January 20, 2003Several of our own NLBPA members are interviewed in this article.
Originally published January 20, 2003. Reprinted with permission from MLB.com and author.
Negro Leagues memorial planned
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- For nearly 20 years at the corner of the Belmont and Parkside, about 15 minutes west of where Veterans Stadium now stands, another ballpark played host to stars.
Sharing a city with the Phillies and A's, the Philadelphia Stars competed from 1933-52. Owned by Ed Bolden and featuring Dick Lundy, Jud Wilson and "Slim" Jones, the Stars captured the Negro League pennant in 1934. It was the last baseball championship for the city until the Phillies won in 1980. By then the park had long been torn down.
On Martin Luther King Day, the Phillies announced plans for a baseball memorial to be constructed at that site, to commemorate the players of the Negro Leagues. The Phillies are one of many organizations and individuals that have joined the Business Association of West Parkside in the project.
"Any way that we can aid in everybody permanently remembering that important era in baseball is great," said Phillies team president Dave Montgomery.
The centerpiece of the memorial will be a seven-foot bronze statue of a Negro League player, sculpted by Phil Sumpter, who also designed a statue of Roberto Clemente. The Phillies will maintain the statue for 10 years, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins will serve as the project's spokesperson.
The BAWP hopes to have the $65,000 statue completed by the first week of April and display it for 30 days at Veterans Stadium. From there, it will head to Kansas City and stay at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for another month. During this time, construction around the area of the statue's final resting place will be completed.
"I'm honored to support a project like this one that pays tribute to the Negro League players," said Rollins, who visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. "It is important that we remember their contributions."
Rollins went to the museum last February to accept the James "Cool Papa" Bell award, which he shared with Colorado's Juan Pierre as co-leaders of the NL in stolen bases. In May, he met former Stars Mahlon Duckett, Stanley 'Doc' Glenn and Harold Gould.
"Baseball in our lives has meant just that ... our lives," said Glenn, 76, who once caught Satchel Paige. "The guys here are not just players, but we've been friends for more than 60 years."
Glenn, 76, played with the Stars from 1944-50. He called pitches for Paige during the 1949-50 seasons, after Page left Cleveland.
"All you did was put the glove out and he hit it," said Glenn, assuming the position. "As hard as he threw, the ball was like a feather. He was easy to catch, because he was always around the plate."
The Stars originated from the suburb of Darby and were originally called the Hilldale Giants.
Former Phillies outfielder and current roving instructor Milt Thompson thinks the memorial is long overdue. His father, Wilbert Thompson, played in the Negro Leagues and took part in barnstorming tours, something Milt remembers as part of his childhood.
"They played doubleheaders on Saturday and a single game on Sunday. Every week, it was up and down [Route] 95," said Thompson, whose father died a few years ago. "It was the same ritual all summer. Being around the game like that motivated me to become a Major League ballplayer. These guys played the game right. I'm glad they're being recognized with a memorial in Philly."
As much as Glenn remembers calling signals for Paige, the 80-year-old Duckett recalls playing against Jackie Robinson when the Kansas City Monarchs would visit. He recalled Robinson's size, as one of the league's better shortstops. The men both felt they may have fared well if given the chance to play in the Major Leagues, but harbor no bitterness toward not having that chance.
Instead, they cherish their time on the field and the 60-plus years of friendships that went along with it.
"I'm not going to ruin my life by someone else's selfishness," said Glenn. "I'm happy with what I've got. I've lived pretty well and I'm not going to let someone take that away."Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com.