Monday, June 26, 2006

Negro Leagues legacy honored

By Joe Rutter
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The rising number of Negro Leagues promotions, the ones where major leaguers adorn throwback uniforms for one game, has taken Theodore Toles to cities throughout the East.

Toles, 80 years old and a former Negro Leagues mainstay, is happy the stop he made Monday in Pittsburgh was one he can make again.

Any time he wants. As many times as he wants.

"These things seem to be catching on everywhere," Toles said. "But here, they're trying to get ahead of everybody."

Toles was referring to Highmark Legacy Square, a permanent Negro Leagues tribute that the Pirates unveiled yesterday at PNC Park.

The tribute, located inside the left field gate entrance, is dedicated to Pittsburgh's two Negro Leagues teams, the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. It is an interactive exhibit that features a 25-seat movie theater and bronze statues for seven Hall of Fame players. The statues are accompanied by video kiosks that enables fans to learn about each player's background.

The exhibit is the first of its kind housed inside a major-league ballpark and is trumped only by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

"There is a lot of good energy here," said Toles, who played one season for the Crawfords. "This looks like it's part of a neighborhood. I think it's going to help everybody learn about the Negro Leagues teams."

Toles was joined by another former Negro League player, 99-year-old Wallace Williams. Relatives were on hand representing families of Josh Gibson, Cumberland Posey, Sellers Hall and Curt Roberts, the first black player signed by the Pirates.

Once inside the ballpark, they watched youngsters from the Josh Gibson Little League Association of Pittsburgh unveil statues for seven Crawfords and Grays players who have gained inclusion in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame: Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams and, of course, Gibson, considered the greatest Negro Leagues player of them all.

Gibson's statue is the first one fans will encounter when passing through the entrance.

"If you give me one word to describe it, I would say overwhelming," said Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of the legendary player and president of the Josh Gibson Foundation. "I'm glad the Pirates were first to do something like this, and I hope it inspires other cities to do the same. Pittsburgh was called the center of black baseball. To have Josh involved in this way is such an honor."

The theater contains wax figures of Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee and Posey, owner of the Grays. Their introduction begins a 12-minute presentation that showcases the history of the two teams.

The Pirates had considered adopting a Negro Leagues tribute in 2001 when PNC Park opened, but plans were put on the back burner. With the franchise hosting the All-Star Game in two weeks and the national media descending on Pittsburgh, it seemed like an appropriate season to make good on those plans, said Pirates managing general partner Kevin McClatchy.

It took more than a year of work, and some help from the Kansas City museum, to make yesterday's event become a reality.

"I'm glad we were able to get it done for the game," McClatchy said. "Hopefully, afterwards, when schools take tours of the ballpark, they'll explore this area which focuses more on the education of baseball.

"It's a great display, and it makes PNC Park, which we all say is the best ballpark in America, a little bit better."

Joe Rutter can be reached at

link to this story

Monday, June 19, 2006

Charles Johnson, 96; Former Player in the Negro Leagues

LA Times | From Times Staff and Wire Reports
June 19, 2006 Charles Johnson, 96, a former Negro League player who was credited with helping to pave the way for blacks to play in the major leagues, died Saturday of complications from prostate cancer.

After his playing career, Johnson worked to push major league baseball to offer pensions to former Negro League players. He also won an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad in the mid-1960s after he was turned down for a special agent position, said his friend Steve Kirby.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Gordon Hopkins Sr., 71, Negro leagues ballplayer

Philadelphia Inquirer | By Gayle Ronan Sims Inquirer Staff Writer

Gordon "Hoppy" Hopkins Sr., 71, a former second baseman in the Negro American Baseball League who played with such greats as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays before they joined the majors, died of heart failure last Friday at home in West Philadelphia.

A native of rural Montgomery County, Md., he fell in love with baseball as a boy, watching his uncle kick up dust with his spikes. He spent summer afternoons watching the Sandy Spring Stars and Washington Potomacs play near his house.

"At age 8 or 9, I was going to the games," he told the Washington Times in 1999. "I knew all the players. I never paid to get into a game."

As a teen, he played with the House of David ball club, a Michigan-based religious team.

He played infield from 1952 to 1954 with the Indianapolis Clowns, sharing the dugout with Aaron, who began his career with the Clowns. In 1953, Mr. Hopkins batted .400 in a postseason barnstorming tour of star players. He played with one of the few women in the Negro leagues, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, who pitched for the Clowns. And he played against Mays when the future Hall of Famer was with the Birmingham Black Barons.

At 5-foot-9, Mr. Hopkins was nicknamed "Flash Gordon" because he was fast.

"He ran so fast that infielders sometimes would not even try to throw him out at first base," his son Paul said, adding that his father was fond of saying: "I love that diamond dust that flies when I slide into second."

Mr. Hopkins never made much money playing ball, no more than $150 a week. But he loved the game just the same, his son said. "One summer night, my father told me, he hit a bases-loaded triple, and a fan gave him $20 and a standing ovation. He never forgot that."

Mr. Hopkins joined the Marines in 1955, and played ball on the military teams, including the All Navy Game and All Marines Championship Team at Parris Island, S.C., and in Puerto Rico.

When he was discharged in 1958, he moved to Germantown to take care of a sickly aunt, his son said.

By then, however, his baseball career was over. Soon after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, major-league baseball began recruiting the best black players, and the Negro leagues began their decline. Mr. Hopkins never again played professionally.

Mr. Hopkins, who dropped out of high school early to play baseball, decided to continue his education. He graduated from Bok Vocational High School in 1960, specializing in cabinetmaking. That year, he married the girl next door, Barbara Benton. After she died in 1969, Mr. Hopkins moved to Maryland. He returned to the region in 2003, settling in West Philadelphia.

For most of his adult life, Mr. Hopkins made custom cabinets and traveled the country signing memorabilia, promoting the history of the Negro leagues and fighting for medical benefits for former players. Until his death, he was secretary for Yesterday's Negro League Baseball Players Foundation, based in Milwaukee.

Mr. Hopkins was honored in 1991 by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as one of the living legends of Negro leagues baseball. And in 2002, he was inducted into the Milwaukee Brewers' Walls of Honor, a memorial in Miller Park honoring Negro leagues baseball.

Mr. Hopkins played the tenor saxophone and enjoyed jazz. He also was a gifted golfer and often played with Earl Woods, his son said.

In addition to his son Paul, Mr. Hopkins is survived by sons Gordon Jr. and Gregory and one granddaughter.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 230 Coulter St., Germantown. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery, Willow Grove.

Donations may be made to the Gordon "Hoppy" Hopkins Foundation, Diamond Dust Enterprises, 534 W. Queen Lane, Philadelphia 19144. The foundation works to provide medical assistance for former players of the Negro leagues.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or