Busy month in Central PA

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Harrisburg icon Rap Dixon

Here’s another great guest column for y’all, written by my SABR friend and Malloy conference roomie Ted Knorr, who’s been the leading light in remembering and honoring the memory of the great Negro Leagues players and teams from central and southern Pennsylvania. In this column, Ted details his busy slate of activities happening this month through June …

It is with great pride and appreciation that I discuss these three events — the Atlantic League‘s York Revolution’s 10th annual Negro League Night, the AL’s Lancaster Barnstormers’ 12th annual Negro League Night, and the Eastern League‘s Harrisburg Senators’ 20th annual Negro League Commemorative Night. I, with the immediate and continued cooperation of the three local minor league baseball clubs, founded all three tributes and have attended almost all of them — now 42 — annual events over the years.

York’s celebration on May 14 consisted of just me with a small exhibit, but it was fun and memorable for me and the dozens of fans who stopped by to talk and discuss segregated baseball from a long time ago.

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PeoplesBank Stadium in York

The night was made more special since the previous month at PeoplesBank Stadium, I had participated in a panel discussion on Jackie Robinson leading up to local PBS channel WITF’s showing of Ken Burns’ two-night, four-hour documentary about Robinson, so a lot of the York fans knew me, which made conversations more meaningful.

Harrisburg’s event came next, just this Tuesday at FNB Field, and it is always a very nice event. This year was no different, as we honored the great Harrisburg Giants outfield of 1924-27 — left fielder Fats Jenkins, center fielder Oscar Charleston and right fielder Rap Dixon.

I strongly believe that lineup is the greatest outfield of the Negro Leagues, as it is the only one of more than a one-year tenure that included three of the top dozen Negro League outfielders as designated by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Fats Jenkins

Further, with a four-year tenure, it is one of only about a dozen and a half professional outfields of any league or era that remained intact for four or more years. Among the others are the 1920s Murderer’s Row Yankees, the all-.400 outfield of the 1890s Phillies, and the two longest tenured — Speaker, Hooper and Lewis of the 1912-17 Red Sox and the 1957-62 Pirates slate of Clemente, Skinner and Virdon.

In addition to the honorees in Harrisburg this week, the surviving members of the 1954 Harrisburg Giants of the Eastern Negro League were introduced. This is a special and very unique team in that it was fully integrated with about a third of the team being white.

Lancaster’s Negro Leagues Night will complete the celebration trifecta on May 31 at 7 p.m. at  Clipper Magazine Stadium with the team’s annual Triple Play. This year’s festivities promise big fun, the least of which will be my Negro League exhibit.

The big event at Lancaster this year will be the Barney Ewell bobblehead giveaway. Ewell was a contemporary of — and just as fast as — Hall of Fame speedster Cool Papa Bell and the Negro League stars of the ’30s and ’40s. Ewell was a world-class sprinter who missed the 1940 and ’44 Olympics (as did Jackie Robinson) due to World War II. His bobblehead is going to be a great and valuable collector’s item, and it will be worth the trip if you are in the Mid-Atlantic area. Gates open at 6 p.m.

And speaking of the Mid-Atlantic region, if you want a nice Memorial Day Weekend event, consider historic Midland Cemetery on May 28 at 12:30 pm., when I will offer a few comments on African-American players who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the country.

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Midland Cemetery near Steelton is a small, beautiful African-American cemetery and is the final resting place for USCT troops, Buffalo Soldiers, veterans of WWI and II, and one Negro League baseball player — Steelton native Herbert “Rap” Dixon. After the ceremony I will have a small exhibit at Rap’s gravesite. It truly is a great spot, and anyone who travels will be rewarded with a brief tour of Rap’s home, school and ballpark, all of which are located near his final resting place. (If you might make it out, let me know at papabell@aol.com.

The last event on the schedule is a humbling one. On Saturday, June 11, I will be accepting a plaque and making brief comments on behalf of the great Oscar Charleston on the occasion of his induction into the Capital Area Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Charlie lived in Harrisburg in the Twenties and early Thirties and played for the Harrisburg Giants for four spectacular prime years.

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