Audio Portrait: The Negro Leagues
ED GORDON, host:
I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
This summer, a traveling exhibit of Negro League baseball memorabilia is making its way around the country. The Times of Greatness mobile museum stops at New York's Yankee Stadium and continues to Washington, DC, St. Louis and points south. This exhibit is keeping alive the great names of players that didn't always get the recognition they deserved. At a recent reunion in Durham, North Carolina, producer Jordana Gustafson caught up with three veterans and listened to their tales of barnstorming in the '40s and '50s.
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Mr. CARL LONG (Former Negro League Player): My name is Carl Long. I'm from Kingston, North Carolina. In 1956, come down here in the Carolina League and showed off. Me and Curt Flood, Leon Wagner and Willie McCovey tore this Carolina League all to pieces. They called me everything but the child of God. But I tell you what, I wanted to play baseball, and I got a chance to play it.
Playing against Satchel Paige, Satch told me, he said--when he first saw me, he said, `Come on, you fella. You come up here and take your three, and you go set down,' he said, `because I tell you right now, you're not going to make your name off of Uncle Satch, not unless you earn it.' Now Satch was throwing hard. The balls looked like BBs coming up there. I got in there, he said, `I'm going to throw you a fastball.' Satch was a comical person. He said, `Fastball. I want to see you catch up with this one here.' One of the fastest balls I've seen throwed. He throwed it right by me. I looked. Satch said, `No, no, no.' He said, `No, no, no.' He said, `You ain't going to never hit Uncle Satch standing up there looking.'
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Mr. GEORGE W. McFADDEN (Former Negro League Player): My name is George W. McFadden, and my baseball name is Smoky. I was a hummer ball. I hummed that ball when I pitched. That's my position, pitcher. That's why I got the nickname Smoky, very clear? I had a good catcher. He worked for the American Tobacco Company, and you know what he would do? You know the lime you put down there to mark off the spot where the batter sits in, you know? He'd take a little bit and put it in the middle of the mitt, and he'd catch that ball and it'd come out like smoke. And he said, `Now I swear to God, this mitt is smokin'.' And they started calling me Smoky from then on.
We played the Atlanta Black Crackers down in Wilmington, North Carolina, Friday and Saturday afternoon. I shut 'em out on Friday, shut 'em completely out. I shut out the Atlanta Black Crackers, and they had a big name. They was a big name in baseball. That day I pitched nine innings--nine innings. I always pitched anywhere from seven to nine innings, but now I can feel it. I can feel it now. You know, right here--right in my shoulder now. At night when I lay down a certain way on my right side, oh, I got to get off of that side. And my wife always say, `Old man, when he gets old, he can feel all his old aches and pains.' She just--I don't know, taunt me at night when I holler about, `Oh, my arm is hurting.' She say, `Uh-huh, told you about it.'
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Mr. WILLIE BRADSHAW (Former Negro League Player): My name is Willie Bradshaw, and we played regardless of how hot it was or whatever it was, (unintelligible) the summer. Once you finished playing, you walked around with a--probably a wool jacket on to keep your arm hot, as they say. But now you take the techniques for treating injuries--they have vastly changed. Pitchers get through pitching, they stick their arms in cold water and do whatever. And see, this would never happen with some of us, because some of the old ballplayers they told us it would hurt your arm, it would do this and do that and do the other.
Back during the times when we were playing, everybody ...(unintelligible) . If you were pitching, you were looked to go nine innings that particular day. If you didn't pitch nine--say you only pitched five; next day you had go four, get the other four, which made nine. So we talked about that today, and some of us seem to think if we could have played back--today, when they have, you know, closers and set-ups and the rest of those things, and a pitcher don't pitch five innings, you know, somebody going to get you, some of us probably could have been some good baseball players.
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GORDON: Baseball memories from former Negro League players Carl Long, center fielder for the Birmingham Black Barons and first African-American to play professional baseball in North Carolina; George "Smoky" McFadden, pitcher for the Durham Eagles and Durham Rams; and Willie Bradshaw, pitcher for the Durham Eagles and Rams and the Roxboro Colts.
To find out more about the Negro League traveling exhibit, go to our Web site at npr.org.
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