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By Perry Green
AFRO Sports Editor
(May 6, 2009) - Geraldine Day, widow of baseball Hall of Famer Leon Day, still remembers the days when folks who shared her skin color were treated as inferior beings.
That’s why she couldn’t hold back smiles of joy last Saturday as she watched several Black youths from Baltimore Recreation and Parks play tee ball on the City Hall front lawn.
“I would have never thought in all my years I would see these young kids playing ball right here of all places,” said Day. “We’ve come a long, long way.”
Day was welcomed and honored by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, along with the Black Athletes and Lost Legends Association (B.A.L.L.), who gathered on May 5 to celebrate Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recent signing of law senate bill 248, which recognizes every Saturday in May as Negro League Baseball Day in the state of Maryland. Former Negro Leaguers Al Burroughs and Jimmy Bland were also welcomed and honored.
And while the AFRO was one of the only media outlets present to report on the historical event, that didn’t stop Mayor Dixon from expressing her pride in Baltimore for spearheading such a momentous milestone.
“It is so important that we recognize the sacrifices that the [Negro League players] have made for each of us,” said Dixon during her speech. “They demonstrated that a person of color is just as equipped as his White counterpart, and helped pave the way for equality to be a part of baseball.”
The kids were itching to play ball as she spoke, but Dixon wouldn’t let them go before stressing the importance of character and strong morals.
“What you should realize is it’s not about the color of your skin in whatever you choose to do, it’s about the context of what you do as a person, your character, your ethics, your values, how you treat other people, and what you gain for yourself as an individual,” Dixon said. “So don’t ever let race stop you from what you want to achieve in life.”
Day recounted her late husband’s experiences, supporting the message Mayor Dixon relayed to the youth.
“Leon used to tell me that when he was a young kid, everyone would ask him, ‘Why do you want to be a baseball player? You can’t make any money playing in baseball,’” Day said.
“And sure enough, there were years where he played whole seasons without being paid, but he never complained; he went out and did what he loved.”
Day said her husband, one of the greatest legends in the history of American baseball, achieved something far greater than anything money could buy.
“Leon kept his dream, he fought for his dream and he made his dream come true,” said Day, encouraging the youth to follow their own dreams and to never let anyone deter them.
“Can’t anybody take your mind; you use your own mind and don’t let anybody use your mind for you. Set your goal on what you want to be. Whether it be a lawyer, or a doctor, go for it because you can do it.”
Fox 1370 AM sports talk host Rob Long was also in attendance, serving as the play-by-play announcer for the youth tee-ball games. He believes initiatives like Negro League Day may boost African-American youths’ interest in baseball.
“Kids love what [adults] love, so if they see that you’re into in baseball, they’re naturally going to be interested, too,” said Long, one of the most popular sports personalities in Baltimore.
“Look at these kids having fun playing ball. Their parents brought them out here to play, and this is something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”
As if sent on assignment from the baseball gods, three former Negro league players and the widow of a fourth descended onto the State House complex in Annapolis yesterday afternoon. Technically, they were there to speak to the Senate and House members on behalf of a joint bill to establish an official day in honor of Maryland's contributions to the Negro leagues.
In essence, they also were there to remind everybody, at a time it was needed most, that as foul as baseball can be sometimes, it still can give birth to heroes.
Eddie Banks, Luther Atkinson, Al Burrows and Geraldine Day (wife of the late Leon Day) actually were there to talk about the past. About "the opportunity the state of Maryland has to pay some long-overdue respect to the leagues and to these players," said Del. Melvin Stukes, who is co-sponsoring the bill with a fellow Baltimore Democrat, Sen. Verna Jones.
About sacrifices made decades ago by players who were first kept out of the big leagues and their farm systems because of their race, and then were openly discriminated against when they were allowed in.
August 3, 2008
Unisun/Baltimore Sun Special Section
Baseball players from the Negro leagues will make an appearance this month at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium.
The second annual Negro League Night will take place Aug. 29. Meet players Hubert “Bert” Simmons, Luther Atkinson, Eddie Banks, Jimmy Bland, Al Burrows, Leo “Sike” Burnett, Eddie Burton, Willie Fordham, Pedro Sierra, Bob Scott, James Tillman and Jim Weedon. Geraldine Day, wife of the late Hall of Famer Leon Day, will also be present.
Players are expected to play “Shadow Ball,’’ a game where they take the field and throw a phantom ball around. It’s a way for them to recall the good old days.
Many of the players are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, said Tonya Thomas, executive director of Black Athletes and Lost Legends Association Inc., a Baltimore nonprofit that is sponsoring the event.
“It’s something that so many of them are looking forward to,’’ she said. Baltimore was home to two Negro leagues teams — the Baltimore Black Sox and the Baltimore Elite Giants. The Negro leagues folded in the 1960s, in part due to the integration of major league baseball.
The exhibit Barnstorming With the Negro Leagues will be on display. Negro leagues merchandise will also be on sale, and players will sign autographs.
Gates open at 6 p.m. Play between minor league teams the Aberdeen Ironbirds and the Vermont Lake Monsters begins at 7 p.m.
For tickets, go to ticketmaster.com or call 410-547-7328.
July 28, 2008
By Chris Cager
B.A.L.L. Voice Reporter
As I pulled up to the East Baltimore Development building on this bright and sunny Saturday in July, I witnessed children playing in the courtyard and adults conversing amongst each other in the midst of snowballs and large, delicious kosher hot dogs. Was this a party one might ask?? Kinda sort of!! But a party with a purpose. On Saturday, July 26, 2008, from 12 noon to 7 p.m., B.A.L.L. Association Inc. brought us a slice of American History, the first Negro League Fan Fest: Unveiling the Past & Discovering Greatness. This magnificent day highlighted and paid tribute to some of the Negro League's players such as Jimmy Bland (Indianapolis Clowns), Luther Atkinson (Satchel Page All Stars) and Baltimore's own Hubert "Bert" Simmons (Baltimore Elite Giants). These gentlemen graced our presence with their memories and stories of triumph and persistence through adversity.
Upon entering the facility, I saw people everywhere both young and old enjoying themselves, speaking with the players about the Negro Leagues, there were young children getting their caricatures done. (The artist was awesome. I think he did over 50 pictures that day!!). I immediately made my rounds throughout this former elementary school that was converted into a "museum of living history". Mr. Ray Banks, Negro League Goodwill Ambassador, had on display one of the most significant collections of Negro League memorabilia I've ever seen, such as early pictures of the many players in the league. (Did you know country singer Charlie Pride was a Negro League player?) Mr. Banks not only shared with us a piece of history from his own personal collection, but explained to me "the importance of honoring these men and women who paved the way before the likes of Jackie Robinson and other great players". His main mission with his exhibit is to "educate both adults and children" on the Negro Leagues and their importance in Black history as well as American history.
After meticulously walking through every inch of Mr. Banks’ exhibit, I can hear Mrs. Tonya Thomas's voice organizing a panel of youth to test their knowledge of Negro League baseball...It's trivia time!! Many prizes were given out and the kids had a chance to "test their wits" on these great people. Did you know Josh Gibson hit more home runs than Babe Ruth?? And that there were women in the Negro Leagues such as Ms. Connie Morgan? Well, the interactive trivia part was extremely fun. The children seemed to be attentive to Ms. Thomas's demands and were rewarded generously with autographed photos, hats and other goodies. She did a superb job!! It's important that the youth know the significance of these players. Between hot dogs, snowballs and potato chips these children learned valuable information about these players’ contribution to the great game of baseball.
Once the trivia part finished, I circulated around the display tables where I had an honor to "meet and greet" some of these great players such as James Tillman (Homestead Grays), Al Burrows (NY Black Yankees) and Hubert "Bert" Simmons (Baltimore Elite Giants). These "well-respected" gentleman shared stories with me about the trials and tribulations and what they had to endure during the "pre-segregation" era (i.e. before Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball). They spoke about the amount of games they played throughout the year, anywhere from 140 to 165 games, practically 7 days a week with 2 games on Sunday (sometimes 3!!). From our conversations, all of these greats attested the need for inner city youth to "recapture" the game and how important baseball can aide in their growth and development. Skills such as "team work", "organization" and "patience" were some of the words used. These players stated they gained so much valuable experience playing the game despite the violent racial climate America was under during these times. Like Luther Atkinson's stated, "It was the best of times and the worst of times".
Well, after my gorging of 2 very large kosher hot dogs with bottle water, I decided to circulate again around Ambassador Banks exhibit again, along with good friend Mr. Brian K. Thomas, Treasurer of B.A.L.L. Inc., who was still mesmerized with Mr. Banks fine detailed pictures, videos and other "living history" of Negro League baseball artifacts. We both agreed that this day was "truly" historic indeed and that this event went off with "raging success". The community came out, ate some good food, took pictures with Negro League players and learned something about Black history you rarely find in school textbooks. In conclusion, I asked a young participant, Tevan of East Baltimore, about how can we get the youth back into baseball? He said "open up a baseball camp". From the mouths of children comes truth. This evening will go down as monumental for Negro League Greats and all who enjoy and honor the works of these men and women.
July 25, 2008
By Perry Green
AFRO Sports Writer
This year's Negro League Fan Fest will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first Negro League All Star game.
A few months ago, Ray Banks, a Negro League goodwill ambassador, informed the AFRO that he and the Black Athletes and Lost Legends Association Inc. (BALL) were teaming up to do something that had never been done before in Baltimore. Banks convinced the Applebee’s Bar and Grill on Reisterstown Road to display for the first time ever photos of Negro League ballplayers on the walls of their restaurant. And with the same motivation they had for getting those photos up for display, Banks and BALL will now pull another first-timer out of thin air. Sponsored by Forest City Science and Technology, East Baltimore Development Inc., Sage Policy Group and Harbor Bank of Maryland, BALL will hold its first annual Negro League Fan Fest July 26 from noon to 7 p.m. at 1731 E. Chase St. Much like the purpose of displaying Negro League photos on the walls of local social establishments, the festival will take on the mission of “unveiling the past and discovering greatness by informing and educating adults and youth on the proud history of Blacks in baseball.” According to Tonya Thomas, executive director of
BALL, the Negro League Fan Fest will showcase Negro League history by featuring BALL’s popular “Barnstorming with the Negro Leagues” exhibit. (Read more)
June 5, 2008
By Mike Klingaman | Sun reporter
The Orioles will select Bert Simmons, 84, a veteran of the old Negro leagues, in a ceremonial draft today.
At today's major league baseball draft, the Orioles' first selection will be an all-conference college pitcher named Bert Simmons.
Simmons, a knuckleballer who lives in Woodlawn, won't be haggling with the club over a multi-million-dollar contract. He is a throwback to the days when men played the game for love, not money. There's a maturity about him that's unparalleled in baseball.
The reason? Bert Simmons turned 84 last month.
Simmons is one of 30 former Negro leagues players to be honored today by being selected in a ceremonial draft before the real thing. Each club will honor a surviving Negro leagues alumnus, none of whom got to play for a major or minor league team. (Read more)
June 29, 2008
By Jim Litke | Associated Press
Baseball stole Art Pennington's future. The Cedar River washed away his past.
His house, his car, his clothes, nearly all his pictures and one of his two dogs were lost to the Midwest floods.
"Every damn thing I had just floated down the river," he said.
He is hardly alone. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, alone, perhaps 10,000 others are adding up their losses, along with 10 times as many across the waterlogged region. But possessions can be replaced.
"A big part of my life is gone for good," he said.
His skin color cost Pennington a shot at the major leagues as a young man. He flourished instead in the Negro, Cuban, Mexican and Venezuelan leagues in the 1940s, and, when baseball in America finally opened the door to blacks, in minor leagues across the country.
Six decades later, the water carried off nearly every bit of proof that Pennington was the equal of just about anybody who played anywhere he went.(Read more)
Art "Superman" Pennington was victim of floods in Iowa. Here is a link to site to offer help. (More)
July 4, 2008
BY CHERYL V. JACKSON email@example.com
The 1939 East-West team at Old Comiskey
Major League Baseball's potential future and part of its past take the field in Chicago on Monday.
That's when U.S. Cellular Field hosts a game showcasing African-American high school players from across the Great Lakes region and pays tribute to the Negro Leagues.
The Double Duty Classic, which starts at 2:30 p.m., honors the 75th anniversary of the first Negro League All-Star Game, played annually at the original Comiskey Park. The game was among the must-attend sporting events in the day, drawing top athletes, entertainers and groupies a la the modern NBA All-Star Weekend.
The classic is named for the late Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who played for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues, often pitching the first game of a doubleheader and catching in the second. (Read more)