August 20, 2003
Variations of this article appeared in the Towson Times, North County News, and The Jeffersonian by Patuxent Publishing Company, Maryland
Web site is hit for Negro League 08/20/2003
Bert Orlitzky has helped put the Negro League Baseball Players Association on the map.
Before Orlitzky, who owns Metro Data Inc., a Cockeysville-based computer company, agreed to design and maintain the NLBPA Web site, the organization was relatively anonymous and almost broke.
Seventeen months later, Orlitzky says the site, www.nlbpa.com, attracts about 1,000 visitors a day and _ more importantly _ it helped the cash-strapped organization, which represents players from the long-defunct Negro Leagues, land a lucrative merchandising deal.
"The best thing that has come from it: They've gotten a licensing deal with a company in New York City," said Orlitzky, 42.
J.C. Penney is selling hats and jerseys from the Negro Leagues, and store officials say they can't stock the items fast enough, Orlitzky said. "They're flying off the shelves in the young men's department."
One reason for the popularity of the Web site is that it comes up near the top of the list when "Negro League baseball" is typed into the Yahoo or Google search engines.
Members of the group, all of whom played baseball in the 1930s, '40s and early '50s, are ecstatic.
"Words can't explain what the Web site has done for us," says Pikesville resident Ernest Burke, 79. "He doesn't charge us a damn cent. I get e-mails from all over the world."
A writer from New York contacted him earlier this summer by e-mail and plans to write an article about Burke, who played for the Baltimore Elite Giants from 1946 until 1949.
"As old as these players are, they realize how important the Internet is," Orlitzky said. "It does preserve the history of the Negro Leagues. It helps them get their story out globally."
Orlitzky is the second person to design a Web site for NLBPA. The group's attorney, Charles Winner, asked Orlitzky, who had built the Web site for Winner's Baltimore law firm, to improve the players association site.
Orlitzky describes himself as a diehard Orioles fan, but his knowledge of Negro Leagues baseball was limited. He had heard of superstars such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, but he did not know many of the other player names.
"I was spending three or four hours a day doing the research and laying it out," Orlitzky said. "I got 20 or 30 books. I purchased some on e-Bay, and I got some from the library."
The final product is impressive. It features some 300 player biographies, most written by Orlitzky, a calendar of player appearances and e-mail addresses for several players.
When the Kansas City Royals honored the Negro Leagues earlier this summer, the event was publicized on the site.
"I believe it's up there in the top three of baseball Web sites," Winner said. "It's created marketability and visibility for them. There aren't a lot of these wonderful men still living."
Winner, who has been the the player association's attorney for nine years, and Orlitzky do not charge the group for his services.
"The Negro Leagues have been kicked around quite a bit by Major League Baseball," Orlitzky said. "I felt this was the least I could do to help them and their organization."
Orlitzky has become close friends with Burke and many other players, including Manassas, Va., resident Wilmer Fields and Philadelphians Stanley Glenn and Bert Simmons.
"It parallels how I got involved," Winner said of Orlitzky. "They ask for help, and then you literally fall in love with the guys."