Negro Leagues Museum names all-military team

From Justice B. Hill at on February 1, 2013, with mention of SABR member Phil Dixon:

Explore U.S. history even a little and you will find story after story of how black Americans have stepped forward and played significant roles in times of crisis. From the Revolutionary War to recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, blacks have put their lives in jeopardy just as readily as their white countrymen have.

The historical literature is thick, of course, with tales of the military exploits of white baseball Hall of Famers like Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller. In Feller’s case, he left behind the prime years of his pitching career with the Cleveland Indians to serve his country. He never regretted it.

Before he died in 2010, Feller had often said his decision to enlist in the Navy for World War II was the proudest moment of his life.

“I could have stayed out of the whole thing — milked cows, planted corn, worked the farm or played baseball,” Feller said. “But there were some draft dodgers. Well, I don’t call them draft dodgers; I call them traitors. You see, if you’re physically and mentally capable of helping your country in a situation like that, where the freedom and sovereignty of this nation was at stake, it’s about time to get busy — either fish or cut bait.”

A legion of black ballplayers of Feller’s era — and even before – heeded their country’s call to duty, stepping forward and wearing the military’s colors with pride, said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

“It’s been very well-documented about Major Leaguers’ contributions and service to our country through various wars,” Kendrick said. “But not a lot of light has been shined on those Negro Leaguers who had done the exact same thing. They were essentially willing to fight for a country that wasn’t fighting for them.”

Kendrick, whose job is to keep alive the history of “black baseball,” said men and women who have chronicled “black baseball” could easily compile an all-star lineup of black ballplayers who served in the U.S. military. He so admired the patriotic spirit of those ballplayers that he did put together a lineup.

Partnering with Negro Leagues historian Phil S. Dixon, Kendrick compiled the museum’s All-Military Team. The team shows that, despite racial obstacles in the 1900s, many black ballplayers never hesitated when duty called.

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Originally published: February 1, 2013. Last Updated: February 1, 2013.