Monday, November 21, 2005

The Proposal (written Nov. 2005)

Repeated below is the proposal section of my post (originally published at my other blog)

The Task Ahead

As journalists, the obligations of sportswriters do not end at reporting and analyzing the events of the present.

The last Negro League games were played in the 1950's. Although six decades of Negro League baseball were written into history due to the unfair and unsportsmanlike segregation of the sport, Negro League Baseball became an integral part of the game's character. The Annual East-West game, the barnstorming of teams all over the nation, and the performance of players like Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, and Josh Gibson became defining moments in the lives of adults and children across the country.

In particular, African Americans growing up under the shadow of Jim Crow could not look forward to participating in Major League baseball. While they could still idolize individuals like Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner, they could not aspire to playing in the Major Leagues. Rather, they often looked to the Negro Leagues for inspiration.

Those children are now in their declining years. If their stories and their accounts of the game are not recorded now, they will never be heard firsthand. There may still be someone who saw Willie Foster pitch in the late 1930's. There could still be individuals who saw Buck Leonard play with Josh Gibson in the late 1930's, a pair which would rival the Ramirez-Ortiz tandems of today in terms of offense. There might even be individuals who remember the 1931 Homestead Grays.

But in five to ten years, we might never be able to hear those stories firsthand again.

From what I have observed, Negro League baseball has thus far been documented through finding newspaper articles and box scores, and interviews and oral history accounts by players, owners and scouts. But I am concerned with individuals who had a different intimate involvement with the game - the fans.

As journalists, sportswriters have an obligation to document and report history, to make their readers aware not only of what is happening, but also of how the events of today relate to the events of yesteryear. I would ask sportswriters, between now and February, to write at least one article that calls attention to the vote that will take place on February 27th, and which profiles one Negro Leaguer who has or had local ties.

At the end of the article, I would ask the writer to append a plea to the readers - to send stories or pictures of their experiences with the Negro Leagues to the papers.

After a suitable amount of time, and hopefully, several responses, a follow-up article could then be penned detailing the answers.

If we get enough articles written in papers across the country, a compendium could be created, of hundreds or thousands of stories of how the Negro Leagues looked and felt firsthand.

It is admirable that Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame is currently compiling the game data, and that soon, we will recognize more of the legendary individuals who played the same game as their white peers but were relegated to secondary status, as human beings and baseball players, but nevertheless played with joy and determination because they loved the game.

But think of how much more we can accomplish by reaching out through our newspapers and our media. In addition to immortalizing these individuals and their contributions through statistics and a plaque in the Hall of Fame, we can spread awareness of the history of the game. We can compile our memories of these players, so that their contributions to all our lives can endure, and continue to inspire and educate.

At this moment (this blog was created Nov. 20th after all, even though I've been thinking about the vote since the summer), I am still wondering about the feasibility of this plan - how would I get the attention of sportswriters, and is there a "critical mass" after which I could call this a success? do I need to try to get a version of the above column in an op-ed somewhere? should I get sportswriters to sign up? would getting word to college newspapers be a good place to start, perhaps? should I start a new blog dedicated to this, and post suggestsions and player biographies so that sportswriters might have a good starting point? or would that be too presumptuous?

So please, if you are reading this, please leave me feedback or ideas about how to make this proposal better and how to promote it.

At the moment, I am thinking about creating a new site dedicated to this topic, asking visitors to email their local sportswriters directing them to the site, and asking sportswriters to email me so I can put their names and/or their projects on the site. I think if there is interest, getting attention through op-ed columns would be a good way to get more writers to sign on.

If anyone can come up suggestions, please leave a comment or email me at

If anyone feels strongly enough about this subject to write their local sportswriters, please do so and tell them to email me at the above address so I can gauge interest.

And if you happen to be a sportswriter, please email me to tell me how I can help writers with their research, with suggestions for players, and with feedback about the topic. Also, if I do start a website devoted to the topic, I would like to record the names of writers planning on devoting a column to the subject, even if the text of the column itself does not need to be posted to the website.

Thank You


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