Fox. Bill Greason said he is not very aware of sports these days.
It has been particularly difficult this year, he said, as the pandemic caused a global closure of sports at all levels. And at 96, Greason, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and later defeated the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League, said he spends “much of my time studying the Bible” and preparing to hold on. preacher. to his Alabama congregation every Sunday.
But when Greason found out about the Major League Baseball announcement Wednesday that it was raise Negro League to Major League status and recognizing statistics and records as part of the history of baseball, he had one simple question: What took so long?
“It’s far too late because practically all the guys who played in the Negro leagues played in the big leagues,” said Greason, who was a baron’s teammate of Willie Mays and himself later, briefly in the majors of the St. Louis Cardinals , to NBC News. “When they left the Negro leagues, they went straight to (the main subjects) and they produced. Baseball is just baseball. The only thing that kept us apart was the color of our skin, rather than the ability to play. ”
Baseball’s record books will be changed as a result of MLB’s announcement, but that change is just one of the many teams in a long-running national conversation about the Negro leagues and the proper recognition of their place in history.
Jackie Robinson broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but 22 years later the Special Committee on Baseball Records recognized six additional “Major Leagues” since 1876. That round excluded the Negro League.
Baseball did not address pensions as they concerned Negro Leagues players until 1997, and even then there were countless problems, including how to decide whether it is qualified.
Even after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Wednesday that “we are now grateful to count the players in the Negro leagues where they belong,” some were quick to blow up America’s pastime.
“When it comes to Major League Baseball, they not only write the history books, but apparently they decide when everyone else’s stories are also legitimate,” the columnist Clinton Yates wrote for The Undefeated. “Negroes mean no less than. And will never. ”
Bob Kendrick, president of the renowned Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, said he understands Yates’ point of view. When Kendrick learned that baseball was planning to raise the status of the Negro leagues, he said he had a hard time reconciling it.
“It was a part of me that became radical,” Kendrick said. “It was’ Hell, we do not need you to validate us. “I knew so many of the players and how proud they were. They knew how good they were and how good their league was. But no one else really did. I literally had to go outside myself and say, ‘Be that guy from the outside. and looks in. ‘ I started to change positions, it was about being recognized for historical purposes.
“For me, there’s actually reason to celebrate.”
This celebration requires not only acknowledging and appreciating the baseball achievements of the approximately 3,400 Negro League players who played from 1920 to 1948 – including Baseball Hall of Famers Mays, Cool Papa Bell, Monte Irvin and Satchel Paige, to name a few. few – but acknowledges the adversity and racism Negro Leagers faced and the social climate in which they played.
“My father wanted to talk so loudly about the ‘heroes’ with a lot of respect, gratitude and reverence,” said Pamela Irvin Fields, one of Irvin’s daughters.
Irvin played with the Mays at the New York Giants before the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958, and for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He died in 2016 at the age of 96. Irvin Fields added that her father held his Negro League peers high “not only for their playing skills but also for their endurance.”
Monte Irvin’s second daughter, Patricia Irvin Gordon, said the baseball’s decision would throw Negro League players in a new light.
“The conversation between these players will be centered around their performance rather than the challenging circumstances they played under,” said Irvin Gordon. “Now that these players and statistics have been merged, the history of MLB is becoming so much richer and relevant to those who embrace baseball. My father always felt regardless of the league he played in, the Negro League or the Major League, he played with the absolute best players who have ever played the sport. ”
Jerry Hairston Jr. is part of a three-generation family of major leagues, and his grandfather, Sam Hairston, was a Negro Leagues star alongside the Indianapolis Clowns.
“I think if I speak for my grandfather, and when I’m around him and other Negro League players, they never needed this announcement to validate their league,” said Hairston, who played for nine major league teams, including the 2009 World Cup champion. in New York. Yankees. “‘Elevate’ is not the word. It is to recognize the Negro League. They were already elevated. ”
Kendrick said he sees the Negro Leagues Museum as more of a cultural institution than a baseball museum, one that teaches visitors about so much more than baseball statistics and diamond performance. He said MLB’s decision on Wednesday would go a long way towards changing “the way people view the Negro leagues for many years to come.”
“New generations of baseball fans, when they start learning this game, they do not see Josh Gibson’s name and his .441 in 1943 on the list of all-time, single-season bests,” said Kendrick, referring to the slugging catcher. which was called “Black Babe Ruth.”
“That was what I had to look through, the lens, as opposed to the hard attitude I had,” Kendrick continued. “I began to look beyond validation, and began to think about the recognition and the recognition, which is more important to me. You can never reduce the Negro leagues to numbers. It’s so much bigger than that. It is with this understanding that the Negro Leagues Museum is exactly what it is – a civil rights museum, a museum of social justice. It is triumph over adversity. ”