Negro Leaguers Drawing Crowds Again

April 18, 1995|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

From 1920 to 1950, 12 baseball teams -- six American League and six National League -- played among themselves, attracting 15,000 to 30,000 spectators to a game.

There was nothing unusual about that -- except that all the players were black. The 12 teams, owned by individuals in cities east of the Mississippi, made up the Negro Leagues Ballplayers Association.

"We played each other, not as many games as the other organized players, but we had playoffs between the American and National leagues and a World Series, just like the others," said Wilmer Fields, president of the Negro Leagues Ballplayers Association, based in Manassas, Va.,

Today, the association has 228 members, about 70 of whom played between 1920 and 1950. Most of them played from 1950 to 1955, when the organization started to break up as the Negro Leaguers were allowed to play on the major league teams.

At least 20 members of the association, including Mr. Fields, will visit Carroll County for the Negro Leagues Ballplayers Association Baseball Card and Autograph Benefit Show and Auction on Saturday and Sunday at Carrolltown Center. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Negro League baseball players and several local football personalities will sign autographs from noon to 4 p.m. both days.

The Negro League players will give their autographs for $5 and the football Hall of Fame players will sign for $10. All proceeds will go to the Negro League Ballplayers Association.

"They're wanting to split the money 50-50 between the players and the association for things like insurance and funeral costs," said Bob Urban of Eldersburg, who is promoting the show.

"The point is, there's no organization to help them or their families," Mr. Urban said. "The players who are coming -- the youngest one is, like, 73, and time's running out for these guys."

Negro Leaguers scheduled to sign autographs from noon to

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&TC p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday are Russell Awkard, Gene Benson, James Cohen, Mahlon Duckett, Leroy Ferrell, Wilmer Fields, Stanley Glenn, Wilmer Harris, Gordon "Happy" Hopkins, Elbert Israel and Max Manning.

Signing autographs from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 2 p.m. Sunday will be Negro Leaguers Bill Cash, Sherwood Brewer, Jimmy Dean, Josh Gibson Jr., Sammy Haynes, Bubba Hyde, Larry Kimbrough, Joe Black and Al Wilmore.

Former players Rodolfo Fernandez, Jose Figarola and Armana Bacvasquez also are expected to attend the show.

The late Leon Day's wife will represent the Hall of Famer, selling memorabilia for the Leon Day Memorial Trust, Mr. Urban said. Mr. Day died March 13, six days after he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Among the former Baltimore Colts expected to appear are Joe Washington, John Mackey, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Monte Irvin and Buck Leonard. They all are donating their time and autograph fees to the Negro League.

Besides getting autographs, fans will be able to bid on baseball and football memorabilia at the silent and live auctions.

A baseball bat signed by all the players at the show will be sold.

Dealer tables still are available for $125 for both days. Those interested can call Uncle Dave's Baseball Card Store at 781-6648 for table rental.

The Negro Leagues Ballplayers Association formed because of the men's love of the game. Mr. Fields said he began playing at age 17 in 1939, played in the Negro Leagues for 11 years, in Latin America for 12 years and in Canada for four.

"I was offered five major league contracts and turned them all down because I could make more money playing in Latin America," Mr. Fields said. "I pitched, played third base, outfield and shortstop -- I found you could make more money if you could play more than one position."

The association wants to have about seven shows a year across the United States, and is seeking places where the Negro Leagues played and where retired players live, Mr. Fields said.

Information: Bob Urban at 795-0033.

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