After long being ignored in discussions of baseball history, many Negro Leagues players have been honored in recent years by Major League Baseball and other organizations for their contributions to the game. However, even some of the best players who were eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are buried in unmarked graves.
[sidebar title="More Negro Leagues Coverage" width="300" align="right"] To learn more about the history of baseball's African-American pioneers, see our list of Negro Leagues stories that have been featured on Only A Game.[/sidebar]
But, as Only A Game's Greg Echlin reports, the Society of American Baseball Research is working to change that. SABR's Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project has helped identify graves and organize ceremonies to honor the former players while properly marking their final resting places.
Echlin recently attended a ceremony at Mount Hope Cemetary in Topeka, Kansas for former Kansas City Monarchs second baseman Carroll Ray “Dink” Mothell, who died in 1980. Earlier this year in Clifton, New Jersey, a marker was placed on the grave of Frank Grant, a Hall of Fame second baseman who played in the pre-Negro Leagues from 1886 to 1903. According to Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project organizer Jeremy Krock, SABR has placed 22 markers since 2004 and has more ceremonies planned.
At the ceremony for Mothell, historian Phil Dixon recited a poem about the pioneers who were kept out of the big leagues before - and in some cases after - Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Here's the poem's final passage:
God bless you Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and all.
You wore our numbers on our backs when you played big league ball.
Every time you hit out, slid and laid one down, you carried us from that old bus to the halls of Cooperstown.
Now my name is Dink Mothell, but you won’t remember that.
I’m just one more along the score that played with ball and bat.
But when you seek out heroes and you praise the great pastime, remember those old brown-faced pros.
The stars that did not shine.
This segment aired on July 23, 2011.