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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