Negro Leagues Thriving at Union Station

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 5, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Negro Leagues Thriving at Union Station


For those who cherish baseball's old Negro Leagues, a pilgrimage to Union Station is - literally - the best bet in town these days.

In the station's West Hall, about a Josh Gibson home run from the main entrance, you will find a touring exhibit from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. Nearby, a shop is selling Washington Nationals gear, so it's possible to savor the sport's past and future simultaneously.

The exhibit, titled "Discover Greatness," is sponsored by the D.C. Lottery. That seems something of an oxymoron considering baseball's long-standing aversion to gambling, but the lottery folks have done a neat job creating commemorative scratch-off tickets honoring each of the four most renowned and successful Negro League clubs: Washington's Homestead Grays, the Kansas City Monarchs, the Indianapolis Clowns and the New York Black Yankees.

Even if you don't normally participate in a lottery, it's worth the few bucks to glom one or more of the tickets. Bettors get to keep the colorful top half, which offers a team picture and pertinent data concerning the powerhouse club in question.

One incredibly lucky bettor will win $50,000, which might match the entire payroll of some teams in the 1920s and 1930s - the heyday of black baseball before it was killed off by the integration of the major leagues in 1947.

Another inducement: 260 ticket buyers will win replica Negro League uniform shirts. In fact, the recent popularity of such gear helped bring the exhibit to Washington.

"I noticed a lot of young men wearing the jerseys, but most of them seemed to know nothing about the teams - it was just a fashion statement," says Bob Hainey, communications chief of the D.C. Lottery. "You feel like going up to them and saying, 'Why are you wearing that? Why not learn something about those teams ...'"

For anyone eager to do so, the opportunity is at hand. The exhibit, which opened last week with loquacious former player and manager Buck O'Neil gracing the occasion, will be at Union Station through March13.

Unlike many traveling museum displays, this is no quickie deal. It takes a half-hour or more to properly relish hundreds of artifacts like game tickets, advertisements, magazine covers and pennants, plus marvelous photographs and text.

Perhaps most impressive are lockers showing replicas of uniform shirts worn by Negro Leaguers who belatedly made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.: Gibson, legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Martin Dihigo, league founder Rube Foster, Ray Dandridge, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston and Pop Lloyd.

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