Shades of Glory

By Carla Peay
Updated: February 28, 2006

Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—They made their way up onto the stage despite their aging legs. They sat before a crowd anxious to hear their stories, as well as express their appreciation. They delighted the audience with heartfelt memories and amusing stories, as they relived their days as players in the Negro Leagues. These men played baseball at a time when loving the game meant more than the money. They accepted the death threats, the taunting slurs, and the sting of racism that came with playing baseball as one by one, they followed Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby in integrating the major leagues. When a player from this era tells you that he loved the game so much he’d have played it for free, take heed. He will likely be the last professional athlete any of us will ever hear say those words, and mean it from the bottom of his heart.

They were Stanley Glenn, a former catcher for the Philadelphia Stars between the years of 1944 to 1950. Glenn is the current president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. Joining him was Monte Irvin, one of the first men to help integrate the Major Leagues after World War II. Irvin’s legendary career in the Negro Leagues was followed by a nine year career in the Major Leagues. In 1951, Irvin had an MVP- type season batting .321 with 24 home runs and a league leading 121 RBI. Irvin helped the New York Giants win two National League Pennants, and one World Series. To see the spark in his eyes and the reverence in his voice when he speaks of those early days, it’s almost hard to believe it was more than half a century ago.

“More than anything else, our games gave black Americans hope all across the country. People came to see us play and thought that if these ballplayers can succeed under these difficult conditions, then maybe we can too”, said Irvin. The hope of which Irvin speaks is alive and well in the players that remain from those glory days. It is their mission to share the rich and storied history of the Negro Leagues with the generations of baseball fans that have come after them, and to keep alive those memories of where it all began.

“Thank goodness that there are people out there working hard to keep the flame of the Negro Leagues alive”, said Lawrence Hogan, moderator and presenter at a lecture and book signing held at the National Geographic Society on February 21. Hogan is at the forefront of the effort, having recently authored Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball. Currently serving as director of “Out of the Shadows”, a study of the history of African Americans in baseball which is sponsored by the baseball Hall of Fame and the Office of the Commissioner, Hogan, Irvin and Glenn have just completed a seven city book tour for Shades of Glory.

Founded in 1920, the Negro Leagues had some of baseball’s greatest talents, from Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson, to Satchel Paige and John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, to “Cool” Papa Bell and Ray Dandridge. Robinson integrated the Major Leagues in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His election to the Baseball Hall of Fame came in 1962. In 1966, during the Hall of Fame ceremony for Ted Williams, he praised Robinson’s contribution, but cautioned that the Hall of Fame was not and could not be complete until men like Josh Gibson and Satchell Paige were a part of it as well. It is an oversight and a neglect that has finally been corrected.

This past weekend, a special committee voted on and selected seventeen players and executives from the Negro Leagues to enter the Hall of Fame from a list of thirty nine candidates. Those selected are Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente Jud Wilson, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, Ben Taylor, Cassie Pompez, Cum Posey and J.L. Wilkinson. Also included was the first woman, Effa Manley. There are now thirty-five players and executives from the Negro Leagues in the Hall of Fame.

“These great black players were present at the conception (of baseball)”, said Hogan.

“How fitting that they will finally be allowed to take their official and rightful place among the greatest names in the game.”