Exhibition complements exhibit as Hall celebrates Black baseball history
Harkening back to a bygone era, when the Negro Leagues played an annual midcentury all-star game, this coming Memorial Day Weekend in Cooperstown will revisit a possibly forgotten part of the game’s past.
On Dec. 5, during the Winter Meetings being held in Nashville, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum held a press conference announcing the Hall of Fame East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game will take place Saturday, May 25, at Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field, taking the place of the Hall of Fame Classic in 2024.
The Hall also revealed it will open the Museum's new exhibit, The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball, on May 25.
STORIES OF BLACK BASEBALL
Stories that highlight the lives and experiences of Black ballplayers through key moments in history, artifacts and baseball cards.
Besides Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith, who will serve as the East and West teams’ managers and coaches, players committed to participate include team captains CC Sabathia and Chris Young; Josh Barfield, Tim Beckham, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder, Dexter Fowler, Curtis Granderson, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jerry Hairston, Scott Hairston, LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Howard, Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Jeffress, Adam Jones, Russell Martin, David Price, Tony Sipp, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Dontrelle Willis.
Sabathia and Barfield spoke at the press conference about their involvement and interest in the game.
“When I got the call from Josh (Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch) about the exhibit they were doing and putting together a game, he asked me did I think I could get players there,” Sabathia said. “I was like, ‘We’re going to have to beat players off with a stick not to have them come to Cooperstown.’
I got a chance to take a trip up there two summers ago and it's just an incredible experience. Obviously, I went up there with my son and getting the chance to visit the Museum and now having the chance to bring all these players back that I'm so close with and that we're so close with and connected to actually play a game up there is going to be so much fun.”
Sabathia, who retired after the 2019 season with 251 career wins, then let slip that attendees of the game are going to see his comeback.
“My career ended with me ripping my shoulder up and not being able to throw a baseball anymore, but I'm rehabbing myself to be able to come back and pitch an inning in this game,” he explained. “So, I'm super excited to get up there and put on a good show with my friends that I know will really appreciate this.”
Barfield, a former big league second baseman and son of slugger Jesse Barfield, is now an assistant general manager with the Chicago White Sox. His great uncle, Albert Overton, was also a Negro League player.
“When Chris Young reached out about playing this game, like CC said, it was a quick yes. He didn't have to give me any details. I was in,” said Barfield. “The opportunity to step out there on the field again with a bunch of guys that you grew up playing with, playing against, watching, it's truly special. I think also bringing awareness to the history of Black baseball. Baseball is probably the most history rich sport in this country and Black players play such a big part in that.”
The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball exhibit will cover stories of early Black baseball, the Negro Leagues era, the complexities of reintegration, Jackie Robinson, post-reintegration progress and retrogress, and calls for change in today’s game while celebrating the newest superstars of the era.
“Since we started this process, we've talked a lot about how this exhibit is going to differ from the incredible exhibit we've had at the Hall for the last quarter century,” said Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch at the press conference. “And really, the big difference I would say is that this new exhibit, and this is not just updating an old one, this is really going to be a completely new exhibit. It’s going to be told from the experience of those who lived it, from players, coaches, managers, umpires, executives, fans. It's really going to be told in their voice and it's going to tell a story that starts all the way from the beginning of baseball being played with the earliest Black players up through today.”
Former pitcher Dave Stewart, a member of the exhibit’s 20-member advisory committee, said, “What I've learned through this process, and it's been really a learning experience more than it has been advising, is that there's a lot that's not known about Black baseball…And I know when we say Black baseball, you think Afro American baseball, but we also speak about the Latinos that have played the game. It's a deep process that I think that we've been able to get more than just the surface of, to understand the game, how the game has evolved and where we are today.”
Tony Reagins, MLB’s chief baseball development officer and a member of the advisory committee, added, “The work that we put forth as a group over the last couple years has been tremendous. I see this as a true collaboration.
“To be able to shine a light on the contributions of Black baseball, Black players specifically, in our great game and be able to pass that along to the next generation is extremely exciting. It really dovetails nicely into what we're doing in Major League Baseball, as it relates to Black players and trying to increase the number of Black players at the major league level and some of our youth initiatives.”
Tickets for the Hall of Fame East-West Classic are on sale now at baseballhall.org/east-west or at 1-888-325-0470 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.