Negro Leagues Forgotten In Throwback Jersey Nostalgia

By Terry Foster
Updated: July 16, 2006

DETROIT — I wore a black baseball jersey Saturday night with a Negro League patch on the front and back. There were also other colorful patches from some of the league’s most famous teams, including the Detroit Stars, Memphis Red Sox, Indianapolis Clowns and Baltimore Black Sox.

I wore it for a couple of reasons. Selfishly, I like the jersey. It is bright, colorful and sort of had a slimming effect on me.

I also wore it because the Detroit Tigers did a nice job of honoring some of the men and women who made up the Negro Leagues. It was a troubling time when players were not allowed in Major League Baseball simply because of the color of their skin.

There was a ceremony prior to the Tigers’ 6-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals honoring 17 members of the Negro Leagues, who are to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame later this month.

This is one of Major League Baseball’s ways to make up for bad judgment and hatred –because we all know Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson were good enough to play in the majors in their prime.

However, their skin was not light enough to allow them to play. Doesn’t that really sound stupid as you think about it?

Thirdly I wear Negro League jerseys to make a statement. I wear them to honor these great players who are dying although their wonderful stories of barnstorming across the country are not.

I also own Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs jerseys, but I save those for cooler weather because they are made of wool material Negro League players used to wear.

It is part of our culture that slips away with every obituary.

I saw a number of colorful Negro League jerseys and t-shirts at Comerica Park Saturday night. It was great to see. But I do not expect to see many jerseys for the rest of the year, even from our black professional athletes who try to outdo one another with their wide array of throwback jerseys.

They wear them proudly. Some NBA players are still angry that they cannot wear them as often because of commissioner David Stern’s game-day business-casual dress edict.

I’ve seen Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace wear a Kansas City Chiefs jersey but not one from the Kansas City Monarchs. I’ve seen Rip Hamilton wear a Joe Montana throwback but not one from Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

The old ABA and NBA jerseys appear to be the most popular. I am even seeing LeBron James high school jerseys popping up. North Carolina, Michigan and USC gear is hot also. But the Negro Leagues are not The other day, Tony Davis stood in Tony Dees Negro League Apparel store on the border of Oak Park and Ferndale trying to answer a simple question. Has he been in contact with any Detroit professional athlete about buying Negro League jerseys, which by the way are the ultimate throwbacks?

“I think somebody bought a jersey who was representing Willie Horton,” he said. “Other than that, no.” From talking to various writers and from my own observations, the Lions might be the team ahead of the curve. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers has a Negro League jacket, former linebacker Earl Holmes and defensive back Dr’ Bly have worn NLB gear, as has Tigers designated hitter Dmitri Young.

We certainly don’t see young kids wearing them. Davis becomes exasperated at times trying to explain to young people the history of the Negro Leagues. The kids question why they were called Negroes in today’s era where people want to be called black or African American.

“I think this happens because they are ignorant of their history,” Davis said. “And their pop culture is run by urban hip-hop and until LL Cool J or somebody like that wears them, then they won’t know how cool it is to put these jerseys on.” Busta Rymes and his crew wore Negro League jerseys on the Dave Chappelle show once but the kids did not know what they were wearing. A great marketing opportunity was lost.

Here is another disturbing story. Bill Hottle of Warren routinely wears Negro League jerseys. He has studied the league and respects the players. The other day, he wore a Detroit Stars t-shirt twice around the Wayne State area.

He was ridiculed for wearing the t-shirt both times. He no longer wears it. You see Hottle is white. His tormentors were black.

“I never dreamed when I bought the shirt that people would say anything negative to me about it,” Hottle said. “One comment that was said to me was I was insulting black people by wearing it. So I thought I was being insensitive and did not see it.” The truth is that Hottle’s tormentors are the ignorant ones. Hottle should have said, “Instead of worrying about me, why are you not representing?” Tony Dees is one of the most important shops that nobody knows about in the Detroit area. He not only has the largest selection of Negro League wear in Michigan but a history lesson also comes with the visit.

He sometimes hands out literature to young people who simply want to come in to accessorize and look good.

He said many white people are more aware of the Negro Leagues than blacks. That is both encouraging and discouraging. He wants everybody to understand what they are wearing. They are not only wearing cool gear, but they are also wearing history.

I would like to see more of that also. I never got to see a Negro League game, but I heard enough about these games from my aunt and great-grandmother to know their importance. They went to games in Detroit and Atlanta and raved about the wonderful atmosphere and the great players.

Our history is slowly slipping from us and I wanted to grab hold of some of it even if it is in a book, on a t-shirt or on a hat.

I encourage you to hang on to this past also. You can go on the Internet and look up Negro League Apparel or you can go to to see the uniforms online.

You might learn something. At the very least, you will look good.