There's a fascinating story in The New York Times this morning about a man no one knew existed. In St. Petersburg, Florida, lives Silas Simmons, who, on October 14, will turn 111 years old--which is extraordinary enough. But what is even more astounding is the fact that Simmons appears to be the oldest living major-league baseball player--a former pitcher and outfielder who, from 1912 to 1929, played in a precursor to the legendary Negro leagues. Among the teams Simmons played for was the 1912 Homestead Grays, which didn't even become a member of the Negro National Leagues till 1935. He also played for the Germantown Blue Ribbons and may have even played for the Cuban American Giants.
Chief among those who verified Simmons' age and pro-ball history was Dr. Layton Revel, who, in 1990, founded the Center for Negro League Baseball Research in Carrollton. Revel has among the most extensive Negro leagues collection in the world--from game-worn uniforms and equipment to trophies and medals to old contracts and photographs. Got a question on the subject, Revel has about 18 answers. Writes The Times:
"[Revel] took particular interest and flew to St. Petersburg this summer to interview Simmons and confirm his birth date, career and stories. Revel was so excited that he plans to throw a party for Simmons on Oct. 14, with 30 to 40 former Negro leaguers — including the Hall of Famer Monte Irvin — gathering to celebrate his 111th birthday and hear about the even older days.
Most of those men played in the Negro leagues decades after Simmons, primarily in the 1940's and 1950's as the circuits were decimated by players jumping to major league clubs. Chances are that no face will look even vaguely familiar to Simmons."
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Three members of the Homestead Grays are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and James Thomas Bell, the man known as "Cool Papa" Bell. Simmons was 16, just one year from his first pro ball game, when Josh Gibson was born in 1911. --Robert Wilonsky