Negro Leagues Players Honored With Gravestones

Dink Mothell played in the Negro Leagues for 15 years. He died in 1980, and his gravesite has been just a patch of grass, no nameplate, marker or anything. On Saturday, a ceremony will at last grant Mothell's gravesite a tombstone, the result of efforts by two men to locate the remains of former Negro Leaguers. Greg Echlin reports.

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The stars of Negro League baseball often amassed statistics that rivaled and sometimes surpassed those of their white counterparts in baseball segregation. But records of those achievements can be spotty. So, too, can be records of the final resting places of many of those players.

Take Carroll Ray Mothell - best known as Dink Mothell during his baseball career in the Negro Leagues. Since his death in 1980, Mothell has been buried in an unmarked grave. He'll be remembered today at a graveside ceremony in Topeka, Kansas.

While he has no living relatives, a small group of people wants to make certain that Mothell and others from the bygone Negro Leagues era are no longer alone in their place of rest.

From Kansas City, Greg Echlin reports.

GREG ECHLIN: On a sunny afternoon in Peoria, Illinois, Jeremy Krock is pulling grass away from the edges of a black headstone.

(Soundbite of grass pulling)

ECHLIN: Buried below this memorial, installed just four years ago, is John "Steel Arm" Taylor. He pitched in the Negro Leagues 100 years ago. Krock leads a Negro Leagues committee, established by the Society for American Baseball Research, to track down lost gravesites, then raise money to pay for memorials. Honoring the deceased is something Krock traces back to his own upbringing.

Mr. JEREMY KROCK: My grandparents and great aunts and uncles were always attentive to family graves. And it's something we do. Back then it was Decoration Day. Every Decoration Day, we went out and tended to the graves.

ECHLIN: Two Baseball Hall of Famers enshrined in Cooperstown, New York - Pete Hill and Sol White - only recently had their grave sites discovered. Hill was inducted as an outfielder in the Negro Leagues; White as one of the earliest known Negro Leagues historians. Their graves have yet to be marked. Jeremy Krock is organizing efforts on their behalf.

Baseball Hall of Fame librarian Jim Gates says the work that Krock and others are doing sheds new light to the story of the Negro Leagues.

Mr. JIM GATES (Librarian, Baseball Hall of Fame): We bring to the young generation their attention to the fact that baseball was segregated, like America was, in those times and that these men were relegated to second-class status, and that we were all deprived of not seeing them play Major League Baseball.

ECHLIN: Mothell, Hill, White and Taylor, all segregated since they played in the Negro Leagues well before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Mothell's Kansas City Monarchs uniform is on display at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Museum curator Ray Doswell knows a lot about Mothell's career in the 1920s. But until recently, he was unaware that Mothell was buried in an unmarked grave.

Mr. RAY DOSWELL (Curator, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum): We knew very little about where some of them were buried and what the conditions of their memorials were. And I think the efforts that are being made right now to find these is very important to the historical record as well as just for sentimental reasons.

ECHLIN: For Jeremy Krock, this is an avocation. His real is job is as an anesthesiologist at a Peoria hospital. Krock knows it's impossible to fully make amends for the segregation these ballplayers were subjected to in their day, but he hopes a grave marker is a start.

Mr. KROCK: They played in anonymity and I just don't feel it's right for them to spend eternity in anonymity, to be buried in an unmarked grave after they passed away. It's just an injustice.

ECHLIN: This will be the 22nd gravestone installation for Krock. He started the project seven years ago. There's more to come though. He says the list of lost gravesites for Negro League players continues to grow.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin in Kansas City.

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