This past weekend the Pirates held their annual African American Heritage weekend. From the beginning luncheon to the grand finale Boyz to Men concert Chaz Kellum and the Pirates organization put on a great affair. The man who introduced the keynote speaker for the kickoff luncheon was none other than manager Clint Hurdle, who was as always his “real” self. I was also pleasantly surprised by the short but sweet speech and the humor of keynote speaker Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
I am, however, not pleased with the less than stellar response by the Black community. Oh there was a plethora of the Black who’s who attending the luncheon spit shined—fresh haircuts gleaming—under the lights of the event. Oh, of course we were all kicked back with our feet placed comfortably and pristinely under the crisp linen adorned tables of the PNC Park Lexus Club.
The Saturday evening Pirates/Kansas City Royals battle and the grand finale Boyz to Men concert should have boasted the attendance of at least 20,000 paid African-Americans fans of the more than 39,000 fans who enjoyed an exciting game and an inspiring concert. The African-American game attendance was a bit disappointing.
This was a series of events honoring past, present and future Black MLB stars but I wonder about our folk. It seems that events that profile the accomplishments of Black Americans in this neck of the woods must be totally free of charge for our “peeps” to become enthused about attending. I looked around PNC Park from my perch high in the press box and was embarrassed. Some folks will go out on a date to one of the many Loews theatres or other of cinema houses and shell out a nice piece of change to see one of the many Tyler Perry “Madea Goes to Washington” Amos ’N’ Andy minstrel type pieces of cinema. Oh, I neglected to mention the dinner for two prior to the movie. Don’t forget the popcorn and the Raisinets. Anyway, it is easy for me to visualize an individual spending $80-100 on a Tyler Perry evening cracking their sides at the buffoonery that is supposed to be honestly depicting Black life but if they can’t get a free ticket to a Pirates game, they won’t go.
The forefathers who paved the way for Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to play MLB were Negro Leagues players who were forced to sleep in segregated hotels, face humiliation on a daily basis and play for peanuts even when many were stronger and faster than their White counterparts. Negro League players excelled because of their natural athletic abilities. Former Homestead Grays legend Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard had this to say about spring training. “Little teaching took place in [Negro] league camps. Players learned the finer points of the game by playing. There was no extra work, no special coaches to work on techniques, and no concern about conditioning. Such things were considered lavish and strictly for White clubs with money.” (Leonard quoted from Gardner and Shortelle, 1993)
The style of play in the Negro Leagues was also far more physical. Floyd “Jelly Roll” Gardner who played for the Detroit Stars and the Chicago Americans during the 1920s and early ’30s had this to say about everyday play in the all Black league. “When you got on first it was pretty rough going. Infielders would come down on your legs and spike the base runner. You had to duck those throws on double plays. They’d throw it at you. You needed hats like they got now at that time. All the infielders wore shin guards like a catcher—and they needed them.” (Gardner quoted from Gardner and Shortelle, 1993)
I saw 50 to 60 people proudly wearing replicas of Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawford’s uniforms. As a fashion statement the new shirts perfectly complimented some of the new sneakers and Kangol hats that were accessories. The heat was brutal and sweat was flying everywhere mixed with Armani, White Diamond, Seduction and any other fragrance that the wearer splashed on.
The only thing that was missing was the blood, sweat and tear stains that adorned the uniforms of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and the rest of their colleagues as they struggled to rest after a long day on the field and an even longer night trying to find a place to lay their heads. When Negro Leagues players stripped off their uniforms after a brutal day of competition and social degradation, the soiled pieces of fabric more than likely resembled miniature “Shrouds of Turin.”
There are a few things that are sacred and should remain so. If you put on a police or army uniform you may be arrested for impersonating an officer. If you put on the uniform of a priest and someone gives you a bible quiz; you may be embarrassed. It is my advice that no one should don the uniform unless they can feel the pain, goodbye.
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