Here's to you
Negro Leaguers honored at Dodger Stadium
By Ben Platt
It's five days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, but a baseball game was played at Dodger Stadium today. It was not only a game, but
according to the Black Baseball Players Association that put on the event it was "The Game Of The Century."
The game was a fundraiser for the association and a way to honor many of the surviving members of the old Negro Baseball League which flourished during the
1930's and 40's, but ended in the early 1960's after the Dodgers' Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line in 1947.
A group of recently retired Major League players including Darryl Miller, Dave Henderson, Vince Coleman, Lenny Randle, Kevin Bass, Glenn Braggs, Pedro
Guererro, Mariano Duncan and Darryl Thomas, put on vintage style uniforms and played on the two teams named the Los Angeles Black Sox and Houston Black Jax.
"To come out here and represent the Negro Leagues and show them how much we care means a lot to me," said Thomas, who played for both the Dodgers and Padres during his career. "Somebody had to pave the way and I'm sure they feel proud of
themselves and how hard they worked in order for us to get these opportunities and I know a lot of the younger plays don't understand exactly what these
players went through and now they'll get a chance to see some of the old Negro League players and understand just how hard they worked and how well they did play."
"I told Ted Milner, who put on this event that this was a great idea, especially because he was planning on putting it on in February, which also happens to be Black History Month, said former Major League player and coach Reggie Smith who
served as one of the managers today. "For players such as myself who had a chance to play with some of the (former Negro League) players as a kid, this is
a great tribute."
Jimmy Rollins and Juan Pierre accepted Legacy Awards last week from the employees at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Branch Rickey had several reasons for signing Jackie Robinson to a pro contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Historian Steve Goldman has the details.
Segregated Baseball: A Kaleidoscopic review
While the very existence of the Negro Leagues was necessary because of the racial divides in the United States, black baseball not only survived -- it excelled.
Barnstorming was common place in the Negro Leagues.
It was fitting that the game be held at Dodger Stadium, for the Dodgers were in first in the modern era to integrate Major League baseball.
"The main thing was getting an organization that really cared about what happened," said former Astro and Dodger Enos Cabell, who was also responsible
for gathering up many of the players to take part in the event. "The Dodgers had a total history of it and coming to L.A. was a must in my opinion, because the Dodgers changed the way that baseball was thought of because of Branch Rickey and bringing 36 former players to play in this stadium meant a lot."
Getting the players out for the event was absolutely no problem.
"For me, since I got the call for the Hall of Fame I haven't had to rest up and I've been traveling a lot," said Ozzie Smith, who will be inducted into the Hall Of Fame this summer. " I had to squeeze this event into my schedule because
I knew the importance of an event like this and my being at this event. Unfortunately I can't play today, but being here and seeing the former Negro
Leaguers and saying hi to guys you played with and against is always a great
"The former Major Leaguers gave of their time to be here and we actually more players who wanted to play, but just from the sure numbers of it, it was
impossible to do," said Smith. "We do have plans to make this annual event and more players plan to share in this."
But the real stars were the 44 former Negro League players who attended the event and parties this past week as guests of the association.
"It's nice to get the recognition," said former Negro Leaguer John "Mule" Miles, who was one of the Negro League players honored before the game. "Let the people know where we come from, because if you don't know where you come from, you
never know where you're going."
"It's an exciting moment," said organizer Ted Milner as he watched the Negro Leaguers be introduced individually on the field by actor Blair Underwood. "It's probably the greatest part for me seeing them get introduced."
Milner, a former minor-league player and now successful business executive, invested more than $400,000 of his own money into creating the Black Baseball Players Association and putting on the event, says that he didn't care if anyone showed up to the game as long as the Negro Leaguers received their due. But looking into the stands and seeing more than 5,000 turnout for the game, pleased him a great deal.
In the end Los Angeles defeated Houston in a tightly contested battle, 4-3, with Glenn Braggs hitting a solo home run. But the game itself really didn't matter. Old players, who played in a league that vanished more than 40 years ago, were able to get a chance to walk on a baseball diamond one last time and hear the overdue ovation from the loving crowd.
Ben Platt covers the Dodgers for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.