June 5, 2008: Every major league baseball team symbolically drafted a surviving member of the Negro Leagues. Baseball Channel 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 saw Major League Baseball tie up some of its loose ends, and were brought face to face with living baseball history.
Before baseball’s 2008 annual draft began, 30 black players were chosen to represent the hundreds of black and Latino players who were excluded from the major leagues from the 1920s to 1940s because of racism.
The black honorees said the event was one of the greatest moments of their lives, a day they thought would never come. As he waited to be drafted, one former black player said it felt like being born again. Then it was his turn. From the podium came the announcement: “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim select the shortstop from the Kansas City Monarchs, the ‘California Comet,’ Neale ‘Bobo’ Henderson!”
Other players signed included John “Mule” Miles, whose 11 home runs in 11 games for the Chicago American Giants would be a record to this day had he hit them in the major leagues; Miles is now a Seattle Mariner.
Emilio “Millito” Navarro, who was born in Puerto Rico and played shortstop for the Cuban Stars, joined the New York Yankees at age 102.
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was a teammate of a teenage Hank Aaron on the Indianapolis Clowns. Johnson, the first woman to pitch and win on a men’s pro baseball team, is now on the Washington Nationals.
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 that day, 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 that day, baseball finally did.
The ceremonial draft was the idea of Hall of Fame player Dave Winfield, vice president of the San Diego Padres. The landmark recognition was also embraced by Commissioner Bud Selig and the executive vice-president of baseball operations, Jimmie Lee Solomon.
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