SABR 45: Remembering the Negro Leagues

sabr 45 negro leagues

The 2015 SABR Annual Convention continued Saturday with yet another day filled with hilarious panels and research presentations that were equal parts info-packed and entertaining.

One highlight was a panel featuring two Negro Leagues players, Al Spearman and Ernie Westfield, moderated by SABR Negro Leagues Committee chair member Larry Lester. The three presenters went back and forth sharing stories of what it meant to play in the Negro Leagues and how they battled through adversity along the way. They told the crowd of baseball fans how they feel that if players like speedster Cool Papa Bell and slugger Josh Gibson were given the chance to play in the major leagues with white players, they would have been truly be able to showcase their talents.

sabr 45 negro leaguesLegend has it that Gibson hit more than 800 homers in the Negro Leagues, and that Bell once tried to steal second, and by the time the catcher caught the pitch, Bell was rounding second and on his way to third. This reminded me of the tributes to Ernie Banks and Minnnie Minoso the day before. That was the exact point that Phil Rogers had made about those players: It took so much for them to just play their best as MLB players that history and even their teammates often chose to overlook or forget just how great they were even before they got to the Majors!

Westfield also shared poems that he had written about his time in the Negro Leagues. These poems featured references to Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil, among others. Westfield is one of many players from his generation who feel that O’Neil should be elected into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. This poem talked about how when O’Neil passed away, he went to heaven, which is the best type of hall of fame. These two poems really stuck with me.

This meaningful panel struck the crowd very much, and it was easy to tell that they were all touched by the poems and stories. We all learned a lot from these two icons – from their stories, their actions, and their poetry.

Max Mannis is a special correspondent for and a member of SABR. Check out his contributor page to catch up with his past stories on baseball and SABR events. 

Photos: SABR, Max Mannis

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