By Dylan Deprey
Whether it is blasting whiffle balls over the neighbor’s fence or having to drop the boxing gloves and pick up a baseball mitt after a solid punch to the nose, professional baseball players from every generation have their story.
While players’ love for baseball can run as deep as a fly ball to left field, for some the game did not put as much effort back into the relationship.
The end of World War I signified a change in America. The love for baseball grew as stars like Babe Ruth made plays and broke records. Players were plastered onto collectable cards that were stashed in gum and cigarette packaging. Baseball followed in pursuit with the rest of the United States at that time, in that Jim Crow was the unwritten law of the land.
Black athletes could dream of the adrenaline rush of slamming an out-of-the-park home run in front of a sold out crowd, but the line of segregation was drawn once again.
The “Roaring Twenties” was the age of flappers and prohibition, but also the time to revise the unwritten rules of major leagues baseball. Andrew “Rube” Foster, or better known as the “Father of Black baseball,” created the Negro ss in 1920.
Black athletes could display their skills to a world that was divided. The eight original teams were the: Chicago American Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Indianapolis ABC’s, Kansas City Monarchs and the St. Louis Giants.
Although teams were littered across the country the Kansas City Monarch’s were considered the best in the Negro Leagues, especially having won the first of the 11 Negro Leagues World Series.
In 1947, the Monarch’s were searching for some fresh talent to add to their roster. Among those were Jackie Robinson and William McCray.
A 17-year-old McCray grew up in Beloit, WI. The St. Louis Cardinals were holding open tryouts. His coach from the American Legion called and asked if he was going to the tryouts.
“I told him no,” McCray said. “He said why? I said because they aren’t taking any black ball players in St. Louis.”
McCray was firm on the fact that he did not want to go try out even for the experience. Later that day McCray was peddling his way to practice on his bike as his coach drove behind him to make sure he would make it.
Once the tryouts were over the players circled around the pitcher’s mound to hear what they needed to work on. McCray ended up going home. When 6 p.m. rolled around McCray answered the door to the American Legion coach and baseball scout Runt Marr standing in the doorway.
“They asked my dad ‘do you think he’d like to play pro baseball somewhere’?’’ My dad says ‘‘I don’t know ask him?’’
Although the Major Leagues were not accepting any African American players, McCray ended up getting a tryout with the Kansas City Monarchs. After being in Missouri for a week they wanted him on the team.
“At that time I told them I could not stay there. They asked ‘why?’ Because if I don’t go back and finish high school my dad is going to kill me,” McCray said.
After graduating high school McCray played shortstop for the Monarchs for three years. With all the young faces on the team McCray earned the name “Young Blood” from later-to-be Baseball Hall of Famer Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
Once his teammate Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in Major League baseball in 1947, McCray traveled to the semi-pro Omaha Rockets. He then played for the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs farm teams.
“I had a pretty nice career,” McCray said. “People ask me if I would go back and do it again and I say, sure I would do it again because it helped out a lot of ballplayers.”
McCray, along with Negro Leagues players Roosevelt Jackson and Ray Knox will be honored during the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals game at Miller Park on Saturday June 25. They will be among 67 other Negro Leagues’ players who have been recognized by the Brewers for their contributions to the game of baseball.
The Negro Leagues Tribute Game tailgate starts at Noon where fans will be able to meet the honorees as well as receive autographs. The Brewers will sport the Negro Leagues Milwaukee Bears uniform while the Nationals will sport the Homestead Grays.
NLTG Tailgate Event tickets available by contacting Thad McGrew at (414) 902-4371. Tickets include all-you-can-eat buffet, catered by Big Daddy’s BBQ, beverages from Pepsi and Miller Beer, souvenir t-shirt and authentic items raffled.