Negro Leagues greats chat online
O'Neil, Sanders and Biddle honored by Brewers
Former Negro Leagues players Buck O'Neil, James Sanders and Dennis Biddle participated in an online chat Friday as part of the Brewers' first annual Negro Leagues Tribute Night. The three former players talked about their playing days, the great pitchers and hitters of their time and Jackie Robinson's influence.
Moderator: Hello everyone and thanks for joining us in today's chat. Mr. O'Neil, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Biddle are all here to answer your questions, let's get started!
Base_Ball: When you were kids, did you dream of playing professional baseball for traditional teams or was it clearly closed to African-Americans, and therefore you assumed you would always be excluded? In other words, were you optimistic about integration?
Buck O'Neil: When I was a kid I never thought about playing professional baseball because the baseball I saw was all white. I had seen white men play baseball but I had never seen black men play ball. When I first saw Rube Foster play, I thought, hey, I could do this.
jjr928: James, what are your thoughts on the Hall of Fame's recent election of 17 Negro League players and executives?
James Sanders: It was good, but there was one they left out. I would have really liked to have seen Buck O'Neil's name and Dennis Biddle's. Jackie Robinson always said, "Wait until next year."
jjr928: Buck, what's the biggest difference in today's game from when you played?
O'Neil: Baseball is still the same, the only difference now is the designated hitter. During my era the best white athlete in the world played Major League Baseball, the best black athlete in the world played Negro League Baseball. You can make a lot of money playing any game now. Back when I played the only professional sport where you made any money was baseball.
scout01: Are you looking forward to tonight's festivities as part of the Brewers' Negro League Tribute Night?
Dennis Biddle: Yes I am. I have waited a long time for this. Thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers for giving us some recognition. It is so well deserved. The Negro Baseball League was one of the powerful baseball leagues in the country and I am glad to be a part of this and placed on this Wall of Honor.
Base_Ball: Gentlemen, thank you for all your long service to the game of baseball. How do you think you would fare if you were in your prime in today's game?
Sanders: I could be a Major League Baseball player today and make plenty of money. I don't think it would be any contest, back then I could run, throw and hit. I batted over .340 in the Negro Leagues. The Negro League was the best league back then and I played in that league.
O'Neil: In my prime, we had so many guys who played in the Major Leagues. Good talent is good talent. The best athletes in the world played in the Negro Leagues. Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were our genes and played in the Major Leagues.
richardwalter: Who were your baseball heroes?
Biddle: James "Cool Papa" Bell. When I came in the league he was 55 years old and could still run. He took a liking to me because of my speed. He wouldn't let the younger guys call him "Cool Papa," he was Mr. Bell to them.
sexyrexy: Which cities did you guys like playing in the most, and which ones were the toughest?
O'Neil: My favorite was Yankee Stadium. It was about everything you could wish for in a ballpark. The toughest place to play was Washington, D.C., at Griffin Stadium or Pittsburgh in Forbes Field, the fans were good, it was tough hitting because of the pitchers. Man, they had guys who could wear the ball out. Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, they were some of the best.
jjr928: Buck, what was more fun, playing or managing?
O'Neil: I liked them both. I always wanted to manage because I saw Connie Mack manage in a suit, then I came up and saw Rube Foster manage. I always had it in my mind to manage someday. But nothing beats playing. In baseball, you used everything, you have to hit, run, throw and field. It is hard to play.
ajnrules: Which Major League players from the 1930s and 1940s do you most regret not playing against?
O'Neil: I wish I could have played against Ted Williams. He pulled the ball and I wanted to pick that ball he hit down the first base line.
Sanders: I would say Ted Williams, too, because of his hitting ability. I learned to pop my wrist from him. The ball could get in a catcher's mitt and I could reach in there and get it out because of that twist of the wrist.
Biddle: The great Babe Ruth, I wish I could have thrown him one of my sinkers. He swung high and those sinkers dropped on the ground.
Base_Ball_2: Who was the best position player and pitcher you ever saw play in the Negro Leagues and, if different, the most talented position player and pitcher?
O'Neil: The best pitcher in the world was Satchel Paige. We can eliminate everyone else. As far as hitting, I have seen them all because I saw Babe Ruth hit, I saw Josh Gibson hit. They were great hitters. The difference between them was Babe Ruth struck out 100 times a year and Josh Gibson only struck out 20 times a year. A good story about a second baseman we had Matthew Carlisle. He was a rookie and we were playing in the 1942 World Series and Carlisle was on first and Josh Gibson was at the plate. Carlisle tried to steal second and was thrown out to end the game. After the game, Gibson came up to Carlisle and asked him, "What were you doing trying to steal second base?" And Carlisle replied, "I was trying to get in scoring position." Gibson replied, "Man, I am in scoring position when I get up to the plate!"
jjr928: Dennis, who do you love to watch play now?
Biddle: That is easy, Prince Fielder. He is the next rising star in the Major Leagues.
brewerfreak: What were your first thoughts when you saw Jackie Robinson?
Biddle: When I heard he broke the color barrier, I was in high school and I loved playing baseball. When I heard Jackie opened the door, I knew we had a chance to play in the Major Leagues.
Sanders: When I first heard about Jackie we were playing stickball. I wanted to be a Dodger. The first time I saw him in person was at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala. It was amazing just to see this guy play and all the skills he had. It was just amazing to see him play.
O'Neil: I was in the service and the commanding officer called me to his office and he told me that Jackie Robinson was signed to a contract. I was very excited and wanted to tell everyone. We didn't sleep much that night. That was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, that started the ball rolling.
brewerfreak: How many fans did you get at your games?
Sanders: In Birmingham, we had so many fans that they had to rope it off. They would sometimes tape off the warning track. Birmingham supported us, we played every other Sunday.
O'Neil: I remember playing at Yankee Stadium in front of 40,000 people, 99.9 percent of the people there were black. It was a whole new group of baseball fans for the teams.
Biddle: The Negro League teams drew more than the Major League teams at that time. They would rent out the Major League stadiums when they were out of town.
O'Neil: In Kansas City, we were filling up the stadium.
Moderator: Thanks everybody for joining us in today's chat! We appreciate your support in this discussion about an important part of baseball history.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.