One of the great travesties of baseball is the fact that for so many years it remained segregated. It was not until Branch Rickey brought up Jackie Robinson that the color barrier was finally broken. In this day and age it seems impossible to imagine baseball without color boundaries. It’s even more difficult for some fans to imagine that there was a time when baseball actually included a league devoted to African American players. That league was the Negro League and prior to 1947 it included some of the greatest players to ever play the game. For the longest time; the dedication of the players from the Negro Leagues has been underappreciated. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield felt that the time had come to make amends for that. He approached Commissioner Bud Selig and suggested that a special draft be conducted prior to the beginning of the 2008 First Year Player draft whereby each franchise would call out the name of a living representative who played in the Negro Leagues. The commissioner eagerly agreed and this commemorative draft was held earlier this week.
Many of the names had no meaning to the casual baseball fans. These were people and times way before many of us were even born and we had no connection to this past. The one thing about baseball is that it has statistics at the core of its existence. These statistics are what bridges the generational gaps in the game and allows baseball fans to put context around the different eras of the game. Unfortunately with the Negro Leagues there were very few statistics that we kept and even those that have been handed down through the years have been unable to be validated for accuracy. Because of this an aura and mystic has followed the Negro Leagues. Tales and stories have been told from person to person and each of them seem to grow to become almost unbelievable. What this has taught me is that the Negro Leagues were a well received time in baseball history and a source of great entertainment. Players such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson have become legends at a time when heroes were as much based on color as they were on deeds. The time seemed well over due not just for the draft but also for the inclusion of some of these great men for consideration for the Hall of Fame. While statistics may not be available to compare them against contemporary players, the contributions they made to the game warrant their inclusion in the hallowed hall.
For their part the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Robert “Bob” “Peach Head” Mitchell. Mitchell played for what was arguably the best known of all the Negro League teams. He was a pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs during their heyday. “Peach Head” was a pitcher and during 1955 he earned a 7-3 record. He was teammates with Satchel Paige who took the young Mitchell under his wing to try and teach him some of the pitches that made Paige such an amazing player. Bob Mitchell played for 4 years retiring after the 1957 season with a 30-14 record. This was not the end of his involvement with the Negro Leagues. In 1997 while working for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Bob Mitchell persuaded Major League Baseball to include players from the Negro Leagues in the pension plan that had been established that year. Because of his efforts more than 80 players began receiving annual pensions and another 185 including Mitchell himself petitioned to be included. Baseball was not initially receptive to the inclusion of these players. Mitchell worked with Senator Nelson to introduce legislation that would force baseball’s hand. He has become the face for former Negro League players and their mouthpiece in gaining the respect they richly deserve. His community involvements as well as his accomplishments as a player make him a great fit for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Welcome to the Diamondbacks “Peach Head”, we’re looking forward to seeing you out on the mound one final time. Hopefully the Diamondbacks will bring their newest draft pick to Chase Field to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. That would be an awesome site and would give the Diamondbacks fans an opportunity to show their appreciation for all of his efforts on and off the field.