Recently at Comerica Park it was a natural fit for the Tigers first Interleague game, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to town. That National League team is definitely a regional rival, and it also has a rich Negro Leagues history with the famous Pittsburg Crawfords.
With Pittsburg as its guest and competitor, the Tigers hosted its 18th Annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game, and its Tenth Annual Negro Leagues Weekend marks the first — and longest running — three-day celebration of its kind in Major League Baseball.
Wearing the Negro League’s garb, the Tigers, paying homage to the Detroit Stars, sported their uniforms, while the Pirates represented the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Negro League uniforms worn by both teams, once represented their respective cities during the 1920s through the 1940s.
This year the Tigers paid tribute to 12 former Negro League players during a special pregame ceremony which included Frank Crosson, Charlie Davis, Joe Douse, Melvin “Buck” Duncan, Minnie Forbes, Bill Hall, Gene Johnson, Alton King, Jake Sanders, Pedro Sierra, Ron “Schoolboy” Teasley and Johnny Waer.
The ceremony was hosted by radio announcer John Mason of WCHB AM 1200. Jim Sanders threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Tigers also honored former Negro League players Harold “Bee Bop” Gordon and James “Bullet” Moore Jr. with a moment of silence.
Some of the players reflected on what the honored day means to them.
“Since I’ve been involved in the Negro League celebration,” Johnsonsaid, “I’m appreciative of Mr. Ilitch and his staff for how they treat us.”
Said Teasley: “I appreciate what the Tigers are doing. The weekend keeps the memory of the Negro Leagues alive. It is a history we get to share with others about a league that once had Jackie (Robinson), Hank (Aaron) and Willie (Mayes).”
Added Duncan: “I have been involved in this event from the start and I continued to hope that when people see us it helps motivate kids to want to be involved in baseball.”
Other players recounted their history in the Negro Leagues and its good times.
“Duncan and I played in the first Global World Series (Canada, Japan, USA, Puerto Rico, Spain and others),” Hill recalled. “Our teams were integrated in 1955, but we had to play for Puerto Rico. We also were the first Negroes to play in Briggs Stadium (Tiger Stadium) and in Milwaukee. In one Negro League All-Star Game, Duncan and I pitched against each other before 40,000. That is a great memory.”
Recalled King: “I started in 1939 and played until 1952. I played against Satch (Paige), Josh (Gibson), Cool Poppa (Bell) just to name a few. Josh was the best hitter I ever saw. I saw him hit a ball to straight away center field 400 feet and it was only on its way up as it went out the park.”
Alton continued: “I had a great arm and I fielded an infield ball and Cool Poppa should have been out, but he was so quick that by the time I threw it to first, he had rounded the base and was pulling up his socks.”
Douse recalled: “We could not complain about money, because there were no jobs for most Black men then. So, we just played the game for the love of it. The game did expose us to other parts of the country and people. But it was a hard road to travel not being able to stay in hotels, eat at roadside cafés, use the bathroom (we had to go in the fields) or get gas at gas stations.”