing in this city … came to a climax yesterday when district attorney [George] Cameron, yielding to the pleadings of some of the members of the association, authorized the arrest[s] …

“… Lew Hubbard, a colored boxer, was taken into custody … and released after he posted a [$1,000] bond. …

“Hubbard says he that he was engaged at a salary to box and appeared for no reward set upon the result of the bout, and that neither he nor his opponent was hurt in any way. …”

But here’s the key paragraph in the article:

“The complaints … were signed by J.T. Wilson, an auctioneer and member of the Municipal Association. These boxers were selected to make test cases of boxing in this city, as their exhibitions are said to have been the most brutal of those witnessed last Winter. They occurred on January 20.”

The article added that several fight clubs existed in the city at the time, and that:“All give exhibitions. There have been few, if ant, instances of blood being brought out by the blows in these bouts, and one or two accidental knockouts have occurred, it is said.”

How you have an “accidental knockout” is unclear to me. Plus the fighters were under strict rules of the promoter: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club!”

Anyway, the cases were apparently remanded to the district attorney’s office, and Hubbard’s trial in front of Presiding Judge John Bryson Cleland of the circuit court was slated for Sept. 11. The Daily Journal stressed that the charges were, in fact, largely driven by the Municipal Association and one of its attorneys, C.E. Lennon, a situation that reflects just how powerful that group was.

Thankfully, though, the DA’s office decided to not prosecute the charges and continued the case indefinitely, with the expectation that the counts would eventually be dismissed, after Hubbard and another boxer, Paddy Maher, “promised to be good hereafter” (per the Daily Journal). Lennon was apparently persuaded to ease up on the pair. Stated the Journal:

“Mr. Lennon said it was not the desire of the interests he represents to inflict punishment  upon Maher and Hubbard after receiving assurances that no effort will be made to pull off any more ‘scraps.’”

So Lew Hubbard was off the hook. But what was amazing was that, while his case was being digested by the legal system, Hubbard continued to manage the Giants — and retain the team’s connection to boxing despite the charges that hung over Lew’s head. Take, for example, the July 10, 1910, Sunday Oregonian:

“The Portland Giants (colored) boast of some excellent in their number. Collie Edwards, the catcher; Ellison, pitcher, and Lew Hubbard at second are all first-class performers both on the baseball field and in the ring. Hubbard and Ellison are well-known local fighters …”

So there you have it, the multi-sport tale of our Portland pal Lew Hubbard. He soldiered on for several more years as both a baseball kingpin and a boxer.

Over the years, Hubbard put together a Colored Giant squad in 1913, when he spent the spring searching for a good pitcher and eventually backed away from his managerial duties; in 1914, when he resumed the job of skipper and organized travel and home games against teams from burgs and locales like Chehalis, Wash.; the St. John’s neighborhood in Portland; Camas, Wash.; Banks, Ore.; Oswego, Ore.; St. Helens, Ore.; and Oregon City, Ore.; and in 1915, when he brought a 16-year-old prodigy, Cal Jackson, at catcher.

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One more thing worth noting is that Hubbard, throughout his tenure as a team manager, continually recruited players from all over the country, from as far away as Connecticut. Naturally, just like almost every other semipro hardball team of that era, the Hubbards’ roster was a revolving door of personnel.
But, significantly, many of his baseballists also doubled as pugilists, just like Hubbard himself.

On top of that, perhaps the most intriguing and noteworthy employment coups for Hubbard was the signing, during the 1914 campaign, of a pitcher with the last name of Claxton.

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Jimmy Claxton

That would be the famous Jimmy Claxton, arguably the best player in West Coast African-American baseball during that era. Fellow historians like Ron Auther, Gary Ashwill and John Thorn have been delving in Claxton’s still-mysterious, elusive and legendary background and career.

Thus wraps up, at least for now, our exploration of Lew Hubbard, his Portland-based baseball aggregation, his boxing career and his efforts as a promoter. And, just like many black baseball impresarios in the West in the early 20th century, those activities frequently dovetailed with each other, creating a vibrant story of a fascinating man.

Two cultures meet on the diamond — for the first time?

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Trailblazing, cross-culture gem or crass novelty?

A landmark in race relations against a baseball backdrop, or an attempt to cash in on cheap marketing?

History is, perhaps, still unclear about those queries when it comes to the Dec. 19, 1909, contest at Chutes Park in Los Angeles between the Salt Lake City Occidentals, at the time arguably the premier African-American team in the West, and an aggregation of Japanese all-stars comprised of the best talent from the burgeoning Asian community in the City of Angels.

Scribes at the time heralded the clash as the first one between a black team and a Japanese squad. Newspapers in both L.A. and Salt Lake City pumped up the encounter for a weeks before the event, with many of those publications dubbing the contest a scrum for racial supremacy. Here’s the Dec. 19, 1909, Los Angeles Herald:

“Much interest is being taken in the game throughout the entire state, as it is the first contest ever played between Japanese and negro teams. Feelings run somewhat high between the members of the aggregations, and an umpire of unquestioned ability will fill the position of indicator man.”

And from the Salt Lake Herald-Republican from the same day:

“Two sets of bills have been printed, one of them in Japanese. ‘Little Japan’ has been flooded with the latter and the little brown men are greatly excited over the game. They promise to attend many hundred strong and root heart and soul for their countrymen. The exhibition will be the first one of its kind ever staged in this country.”

And the Dec. 19, 1909, Los Angeles Times did, in fact, use a key word in this discussion:

“A novelty is promised today in the baseball line in a game that is scheduled to be played between a Japanese team and and the colored Occidentals at the Chutes grounds …”

Yep, there’s that word: “novelty.”

Aaaaand, the Dec. 18, 1909, L.A. Herald used other verbiage that put the contest in a … riveting (?) light, under a small header stating, “Japanese vs. Negroes”:

“The baseball game at Chutes park Sunday is an exhibition of the national game in which racial supremacy in the art will be settled. The dodgers being distributed broadcast [sic] over the city announcing the game between the All-Star Japanese team and the colored Occidental champions of the west places the following question before the sporting public:

“‘Are the Japanese superior to the negroes in baseball?'”

So, there you have it — “racial supremacy.” Oy vey.

Well, if we’re determining that last question based solely on the outcome of this one game, then no, they weren’t, at least, again, at the time. The Occidentals ended up downing the All-Stars — who were unsuccessfully augmented by the supposedly exceptional battery of two white players, catcher Jess Orendorff and hurler Bill Tozer — by a count of 7-3 (some sources say 7-2).

After the game, newspapers from both cities — media outlets undoubtedly run by all-white editorial staffs — asserted that Tozer and Orendorff played exceptionally (and, in fact, the latter did have a couple wallops, including a triple) but were foiled by horrible fielding and weak hitting by their Asian teammates.

Very little coverage was given regarding the quality of play of the Occidentals.

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Chutes amusement park

Sooooo, where does that leave us? What exactly was this showdown of cultures, a tussle between two ethnic communities that were struggling to establish a presence in the West, two burgeoning cultures that were steadily gaining a foothold in the rich ethnic stew emerging on the Left Coast.

That, dear readers, is a tricky question. At this point, it seems the long-term historical and cultural impact of the game is hazy.

Rob Fitts, one of the preeminent of Nisei and Asian-American baseball, is wary to even hazard a guess. He said “the sources just do not exist — at least in English — to know how the Japanese immigrants felt about baseball and culture or race.”

With very little documentary sources — and fading first-person sources — chronicling early-20-th-century Japanese communities in the U.S., he said, it’s almost impossible to ascertain “the meaning of pre-1915 Japanese baseball to the community.”

However, Rob added that the fact that numerous significant white newspapers covered the contest gives credence to the notion that, despite first-person sources, the showdown was somewhat of a big deal.

At least to the white community, that is. So the question remains: was it a crass, atypical  gimmick contrived to exploit the presence of “The Other,” or was it truly a landmark occurrence in the history of the national pastime?

For their part, the Occidentals were quite a troupe. Dating back to the mid-19-oughts, the aggregation tirelessly traversed the Western frontier, playing not only in other Utah cities, like Ogden, but also at locales or against local squads from Idaho Falls and Helena, Mont.

The Oxys, as the white press occasionally dubbed them, generated a stir when they tried to enter the Utah State League, and one of their managers/players, Michigan-born Frank Black — whose ethnic identity could be a bit unclear, with various Census reports listing him as black and white, giving rise to the notion that he was a light-skinned African-American “passing” as white at times — often ran into scrapes with the law and, occasionally, teammates.

The Occidentals, at various times, had early Negro League luminaries like Robert Edward “Judy” Gans, Bill Pettus, Louis Adward “Ad” Lankford and Tullie “Splits” McAdoo (or MacAdoo).

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Tullie McAdoo (top) and Bill Pettus

But the roster was, like countless segregation-era African-American teams, a revolving door of talent, with some of those star players being draw to the mysterious West to play for various burgeoning squads, then lured away to other Western squads or back East in search of larger paychecks and a higher level of play.

But the Salt Lake squad’s lineup was also dotted with several Utah natives, many of whom chose to stick with the Occidentals and other hometown or regional teams, content to pocket what lean percentages of game gate receipts and challenge bets they could and to simply enjoy the American pastime.

My buddy and fellow SABR member Ron Auther, probably the preeminent sage when it comes to segregation-era Western blackball, stumbled upon the Occidentals a year or two ago and got the ball rolling as far as research into the Salt Lake squad goes with this nifty blog post.

Ron says the Occidentals’ story must be examined within the context of the social, political, cultural and economic atmosphere of the West in the first couple decades of the 20th century.

In an email to me earlier this year, Ron evaluated the Occidentals thusly:

“I think being adept at keeping the doors open for future consideration in league inclusion was one of the Occidentals far reaching traits. The West had many good players who chose to stay in the Western states for many other opportunities.

“The fact that the African-American population was much smaller in the West than its Eastern counterparts, for this period in history, and the Occidentals still made a lasting impact in the world of organized sports and history, is an achievement in itself. Jim Crow in the Northwest and West was far more virulent than most believe it was compared to the East, North or South. It existed in many ways and on many different levels.”

But the Oxys were good enough to claim, for much of their existence, to be the “colored champions of the West.” That included the 1909 season, which featured a typical slate of furious barnstorming and flirtations with joining the Utah league.

The Occidental aggregation capped the 1909 season with an epic California/West Coast tour, as promoted by the Oct. 13, 1909, Deseret Evening News:

“The Occidental baseball team will leave Salt Lake this evening for Los Angeles where the colored boys will play independent baseball during the winter months, returning here next spring when the diamond bug begins to buzz again.”

The Oxys thus meandered there way toward L. A., where they fearlessly threw down against mostly white squads comprised of athletes of various quality; some were drafted from high-caliber teams like the early Pacific Coast League‘s Los Angeles Angels, while other aggregations, such as McCormick Irish squad that was stocked with ringers from the famous California Winter League, the nation’s first integrated professional baseball league.

Before and after their clash with the Japanese squad, the Occidentals — mainly their manager/player, Frank Black — frequently slapped a wad of cash as a side best, with some pots totaling $30 or $40 and running up to four-figure paydays.

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Along the way, the Occidental squad had to endure media reports describing them as “dusky” or other questionable terminology (at least by today’s standards). One paper dubbed them “dingos.”

For their part, of course, Japanese teams and players faced their own wall of bigotry and veiled racism. Papers frequently called them “Japs” and described them as “little brown men.”

For the Dec. 19, 1909, contest with the Occidentals, the Japanese squad was assembled by the aforementioned Jess Orendorff, a fixture on the Los Angeles athletics scene. Up to the December 1909 event, Orendorff enjoyed a fairly successful career as a hardball player, suiting up for the Angels as well as Winter League squads and minor league franchises from Peoria to Galveston to Milwaukee.

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Jess Orendorff

Orendorff reached his apex in 1907, when he appeared in a whopping five games for the National League’s Boston Doves. He almost made it back to The Show in September when he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, but it doesn’t appear that he actually suited up for the Cubbies.

When the call from the Windy City never actually came, Orendorff turned his attention back to L.A. and an apparently new, alternate career — promoter. In the last couple months of 1909, he organized and publicized wrestling cards, boxing matches (called “smokers” a century ago, when the sport was just become legal) and running marathons.

But his first sporting affair was the Dec. 19, 1909, baseball match between the Salt Lake City Occidentals and the Japanese All-Stars, and he seems to have stirred up a fair amount of interest in the clash. Stated the Dec. 15, 1909, L. A. Times:

“Jess Orendorff, best known to the sporting fans as one of Hen Berry’s ball tossers, has blossomed forth into a promoter of sporting pastimes, and is to give his first offering at Chutes Park next Sunday afternoon when the Occidental colored ball champions are to play a nine of crack Jap players.

“Capt. Morri, of the Jap team, who plays the second sack, has helped Orendorff collect an aggregation of fast players, who should give the Utah champions a rattling good game. …”

The L.A. Herald from Dec. 17, 1909, dove further into the issue of “racial supremacy,” speculating about the abilities of each team almost as if each squad was somehow representative of their entire respective cultural community. The article thus revealed the stereotypes and subtle racism that led to local white fans developing keen interest in the showdown. Said the Herald:

“Both nines have been practicing daily for the contest and a question of racial supremacy will be decided when the two clubs cross bats.”

The paper revealed that the supposed ringers, Tozer and Orendorff himself, were slated to lace up their spikes for the Japanese team, a move that made “the Japs … more than confident …”

It added:

“Just whether the Occidentals will be able to do anything with Captain Morri’s Japs no one has been able to decide. The brown men are an unknown quantity and while said to be a little weak with the stick, they make this up by their wonderful infielding. Batting practice for the past week also has done wonders for them.

“Although the colored team has easily conquered the Los Angeles Giants and several other fast amateur nines, it is an even money bet that they will have met their match among the semi-professional teams when they cross bats with Morri’s aggregation. One of the largest crowds of the season is expected to fill the Chutes park bleachers when the teams clash. It is rumored that the winners will be challenged by the fast Los Angeles All-Stars.”

Of course, we know what happened by the time the curtains fells on the much hyped cross-cultural confrontation. The result was a decided victory for the Salt Lake fellows, but different papers described the spectacle with varying narratives.

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The Salt Lake Tribune, for example, stated that “[t]he Japanese put up a good game, but the negroes showed superior team work and hit harder and oftener [sic].”

Other reports asserted a decent crowd of roughly 1,500 spectators — including, according to one source, several scouts from other teams — that the “Orientals” outplayed the Oxys through the first four innings, but after that the “little Japanese boys” slipped up and suffered “stage fright,” filling the “E” column up and negating what was described as a heroic efforts by Tozer and Orendorff.

When speaking to the press after the contest, Orendorff asserted that the event was a successful spectacle and that he was pleased with the outcome. He did, however, bash the alleged ineptitude or Morri at second base.

There were numerous problematic facets of the event. Orendorff’s triple role as player, promoter and bookie was undoubtedly an ethical conflict or interest; the media descriptions of the two teams reaching into stereotype and vague bigotry, especially concerning the Japanese team; and the team-hopping and payroll-jumping of the ever-changing Occidentals roster.

But life certainly went on. After that, the Occidentals continued on their journey through the West (and, according to one source, a plan to venture east to tour the South, an ambitious undertaking, to be sure). The club continued on with shuffling management and rotating lineups into the mid-1910s, eventually relocating to L.A., shuttling between the two cities, and putting forth performances of steadily declining quality before finally peetering out.

And, on the other side, the Japanese-American community continued to embrace America’s pastime and steadily getting better and better at it, until numerous Japanese clubs of rock-steady quality dotted and barnstormed across the Western landscape and beyond.

But, again, back to the original question: what long-term, historical and cultural meaning is held in the Dec. 19, 1909, hardball clash between the African-American Salt Lake Occidentals and the aggregation of Japanese all-star players in the City of Angels? What do we take away from what was hyped at the time as the first game between squads of the two ethnicities?

That, my friends, is a very, very good question — one that, unfortunately, can’t be answered at this point. Undoubtedly, as various baseball researchers — from Auther to Fitts to any number of other enthusiasts (maybe even me) — continue to dig deeper, more and more will be revealed, especially in terms of specifics.

But for now, let’s just say that the game was, in hindsight, both monumental and trivial, a landmark happening and a frivolous novelty, a groundbreaking meeting of cultural goodwill and discovery and a cheap attempt to cash in on cultures that were still mysterious and unknown to the white population in the West.

Cuba, here we come, Part 1 — the Hall Ball

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Ralph Carhart with Martin Dihigo Jr. (All photos courtesy of Ralph Carhart)

Now that diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been re-established and our sanctions and embargoes against the Caribbean country have eased, American residents are flooding to the nation by the thousands.

They’re doing so for a variety of reasons, from visiting long-separated family to tourism and sight-seeing in a country that has, to a large extent, been off-limits to Americans, who previously had to jump through countless bureaucratic and legal loops just to get permission to travel to Cuba.

Among those throngs making the voyage are dozens of baseball enthusiasts, historians and researchers, who have been salivating for decades about the possibility of witnessing stellar Cuban baseball first-hand and studying the history of a sport that’s almost a religion in the island nation.

Count Ralph Carhart among those baseball fanatics. Carhart, who frequently attends the SABR Jerry Malloy conference, has for several years been undertaking one of the most ambitious projects among today’s baseball fandom — the Hall Ball.

For those readers of this humble blog who haven’t spoken with Ralph or heard about the Hall Ball via word of mouth, the project is pretty amazing — he’s currently trying to meet every living Hall of Fame member and having his picture taken with them with the Hall Ball. He’s also trying to visit the graves of as many deceased HOFers as possible and getting his photo taken with relatives of or people close to those members of the hallowed Hall.

That includes Negro Leaguers, whose living ranks are obviously thinning at increasing rates as time progresses, which means Ralph is hurriedly reaching out to relatives or others who knew the men (or, in the case of Effa Manley, the woman). When he’s finished with his mission — which has taken five years up to this point, and who knows how many more — Ralph will donate the horsehide sphere, the photos and other mementos from his quest to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

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A memorial to Cuban baseball players in Cristobal Colon Cemetery.

And Cuba produced a plethora of Negro Leaguers (as well as Major Leaguers after integration), including three Hall of Famers and all-time greats — Martin Dihigo, Jose Mendez and Cristobal Torriente.

Mendez was a stellar pitcher the brash owner of the legendary New York Cubans (a naturally suitable team moniker); Dihigo was a multi-position (pitcher, second baseman and others) superstar; and Torriente was one of the greatest outfielders in not only the Negro Leagues, but in all of baseball, regardless of era or color.

On a mission, Ralph traveled to Cuba in February 2014 for two reasons — catch a whole bunch of Cuban league games, and get signatures for Dihigo and Mendez. Torriente isn’t buried in Cuba, a major discovery for Ralph and baseball history that will be discussed later.

Ralph took a plane out of Mexico to Cuba, where he stayed for 10 days, criss-crossing the now-accessible country. Because historical and archival records in Cuba are scattered and spotty, it was something of a challenge to nail down where each HOFer was interred.

First up: Jose Mendez. Ralph tracked the New York Cubans legend to Havana’s Cristobal Colon Cemetery, where the graves and plots are packed in tightly and space is at a premium.

Mendez was initially interred at his family’s plot, which consists of an above-ground crypt, where each deceased family member is placed in a box inside the crypt, and every time another family member passes, the one previous is moved down a level to make room for the current coffin. In addition, other star baseball players have been interred at the Mendez family plot.

But what’s even more fascinating is that upon Mendez’ death, the legend’s ashes were buried in his family crypt but moved, with ceremony, to another monument, this one erected by the Cuban government in the 1950s to honor all baseball players from the island.

Ralph also visited Dihigo’s grave in the city of Cruces, which is about a two- or three-hour drive from Havana. He was able to meet up with Martin Dihigo Jr. at the cemetery; the junior Dihigo also played ball in the States, but he quit because the racism he experienced Stateside was unbearable.

Martin Jr. is in the process of establishing a museum honoring his father and other figures in and aspects of Cuban baseball. Ralph said he was emotionally blown away by the experience of standing at the Hall of Famer’s grave with Dihigo’s son.

“It was an absolutely profound moment,” he said. “It was so moving for me to be there.”

But it wasn’t just the dead to which Ralph paid reverence while he was in Cuba — he was also able to attend a slew of Cuban league games, an experience that was especially powerful because the 16-team circuit was undertaking its postseason playoffs. He was able to catch contests at five stadiums scattered across various provinces.

“It was extremely exciting,” he says. “Every game is extremely relevant to the postseason.”

Ralph says Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother who’s now running the country after his autocratic sibling’s retirement, used to command the country’s military, but he was also heavily involved in the nation’s baseball program.

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At a Mantanzas Cuban League game.

And the program, including the Cuban league, is significantly different in terms of structure and finances; because of the country’s communist economy, the baseball league, like most other industries, is heavily subsidized by the state.

That system is actually beneficial to the average hardball fan in Cuba — ticket prices to games are extremely low, and, unlike in the States, the players received salaries commensurate with every other citizen! No mega-contracts! No thousands of dollars per pitch or at bat!

“Baseball players make the same as everyone else,” Ralph says. “Because the economic stratification isn’t there, and because players workout and train with average residents, the connection between the fans and the players is there. It’s very special.

“For most of Latin America,” he adds, “soccer is king, but not in Cuba. Baseball is their sport.”

In addition, while traveling the island nation, Ralph was able to witness the socioeconomic condition in the country beyond just baseball, and he says the experience was both impressive and depressing.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and 1990s, Ralph says, Cuba lost its massive financial aid from the superpower. To compensate, the country opened up to tourism, at least a little bit — or as much as the frosty relations with the U.S. allowed.

But that still didn’t offset the lack of economic resources suffered by the nation, and that crisis trickled down to the masses.

“Coming to Cuba is like going back in time,” he says. “It’s an old place, and nothing has changed much since the [Marxist] revolution [in the 1950s], basically. To be in that setting, even for just a short time, was really amazing. Just to see that was really eye-opening.”

On the other hand …

“There’s no question the majority of people of poverty,” he adds, “but there are some things Castro got right. There’s low crime, and there’s a high literacy rate.”

But that started to change in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War between the superpowers, when economic desperation led to the opening up of tourism, which, actually, lead to an uptick in crime.

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A baseball mural in Cuba.

All of these factors — economic issues, the transition of power between the Castro brothers, the increase in tourism and in crime, the normalization of relations with the U.S. — has placed the status of Cuban baseball somewhat up in the air, Ralph says.

“I don’t know if you can answer that question,” he says when asked about the future of baseball there. “Cuban baseball was already in flux. They’re considering that problem, even thinking about downsizing the league.”

There’s speculation among media scribes and other pundits about the possibility of Cuban baseball eventually receiving both administrative and financial help from Major League Baseball. But that would be a ways down the road and only if relations between the country continue to thaw, and the further influx of American influence and culture might affect Cuba’s proud identity and its baseball system.

“Like all things in Cuba,” he adds, “[the politics and economics] is a mix — there’s some good and some bad. It’s a double-edged sword. That’s going to be a big question going forward.”

And what about the potential for being a watershed for new study and research into Cuban baseball history?

“In terms of research, it can only be good,” he says. “It should lead to the opening of doors, the opening of possibilities. You’ll be able to find things you couldn’t find before.”

Then, naturally, there’s the impact his trip had on the Hall Ball — and him personally.
“Beyond the importance the trip had on my project, my life quest,” he says, “it was just a very profound experience. I was very fortunate.”

For more information on the Hall Ball or to donate to the project, email thehallballproject@gmail.com or go to www.thehallball.sportspalooza.com.

This will hopefully be one of several posts about how the opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. will have — and is already having — on the status of Cuban baseball and the study of the history and tradition of the sport in a country that holds dear, almost as a religion.

NLBM to celebrate a milestone!

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The NLBM Field of Legends. Photo courtesy NLBM/Bob Kendrick

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is throwing a big gala to celebrate its 25th anniversary! Below is the official press release for the bash, which is slated for Nov. 7.

The event will also celebrate the legacy of the great Buck O’Neil and what he did for both the NLBM — he basically founded it and nurtured it through the early years —  and the memory and rediscovery of segregation-era African-American baseball and beyond. And Hank Aaron!

The gala will benefit the NLBM and its Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center, which is well into development. Details for purchasing tickets or otherwise donating to the efforts are included in the press release. Help them out if you can!

A CELEBRATION 25 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to host historic gala commemorating its Silver Anniversary; Hank Aaron headlines an all-star roster of guests scheduled to attend the milestone celebration.

Kansas City, Mo. – Times flies when you’re having fun! It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since the late Buck O’Neil founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in a tiny, one-room office in Kansas City, Missouri’s 18th & Vine Jazz District. To celebrate the milestone, the NLBM will host a historic 25th anniversary gala entitled: SILVER SLUGGING MEMORIES, 6 p.m., Sat., Nov. 7, 2015, in the Grand Ballroom at Bartle Hall. Proceeds benefit the NLBM and the continued development of the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center (BOERC).

The star-studded event includes a special guest appearance by former Negro Leaguer and Baseball Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron. Recognized by Major League Baseball (MLB) at the 2015 All-Star Game as one of its four “greatest living players,” Aaron’s illustrious baseball career began in the Negro Leagues in 1952 with the Indianapolis Clowns. He was quickly discovered by the Boston Braves, and the rest is history. The Mobile, Ala., native would break Babe Ruth’s longstanding all-time home run record finishing his career with 755. The “Hammer,” as he was known to fans worldwide, still holds the MLB records for total bases (6,856), RBIs (2,297) and extra-base Hits (1,477). The 25-time All-Star ranks third in hits (3,771).

“Hank Aaron is one of the most important figures, not in just baseball history, but in sports and American history,” said NLBM president Bob Kendrick. “His baseball credentials speak loudly and proudly for themselves and, in many ways, help validate the talent that was in the Negro Leagues. Couple his magnificent baseball career with his success as a businessman and humanitarian, and it propels him to another level of greatness. We’re honored that he will be part of our celebration.”

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The one and only Henry Aaron. Photo courtesy NLBM/Bob Kendrick

In addition to Aaron’s appearance, the NLBM will roll out the “red carpet” for a line-up of baseball greats that includes: Hall-of-Famer Ferguson Jenkins, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Lee Smith, J.R. Richard, Amos Otis, George Altman, Joe Carter and Willie Wilson.

The celebration will also include:
• Remembrances of the late Ernie Banks and Minnie Minoso.
• Presentation of the Buck O’Neil Legacy Award.
• Buck’s 104th birthday party featuring a concert by Morris Day and The Time.

The Chicago White Sox and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II are the 2015 recipients of the Buck O’Neil Legacy Award, presented annually for outstanding support of the NLBM. The White Sox have been a longtime financial supporter of the NLBM and the only MLB club to ever bring its entire team to tour the NLBM. The club is also a tireless advocate of the Negro Leagues and created the “Double Duty Classic” in honor of the late, great Negro Leaguer Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.

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A tribute to Mr. Cub. Photo courtesy NLBM/Bob Kendrick

Cleaver is one of the reasons that the NLBM calls 18th & Vine home. It was his leadership while mayor of Kansa City that paved the way for the NLBM to be part of the cultural complex known as The Museums at 18th & Vine. As congressman, he was instrumental in helping the NLBM gain “National Designation” and helped leverage funding in support of the Buck O’Neil Center. In addition, Cleaver holds the distinction of delivering the museum’s first-ever baseball sermon at Kauffman Stadium this year as part of the Kansas City Royals’ annual “Salute to the Negro Leagues” and gave the eulogies for both Satchel Paige (1982) and Buck O’Neil (2006).

While the NLBM reflects on the many milestones and memories that have occurred over the course of 25 years, the organization is using the anniversary as an opportunity to generate funding to support museum operations, collections, programs and the continued development of the BOERC at the site of Paseo YMCA, the birthplace of the Negro Leagues. To help accomplish its financial goals, the NLBM has enlisted an all-star team of civic and business power hitters to serve as honorary co-chairs:

• The Hon. Emanuel Cleaver, II and Mrs. Dianne Cleaver.
• The Hon. Sly James and Mrs. Licia Clifton-James.
 • Julia Irene Kauffman.
• Sonya and Jim Nutter, Jr.
• Sarah and Landon Rowland

“This is a rare opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been an amazing journey for a little museum that few gave any chance of succeeding when we established in 1990. Here we stand today, 25 years later, recognized as “America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,” Kendrick said. “We also understand the opportunity this celebration creates to position the museum for continued growth and prosperity and are thrilled to have secured a dynamic leadership to help maximize fundraising potential.”

The NLBM will continue its tradition of celebrating the life of its late chairman O’Neil. The baseball legend would be 104 on Nov. 13, and the gala event includes a post-event party with a concert featuring the legendary funk and soul band Morris Day and The Time.

Tickets and sponsorship information for the NLBM’s 25th information is available at www.nlbm.com. For more information, call the NLBM at (816) 221-1920.