Vincent Percy Lee, 89, played for several Negro League teams

September 25, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Vincent Percy Lee, a Baltimore native who played with the Baltimore Black Sox in the professional Negro Baseball League, died Saturday of cancer at Levindale Medical Center in Northwest Baltimore.

In addition to the Black Sox, Mr. Lee, 89, played for many Negro League teams during his 23-year career, including the Baltimore Elite Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Miami Giants and Denver Monarchs.

"He just loved to play baseball," said Louis C. Fields, a friend and Negro League historian who has researched the teams and players for the last five years. "He could play baseball every day."

Lean and spirited, Mr. Lee was known as "Shorty" to his teammates. He played catcher, shortstop and third base and usually batted leadoff.

From 1919 to 1942, he played against many Negro League stars, such as Leon Day, Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Slim Jones and Buck O'Neil.

"He played with anybody that would pay him the most money for a game," said Jimmy Dean of Ambler, Pa., and a veteran of the Negro League. "Like everybody else, he wanted to have fun, but he wanted to make some money, too."

Mr. Lee also played against white teams while growing up in South Baltimore, including an exhibition game against a team with Babe Ruth, who came to his hometown to play with the St. Mary's Industrial team.

"He [Mr. Lee] never turned down a chance to play baseball," Mr. Fields said. "And he played against everybody the same way -- hard."

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Lee was raised on Sharp Street near what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He played baseball nearly every day that it didn't rain or snow and was partly warm. #F "Playing baseball was the only thing to do," Mr. Lee once told friends.

He started playing as a youngster for a white team called the Dominoes, where he was also the mascot. When he was 11, he played for his church team, the Ebenezer Royals.

In 1931, he played for the Baltimore Black Sox. "They offered him a crab cake and $60" a year, Mr. Fields said. "He got the crab cake but never got the $60. So he only played for a year."

The team played at Westport Stadium, Druid Hill Park and Patterson Park before disbanding in 1934.

"They'd draw a lot of fans out to see them because their games were lively and often better than other professional games," said Negro League fan Samuel White, 85, a Baltimore native. "Also, people knew and liked them and could relate to them."

Mr. Lee never complained about not being able to play in the white professional leagues.

"Playing with white players didn't become an issue until the 1940s," Mr. Fields said. "At that time, playing in the Negro League was a highlight. You were a hero if you could walk through town and say you play for the Black Sox in the 1930s. Playing for them was baseball heaven."

After he retired from baseball, Mr. Lee worked in maintenance for the city school system for many years, and was a driver for the Estep Brothers Funeral Service.

For 78 years, Mr. Lee was a member of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church on Montgomery Street in South Baltimore, where services were held Wednesday.

In 1949, he married the former Angeline Sands, who died in 1996. He is survived by his daughter, Juanita Lee, of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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