Mobile museum a fitting tribute

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Major League Baseball was the exclusive domain of white players from 1884 to 1947.

Despite billing itself as having the best players in the world, spots on National and American Leagues rosters were reserved for white players only.

Catcher Moses (Fleetwood) Walker, an African-American, played for the Toledo Blue Stockings, along with his brother, outfielder Welday Walker, in the American Association in 1884, considered a major league at the time.

"By 1900 racial attitudes changed and with collusion, owners kept African-American players out of ball, even the minor leagues, too," Raymond Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues museum, said from Kansas City this week.

JACKIE ROBINSON

In 1920, the Negro National League, the first of eight different Negro leagues, was formed and baseball flourished.

Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed infielder Jackie Robinson to triple-A Montreal Royals for the 1946 season and Robinson broke the colour barrier with the Dodgers in 1947.

While Robinson's signing opened the door for African-Americans, the Negro Leagues went from 16 teams at its peak to four teams before ceasing business in 1960.

The Times of Greatness mobile museum, presented by Roadway Express, arrives at the Rogers Centre tonight. The 53-foot tractor trailer will be outside Gates 6 and 7 of the Rogers Centre and opens at 6:30 p.m.

It features historic photos, video, uniforms and other memorabilia that illustrate the rich history of the league.

Featured players include James (Cool Papa) Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Buck O'Neil, along with a regional display which includes a replica jersey Robinson wore with Montreal, a newspaper with Robinson on the cover when the Montreal farm team won the International league, a Ferguson Jenkins autographed baseball and coins.

Many Negro League stars, too old to for the majors, headed north.

Speedy outfielder Jimmy Wilkes played three seasons in the Dodgers system before playing 10 years with the Brantford Red Sox of the Inter-County League.

A partial list of Negro Leaguers with their teams, followed by their I-C teams: Wilmer (The Great) Fields (Homestead Grays, Brantford); Gentry (Geep) Jessup (Birmingham, Galt); Larry Cunningham (Houston Eagles, Galt Terriers, Hamilton Cardinals); Ed Steele (Birmingham Black Barons, Galt) and Shanty Clifford (Homestead, Galt and Brantford).

Two former Negro Leaguers, elected to the Hall of Fame in March, headed to Canada.

Outfielder Williard Brown, a former Kansas City Monarch, hit .352 for Ottawa in the Border League in 1950 and right-hander Ray Brown, a Homestead ace, pitched in the Canadian Provincial League from 1950-53. He went 6-1 in 1950 and 11-10 in 1951 for Sherbrooke, Que., and then pitched for Thetford Mines in 1953.

Both will be inducted this summer at Cooperstown along with 15 other former Negro League players and executives.

Robinson opened the door, fought racial abuse in many cities and more players followed in his footsteps.

The Boston Red Sox were the final team to integrate, signing infielder Pumspie Green in 1959.

Robinson phoned to congratulate him. By that time, Robinson was retired.

"I think by 1959 there were 120 black and Latins in the majors," Doswell said.

"And the major awards were won by Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson."

The Negro League Museum is located in K.C.'s historic 18th and Vine District, sharing a building with a jazz museum six blocks from the corner Fats Domino made famous.

If you like baseball, you'll love the tributes to the Negro League greats, either in Kansas City or outside Gate 6.


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