Showing posts with label Black History Month. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black History Month. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bill Greason spreads the word about Negro League baseball, World War II, and his faith

“Discover Greatness,” has been the theme for the traveling exhibit of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for the past 20 years that has showcased the history of African-Americans in baseball. An increasingly rare opportunity to witness one of the legends who played in the Negro Leagues tell their story live and in-person came to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church on Saturday in Mullica Hill, N.J.

Bill Greason / N. Diunte
Eighty-eight-year-old Rev. William “Bill” Greason, former pitcher for the Birmingham Black Barons and St. Louis Cardinals, delivered an impressive sermon in which baseball, history, and spirituality were effortlessly intertwined. Greason, a Montford Point Marine who served in World War II, has been the pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama for more than 30 thirty years. He found his calling during his time in the military.

“In February 1945 on a little island called Iwo Jima, people were dying all around me. I took a little bible with me,” he said. “Two of my best friends were killed on that island. I prayed and I said, ‘Lord, if you get me off this island, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ It’s strange. A calling is strange. It’s a burden on you. You can’t shake it if you’re really called, no matter what you do or where you go. That’s what happened to me. I just threw up my hands and said here I am, use me.” 

He delayed his start in the ministry to pursue a career in baseball upon his return from World War II. His career in the Negro Leagues started in 1947, when he was picked up off of the sandlots of Atlanta, Georgia.

“In 1947, the Nashville Black Vols heard about me and invited me to come and start play with them. I played did pretty good, I won 12 games and lost four,” he said.

Within a year, his fine pitching caught the interest of the Birmingham Black Barons.

“The next year … in spring training, I was in Ashville, North Carolina, and the Black Barons came through," he recalled. "Our pitcher started against them and they bombed him. They put me in and I shut them out in seven innings. That was on a Monday night; Saturday morning, I was in Birmingham. I don’t know how they got me, they bought me or whatever, but in 1948 I was with the Barons.”

His expertise on the mound helped guide the Black Barons to the final Negro World Series. They squared off against the Homestead Grays, who were led by future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, and Buck Leonard. Greason won the only game for the Black Barons in the 1948 series.

“To have an opportunity to pitch in that environment, it was something exceptional,” he said.

On that club, patrolling center field was a 17-year-old budding superstar in Willie Mays. Greason became close with the teenage sensation.

“Piper [Davis] brought him in and we became roommates on the road," Greason said. "We’re still good friends. He was the greatest young player [I ever saw]. He had unusual gifts. He could catch it and throw it; he did it all. He was what they called a phenom. I knew he was going to do well as a ballplayer, and he did.”

Their friendship has persisted more than 65 years.

“Willie and I are real close now. I’ve been going to his birthday parties for the last five-to-six years. I said to him, ‘I’ve gotta have proof that I’ve been here.’ I’ve got about three of those San Francisco jackets, balls, and shirts.”

He later made his way into the minor leagues by way of Mexico after serving with the Marines during the Korean War. The Oklahoma City Redbirds of the Texas League signed him in 1952, making him the second black player in league history. Greason shared how he converted even the toughest of fans with his artistry on the mound.

“I had one in Beaumont, a lady. Boy! It looked like every time we played in Beaumont, it was my time to pitch and she’d sit right behind our dugout,” he said. “The more she talked, the stronger I became. It was just a challenge. If you know who you are, you don’t worry about what people say. They call you all kinds of names and say whatever they want to, but you have to stay focused. That’s what happened and I kept my mind on whatever I had to do. After the season was over, she came to me and said, ‘Bill, I tried to get you, but you did well. I’m proud of you.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’” 

He compiled a record of 25-14 during his two seasons in Oklahoma City, prompting the Cardinals to trade for his services just prior to the 1954 season. Greason was called up to the Cardinals in May. Not only did he take a pay cut from his salary in the minor leagues to go to the majors, he was used sparingly by manager Eddie Stanky. He appeared in only three games during the month he was with the club. He was given a short rope on the mound by the ill-tempered Stanky.

“He came out to the mound," Greason recalled. "I’m out there trying to get the ball over the ball over the plate and he walked right up in front of me. ‘Get the damn ball over the plate!’ I said, “What in the hell do you think I’m trying to do? Do you think I’ve got a string on this damn ball?’ He turned and left. I knew I wouldn’t be there long.”

Despite his short career in the major leagues, Greason beamed with pride this weekend to be able to uphold the traditions of the Negro Leagues.

“A lot of our young people don’t know anything about the Negro Leagues. … It had a great influence on our people, baseball; this was all we had in Birmingham. On Sundays, after the game, people would leave worship service, come to the ballpark dressed like I am right now and this was all that we had at that time. Baseball was very important to a lot of people and they loved the ballplayers. And we did our best to be respectful, treat people nice and help people where we could.” 
Bill Greason giving his service in uniform / N. Diunte

His focus now with whatever time he has left is to foster a deeper sense of spirituality with the younger generation.

“Baseball had its time. The Marines had its time. I’m trying to help young people. I’m at a Bible College trying to help young ministers to really take the calling seriously and not worry about the money. It’s about people. If we can get God in the hearts of people, we could change things. If not, it’s going to remain the same.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clyde Parris - Private Autograph Signing March 5, 2011 is proud to present a private signing with former Negro Leaguer Clyde Parris. He is the last living alum of the legendary Baltimore Elite Giants, having played with them in 1946. All items are due by March 5, 2011.

Affectionately known as "The Dude", the Panamania-born Parris entered pro ball in the United States with the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues in 1946. Later that season he signed with the New York Black Yankees and played with them until 1948. He spent part of the 1949 season with the Cleveland / Louisville Buckeyes. He is currently one of less than 20 living Negro Leaguers to have entered the Negro Leagues before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

He would eventually be signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system, reaching the Triple-A level for six seasons, earning MVP honors at Class-A Elmira and winning the Triple-A batting title in 1956.

Click here to read a recent article about Parris' career, "Batting Average? You were thinking about surviving!"

Parris has never done a public or private signing. He appears in the 2009 Topps Allen and Ginter set.

The prices for the signing are as follows:
Cards / Photos / Flats / Index Cards - $10
Your Baseball - $12
Our 8x10 Photos - $15 (includes autograph)
Inscriptions - $5

Shipping costs are as follows:
You can send a SASE with your items, however, you assume all risk for the SASE.

$2 Baseball Cards / Index Cards / Photos Smaller Than 5x7
$4 Photos 5x7 or Larger
$5 Baseballs

If you are located outside of the United States, please email for a shipping quotation.

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Please send your items with a post-it note and member name to ensure the correct return.

For details on paying by either Paypal / Credit Card, please send an email to

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Clyde Parris continues to carry the legacy of the Negro Leagues

2009 Allen and Ginter Clyde Parris
Jonathan "Clyde" Parris is one of the last living links to the Negro Leagues. Debuting in 1946 with the Baltimore Elite Giants, he is the last living player from the organization that produced Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Leon Day, as well as Joe Black and Junior Gilliam. I recently caught up with Parris for a piece with the Queens Times / Ledger newspapers.

Click here to read more about the career of Clyde Parris, and how he was extremely close to being called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers after leading the minor leagues in hitting.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Butch McCord leaves behind a baseball legacy of a lifetime

Baseball lost another great ambassador last week with the passing of Clinton “Butch” McCord. His baseball career spanned from 1948-1961, starting in the Negro Leagues with the Baltimore Elite Giants. reaching as high as Triple-A for four seasons. Let Butch McCord narrate the story of his baseball career, however, he’d reply with a more modest answer.

“I call myself a backup singer,” McCord stated in a 2009 interview. “You know what that is? [You] sing good, but nobody watches you. That's the way I was in baseball. When I was playing, there were only eight teams in each league. It was hard to even get a break.”

For McCord, he almost didn’t even have a chance to play the game that he loved so much. In addition to growing up in the segregated south prior to Jackie Robinson’s signing, neither his high school nor his college, Tennessee State University had a baseball team. It was only through the intervention of one of his football coaches that McCord moved to baseball.

“I was a football player at TSU. I learned baseball from playing in the sandlots. We won the Negro National Championship in 1946. In 1947, Jackie signed and one of our football coaches said, ‘If I were you, I wouldn't play anymore football.’ So I signed with Tom Wilson, who had one of the few black owned ballparks here in Nashville, Wilson Park,” McCord revealed.

Butch McCord - Louisville 1957
Wilson’s untimely death in 1947 put a damper on McCord’s plans to join the Elite Giants. “He asked me to play in 1947, but he died in 1947. His secretary that took over told me to stay and play with the Nashville Cubs. I stayed and played first base for them.”

True to their word, the Elite Giants signed McCord for the 1948 season, but there was a twist. He was going to be playing the outfield, a position he had never played before. McCord described his entry to the legendary ball club. “When I played for Baltimore, they had a first baseman by Johnny Washington, so Henry Kimbro “learned” me how to play the outfield. With them, I played right field.”

In Baltimore, he found himself surrounded by a bevy of talented players, better than any assembly he would play with, including at the Triple-A level in the Dodger organization. “We had such a good team in Baltimore. We had Joe Black, Leon Day, Pee Wee Butts, Henry Kimbro, Junior Gilliam, and Lennie Pearson with us. That was the best team of all the teams I played for,” explained McCord. He probably was right. Day went on to the Hall of Fame, Black and Gilliam were both Rookie of the Year award winners for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Butts, Kimbro and Pearson were repeat All-Stars in the Negro Leagues.

Like many others who entered the Negro Leagues, McCord experienced baptism by fire during his debut. "My first game in 1948 with Baltimore was against the Homestead Grays. Buck Leonard was at first base, Sam Bankhead was at shortstop, Luke Easter was in the outfield and Luis Marquez was in center field," McCord recalled. "I hit a ball to the left side, a slow ball down the left side. I was a left handed hitter, so I thought, 'I got this one made.' I thought I could run. He [Bankhead] threw me out by about two steps! I said to myself, 'Welcome to the Negro Leagues!'"

If facing the legendary talents of the Negro Leagues wasn't difficult enough, McCord and his teammates endured the Jim Crow laws to persist in playing baseball. McCord told a story when his white teammates with the Chicago American Giants weren't allowed to take the field. "When I was with the Chicago American Giants, we integrated in reverse. One of the white players was Louis Chirban, he was my roommate," remarked McCord. "We go to Birmingham; Willie Mays was still playing with them. Before we got off the bus, the police chief said, 'I hear you have some white players on the team. If you put them in uniform, I will close the concessions and close the ballpark; they'll be no game here tonight.' The white players asked, 'Well can we sit on the bench?' The chief said, 'You have to sit in the stands with the white folks.'" That was the way of life in South. We dodged it a lot of times."

In 1951, McCord signed with the Paris Lakers of the Class-D Mississippi-Ohio Valley League. He feasted on the pitching in the league, batting .363 in 1951 and an astounding .392 in 1952. So beloved was McCord in Paris, that he was honored with a "Clinton McCord Night" that featured Harry Caray who was a young broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals at the time.

His fine play saw him promoted to Denver of the Class-A Western League, where he played stellar defense at first base and batted .358 in 1954. One of his teammates in Denver would go on to make the Hall of Fame as a manager, Earl Weaver, who McCord described as a "pepper-pot" and one of the main contributors to their pennant winning season. It was McCord's steady play that would send him off to Triple-A the following season, one step away from the "big show."

McCord would spend the next three seasons (1955-57) at the Triple-A level playing for Richmond, Columbus and Louisville. He posted batting averages above .258 all three seasons and earned a reputation for being one of the top glove men in all of minor league baseball. It was during this time that McCord would reconnect with one of the biggest stars of the Negro Leagues, Satchel Paige.

"The biggest crowd in the minors was the game we played in Miami. There were 55,000 people. It was a benefit game. I got two hits off of him. I got a triple off of him when I was 16. The ones in Miami didn't count; he was an older man then. His main thing was his control by that time."

By 1958, McCord was already 33 years old and fading away from prospect status. That didn't prevent McCord from holding on to his passion. He signed with the Class-A Macon Dodgers, who at the time was managed by Danny Ozark. Ozark would go on to manage many years in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies. When asked about McCord in a 2008 interview I conducted, the late Ozark responded, "I had Butch McCord in Macon. He was a super guy. Good contact hitter, didn't strike out much. He hit over .300. He became the most popular player on the team and the MVP."

McCord would spend a few more seasons in the Dodgers organization, bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A until retiring after the 1961 season with Victoria of the Texas League. He earned two Silver Glove awards for his wizardry around the first base bag. Even until they had to take the uniform off of his back, McCord still thought he had a chance to break through. “I always thought I’d do my best and somebody would give me a chance. Even when I decided to retire, I always thought I was going somewhere.”

McCord returned to Nashville and worked for the United States Postal Service until his retirement in 1988. He remained a fixture in Nashville area baseball, working tirelessly with the Nashville R.B.I. program to promote baseball to the youth in the urban area. He had the baseball field at Tennessee State University named after him following his efforts to revive the program.

McCord wanted to leave me with some advice regarding his longevity. The following words serve as an example of his humor and spirit. "I've been married 58 years to the same woman. I always ask the youngsters, 'Do you know how to be 83 like me? Do you have an idea how you can get there?' Here's the punchline. 'Just don't die.' Going to church, not drinking and all of that is fine, but you can have an accident and die. If you don't die, you might make it!" Don't worry Butch, you made it and in a way much louder than any backup singer could.

More Information -

Clinton "Butch" McCord - The Marsh Collection

McCord recalls his time with the Paris Lakers - Tribune Star