July 15, 2001 -- Before the Mets host Toronto today at
Shea, they will honor eight Negro League stars who
outlived Jim Crow and outlasted segregation. When the
Mets take the field, they will be wearing the uniforms of
the New York Cubans, in homage of the 1947 Negro
League World Series champions.
Chances are most of the fans in Flushing today have never
heard the names Armando Vasquez and James "Pee
Wee" Jenkins, who played for those Cubans, or Robert
Scott, who played for the Black Yankees.
For years, the Negro Leagues were ignored, as if not
talking about them somehow denied their existence, and
the segregation that spawned them.
But the 70 or so Negro Leaguers left are living proof of an
era when the U.S. sent black men to war, hoping they'd
never come back, an era that closed the door to
America's Game, as well as it's restaurants and movies
"[Former Yankee President] Lee MacPhail said we could
not play," rasped Stanley Glenn, who caught for the
Philadelphia Stars. "It just shows how narrow a person's
mind can be. For the last 35 years, that's bothered me.
No one should let you take their joy away."
Glenn, tall and regal as ever, with his graying heard and
glasses, joined former teammate Mahlon Duckett and
Scott at the Yogi Berra Museum last week for an exhibit
that honored their place at Yankee Stadium. It was a
place too long delayed.
The Yanks were one of the last teams to allow black
teams to use their park, just as they would be one of the
last with black players, until Elston Howard in 1955. But
the Lincoln Giants' John Henry "Pop" Lloyd - a Hall of
Famer Babe Ruth once called the best player ever -
convinced them to open the Stadium to the Negro
On the Yogi Berra Museum wall is a yellowed ad for that
July 5, 1930 debut, as the Giants beat the Baltimore Black
Sox. Over the next 20 years, Negro League play would
become a staple of the Stadium.
The Cubans had greats like Luis Tiant Sr., Hall of Famer
Martin Dihigo, and Felix Delgado, who returned to Puerto
Rico to run junior-league programs that produced Juan
Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and the Alomars.
The Lincoln Giants evolved into the Black Yankees,
owned by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; and Scott, who
played for them from 1946-49, can still remember the first
time he set foot in the Stadium.
"My first time there I asked my manager, 'Do we really get
to play on that grass?' It was so beautiful," said Scott,
smiling and tapping his walking stick on the floor. "You get
an eerie feeling playing there. Some of the greatest players
in history played there."
Glenn reminisced about crowds 40,000 strong, with the
men in suits and hats, and the ladies in dresses and long,
white gloves. And Duckett remembers the awe from the
first time he stepped out to second base.
"It's the greatest ballpark in the world. It was a great thrill
to play there," Duckett said. "My first time, when I walked
in and saw it, I couldn't believe I was there. I was a little
It was hardly typical of Negro League existence, which
was often Spartan and sometimes dangerous. Times had
improved much from the 1890s when there was an
average of 187 reported lynchings a year; but they had not
Almost every survivor of the Negro Leagues can recall
horror stories of their Southern road trips, of bussing past
D.C. into an abyss of racism and hatred that threatened
"When we [passed] Washington, I dreaded that," Duckett
said with a whistle. "There was so much going on down
there in those days: The Klan, people getting lynched. It
was really terrible."
Duckett remembers sleeping in buses, churches, even a
South Carolina funeral parlor; but by far the worst trip
was a trek through Mississippi with an all-star team.
Locals threw bricks through the windows of the bus, and
one of his teammates, a young Black Yankee infielder, got
hit in the head and lost an eye.
"We saw a state trooper. He asked us - I'll never forget
this as long as I live - 'Were they white?' We said 'Yeah.'
He said, 'Well, I didn't see anything,' " Duckett said. "You
never got used to it. But you just learned how to deal with it."