Week of November 9, 2005

National League inferiority

Hey Joe: The past two World Series have featured American League teams that demolished their National League foes. To what do you attribute the AL's dominance — and, on the flip side, the NL's inferiority?

Jimmy Wynn, Houston, Texas

Although I am no avid baseball follower, I do enjoy watching it during postseason play. In recalling last year's series between Boston and St. Louis, the only difference between the two was Boston's combination of pitching and hitting. The same held true this year between Chicago and Houston.

Ever hear the saying, "Good pitching tops good hitting"? This was the case with St. Louis in successive years, first against Boston and then against Houston. Believe me, there are no inferior teams in either league. These guys are mostly millionaires, and on any given day, one team can beat the other. Remember the Florida Marlins' two World Series victories against American League teams?

During my earlier childhood, dynasties were the thing of the day. Teams such as the Yankees, Milwaukee Braves, etc. could remain powerful for years because of owners' control over the situation. Once free agency entered the picture, things changed. Owners were no longer able to retain players after a period of time. As a result, teams became more competitive because of big-pay involvement. But that did not always secure winners. Case in point: the Yankees over the past two years.

The escalation of money to purchase players has proven fatal to the St. Louis Cardinals. For the past two years, they have run away with their division. In spite of having some of the best players in baseball — and this year a fifteen-game lead over the Houston Astros — and although it was thought that they would be in the World Series, they couldn't get past Houston after demolishing San Diego. But that's the size of the game. This is why I mentioned the Florida Marlins.

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 [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

Scroll to read more Ask a Negro Leaguer articles


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.