MLB honors Negro Leaguers in Draft

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – Clubs selected former ballplayers to represent historic legacy. Bobo Henderson realized the significance of the day.

“It’s just like being born again,” Henderson said on Thursday as he sat waiting for what had been decades in coming.

Finally, Henderson, a shortstop and outfielder with the Kansas City Monarchs, and 29 others from Negro Leagues’ yesteryears were welcomed into the family of Major League Baseball.

It was a day Henderson won’t forget.

Nor will the people behind the idea.

“I’ve often said Jackie Robinson coming to the big leagues was baseball proudest moment,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “Therefore, the recognition of all these people who played a role in that day, should have been recognized and, in many cases, should have been playing in Major League Baseball, I’m proud of that.”

Selig, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and Jimmie Solomon, baseball’s executive vice president, devised a strategy for the special Negro Leagues Draft.

Credit for the Draft goes to Winfield, who envisioned it serving as a bridge between baseball’s past and its present.

“It’s a wonderful day,” said Winfield, now a vice president with the Padres.

The event served as a prelude to 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Every team in Major League Baseball selected a player whose career encompassed the Negro Leagues.

BaseballChannel.TV streamed the Negro Leagues Draft live in front of several hundred people at The Milk House at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

The fans here saw Major League Baseball tie up some of its loose ends, and were brought face to face with living baseball history.

The living history was embodied in men like Emilio “Millito” Navarro, whom the Yankees drafted. Navarro, now 102, is the oldest living professional ballplayer. The living history was embodied in Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (Nationals), one of a handful of African-American women to play professional baseball.

Who knows what they might have achieved had baseball’s doors been open to them? But baseball opened those doors on Thursday, even if belatedly. Yet none of the draftees looked at it as anything other than a tribute.

“I was glad that they picked me for the Atlanta area,” said Red Moore, a smooth-fielding first baseman for the Atlanta Black Crackers, Baltimore Elite Giants and the Newark Eagles.

Moore thanked Selig for this day.

But Selig, as did Winfield, didn’t want the spotlight on him.

“It’s not about me,” Selig said. “It’s about baseball as an institution and it’s about them. I’m proud that we were really able to recognize them for what they’ve done.”

The Negro Leagues Draft was a continuation of baseball’s effort to fix a historical wrong.

In the past, baseball has used other initiatives to right the wrong:

• The Commissioner’s Office provided the money for a research project that led to the induction of 17 Negro Leagues ballplayers and executives into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• Major League Baseball has partnered with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City on several projects, including fundraisers for educational programs.

• Baseball has organized the Civil Rights Game as a tribute to the role the sport has played as a social force in America.

Until Thursday, the game hadn’t welcomed the few surviving links to Robinson, Larry Doby, Leon Day, Satchel Paige, Rube Foster, Martin Dihigo, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell into its family.

At the Disney sports complex, baseball did.

It showed Henderson (Angels), Moore, Joe B. Scott (Brewers), “Mule” Miles (Mariners), “Lefty” Bell (Twins) and Mack “The Knife” Pride (Rockies) that they belong.

They were all under the Major League spotlight at the Disney complex, if only for this day.

“It brought us exactly full circle, because it was something we had always hoped for,” said Henderson, who lives in San Diego. “It’s just like Martin Luther King always said:’ One day — one day — there’s gonna be a white boy and a black boy holding hands together.’

“That is this day.”

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