Little Leaguers get big inspiration from Negro Leaguers Project gives 4 teams uniforms, equipment

March 31, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

Now, let me tell you about the time . . .

Young Clifford Martin was all eyes and ears as Gene Benson recalled how he popularized the basket catch before Willie Mays. Bill "Ready" Cash recounted how he used to slam home runs off Don Larsen in the Latin and Canadian leagues, and wondered how Larsen ever threw a perfect game in the World Series.

These were some of the veterans of the old Negro Baseball Leagues brought together yesterday to pass on the history and folklore of their sports careers during the age of racial segregation.

Their audience, local Little League players, drank in the oral histories and received replica uniforms bedecked with either the names of the old Black Sox or Elite Giants, two Baltimore teams from the Negro Leagues.

The event -- sponsored by the Associated Jewish Community Federation and Associated Black Charities -- was an official beginning for a program designed to honor Negro Leagues veterans and educate and help local Little Leaguers.

It was the idea of Robert Hieronimus and his wife, Zohara, both of whom are radio personalities and have a profound interest in the Negro Leagues.

As a child, Hieronimus once went to a Negro League game with his father in Pennsylvania. He heard the abuse the players took from the fans. He saw the conditions in which they had to perform. He watched them win, 18-3.

And not one of them complained.

It wasn't until 1991, nearly 27 years later, that Hieronimus found out about other injustices to players from the old leagues, including Major League Baseball not providing them with pensions.

"I am embarrassed by Major League Baseball and the way they TC have treated these players," said Hieronimus. "They paved the way for well-known players, like Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson. Through these new Little League teams, they will continue to serve as quality role models for young people today."

Under the program, four Baltimore Little League teams -- two in Bolton Hill and two in Govans -- were selected to receive the uniforms and equipment after submitting written proposals.

The 60 players are divided evenly among four teams of 15 each; two are of 13-14-year-olds and two of 15-16-year-olds.

The $15,000 grant for the project was provided by the Children of Lenore P. and Harvey M. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund of the Associated Jewish Community Federation.

"We're so lucky to have a sponsor like this," said Bryan Braddy, 23, one of the coaches of one of the 15- and 16-year-old teams. "When I played, we had to go out and sell candy bars on the streets to sponsor a team. Now we're getting a chance to tie in some history. I've been telling all of these guys to go over, talk and learn from these players. I'm 23, but still learning."

Also learning were Ian Rowe, 13, and Adrian Henson, 14.

About 10 players sported the replica uniforms yesterday. The shirt collars were trimmed in black, with the same color stitching running down the middle. The pants were white, the socks black.

The uniforms are 50 percent cotton, 50 percent polyester, not the original flannel.

The kids were still proud.

"They're sharp and we're honored to wear these uniforms," said Martin, 16, from Southwestern High. "There's a tradition behind these uniforms. The older black players weren't allowed to play in the major leagues, so they had to play in the Negro Leagues.

"They had a lot of struggles, but they were still the best. This puts a little pressure on us. We'll be real happy to do just as good . . . uh, well, just to win a few games."

Cash, a catcher with the Philadelphia Stars, said: "It's a great honor to see the little kids wearing the uniforms. It's good for them to know what we had to go through to play this game. And most of us would have played it for nothing."

As Cash circled the room, a line of autograph seekers drifted with him. He would tell another story.

There was the time the Philadelphia Stars played four straight road games and the fifth was to be played in Tyler, Texas, completing a 2,200-mile trip. But when the Stars arrived in Tyler, they were not allowed to dress in the locker room.

Only whites dressed there. The Stars had to dress under the stands.

"My only regret is that I was born too soon," said Wilmer Fields, a pitcher with the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh. "Boy, would I love to play today. These guys don't seem to play with as much enjoyment as we did. Maybe it's because of the money and prestige. If I had to give a young player advice today, I'd tell them to learn to play all positions. I hear Little League kids already saying they are a stopper, or short-relief guy. We never heard of that."

Stanley Glenn, a catcher with the Stars, said, "I have told the young kids to keep their bodies in shape, enjoy what they're doing and never underestimate anybody."

And with that bit of advice, Glenn began to think about another story. So did Cash. Maybe about the time Glenn lost 18 pounds while catching a triple-header. Or the time he tripled off Satchel Paige in their first matchup.

"Those were the times, and these uniforms bring back great memories," Cash said. "Now let me tell you about Don Larsen. You remember the time . . . "

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