Febuary 27, 2005

Like God, Mother and 4th of July

Yanks should honor Negro League past

Copyright & Published in the Asbury Park Press 02/27/05
sourced from http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050227/SPORTS/502270500/1022

The way Scott, Robert remembers it, Yankee Stadium was not always the perfect diamond in the heart of the South Bronx. The way he remembers it, there were bald spots in the outfield, patches that would turn to red mud when the rains came, and the grass was sometimes a shade removed from green, and the dugouts weren't all that conducive to spontaneous celebration.

"You couldn't stand up in the dugout because you'd bump your head," Scott says, laughing at the way things were back in 1949, 1950.

That's when he was with the New York Black Yankees, who had been playing at the big ballpark ever since Col. Jacob Ruppert himself gave them permission. The good colonel apparently had a soft spot in his heart for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the beneficiaries of his largesse on the occasion of the first Negro League game played at Yankee Stadium, July 5, 1930.

Thirty thousand fans came, according to the Amsterdam News.

The great John Henry Lloyd was well into his 40s by then, but "Pop" still managed to get four hits that day. The renowned hoofer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was there, beating a local track star in a foot race, setting a very unofficial record by covering 75 yards in 8.2 seconds — running backward. Meanwhile, the band played on, in this case the band from Harlem's famous 369th Infantry.

"This wasn't just a baseball game," says Dr. Lawrence Hogan, senior professor of history at Union County

College. "It was a major historical event."

Dr. Hogan was going to explain all this Thursday night at the Lacey branch of the Ocean County Library. Unfortunately the snowstorm forced the cancellation of the presentation, which will be rescheduled for some time in April.

Hogan and Bob Scott were going to discuss the rich history of Negro League baseball played at Yankee Stadium. They were going to talk about the Black Yankees and how the team was once owned by "Bojangles" Robinson and James "Soldier Boy" Semler, a New York businessman and financier according to some accounts, an underworld figure according to others.

Hogan was going to share a piece of his life's work, which began innocently enough as a dissertation, turned into a book, then took hold as a full-fledged passion, a passion he has been indulging since the late 1960s, when he was teaching history at a high school in Norwalk, Conn.

He was also probably going to mention in passing that he thought it was a shame the Yankees have chosen to ignore an enormous chunk of Yankee Stadium history, that they could at least have acknowledged the existence of the Negro Leagues and the New York Black Yankees somewhere along the line.

There were never any Negro League games played at Shea Stadium, yet the Mets see fit to honor those players almost every year. The Yankees have honored them once, according to Hogan. In 1995 they invited Larry Doby and Bob Scott to come to the stadium for a little ceremony.

That was it. Commitment fulfilled.

So much for the plaque in Monument Park.

"I have never gotten directly to George Steinbrenner," Hogan says. "I've always been turned away by the gatekeepers.

"I think if I ever got to talk to him, he would be all for it. This is like God, Mother and the Fourth of July. Who would be against it?"

Good question. Is George Costanza still working for the Yankees?

Had the snow not intervened Thursday, Bob Scott was going to describe what it was like playing in the Negro Leagues all those years, through the '40s, into the '50s, until it was time for him to get a day job because he couldn't wait any longer for Major League Baseball to grow color-blind.

"It was just a time when people weren't thinking what life was all about," he says now, more than half a century after he finally had to give up baseball for brick laying, at the age of 29.

Robert Scott, right-handed pitcher and occasional first baseman, played from 1941 until 1955, according to the Negro League Baseball Players Association. He played for the Macon Braves and the Macon Cardinals back home in Georgia. Then he moved on to the Boston Blues and the Black Yankees. After that he returned to Georgia, where he played for the Sandersville Giants.

One of his teammates on the Black Yankees was George Crowe, a first baseman. He was 31 years old when the Boston Braves signed him, in 1952. He spent nine seasons in the major leagues. In 1957 Crowe hit 31 homers and drove in 92 runs for the Cincinnati Red Legs as they once called themselves — to avoid any misunderstanding with the House on Un-American Activities Committee.

Imagine what kind of career George Crowe might have had if the Boston Braves had signed him to a contract 10 years earlier, when he was 21.

Bob Scott was also a member of Jackie Robinson's All Stars, one of those barnstorming teams that traveled from town to town, taking on all comers.

Then there was the time George Sisler came around and offered him a contract with the Pirates, who wanted him to go to Grand Fork, N.D.

"I didn't want to go there, because of the weather," Scott says. "I'm from Georgia. I asked them, "Couldn't you find some place warmer for me to go?'

"But now I really wish I would've gone. George Sisler, he said I wasn't going there for long, just for a tune-up."

Instead Scott moved to New Jersey and settled in Elizabeth, where he still lives. There he joined the bricklayers' union, Local 18 back then. He was one of only three blacks in the union.

He had played in all the big ballparks. Comiskey Park in Chicago, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. — all of them. And for two seasons he had played his home games at Yankee Stadium, the most celebrated ballpark of them all.

"I can still see that lonely little flagpole sticking up in center field," he says now. "And the monuments — every time I think of those monuments I think of Jimmy Piersall hiding back there behind them.

"I couldn't stop laughing when I saw that. I saw that game on TV."

Scott couldn't have played in that game, though. That was at a time when people weren't thinking what life was all about, as someone once said.

Now the few who remain from the days of the Negro Leagues are left to wonder why the Yankees would choose to ignore them. It doesn't make sense.

Granted, they're very busy. Between Jason Giambi's non-specific issues and the Red Sox hurling insults at Alex Rodriguez, plus being stuck with Kevin Brown, the Yankees have a lot on their plate.

But how hard would it be to show a little grace and pause for a moment to remember all those black ball players whose feats went largely unnoticed by white America? How hard would it be to recognize the men who once played at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees were out of town?

The professor's right. This is God, Mother and the Fourth of July.