Negro Leaguer Scott enjoys spotlight
Honorary Brewers draftee appreciates recognition
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Joe Scott found himself in demand. Everywhere he turned, someone was shaking his hand or patting him on the back.
Whenever he shook free of the well-wishers, the 87-year-old Scott found himself sitting in front of a TV camera Thursday and doing interview after interview.
He reveled in the attention.
Sitting down for one TV interview, he was asked how fast he was. Scott told the interviewer he was very fast.
Faster than Cool Papa Bell, the Negro League great?
"Yeah, I believe I could outrun Cool Papa," Scott told the interviewer.
Now, perhaps Scott was stretching the truth. Who knows for sure, but since Scott had the luxury of playing against Bell, it would be hard to refute him. With a memory still as sharp as razor wire, Scott might well be telling the truth.
But Scott wasn't at the 2008 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday to weave yarns. He was there, along with 29 others who can trace their baseball pedigree to the Negro Leagues, for an event that Major League Baseball organized on their behalf.
League officials extended an overdue welcome to the baseball family to those African-American and Latino players who, because of racial barriers, had been excluded from it. They wanted the welcome to be a public one, so they tied it to the Draft.
As a prelude to the Draft, baseball held a "ceremonial" draft of surviving Negro League players. Each team drafted one player, and the Milwaukee Brewers took Scott, who spent two decades in "black baseball" with the Chicago American Giants, New York Black Yankees, Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Memphis Red Sox.
The event put baseball's spotlight on Scott, and he enjoyed it.
His day was winding down, but Scott wasn't. People were calling his name. The bus back to the hotel was about to leave, they said.
Scott told them to go ahead without him. He'd stay behind, because he had plenty more he needed to say before his day ended. He wasn't interested in cutting it short.
For Scott, this moment had been decades in the making. He'd always hoped Major League Baseball would embrace him, but he never thought the embrace would happen more than 50 years after he'd ended his playing career.
"It has been a great day," Scott said.
Indeed it had been.
Scott had come here to share the day with men who either played with him, played against him or played after him. Their paths hadn't crossed in more years than Scott cared to remember, but it was good to see these players again.
"I didn't recognize a lot of the players, because I played in the '30s and '40s, and they played in the '50s," he said.
Yet they all shared a common ground: exclusion from the Major Leagues because of their skin color.
Still, Scott didn't sit and bemoan that fact he never had. He had not a single regret in his bones, he said.
"I don't let nothing bother me," he said. "I don't worry about nothing. I never look back. I'm looking forward all the time."
That's the way he's always been, even when segregation reigned over baseball.
"I said one day the black ballplayer is gonna get to the Major Leagues," Scott said. "That was 1937."
That day never came while he was young enough to play the game. Scott's best days were behind him by the time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, and his day might never have come had it not been for this Draft.
While Scott and his contemporaries didn't officially get to the big leagues, they got the next best thing at this Negro League Draft: recognition for their contributions to baseball.
That alone brought a smile to Scott's face.
"This is a great day," he said.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.