Old friends

Negro League ballplayers recall game's shameful, glorious past

And when they played, they often drew 35,000 people, whatever the flavor.
Baseball's minority hiring record is improving, though at a glance, the front offices still have about as many African-American faces as the front counter at a North Dallas tanning salon. On the field, color is not so much an issue as attitude about color. The Rangers' clubhouse has been known for recurrent, often subtle problems between the white and Hispanic cliques. The black Philadelphia Phillies all had lockers in a single section.

But things have changed.
Down at the end of that table at this card show is the first woman to play on a major sports team--an NHL goalie--with about 12 young men waiting on her signature. "And you and me sitting here," says Buck. "Years ago, no little blonde white woman would be talking to an old black man.

"Or even what you do--you couldn't have been a sportswriter back then."
But there lies the danger of patting ourselves on the back. "Well," he says, "you know if we were all the same color, it would still be something. People would still find a reason to hate. I believe, though, that there's more good than bad in the world.

"Oklahoma City--that's nothing but hate. If we were all just alike, people would still hate, it would just be based on something else--where you live, your religion.

"I have never been bitter. I don't hate anything. I hate cancer. I hate AIDS. But I can't hate a person. And I know no one could hate me if they took the time to know me."

From the profits from selling memorabilia for the old Grays and Monarchs and other teams, Major League Baseball gives 50 percent to the players, 30 percent to the museum dedicated to the Negro Leagues, and 20 percent to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Now that the stuff is actually selling like crazy, major-league baseball is giving something back.

Buck's bread and butter was the Kansas City Monarchs. He also played with the Miami Giants--later, under new ownership, unfortunately named the Ethiopian Clowns. He also played with the Shreveport Acme Giants and the Zulu Cannibal Giants. You've gotta figure these clubs had to be owned by white guys to give them names like that.

Buck talks about how baseball's being marketed wrong. He wonders why more businesses don't sponsor inner-city teams to keep this game alive. "I don't want baseball to be all white," he says. "I don't want basketball to be all black.

"They're selling basketball to little kids--black and white kids. We quit selling baseball."

It is time for supper and another round of stories by these men who have spiked each others' drinks and bodies through the years.

I stand to walk away and get a big ol' hug.
Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe lifts an arm off the wheelchair and offers a "c'mere" wave.

"You know I am the oldest living ballplayer," he says. "I am 92." He also has a book, an agent, and testosterone with a half life. Double Duty wants me to come see him at his home in Chicago. He says a girl like me could make good money, $500, just goin' places with him or driving his Cadillac. "You could be the sugar in Double Duty's coffee in the morning," he says.

I shake my head agreeably, acquiescing to my own double standard. Double Duty gets away with it because he's 92, a great ballplayer, and spent much of his life as one of baseball's scorned. If I ever hear I could be the sucrose in Jose's Gatorade in the morning, Canseco would be toast.

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