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Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of April 20, 2006


Hey Joe: Barry Bonds says Major League Baseball is racist for investigating his alleged steroid transgressions. How does that strike you in light of the fact that the man he's chasing, Henry Aaron, is also black and encountered race-related death threats in his pursuit of Babe Ruth's home-run record?

Sammy S., Baltimore, Maryland

I'm puzzled over this whole steroid issue: Are they legal, illegal, excluded from players' contracts or what? Seems as if I've been hearing about this junk for the past 50 years. I would like to have a deeper understanding concerning it. Meantime, I will voice my opinion regarding its current status.

While growing up I had an extreme fear of snakes, whether poisonous or not. Maybe this is why I never chose to play outfield during my ballplaying career. Anyway, my father's theory about this was "kill the head and the tail will die."

After Bonds' 71st home run, all hell broke loose. Then come the Congressional hearings, and Mark McGwire is summoned. He was asked dozens of questions by lawmakers and he gave up nothing — probably figuring that most of them had tainted records longer than his shirtsleeves.

I like McGwire, Jose Canseco and that entire Oakland bunch, who thrilled the country at a time when parents could take their children to games and weren't robbed blind with purchases of tickets and hot dogs. Had MLB had a steroid problem then, it should have gone straight at the manufacturer. Kill the head and the tail will die. By not doing it, MLB sanctioned steroids.

My brother-in-law, Cleeve, a native Georgian, at times would relate stories of growing up there. His young friends and himself often patronized a white confectionery and bought dips of ice cream but always remembered when ordering a double-dip of vanilla and chocolate to tell the proprietor to put the vanilla on top of the chocolate. Otherwise he would knock a hickey on your head so big you wouldn't know whether the hickey was on your head or your head was on the hickey.

C'mon, Bud Selig and Congress! You're acting like Bull Connor, the former Birmingham, Alabama, police commissioner. You've blown your chance to correct the situation years back. Records are made to be broken. Millions of people are waiting to see Bonds break Aaron's record, and so am I. Those who dislike him, that's their problem. (It's a proven fact that love can't be legislated like hatred.) Black folks don't have hang-ups about one black breaking another's record.

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 If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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