Negro Leagues sew up some new fans

John Steadman

March 01, 1993|By John Steadman

Teams from the Negro Baseball Leagues -- their names anyhow -- are going to be reincarnated. It's a move to help some Little League players in Baltimore become aware of the history that preceded their present interest in the game. They'll be able to identify because they'll actually be wearing uniforms with names from the past.

Youngsters on at least five teams will be playing in uniforms that are replicas of Negro clubs no longer in existence. Among those expected to be represented are the Baltimore Elite Giants, Homestead Grays, Newark Eagles, Kansas City Monarchs and Birmingham Black Barons.

The idea is the suggestion of Dr. Robert Hieronimus and his wife, Zohara, both of whom have a profound interest in the Negro Leagues, which flourished before the major leagues were integrated by Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella and accompanying pioneers.

Once Robinson and Doby made their entrance and a procession of their contemporaries followed, it was only a matter of time until the Negro Leagues went out of business. It was progress for the black athletes to be able to play in the majors, but, at the same time, the leagues they had once been a part of collapsed because the color barriers were lifted.

Dr. Hieronimus refuses to take credit for trying to give black youngsters of today a vivid link with their baseball heritage. But without his interest, there's serious doubt if the proposal would be on its way to reality.

"What we want to do is give the youngsters a chance to learn about their forefathers and the contributions they made to baseball," he said. "America is in the process of rediscovering some of the heroes from the old Negro Leagues. We believe by outfitting five or six teams with names across their uniforms that read Elite Giants, Monarchs, Eagles and others it will give the children a strong awareness of how it used to be."

Most Little League teams, black and white, carry the names of the major-league clubs, be they Orioles, Royals, A's, etc., so it will be more than a bit nostalgic to see teams that have been defunct since the Negro Leagues disbanded -- even if they are limited to playing at the entry level of amateur baseball.

A minimum grant of $10,000, with the chance it will go to $15,000, has been approved by the children of the Harvey and Lynn Meyerhoff Foundation. It is to be awarded by the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore in conjunction with Associated Black Charities.

The Hieronimus group is forming a committee comprising Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Calvin Hill, Sam Lacy, Tom Keyser, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Marty Bass to ensure the success of the project. The Meyerhoff Foundation is generally identified with cultural pursuits, but believes the chance to assist a Little League is within its province of fostering goodwill and increasing public interest in what is transpiring.

"We have heard of several attempts to do this around the country," Dr. Hieronimus said, "but it never came to realization. In fact, Little League teams everywhere are having more of a struggle because business interests have cut back on their contributions. Bret Savage, who has a Little League that is sponsored by the Turner's Station Recreation Council, said he was involved in starting something similar to what we outlined."

Darrell Corbett of the Mount Royal Parent Athletic Club, Michael Cutchember of the Dewees Athletic Association and Cecilia Howell of the Bocek Recreation Center have expressed their interest in participating. "It sounds like a wonderful idea," Corbett said. "I never heard of this being done anywhere. The kids of today will certainly shine a light on the old Negro Leagues."

Corbett says expenses keep going up, citing a $50 fee to register with the Department of Recreation, $15 per game for umpires and points out a dozen Little League baseballs cost $40. Hieronimus says it's going to be important to monitor the financial aspects because he realizes an obligation to the Meyerhoff Foundation to see its monies are properly allocated.

So in Baltimore, some inner-city Little League players will be representing teams they never heard about and can't locate in any newspaper standing.

Elite Giants, Grays, Eagles, Monarchs and Black Barons will soon be back with us, as perceived through the throwing and hitting of children too young to be aware of the progress baseball has made.

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