Originally published at Dean’s World.
Being my birthplace, St. Louis has shaped me in ways that other cities and even countries have not. One of the legacies of having grown up in the suburbs of that city is a deep appreciation for baseball. For me Summer will always mean high humidity, the smell of cut grass and the play-by-play called by Jack Buck and his right-hand man, Mike Shannon, on KMOX radio.
Funny thing is that the older I get, the more I appreciate the game even as the sport loses its luster with the public because of the whining, drugged-up multimillionaires that currently populate the sport, as well as the growing popularity of other sports like basketball and football.
But, if you’ve seen Field of Dreams, you know that for those who appreciate it, baseball is more than the money, and the problems, or even the deadbeat dads who play. So when the wife came home with this, I felt like a kid again and the magic that is the game of baseball came to life:
That’s Bill “Ready” Cash’s autograph. Bill “Ready” Cash was catcher for the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Baseball Leagues from 1943 – 1950.
Being a baseball fan in America today, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues of baseball were formed after the enactment of Jim Crow Laws made it legal to discriminate against African-Americans. Prior to that some African-Americans had played on white teams, including Bud Fowler, William Edward White and Moses Fleetwood Walker.
The history of the leagues are just as colorful as the history of baseball itself, with characters like Gus Greeley, an African-American businessman who started a baseball league in order to launder money, only to fall in love with the game and sink his fortune into it. Even Bill Veeck, who once put a midget at the plate for the St. Louis Browns, got into the act by trying to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and bring it over to the Negro Leagues. He failed when the Commissioner of Baseball moved quickly to find another buyer for the Phils.
Baseball history is first and foremost American history – of success and failure, racism and redemption. For the vile events of Jackie Robinson walking to the plate to the sounds of jeering and curses, there is the magic of Hank Aaron’s home run on April 8, 1974 when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Today with players from all over the world and all skin colors playing Major League Baseball, it’s easy to forget that even “Hammering Hank” Aaron regularly received death threats through the rest of his career which ended in 1976.
But before Hank Aaron, before Jackie Robinson there were men like Bill “Ready” Cash, who played the game for teams like the Philadelphia Stars just as well and in many cases better than the men who wore the uniforms of Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox. Today he is a living legend, and I am thrilled that the Wife was able to meet him.
UPDATE: Bill has written a book, along with a local sports writer, about his experiences on and off the field. They’ve had a heck of a time finding a publisher.
This is American history and a story that deserves to reach the widest audience possible. If anyone can help, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll pass along the info.