The Nationals And Mets Pay Tribute To The Negro Leagues

By Carla Peay
Updated: August 12, 2006

The Washington Nationals don the uniforms of the Homestead Grays.

The Washington Nationals don the uniforms of the Homestead Grays.

Washington, DC—The Washington Nationals and the New York Mets took the evening off on Friday at RFK Stadium, metaphorically at least. Taking the field instead were the Homestead Grays and the New York Cubans. In a tribute to Negro League Baseball, both teams took the field wearing replicas of the 1944 New York Cubans and Homestead Grays uniforms.

“There are a number of major league teams that are hosting a salute to the Negro Leagues,” said Bob Kendrick, Director of Marketing for the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

“Obviously we’re very excited about that and we’ve tried to participate in as many of these celebrations as we can. It’s important that baseball recognizes the heritage of the game. There are those who have contributed greatly to this game and many fans don’t know about these baseball heroes. These kinds of celebrations not only reinforce that understanding and appreciation, but it also awakens baseball fans to players they should know about. Baseball fans were cheated because they missed knowing about some of the greatest baseball players who ever lived.”

Kendrick also addressed the issue of Negro League great Buck O’Neil’s snub from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“We’re all very disappointed that the committee saw fit that Buck shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. The truth of the matter is, we don’t really understand what their criteria was for keeping Buck out. I really believe that Buck will get in the Hall of Fame. The thing that concerns me most is, will it happen in his lifetime? I think it would be a travesty to put Buck in the Hall of Fame posthumously.”

The Kansas City T-Bones, a minor league club, started a petition to have O’Neil inducted into the Hall of Fame, and recently activated him for one game. The 94-year old O’Neil came to the plate, and was granted an intentional walk.

“It was a celebration of his career. It was an opportunity to get him back on the baseball diamond. He told me he hadn’t swung a bat since 1955, and that the bat was heavy. Buck had a good time. He has such a fun loving spirit. No one knew that it would blow up the way that it did, but it just caught the attention of baseball fans all over the country. It was great to see people react so positively to it,” said Kendrick.

A waiting fan gets an autograph from a Negro League player

A waiting fan gets an autograph from a Negro League player

The tribute at RFK Stadium included an autograph session with several players from the Negro Leagues, and a raffle where fans could purchase tickets to win an autographed replica Homestead Gray’s uniform. Crowds lined up between the 3rd and 5th innings, waiting their turn to meet and greet some true baseball legends.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a pleasure to be here to represent the Negro Leagues,” said William Sonny Randall, 91, who played for the Homestead Grays.

“I’m glad to be a part of it. I want to tell the youngsters coming up now to be obedient, and they can get here, too. I tell them not to be too quick to disagree with what their teachers are telling them. Most of all, they should play not for the money, but for the love of the game,” said James Tillman, 86.

“For me, it’s a great thing, especially for the kids. There are too many people who don’t even know there was a Negro League. It helps them to know something about their own history,” said Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, 70, one of only three women to play in the Negro Leagues.

Nationals infielder Marlon Anderson

Nationals infielder Marlon Anderson

National’s infielder Marlon Anderson, one of the three African American players on the team, expressed his thoughts about donning a Negro League uniform.

“I think baseball has done a real good job lately of honoring those guys and honoring those teams, and showing them the respect that they deserve. A lot of guys playing the game now wouldn’t have the opportunity to play if it hadn’t been for them opening the door to major league baseball for us. It’s always an honor to be able to wear those uniforms and to show respect to those guys in whatever way we can,” said Anderson.

“Its part of baseball’s effort to pay tribute to its heritage and a very big part of its heritage is what happened in the Negro Leagues,” said National’s President Stan Kasten.

“Not many of our modern customers know a lot about the Negro Leagues, so it’s an effort to bring a little more awareness to our current customers, and to have some fun. I think the players enjoy the nights when they get to dress up in other uniforms, and I think our fans enjoy seeing that.”

As for the game itself, a crowd of close to 30,000 fans saw the struggling Nationals defeat Tom Glavine and the first place Mets by a score of 2-1.

Nationals President gives out hats to a group of D.C. area kids

Nationals President gives out hats to a group of D.C. area kids

Nationals Announce Minority Internship Program

As part of an ongoing effort to reach out to the community and improve diversity, the Washington Nationals announced a Baseball Operations Minority Internship Program. The program is designed to provide 5 to 10 minority candidates with field and classroom experiences within the areas of baseball administration, scouting and player development. Candidates will be selected through a series of interviews with Nationals executives beginning September 1st. The internship will begin in October of 2007.

“The program will be open to everyone, but we called it that to elevate the focus of the program, to highlight the fact that the Nationals, as well as everyone in baseball really want to increase the diversity in all areas,” said Kasten.

“This particular program will be devoted to scouting, but if there are ways to extend it to other areas in the future, we’ll also look at that. Increased diversity is important to the Nationals; it’s important to everyone in baseball and efforts like this can contribute to expanding the pool of diverse members of our profession.”