Monday, July 26, 2004

Festival spotlights Negro League

Event tries to enlist support for new Cleveland museum

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - A group of baseball history buffs convened its annual meeting here, where plans are under way to establish a museum dedicated to the racially segregated Negro League.

"We're hoping that it will provide an informative session for people who want to learn more about Negro League baseball, about the multicultural aspects of the game and its impact not only on baseball, but on our culture - including locally," Bob Zimmer said.

"We're hoping that it helps create an awareness and interest for the museum project, too," said Zimmer, whose jewelry store houses his memorabilia collection.

Zimmer believes the Baseball Heritage Museum that he has proposed in his jewelry store building would complement the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. Zimmer said a lack of funds is the only reason the museum hasn't been completed.

He estimates the cost of the project to be about $2.5 million.

Former Cleveland Indians infielder Vern Fuller is the museum's executive director.

The three-day Negro League Legends Weekend Festival, which ended Sunday, was arranged "for people to get close and personal with the players," Zimmer said. "There's not much time left for that, because the players are getting up there in age."

The festival, co-hosted by the Baseball Heritage Museum and the Society for American Baseball Research, featured presentations and panels. Featured guests included Negro League greats such as Joe B. Scott, Harold Gould and Bill Cash.

Blacks were not allowed to play in the major leagues until 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Weeks later, Larry Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians.

Both men are in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with Negro League legends Josh Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell, who never had the opportunity to play in the major leagues.

"What passes many people by is that these guys were major-league (caliber) players," said Gould, 79, from his home in Philadelphia before the event.

The heyday of the Negro League was in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, when teams often played before big crowds. Sometimes, between seasons, Negro League stars played exhibitions against major-leaguers.

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