Strong Bonds

Joe to Hank Aaron: Don't sell out! Back Barry!

 Hey Joe: What do you think of this Barry Bonds/Hank Aaron scenario?

Wendell McIntyre, Madison, Illinois

I think before this season is over, barring injuries and sickness, Barry Bonds will become the greatest hitter to ever pick up a piece of lumber and stroll to the plate. Because of his brash ways, many have turned their thumbs down on him, which he couldn't care less about. However, due to this alleged steroid thing, matters have grown increasingly worse. I've heard that Hank Aaron has decided not to attend the game that will coincide with the breaking of his home-run record. But whether Aaron likes it or not, it is going to happen.

Hopefully Aaron hasn't developed animosity toward Bonds. But if so, let it be! If Aaron has been duped into believing things regarding Bonds' personality and alleged steroid use, then he has fallen victim to the divide-and-conquer game, a philosophy that has been used for centuries to keep blacks from galvanizing.

Aaron must remember that during his playing days — no matter how congenial he was — once he neared Babe Ruth's record, hate mail came in from everywhere. He became the bad boy. Had Willie Mays not been drafted into the military for two years, he would have broken Ruth's record first and Aaron would have been chasing Mays' record. I'm sure Mays will be sitting in the ballpark to congratulate Bonds.

There are some things I think over and they disturb me. Such was the case last Sunday night during Sports Plus on KSDK-TV (Channel 5). During Frank Cusumano's interview with Tony Hawk, a white skateboarding champion, I heard him refer to Hawk as "the Babe Ruth of skateboarders." It let me know that the name of Babe Ruth would never disappear from white history. Even the Negro Leagues were oblivious. Josh Gibson, a prolific home-run hitter, was called "the black Babe Ruth." Then came Jackie Robinson, and the rest is history.

As a financial token for the destruction of the Negro Leagues, a few players who played before and after Robinson were given lifetime pensions in 1997. This was baseball commissioner Bud Selig's way of winning over the public by exhibiting how benevolent Major League Baseball was. In 2004 he announced that more monies were available for pensions to be paid to needy former Negro Leaguers who had played parts of at least four seasons. This was a lie. Many of the twenty players handpicked to receive the benefits were anything but needy. I fought this injustice by taking on MLB. I even wrote Selig a letter about staging a charity game, with the proceeds going to the players as pensions. Earlier this year my idea was stolen, when a "Civil Rights Game" between the Cardinals and the Indians was played in Memphis.

Don't sell out, Aaron. This is all related to the Negro Leagues and two former players — you and Mays — and Barry Bonds is a byproduct of it.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to heyjoe@riverfronttimes.com. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

 
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