Febuary 1, 2003
FEBRUARY 1, 2003
Players recount joys, hardships of segregated baseball
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A new exhibit tells the story of the Negro Baseball Leagues, including a team that played here, through pictures and memorabilia.
Reuben Smartt and Henry Saverson - members of the semi-pro Grand Rapids Black Sox during the late 1940s and early '50s - know the story being told at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids from their own experiences.
"One time, it was early September and Satchel Paige was barnstorming with us," Smartt said of the legendary pitcher a Saturday story published by The Grand Rapids Press. "We were supposed to play in Montpelier, Ohio, and Satchel went to Montpelier, Indiana.
"Or he could have gone fishing, but that's what he told us."
The Black Sox had a player on their team, Joe Smith, who looked similar to Paige except Smith was a couple of inches shorter. Still, Smith entered the lineup posing as Paige.
"We played against a white team," Smartt said. "Back then, they used to say we all looked alike. Anyway, about the fifth inning Satch finally got there. But the fans didn't know the difference.
"They were saying, `That Satch, he got taller, he got stronger later in the game,'" Smartt said. "We laughed about that for a long time."
Smartt and Saverson became close friends as the shortstop-second base connection for the Black Sox, founded by the late Ted Raspberry, that played from 1946-54. Raspberry, who played for the Grand Rapids Colored Athletics, which preceded the Black Sox, later bought the Detroit Stars and the Kansas City Monarchs, two of the better-known professional teams in the Negro Leagues.
Saverson, the second baseman, played three years for the Stars and the fabled Monarchs in the 1950s after his stint with the Black Sox.
The Black Sox barnstormed to many big-league places, such as Briggs Stadium (home of the Tigers), Crosley Field (Cincinnati Reds) and the old Comiskey Park (Chicago White Sox). Smartt recalled the popularity of the teams.
"Baseball crowds were dwindling right after the war," he said. "But a lot of people would come to see us play. The Negro leagues had a lot of fans, especially the all-star games. A lot of times, white people couldn't even get a ticket to get in."
Still, racism reared its ugly head many times during Smartt's baseball career.
"It was an interesting time, you could see the crowds, see the tension," he said. "I had to go to the dentist at night, through the back door. He would take me, though, 'cause I was a ball player."
For more information on the baseball exhibit at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, please visit http://www.grmuseum.org/ -- This exhibition will explore the history of baseball's Negro Leagues, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and Michigan's connections to these unique stores. It will feature the fascinating people and the memorabilia related to minority and women's baseball. The exhibition opens at the Van Andel Museum Center in February and will run through August of 2003.