News » Ask a Negro Leaguer

Lindsay Lohan seeks Joe's wisdom.

Week of December 21, 2006


Hey Joe: A friend wants to get back in touch, mostly because we grew up together. But to me it's clear that we don't have anything in common any more. Should I pursue this friendship for old times' sake or make excuses to not hang out with her?

Lindsay Lohan, Hollywood, California

It is my firm belief that true friendship is based upon sincerity, but absolutely not upon selfishness. Fortunately, I have experienced such friendship. It dates back to a very early age in my life and a buddy of mine, Gene Crittenden. Even today we call one another if not every day, then every other day. Currently he is a resident of St. Louis, and I of Brooklyn, the place our friendship developed. Oddly, I can't recall how it happened, though I do remember the multitude of things we did together, of which two stand out in my mind.

Gene had a full head of curly locks and a deep love for his grandmother. For some reason, he was under the impression that she was responsible for his hair. Mine was always cut short. Many times we sat on the steps of a vacant house with me sitting between his legs on a step below as he played the part of a barber, using popsicle sticks as his clippers. One day while working on my hair, he told me that he was going to get some of his granny's grease and put it on my head so my hair could be like his.

I can't recall us ever having a serious falling-out, though we came close once. Gene's affection for me was similar to that he had for his granny. He thought I could do anything. One day we ventured a few blocks from our homes. The street we were on was Canal. Unfortunately, I got into a slight ruckus with a guy from that neighborhood who was about the same height and weight as me. Being the aggressor, I grabbed him. From this point on, I struggled to get myself free. Finally, while I was desperately trying to break loose, my elbow accidentally hit him in the jaw. Suddenly he began screaming about getting his brother. After this I got tough. My reply to him was, "You gonna fool around until I get mad and hurt you!"

Anyway, it didn't stop there. I was foolish enough to hang around until he brought his brother, who was much shorter. As he neared me, I began telling Gene, "I'm gonna kill 'im." About this time he was upon me, finger-pointing up in my face, wanting to know why I bothered his brother. Then he jumped into the air and slapped the taste out of my mouth. Before releasing me, the whipping he gave me was so severe that I begged him to kill me. On our way back home, Gene was in front of me walking backwards, asking repetitiously if I was gonna get him. "Hell no!" I said. "Didn't you just see me get got?!" Because of my answer we took separate routes home, but before nightfall we were back in each other's good graces. Eventually we undertook separate lifestyles.

The moral to the story is this: Our friendship didn't evolve from our parents' friendship. It was how we perceived each other. Many years have passed, but we still reminisce about the good times. I'm sure you and your buddy experienced many of these. During your phone conversations with the individual, bring those days back to life while explaining how you have changed. After a few times of this, if it gets boring, the person will slowly bow out.

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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