FORT LAUDERDALE — Jackie Robinson replica jersey and baseball cap on the left, Dontrelle Willis replica in the middle and Eddie Murray’s on the right, all in glass cases, there to help tell a story of African-American history in baseball.
Added to the exhibit are three discussions about African-American contributions to the game of baseball.
The next one is 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale. The baseball exhibit will be on display throughout February at the library, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
At the first discussion, generations of African-American baseball players presented to the public on Feb. 3, as part of the Friends of Baseball Series celebrating Black History Month.
In attendance were three former Negro Baseball leagues players: Jimmy Hall, John Gray and Archie Mckeithen, who were surrounded by young baseball kids with their parents.
But the special guest speakers for the evening were baseball veteran Jorge Arenas-Chico and author Sam Zygner, who shared their stories and thoughts on Negro league baseball.
Arenas-Chico talked about when he was a young kid living in Cuba and playing baseball was one of his hobbies. “Playing baseball was like candy in a factory,” he said, explaining his love for the game.
He left Cuba to come to the US to play baseball professionally, playing for the Negro league baseball teams the Cuba Stars and Washington Black Senators.
Zygner used his book The Forgotten Marlins: A Tribute to the 1956-1960 to explain the history of Satchel Paige, the first Negro league player in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Paige played for many teams but he was a great pitcher; he doesn’t get the credit he deserves in baseball history,” Zygner said.
Zygner said Paige began his professional baseball career in 1926.
“He became the Negro League’s famous showman,” said Zygner. He explained how Paige finally reached the Major League as a 42-year-old rookie. He played for the minor-league Miami Marlins and Miami was his last professional team before ending out his career.
“Satchel had a strong arm and many came out just to see him pitch,” Zygner said.
Zygner said the largest crowd in minor league history, which is 57‚000, came to see Miami’s 50-year-old Paige beat the Columbus Jets, a Negro minor league team at the Orange Bowl.
“It’s part of history that is slowly slipping away; there’s a lot of history people need to know about and today was a good start,” said Zygner speaking on the history of the Negro leagues.
According to negroleaguebaseball.com, not many people know or even thought about how Robinson came to the attention of major league scouts or how the Negro leagues came into existence.
Robinson was one of many black baseball players showing their skills in different places and exhibition games like the famous East-West Classic Negro All-Star Game.
Established first was the National Colored Baseball League by League President Walter S. Brown, organized strictly as a minor league but failed in 1887 after only two weeks due to low attendance, according to timetoast.com.
It was replaced by the new Negro League in 1933 by baseball owner Gus Greenlee. He saw these players showcasing their talents, to centerpiece black baseball. With the league behind him, Robinson broke the color barrier on April 18, 1946 when he signed with the Dodgers organization.
Former Negro leagues players Hall, Gray and Mckeithen said there is a lack of history being taught to people about the Negro League, especially the different trials and tribulations they had to go through while playing with white players.
Hall played with the Indianapollis Clowns for one season in 1958 he was drafted into the armed forces and never resumed his baseball career. Gray played with the Indianapollis Clowns and several other semi pro teams.
“We couldn’t eat at the same restaurants or stay at the same hotel as the white players; they promise us Negros $15,000 but we only got paid $500,” Gray
said. “Players made about $3 per day; but they played because they loved the game.”
“Baseball can be good to you; playing baseball in the Negro league taught me discipline and how to be a man,” said Hall.” “It taught me to have patience and that help with the racism that went on back then.”
“More people need to know about the Negro league; people need to embrace the history of it,” said Mckeithen.
Parents appreciated that the players took their time to come out and speak to their children on their history of playing in the Negro leagues.
“I’m not a baseball fan but my son plays little league; the Negro league set a path for baseball and it all started with them,” said Jeffrey Blackwood, 48.
Programmer and host Larry Holland of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center also left the kids with some advice. “I think they can get more of an understanding of baseball and the struggles African-American people went through with the Negro league presentations.”