By Dennis J. Freeman
When Major League Baseball’s annual Urban Invitational came to town a couple of months ago, author Daryl Russell Grigsby embraced the moment. He loved it. He was in his element.
As he surveyed the players from several Historically Black Colleges and Universities participating in the three-day baseball tournament at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Grigsby couldn’t help but think of a time when African Americans were not only relevant in the sport, but dominated it.
That is not the case today. More and more African Americans have drifted away from baseball to the lure of high-stakes glamour of playing football and basketball. Because baseball was so much part of his upbringing and life, Grigsby set out on a journey to write about the heroes he grew up admiring. That journey led Grigsby to completing a book on black baseball players.
To Grigsby, author of “Celebrating Ourselves,” a detailed memoir of African Americans in baseball, watching the large number of black athletes taking the field that weekend in March as former MLB stars “Sweet” Lou Johnson, Al Downing, Mudcat Grant and Dave Stewart once did, it was something special to witness.
It was as special to Grigsby as when he allowed his mind to wander about writing a book on black baseball players and their impact on the nation. It took Grigsby three years at 20 hours a week to bring “Celebrating Ourselves” to literary life.
Grigsby will bring his thoughts on black baseball and copies of “Celebrating Ourselves” to the 5th Annual Leimert Park Book Fair in Los Angeles on June 25, where literary giants and celebrity authors such as Douglas A. Blackmon, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Todd Bridges, Essence Publisher Susan L. Taylor and Isabel Wilkerson are set to appear.
In “Celebrating Ourselves,” Grigsby examines the origination of black baseball, the politics inside of the sport that black players faced, the legacy of the Negro Leagues and great race divide among other topics. To get at the heart of “Celebrating Ourselves,” and African Americans contributions to baseball, Grigsby ended up interviewing a lot of people for the book, including a couple former Negro Leagues players.
“I interviewed all of those players, and the theme they all had was how much baseball was a fundamental part of their families, Grigsby said. “Their fathers, the connection they had with their father, their uncles, their grandfather, they had all of that. It was enriching. I loved it.”
With African Americans slipping away from the sport of baseball to a figure that is less than 10% of representation in MLB, Grigsby has come up with a book that has been meticulously researched to give readers a solid message about the history of baseball.
While MLB is doing its part in trying to recruit black athletes back into baseball, Grigsby came up with “Celebrating Ourselves,” to let folks know that African Americans are as integral in the sport as the New York Yankees.
People know the names of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and the Negro Leagues, but they sleep on Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker, who played in professional baseball in 1884, doesn’t even get a whiff of dignified respect on his contribution to the history of baseball. That in itself is a sad commentary about how forgotten African American’s once prominence in baseball, said Grigsby.
That’s why he put together and wrote “Celebrating Ourselves.”
“The book is about the history of baseball in the black community,” Grigsby said. “The reason why I wrote it is because baseball is a platform. It is for the pursuit of civil rights, character development, economic independence and social justice and family memories all rolled into one.
“It’s always been that way in the black community. There’s not a lot of recognition of that fact, and that’s why I wrote the book to kind of talk about that rich history –cultural and political involvement-as it comes to the game of baseball.”