Tag Archives: baseball

Negro Leagues Museum Opens in Owings Mills

From the Community Times

By Barry Rascovar

April 2, 2014–SOMETIMES POLITICIANS ATTEND events they really enjoy.

It surely looked as though this was the case last Thursday for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz as he cut the ribbon for a permanent exhibit honoring Negro League baseball.

Hubert Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

Hubert Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

The exhibit is a reminder of this nation’s shameful past. The National Association of Baseball Players banned interracial play in 1867. Nothing changed for 80 years.

The Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball conveys the importance of the courage of Negro League ballplayers who laid the groundwork for today’s integrated American pastime.

Spread out over three floors of the Owings Mills building that houses the newest branches of the public library and the Community College of Baltimore County, the Simmons museum is an eye-opener.

Thanks to Kamenetz’s perseverance, Baltimore County has a unique exhibit that tells a story everyone should know.

Segregated Baseball

Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, non-white baseball players had to show off their skills in “a league of their own.”

They performed on miserable fields, were paid low wages, were subjected to hostility from whites and had to navigate around segregation-era Jim Crow laws.

They did it “for the love of the game.”

Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball

Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball, Owings Mills

Maryland hosted two Negro League teams, the Baltimore Elite (pronounced “E-light”) Giants and the Baltimore Black Sox.

The Black Sox started playing in Baltimore in 1916. In 1927, the barnstormers won 70 percent of their games.

The hometown Giants ruled the roost here from 1938 to 1950.

The team provided a launching pad for baseball stars Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam, Joe Black and Leon Day – as well as a pretty good pitcher-outfielder, Bert Simmons.

Traveling Exhibit

After Simmons retired, he taught in the city school system for 30 years while coaching Little League, high school, American Legion and college baseball for 40 years.

His burning desire was to build a museum highlighting the Negro Leagues’ players and their struggles and triumphs. This led to traveling exhibits and a display in a Lochearn church basement.

Bert Simmons died two months after the church display opened. His cause was taken up by his widow and Ray Banks, a longtime friend and troubadour for the Negro Leagues.

When their paths crossed with Kamenetz, the politician’s creative mind started seeing possibilities.

Eventually, he persuaded the County Council to approve $125,000 to create a permanent home for this memorabilia and erect display panels, showcases, pictures and biographies of Negro League greats – from Satchel Paige to Josh Gibson.

Satchel Paige (L) and Josh Gibson (R)

Satchel Paige (L) and Josh Gibson (R)

The Owings Mills multi-purpose building proved ideal: it sits astride the Red Line transit terminus, across the street from a large residential development, draws thousands of people to the library and community college and is an education mecca for the community.

“Bert loved the game,” said his widow, Audrey Simmons. He also was “devoted to education,” she added. The county’s museum is the perfect place “where the story can be told.”

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Towson University leaves teams abandoned

By Barry Rascovar/ The Community Times/ May 1, 2013

If your son excels at baseball or soccer and is looking to play that sport in college, you can forget about sending him to Towson University.

In a comedy of errors, Baltimore County’s largest higher education institution disbanded the two men’s teams, despite the popularity of each sport.

President Maravene Loeschke wielded the ax. She bought the logic of her athletic director that Towson must divert sports revenue to turn its basketball and football programs into regional powers.

Unfortunately, her public explanation also involved the need to bring equity to women’s sports at Towson. She picked an odd way to make that happen.

Especially cruel was the university president’s delivery of the bad news. On short notice she summoned the two teams, showed up with security guards, made her announcement and left without answering questions from the stunned audience.

It was a heartless display of authority. The students were treated more like discarded furniture than confused, emotionally upset individuals. Loeschke shattered their college dreams yet couldn’t take time to show any empathy.

No wonder she ended up in hot water with both the governor and state comptroller. No wonder her actions precipitated vocal protests from some alumni.

Baseball won a two-year reprieve when the governor found $300,000 to rescue the program while supporters try to raise funds to make the reprieve permanent. Soccer, the world’s biggest sport, got no such relief.

Critics have pointed out that shifting resources to the football and basketball programs won’t turn Towson into the UCLA of the East.

Even if every seat in Towson’s new arena and Unitas Stadium is filled, the crowds will be puny next to the College Park teams that join the Big Ten athletic conference next year.

Towson will never be — nor should it be — a training ground for athletes who turn pro after a few years in college. Loeschke is throwing money at a vision that isn’t realistic.

At the same time, complying with federal equal opportunity regulations need not come at the expense of existing sports programs. Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, roiled that suburban Washington campus when he disbanded eight men and women sports teams last year for lack of funds. But he did so with a great deal of compassion, calling his decision “heart-wrenching.”

In both cases the affected students felt betrayed. Their college lives had been ruined by administrators who couldn’t balance their budgets.

Many are transferring to other schools. But that will be traumatic and expensive.

It is a sad story, which will reverberate for years at Towson University. These student-athletes deserved a better fate.

Barry Rascovar is a Reisterstown writer and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.