By Storyteller Bobby Norfolk
Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Shadowball
- Compare and contrast the career of “Cool Papa” Bell to that of a white player of the same era. What white player would be comparable to “Cool Papa” Bell?
- How would Satchel Paige be treated if he were playing in major league baseball today?
- Was Satchel Paige “the first” to lobby as a free agent before Cat Fish Hunter and Curt Flood?
- Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – DVD by PBS
- African American/Black History
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I will be doing an excerpt from a piece, a one-person show called Shadow ball.
Hello, my name is Bell. James “Cool Papa” Bell. Ha, ha, ha! I get to that in a minute.
But they had this thing back in the Negro National League, back in the day called shadow ball where the players would pretend in a pantomime. They’d be throwing balls from the mound connecting with the ball, catching pop flies and running bases. They call that shadow ball because Negro baseball players had to play ball in the shadows of white segregated America back in the day. Understand this, for 60 years, major league baseball owners and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bought Negro players in a so-called gentleman’s agreement.
But I joined the St. Louis Stars, back then a Negro baseball league. Heh, heh, heh! And I didn’t get my notoriety because of just my speed. I started off as a baseball player as a pitcher. You got that right, a pitcher.
I have knuckle ball that could tie batters up in knots. Now you gotta throw a ball softly without any spin or rotation on the ball. Get them batters all confused.
But then I got notoriety by my speed. I can run the base past in 12 seconds flat! Jesse Owens, that track star, he wouldn’t race me. He said, “Man, you one of the fastest men on the planet. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!
But one time, Oscar Charleston with the Kansas City Monarchs, on my same team, ooh, he was a no prisoner taken kinda dude. Klux Klan headed him down south and one day a Klansman took him up on his offer to confront Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston hit it to third. Pi-yow! Now he was runnin’ them bases and, all of a sudden, here’s the Klansman standing there, face in the sheet. “All right, boy! Whatcha gonna do?”
Oscar reached up, snatched the hood off the Klansman head. “Huh! You ain’t so big and bad now without your face being hid.”
“Ah,” people up in the bleachers, “Ah, that’s Mr. Gilmore from the city council.” He ran back behind some bleachers, boogity, boogity, boogity!
Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! They also call our circuit the Chitlin’ Circuit. Yeah, because we had to stay in the rat and roach infested hotels and motels. We couldn’t stay in them white places. We could rip the white stadiums but couldn’t wash up in the white showers. Had to go down to a colored YMCA down the street.
And you better not turn off them lights in them ole nasty motels because rats and roaches and bedbugs will come all out. Ooh, ooh! Turn on the lights. Could not sleep under those conditions.
But then, 1945 came. People started speculating that they were looking for a Negro player to make it into the majors and people couldn’t figure out who was gonna be. Was gonna be Satchel Paige? Judy Johnson? Was gonna be Josh Gibson? Me? And then they saw that young black cat Ollie.
UCLA, X- Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie Robinson took no prisoners either. Oh, yeah, he had a temper. But Branch Rickey Branch, Rickey who owned the St. Louis Cardinals and then owned the Brooklyn Dodgers., he told Jackie Robinson that for three years, he could not fight back or talk back. And for three years, Jackie Robinson held all that anger in him no matter how many people dogged him out and, uh, gave all of them nasty comments to him.
And even in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was out there and people were throwing things out on the field. And then that white boy named Pee Wee Reese came up out of the dugout, put his arm around Jackie Robinson and whispered something in his ear. And all the haters stopped hating. Right there with that Kentucky-Cincinnati boy hug.
And when Jackie Robinson put on that uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that was the greatest day of my life. We finally could prove that we could hit, catch and run with anybody in the white major leagues. But by that time, after 22 years, my knees was wearing out.
You know, there was a baseball competition and some people said that the New York Giants scouts was looking. And so, Monte Irvin, another player with the Kansas City Monarchs, young boy, about half my age. You know what, I held back and let Monte Irvin win that title. That’s how he got chosen for the New York Giants.
But I tell you what. After I retired from the Negro Leagues, August 12th, 1974, I got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Worked as a custodian, worked as a night watchman in St. Louis City Hall. When I retired, I got a stipend from the baseball commissioner’s office and from city hall, St. Louis. But some people say that I was born too early. Huh, huh! That’s not true. They opened them doors too late. But I was a good father, good husband, good baseball player with the Negro National Leagues. And I am the one who all these other guys making thirty million dollars a year, they stand on my shoulders and that’s all I can tell you.