A Fine Malloy Weekend In Cleveland and A Farewell to Bob Creamer
Don’t let your East or West Coastal snob friends downgrade Cleveland. I just returned from a wonderful time in the historic city on Lake Erie. I spoke twice on my favorite subject BRANCH RICKEY and how his moral passion and baseball business intelligence contributed to his signing of JACKIE ROBINSON. And how its success was veritably the first triumph of the modern civil rights movement.
I never tire of making the point publicly that the years immediately after World War II were the particularly propitious time for baseball to do both the right thing and the economically profitable thing. And Rickey alone among the baseball moguls seized the moment. My only sadness is that he didn’t enjoy more of his triumph because WALTER O’MALLEY ousted him from Brooklyn after 1950. The last 15 years of Rickey’s life were not as successful as his earlier career and yet he never gave up hope of doing better and doing good.
For a while I wasn’t sure I’d make the trip. I was stranded for 10 hours at LaGuardia Airport during last Wednesday’s terrible rainstorm. But I made it by midnight and was delighted to be staying near the Terminal Tower in downtown Cleveland. For a New Yorker walking around the historic old buildings and finding a deli that was open 24 hours (!) were great treats.
I also learned that the impressive downtown Sailors and Soldiers Monument near the Terminal Tower uses real cannons from the Civil War. And that 80% of the fresh water in the U. S. comes from the Great Lakes that supply 20% of the entire world’s fresh water. Not too shabby for a Northern Ohio city that is too often the butt of snotty jokes.
My first speaking engagement on Rickey was for the Columbia Alumni Association. Among the folks who came out to hear me was a student from Rutgers over 40 years ago and one that I had taught just a few years ago in the Columbia graduate sports management program. One doesn’t get rich in this country being an educator but being remembered by students is a treasure that money cannot buy.
ALL HAIL SABR’S JERRY MALLOY NEGRO LEAGUE CONFERENCE!
My second speaking gig was as part of an author’s panel for the 15th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference sponsored by SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research). The late Jerry Malloy was a pioneer researcher into the neglected story of the Negro Leagues and black baseball at its deepest roots.
Finding the gravesites of black ballplayers and digging new sites for rediscovered players are among the most widely and deservedly acclaimed activity of the Malloy group. The indefatigable DR. JEREMY KROCK announced at the conference that money has been raised for a new gravesite for SOL WHITE, a pioneering late 19th century/early 20th century ballplayer and historian of his craft. It will be dedicated in Staten Island sometime this fall. As will shortly three other new gravesites for former black baseball players.
On a Saturday author’s panel I was honored to share thoughts on research and writing with the eminent Cleveland sportswriter TERRY PLUTO; the multi-talented writer, author, singer, photographer BYRON MOTLEY who is currently working on a film on the Negro leagues; and THOMAS AIELLO, author of a
searing new book “The Kings of Casino Park: Race and Race Baseball in the Lost Season of 1932” (University of Alabama Press, 2011) about the unknown story of a successful black baseball team in 1932 playing in Monroe, Louisiana, a heavily segregated town known infamously for its inordinate number of lynchings, and revealingly the home town of author Aiello.
Another Malloy highlight for me was hearing the distinguished University of Miami (Florida) history professor DONALD SPIVEY whet our appetite for his new Satchel Paige biography “If You Were Only White” (University of Missouri Press). Spivey gave an engrossing talk on the women in Paige’s life, including CORNELIA BOWEN a Harvard graduate student of education, a confidant of Booker T. Washington and a director of the Mt. Meigs Colored Industrial School. Too loosely called a reform school, Mt. Meigs was genuinely devoted to the welfare of temperamental pupils like Paige. And Bowen was one of the teachers that steered the future Hall of Fame pitcher away from petty thievery towards learning baseball skills and some basic knowledge on how to cope in white society.
Another wonderful moment at the conference came on Saturday morning July 21 when the LARRY DOBY stamp was unveiled in a ceremony at the conference hqs at the ornate Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland. Similar festivities were held in Pittsburgh for WILLIE STARGELL, Boston for TED WILLIAMS, and New York for JOE DIMAGGIO.
I know snail mail is a very endangered activity these days but next time you mail a letter ask for the Doby and Stargell and DiMaggo and Williams stamps as part of the Major League All-Star collection. They are 45 cent forever stamps (all stamps nowadays are forever stamps, I have been told.)
FAREWELL TO THE IMMORTAL BOB CREAMER:
ROBERT CREAMER, 90, great sportswriter, baseball biographer, raconteur (who brought life and passion to the often tedious Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary), and most of all, dear friend, died peacefully Wednesday afternoon July 18, 2012 at his home in Saratoga Springs.
He was a founding writer on ”Sports Illustrated” and remained on its masthead to the very end. His Babe Ruth biography brought him to national attention as a great writer not just a sportswriter.
In one of our last conversations he told me that he liked his Casey Stengel biography better. He was pleased that he described well the hard conditions Stengel endured as a ballplayer and before he became famous in New York as an obscure manager in the days when the baseball business was almost entirely controlled by management.
It has been said that if a writer creates three sentences in a lifetime that pleases him or her, then he/she has lived a good life.
I think Bob Creamer wrote far more than a dozen such sentences. And like the great ones he could write wonderfully short or long.
I particularly love the opening sentence of the Stengel biography:
“Casey Stengel naked was a sight to remember.”
In the Ruth biography here is a more expansive Creamer writing about Babe after his union with his first wife:
“He was married, the pleasures of the flesh no longer a boy’s furtive longings, but a sanctioned activity actually approved of by the state and the church.”
We will miss Bob dearly but his words and his spirit are immortal. There will be a memorial service for him in Tuckahoe, New York, his home town just north of the city, sometime later this summer.
That’s all for now.
Remember: Take it easy but take it!