August 4, 2004

Posted on Wed, Aug. 04, 2004

One door closed, another opened


For the Daily News

STANLEY GLENN says that baseball has done more for America than the Supreme Court. He's talking about equal opportunity, about civil rights, about race relations. He's talking about Jackie Robinson integrating major league baseball in 1947 and the way he played the game, opening eyes and hearts and minds.

"We're still far short of where we ought to be," Glenn said the other day. He is almost 80, speaking softly yet firmly, and if he thinks Robinson accomplished more than Brown vs. the Board of Education, he has earned the right to his opinion.

Glenn was a catcher for the Philadelphia Stars in the Negro National League in the late 1940s. They played their home games at 44th and Parkside, downwind from a railroad yard, which meant they often played in a flurry of soot spewed from locomotive engines.

"I hated that place," Glenn recalled. "Some times there was so much smoke, you couldn't see."

And now, the Business Association of West Parkside is planning a memorial to the Negro leagues, a statue sculpted by Phil Sumpter that will stand in a wedge of parkland at Belmont and Parkside. They hope to add a museum in the future, perhaps a Little League park. If they're wise they will videotape Glenn and the other four surviving members of that Stars team - Bill Cash, Mahlon Duckett, Harold Gould and Wilmer Harris - and keep those tapes on display at their proposed museum.

"There are some black players in the big leagues today, who don't even know who Jackie Robinson was," Glenn said glumly. "I find that appalling."

Glenn, a Philadelphia resident, was a teenager when he signed with the Stars, right out of Bartram High School in 1944.

"In '43," he said, "the Yankees came to see who I was. When they found out I was black, they didn't even say 'hello.' They just turned around and went back to New York.

"I knew Bill Cash. He was our ice man. We didn't have refrigerators back then. The Stars watched me play, then signed me. My first contract was for $175 a month and I thought I was rich. My dad worked for the Marine Corps on the docks and he wasn't making $175 a month.

"Eddie Gottlieb was the owner. A very fine man. He was a booking agent for all of the northeast so the Stars played in more major league ballparks than anyone, Yankee Stadium, Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field. We played at Shibe Park on Monday nights, when the Phillies and the A's were off.

"The Phillies and the A's might draw 10,000, maybe 12,000 for a Sunday doubleheader and we'd play that Monday night and draw 30,000. Newark had the best ballclub back then, had six guys who made it to the Hall of Fame, guys like Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day.

"Doby and Irvin made it to the major leagues. Dandridge was good enough, but he was 9 ½ cents short of a dime, like a lot of us. He won everything in Minneapolis, but he never made it to the Giants.

"I thought Rufus Lewis was the best pitcher in the league, better than Satchel Paige. He'd throw the first pitch at your head, the next pitch at your ankles. He was pretty tough."

Glenn was drafted into the Army in '45 and missed most of the prosperous '46 season, playing some games while on leave.

"The Dodgers signed Jackie in '45 and sent him to [their minor league team in] Montreal," Glenn said. "He played first base, a position he had never played before. Was rookie of the year.

"We were glad the Dodgers signed him. Also skeptical. Jackie only played 1 year in our league and he wasn't the leader on that [Kansas City] Monarchs ballclub. They had two all-stars at short and second. Jesse Williams was the shortstop and Bunny Serrell was at second, so there was no place for Robinson to play.

"Then Serrell jumped to Mexico when all that money [was being thrown] around. Williams moved to second and Robinson got to play shortstop."

Branch Rickey signed Robinson and then Jackie wrote a scathing article for Ebony magazine, blistering the caliber of play in the Negro leagues and the men playing the game.

Glenn thinks the story came out of culture shock.

"When Jackie got into organized ball," he said, "he realized what it was like. We'd leave the YMCA and drive from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Get there the next day and play that night.

"We'd play a doubleheader in old Comiskey Park in Chicago on a Sunday, get on the bus at 6:30 and play a twinight doubleheader at Shibe Park that Monday. We'd stay in private homes or some flea-bag hotel. Eat on the bus. We faced segregation anytime, anyplace, anywhere."

He celebrated Robinson's big-league debut, even though he knew it meant the end of Negro league baseball.

"We go out and talk at schools, at colleges," Glenn said. "We always leave time for questions. And recently, a lady asked me how I could be so happy about baseball integrating when it took away one of the things we were so passionate about and that it seemed to help so few people.

"I told her, 'One door opened, and then 80 other doors opened.' "

Glenn recently has taken on the job of vice president of the Negro League Players Association.

"When we go to Atlantic City for our annual Pop Lloyd week," Glenn said, "Double Duty Radcliffe will be 102 years old. Still got all his marbles.

"But there are only 25 of us left, men who played in the league before 1950, which is when it died. I like the idea of a memorial in town, a place where tourists can come, keep the history alive."