Justice Denied

Jellyman asks for an update on the pension Prince Joe never got.

Hey Joe: You said you were snubbed by Bud Selig and some of his cronies by not receiving your pension for playing in the Negro Leagues. Is that dispute still going on? And what do you think about former pro football players' current fight with the NFL? Sounds very similar to me. And they call these sports "pay for play." Tsk!

David Jellyman Abdul, University City

No, I've never received a pension. It is my understanding that football players lacking ten years have been denied pensions — which makes it a bit different from my perspective — but I admire every football player who has the courage to stand up in pursuit of what they feel is rightfully theirs. I believe their case has generated more national attention than that of former Negro Leaguers.

My first knowledge of former Negro Leaguers receiving pension was in 1997, almost two years after I attended the first Negro Leagues reunion in Kansas City — home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This was approximately 50 years after the beginning of the destruction of the Negro Leagues, a project most blacks initially thought was all positive. Following blacks' shellacking in the white farm system and majors, white baseball moguls are racking their brains trying to figure out how to bring black American-born players and fans back into their ballparks.

I am proud to see my modern-day brethren attain the heights they have. Notwithstanding the fact that it was the Negro Leagues that guaranteed their advancement: first, because it provided them a place to play, and second because American-born black players chose football and basketball over baseball.

The first group of players to receive pensions were those who played before 1947. The pensions were $10,000 annually. In 2004 Bud Selig lied to the nation about a four-year allotment of $10,000 each for needy former Negro Leaguers who had played parts of at least four years. Later this was redefined to mean "four consecutive years." The only notice of this I received was his statement I read in a local newspaper. By the time I contacted Selig's office, the matter of who would receive pensions had already been decided. It was finalized with assistance from former Negro Leaguer Robert "Bob" Mitchell, who in addition to getting the pension for himself, shook down his fellow recipients for $500 apiece.

In another year, Mitchell and the others will be pensionless because of the four-year expiration date. Then Selig will finish what white baseball moguls started in 1947: the destruction of the Negro Leagues' history. However, he could never have done this without help from Mitchell, the NAACP Defense Fund, the National Civil Rights Organization and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. These organizations accepted money from a so-called Civil Rights Game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians this past spring. The irony about this game is that it stemmed from an idea stolen from me — only the money would have benefited former Negro Leaguers instead.



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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