Negro League Baseball Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1563 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports

¶ … Black Baseball in Virginia

Introduction to Sunday Coming - by Darrell J. Howard

One thing that always helps a book - in particular a book with historical and social importance - is when the author uses, as often as is practical, words and descriptions which very completely explained the kinds of individuals who helped make and shape that history. In Sunday Coming, the author goes to great lengths to paint a complete picture of the men who played baseball in the period prior to, during and after the professional Negro Leagues; and it adds a rich, realistic dimension to the book.

But it is also important to note that "black baseball," the author points out, was not necessarily part of the Negro Leagues; rather, it was Virginia's amateur teams (sometimes called "sandlot" teams) of African-American ballplayers who played their beloved game in old cow pastures, in public parks, in properties where trees had been harvested and sometimes in old minor league stadiums. Many of the players from the "black baseball" teams did eventually play professionally with the Negro Leagues, though.

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Moreover, in an era today when ballplayers make millions of dollars per year to play the traditional game of baseball, and fans read about the drugs being used by some players - and a one-time great player named Ken Caminiti who admitted to using cocaine and steroids, died in October, 2004 at the age of 41 from his abuses - reading Sunday Coming is a joy and a throwback to an era of innocence. And in this modern era when fans pay up to $50 a ticket, and even much more, to watch the millionaires play the game of baseball, it is refreshing to read Sunday Coming. That is because Sunday Coming is about a period of time not so long ago in America when men played "for the sport and competition, without the expensive promotion, sponsorship, gratuitous pay and reward" (4).

Sunday Coming: Stories about players who played for love of the game and pride in their communities

TOPIC: Term Paper on Negro League Baseball Assignment

There "was an importance to participating and playing baseball," the author explains (4), and "going to a ballgame in Virginia was akin to celebrating the 4th of July every weekend." Howard points out that these games were played during the period of Jim Crow segregation, when black people were forced to avoid using public bathrooms, public drinking fountains, and clearly the fun of the game lifted spirits up for black folks during a time of rampant racism and prejudice in Virginia and elsewhere in America, when it was easy for spirits to get down.

One team that stood out among a lot of good teams in Virginia was called "Kelly's All-Stars" - from Charlottesville. This team was not only very good, and run by a manager who demanded excellence and a winning performance (Charles Jones), but they played some great teams and had terrific rivalries with several teams, notably the "Massies Mill Giants." Many of the teams in the 1930s were entertaining beyond just playing the game of baseball. For example, the author (10) describes a "show-stopping" player named Alex Giles, a first baseman for the Giants, who, during practice, "scooped up balls while executing splits, and when the bases were empty caught throws from shortstop with his ball cap."

The author writes about teams outside of Virginia, too, including the teams in Maryland (33): "Black baseball in Maryland was highly competitive through the mid 1930s. In 1932 there were at least twenty-four amateur ball clubs." Those 24 amateur teams played twenty-five to thirty regular season games each season. That is a lot of games for a lot of teams, and in most cases the fans paid only a small amount to get into games, so readers can easily see how much great entertainment these ballplayers gave to their communities. For example, fans paid fifty cents to get into games to see the Cumberland County Sluggers in Virginia, and kids who chased after and retrieved foul balls picked up a nickel for every baseball returned. With what they made from the paying customers, the Sluggers "bought uniforms and the best bats money could buy, Louisville Sluggers."

Reportedly, some of Cumberland's opponents - like Waverly in Sussex County and Victoria in Lunenburg County - "...had pitchers throwing upwards of 100 MPH. As 'Rabbit' Robertson recalled vividly, 'you saw the pitcher cock his leg up in the air, and before it came down the ball was there'."

Cumberland seems, according to the author, to be a pretty open-minded group of players, considering it was still Jim Crow attitudes throughout much of the south when they played. The Cumberland players made friends with an integrated team from New Jersey, and when the Jersey players came to Virginia to play Cumberland, they were housed by the Cumberland players' families.

One of the great teams Cumberland played was the Buckingham Grays in southern Virginia. The Grays did not play on Sunday - due to their respect for their elders, who were faithful Sunday church-goers - but on Saturdays, the Grays were as important to black residents "as the dodgers were to Brooklyn, and Buckingham fans were very vocal in their support." The author quotes Buckingham writer and resident Charles White (48):

lot of fields were located next to these black owned restaurants, and Saturday night places. During the day it was the big game, and the women brought out the chicken cakes and pies. If the Grays were playing Shipman or Cumberland, it was like a World Series game. I'll never forget

Pop Reed came up to bat and Willie Chambers was pitching, and Willie's mother yelled out, "Pop hit a home run and I'll give you a chicken leg," and so Willie's brother said, "Mamma, whose side are you on?"

Not all communities of course played on Saturdays - it seems from this book that most played ball on Sundays. In Covesville (50) Virginia, the ballplayers and friends and families "filed out of the church just minutes down the road and headed for the diamond." They were still dressed "in their Sunday best with the ladies in their dresses and the men wearing the popular straw summer dress hats."

The field was actually a cow pasture in Covesville, just adjacent to a corn field; the players who were the newest to the team, the rookies, had to do the pre-game preparation of the cow pasture. Covesville catcher and infielder Edward Henderson is quoted in Howard's book (50):

We used to have to chase the cows off the field and get up the cow piles before the game, mow the grass. The boys from the city who used to come up and play against us were used to playing on good diamonds and had to get used to playing the ball off the humps and dips on a country ball field.

And a very socially interesting part of the book (34) talked about the first league launch into integration south of the Mason Dixon Line - white players and black players on the same field of play - which, according to the author, occurred in the South Atlantic League of 1937. The teams involved were the Harlem (N.Y.) Athletic Club, the Chesapeake Terrace, Baltimore a's, the Wilkens Athletic Club and the Catonsville Maryland Giants.

Another socially interesting fact of black baseball players is presented on page 128, as author Howard points out that "In the nineteen fifties and sixties, major league requirements and expectations were rigid: for black ballplayers the rules were absolute. High school dropouts were not a part of the chose few to put on a professional ballplayer's uniform."

As wonderful a form of entertainment as black baseball was in Virginia, for all those years, when the 1970s came to an end,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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