By Frederick Dakarai
I have grown to love the annual Negro League Tribute game by the Milwaukee Brewers which started in 2006. As a re-born baseball fan (2005), I have had the honor and privilege to meet some of the great players of the Negro Leagues and hear many of their hilarious and at-times disheartening stories.
As 90 year young Joe B. Scott told the crowd at Miller Stadium about a conversation with then Major League Commissioner, Judge “Kenesaw Mountain” Landis at Wrigley Field.
Scott told Commissioner Landis that, “One day Blacks will play in the “Big Leagues”! Landis responded, “No Negro will ever play in the Major Leagues while I’m alive!” Landis died and two years later, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was signed as the first African- American in Major League Baseball.
The Brewers honored Ollie Brantley and Clinton “Butch” McCord just before the first pitch. Ollie Brantley pitched two seasons with the Memphis Red Sox (1951-52) and played in the minor leagues from 1953-69. Butch McCord spent five seasons in the Negro Leagues as a first baseman and outfielder with the Nashville Cubs, Black Vols, Baltimore Elite Giants and the Chicago American Giants from 1946-50. He also played in the minor leagues from 1951-61.
McCord was unable to travel, but his former American Giants teammate, Joe B. Scott, attended on McCord’s behalf.
Besides Ollie Brantley and Butch McCord in attendance at the pre-game tailgate at the adjacent Helfaer Field, were Carl Long of the Birmingham Black Barons, Dennis Biddle – Chicago American Giants, Reggie “Baby” Howard – Indianapolis Clowns, and James Cobbin who started his career with the Pittsburg Pirates minor league system then was drafted by the Army where he won the United States Army World Series in Europe during WWII and returned to play with the New York Black Yankees.
A Little History
There was probably no better baseball played anywhere than in the Negro leagues during the first half of the 1940s. This did not go unnoticed by the white leagues and only the “unwritten rule” kept integration at bay. Finally, in 1946, a new commissioner and a forwardlooking team brought it to pass.
Men such as (Jackie) Robinson, Larry Dolby, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and the ageless Satchel Paige, among others, showed that they could hold their own, and then some, in major league competition. This marked the beginning of the end for the black leagues. The Negro National League folded after the 1947 season, but the Negro American League played on, still producing talented ballplayers.
As the game versus the New York Mets started, James Cobbin entertained Courier staff royally with his stories. Cobbin stated, “that there was one game in Columbus, Georgia and the bat was crooked [laughs]. I hit three home runs off the top of the scoreboard that one game. Man, that bat was great! I loved that bat!
Make next year’s Brewers Negro League Tribute game a family affair and enjoy the game!