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Peter Valenti

baseball player and executive, was born Henry Aaron in the Down the Bay section of Mobile, Alabama, the third of eight children of Herbert Aaron and Estella (maiden name unknown). His parents had left the Selma, Alabama, area during the Depression for greater opportunity in Mobile's shipbuilding industries. In 1942, as the family grew and Down the Bay became more crowded with wartime job seekers, the Aarons moved to a rural suburb of Toulminville. Working as a boilermaker's apprentice, Herbert Aaron suffered through the frequent layoffs that plagued black shipyard workers before wartime demand dictated full employment. Ever resourceful, Herbert Aaron bought two lots in Toulminville, hired carpenters to frame out the roof and walls of a house, and set about with his family to find materials to finish the property. The Aarons continued to live in the house even as Henry achieved superstardom.

Making balls from such scavenged ...

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Paul Finkelman

baseball player, baseball executive, civil rights advocate, and businessman. Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Herbert and Estella Aaron. He was a member of the second generation of black baseball players to enter the major leagues following Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line in professional baseball in 1947. Aaron began playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1954; at about the same time Willie Mays joined the New York Giants and Ernie Banks joined the Chicago Cubs. They were among the last black players who began their careers in the Negro Leagues. In 1974 Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record of 714. When he retired from baseball in 1976 after twenty three seasons Aaron held the career records for most home runs 755 most runs batted in 2 297 most total bases ...

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Alonford James Robinson

The third of eight children, Henry Louis Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, to Estella and Herbert Aaron. His first experience with professional baseball came in the Negro Leagues, as he moved up through the ranks with the Pritchett Athletics, the Mobile Black Bears, and the Indianapolis Clowns. In 1952, the Boston Braves of the newly integrated major leagues signed Aaron to play shortstop in their farm system. Moving from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to Jacksonville, Florida, Aaron made it to the majors in 1954, playing for the Milwaukee Braves (now the Atlanta Braves).

Aaron is considered by some to be the best baseball player in history. Over his twenty-three-year major league career, Aaron compiled more batting records than any other player in baseball history. He holds the record for runs batted in (RBIs) with 2,297, and was a Gold Glove Winner in 1958, 1959 ...

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Leslie Heaphy

infielder for the Kansas City Monarchs Negro Leagues baseball team, was born Newton Henry Allen in Austin, Texas. The names and occupations of his parents are unknown. Allen attended Lincoln High School, Kansas City, Missouri, and played ball for the Kansas City Tigers while still in school, before leaving to play for the Omaha Federals in 1921. While handling the middle of the infield for the Federals, Monarchs owner J. L. Wilkinson saw the youngster play and signed him to his All-Nations ball club. After only one season with the All-Nations, Allen was promoted to the Monarchs in 1923.

Allen played for twenty-three seasons in the Negro Leagues. Most of his playing time was spent at either second base or shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the original teams in the Negro National League established in 1920 In addition to playing for Kansas City Allen ...

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Adam W. Green

baseball player and manager, was born Felipe Rojas Alou, in Haina, Dominican Republic, to Jose Rojas, a carpenter/blacksmith and grandson of a slave, and Virginia Alou, a homemaker and Caucasian daughter of a Spanish migrant. The second Dominican-born player in major league baseball, Alou was one of three baseball-playing brothers and became the first Dominican to manage in the big leagues.

Alou grew up with five younger siblings in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot house his father had built in the village of Haina. For much of his childhood, food came from where Alou and his family could scavenge it: using bamboo poles and construction wire to fish in the Haina River or climbing coconut trees and scouring for other fruit. Baseball equipment was scarce in the poor village, and Alou and his brothers would play with lemons or coconut husks for balls and their hands for bats.

Alou traveled to ...

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Adam W. Green

baseball player, was one of four sons born to his father, Shube Alston, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Alston went to the all-black Dudley High School in Greensboro. Upon graduating, he joined the United States Navy in April 1944 and trained at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. He served on a cargo ship for a year and a half before being discharged in March 1946. Alston enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University, where he began to play baseball competitively. At 6 feet 5 inches and over 200 pounds, Alston was physically suited to a number of school sports, and the school's athletic director attempted to entice him into playing basketball and football as well, but Alston balked. He received his degree in physical education in 1951.

Before graduation Alston began his foray into semiprofessional baseball first for the Goshen Greensboro Red Wings and then for ...

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Larry R. Gerlach

baseball umpire, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Littleton Ashford, a truck driver, and Adele Bain. Ashford was two or three years old when his father abandoned the family, so he grew up under the strong influence of his mother, a secretary for the California Eagle, an African American newspaper published in Los Angeles. As a youth, Ashford exhibited the traits that marked him in adult life as a gregarious extrovert. At Jefferson High School he was a sprinter on the track team, a member of the scholastic honor society, and the first African American to serve as president of the student body and as editor of the school newspaper. He graduated from Los Angeles City College and attended Chapman College in nearby Orange from 1940 to 1941. From 1944 until 1947 he served in the U.S. Navy.

Ashford began his umpiring career ...

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Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born in Empire, Alabama, the third of five sons of Garnett Bankhead Sr., a coal miner, and Arie (Armstrong) Bankhead. Baseball was in the family blood: Garnett Bankhead was a power‐hitting first baseman in an Alabama industrial league, and all five Bankhead brothers played in the Negro Leagues, though Dan was the only one to play in the major leagues, becoming the first black pitcher in modern baseball history.

After attending various public schools in Birmingham, Alabama, Bankhead followed his two brothers Sam and Fred into the Negro Leagues, when he signed as a shortstop with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940. He soon moved to the pitching mound, establishing himself with a dominant fastball and effective breaking ball; in 1941 he was named to the East West All Star Game hurling a pair of shutout innings That winter he played in the Puerto ...

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In 1955 Ernest Banks, known to millions as Ernie Banks, set a record in American professional baseball by hitting five grand-slam home runs in a single season. Among other notable achievements, Banks was the first player in the National League (NL) to be named most valuable player two years in a row (1958–1959). A shortstop and first baseman, Banks played with the Chicago Cubs for his entire nineteen-season career, earning the nickname “Mr. Cub.” He possessed an infectious enthusiasm for the game and was known for his favorite saying: “Let's play two today!”

Banks was born in Dallas, Texas. As a child he excelled in high school baseball, Basketball, and Track and field. He chose to pursue baseball, signing with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950. After a 1951–1953 stint in the army Banks finished ...

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Richard Sobel

Major League Baseball player and sports marketing executive, was born Ernest Banks in Dallas, Texas, to Eddie, a semiprofessional baseball player, WPA worker, and wholesale grocery employee, and Essie Banks, a homemaker. Raised in Dallas as the second child and first boy of twelve children, his mother said he “was a blessing to us all” (Contemporary Black Biography, 2002, 17). Ernie graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas in 1950 and later took courses at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and other colleges.

At Washington High, Banks excelled in baseball, basketball, and track and field (high jumping 5‘11'’, broad jumping 19 feet). Once batboy for his dad's semipro team and on the Washington softball team, during high school summers he played in a barnstorming “summer time baseball troupe,” the Amarillo Colts, earning $15 a game (Current Biography, 1959 After graduating from ...

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Ronald Eniclerico

baseball player. One of the most successful major league baseball players never to play on a championship team, Banks earned a reputation during his nineteen-year tenure with the Chicago Cubs as one of the most solid, dependable players in the game. He was known for his affable, optimistic attitude, epitomized by his well-known catchphrase: “It's a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let's play two!”

Banks was born in Dallas, Texas, to a poor family. In his autobiography, Mr. Cub (1971), he relates the story that, when he was a child, a boy from his neighborhood stole a chicken that had been intended for the Banks family's Thanksgiving dinner. Banks's mother had killed the chicken herself, and Banks had to wrestle the boy for the bird in a nearby basement apartment to reclaim the family's dinner.

Banks began playing softball in high school where he first played shortstop ...

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Caryn E. Neumann and Jill Dupont

[This entry includes two subentries, on the Negro Leagues and on integrated professional baseball.]

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Question: “Just tell me, why do you think there is still that much prejudice in baseball today?”

Answer: “No, I don't believe it's prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager.”

Guess the year those words were uttered. 1930?1950?1970?1987. The further irony is that the context was a late-night talk show commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson shattered the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB). On top of that, the interviewee was Al Campanis who at the time was vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers Campanis was interviewed because he had played and roomed with Robinson and on many occasions actually defended him against racial onslaughts Campanis was fired the next day The event was a stunning reminder of the perhaps more subtle ...

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Christopher Devine

baseball player, was born Earl Jesse Battey Jr. in Los Angeles, California, to Esther (maiden name unknown) and Earl Battey Sr. His parents—particularly Esther who, from 1938 to 1948 was a catcher on women s softball teams such as the Watts All Stars the Ebonettes and the MacAfee All Stars encouraged him to play baseball as a youngster As a freshman at Los Angeles s Jordan High School Battey made the team only to sit the bench for the first six games of the season as a backup outfielder When the starting catcher split his finger during a game however coach Norm Forester looked to Battey his only nonpitcher left on the twelve man roster to fill in Battey turned out to be so good as catcher that he kept the position even after the previous catcher recovered At six feet one inch tall and 205 pounds the thick ...

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James A. Riley

baseball player and manager, was born James Thomas Bell in Starkville, Mississippi, the son of Jonas Bell, a farmer whose father was an American Indian, and Mary Nichols. James had six siblings, two sisters and four brothers, and said that his mother taught him to be an honest, clean-living man who cared about other people.

He was reared in the Oktoc community near Starkville and began playing pickup games on the local sandlots while attending the local school through the eighth grade. There was neither a high school nor gainful employment in his hometown, so in 1920 Bell moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to live with his older brothers and attend high school, completing two years before ending his formal education. Soon after arriving in St. Louis, he met Clarabelle Thompson, and they were married in September 1920 The marriage lasted seventy years but was childless ...

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Rob Fink

Hall of Fame Negro League baseball player. The son of a farmer from Starkville, Mississippi, and the grandson of a Native American, James “Cool Papa” Bell was considered the fastest man ever to play baseball. The legends concerning his quickness prove almost Herculean in the retelling, with numerous accounts of Bell scoring in games from first base on bunts by his teammates. Bell also stole 175 bases over 200 games.

Bell began his baseball career in his hometown of Starkville, competing in local pick-up games with older youths and adults on the local sandlots. As Bell entered his teens, he found himself forced to move to Saint Louis to live with a brother because in 1920 Starkville possessed neither an African American high school nor any job opportunities for young black men.

In Saint Louis Bell attended high school for two years while working in a packing plant He also ...

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James “Cool Papa” Bell's speed on the base paths was legendary. He was so fast it was said that he could flip the light switch and be in bed before the room went dark. Bell once stole an estimated 175 bases during a 200-game season, but the fine details of his career, as for so many other Negro Leagues stars, are poorly documented compared to those of his major league counterparts.

Bell began his career as a pitcher with the St. Louis Stars in 1922, at the age of nineteen. During his rookie year he struck out intimidating power hitter Oscar Charleston earning the nickname Cool from his teammates Bell s manager feeling the nickname lacked something added Papa The name stuck Shifted to the outfield to take advantage of his considerable offensive talents Bell spent more than two decades hitting for a high average and tearing up ...

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Jason Philip Miller

baseball player, was born Vida Rochelle Blue Jr., the eldest of six children in Mansfield, Louisiana, to Vida Blue Sr., a foundry hand, and Sallie, a homemaker. Blue was particularly athletically inclined, and during his time attending local schools he played both football and baseball, excelling at both. During his senior year at De Soto high school, he tossed thirty-five touchdown passes and scrambled for more than 1,600 yards. That same year, as pitcher for the school's baseball team, he hurled a no-hitter. Offers from colleges began rolling in, but before Blue could decide where to attend, his father died unexpectedly. Determined to make money to help his family—his mother briefly took work at a local shirt factory, but found keeping up with a job and such a large family surpassingly difficult—he bypassed college and instead chose to go pro. In 1967 he entered the ...

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John Bloom

baseball player, was born in Riverside, California, the first of four children born to Patricia and Bobby Bonds, a baseball player. In 1968 Bobby Bonds was called up to join the San Francisco Giants. The Bonds family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Carlos. By the time Bonds was five, he was spending his leisure time in the Giants' Candlestick Park locker room with some of the greatest baseball players of the time, among them Willie Mays, who adopted him as his godson.

Though an outstanding hitter and base stealer, Bobby Bonds was traded frequently in his career and had a tense relationship with the press Young Bonds was deeply affected by his father s treatment at the hands of apparently unsympathetic sports reporters something that would greatly shape his own relationship with reporters in years to come Although his father played for ...