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A Chat with Former Negro Leagues Player Mahlon Duckett

At the opening ceremony for the Phillies MLB Urban Youth Academy last weekend, I had an amazing opportunity to meet and interview Mahlon Duckett. 

Duckett is the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Stars, which was a team in the Negro Leagues. In 1940, at the age of 17, he began to play infield for the Stars. He played in Philadelphia for nine years before moving to Pittsburgh, where he finished out his career with the Homestead Grays in 1949-50.

On Sunday, I had a chance to ask Duckett about his time in the Negro Leagues, his thoughts on the Academy, and what advice he had for young players.

Growing up, did you enjoy playing baseball?  When did you decide you wanted to be a baseball player?

Yes, it is a lovely game.  I actually started playing ball when I was probably 10 or 11 years old, and I always loved the game so I always wanted to be a ball player.

What was the best part about playing in the Negro Leagues?

The best part about playing in the Negro Leagues was that they had some great ball players.  It was really a privilege for me to be playing with and against some of them.  Our league was very strong.

Do you remember when you heard that Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier?  How did you feel?

Yeah, pretty clearly.  Not only me, but all of the ball players in the Negro Leagues. We knew if Jackie went over there and played, it would open the door for all of us in the Negro Leagues.  We all know what Jackie did. He turned out to be one of the greatest ballplayers of all time.  So it was great.

Do you think that kids nowadays are any less into baseball than they used to be?

When I was coming up, baseball was basically all we had.  Now there’s so much else: basketball, football.  Especially with the black kids, a lot of them are picking up basketball, which is great for them to get into schools. But not as many are playing baseball.

How do you think the Urban Youth Academy program will get kids more into baseball?

I think this program is great for the kids.  It will get a lot of them more interested in baseball, and we may have some superstars out of this program.

What advice do you have for young baseball players?

What they should do is stay in condition and try to be the best they can because there is a lot of talent out there and there are a lot of opportunities.  I think this is going to open the door for a lot of these kids, and we’ll really see some great ballplayers out of this area.

Photo: Miles Kennedy/Phillies

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