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I've always collected baseball cards.
I first started playing baseball
when I was eight years old,
and when my hometown Red Sox
won the World Series in 2004,
I began meeting many of the players
at autograph signings and events around Boston.
But I noticed a few things in common.
These players weren't very friendly,
they were all quite overpaid,
and they acted more like celebrities.
So, in middle school,
a friend introduced me to a new way
to collect autographs:
writing the players through the mail.
In doing so, I would write a letter,
send a self-addressed stamped envelope,
and send a few baseball cards.
Within a few weeks, I'd often get a response.
But it was never the modern players
that would send back.
It was the always the players from
the 50s and 60s
who were much friendlier,
and much less recognized
during their career.
So, I continued to write letters
to these retired ball players,
and in 2007, Topps Baseball Cards
came out with a set
where they included
a few Negro league baseball player cards.
Negro league was a period
from 1920 to the 1960s
where blacks who were segregated
from playing in the Major Leagues
played in their own baseball league,
often busing around the country,
playing two to three games a day,
under much less glamorous conditions.
But over time, due to this,
due to the lack of glamorization
and public interest,
everything just kind of faded away,
leaving the history of the Negro leagues behind.
So, I ended up writing to these players in this set
and within a few weeks they signed my cards.
From here, I began writing to Negro leaguers
who didn't have baseball cards.
Guys that were, you know,
even less recognized.
And in my letters, I'd often include my phone number,
and a few them began reaching out to me.
When I started speaking with them,
I noticed they all had a few things in common.
None of them had baseball cards,
none of them had any documentation,
no newspaper articles,
no sorts of photos from their career,
just nothing tying them to the game,
and lastly,
they had just left all their teammates behind.
They hadn't stayed in touch
with any of their teammates.
So, I tried to change this,
and I started off
by making baseball cards on my home computer.
Printing them out,
designing them and sending them to ball players.
And what I also did
is I began signing up for newspaper archive websites
where I'd find old newspaper articles
that would give these guys
the recognition, that you know,
tied them to the game.
And lastly, I began becoming
kind of like a private investigator,
tracking down their former teammates
and trying to get these guys back in touch.
From here, I went on
and I just spoke to these players.
It got to the point
where I actually had players calling me up
asking me for information.
And by the time I was a freshman in high school,
it was no longer a hobby at all.
I had gone from an autograph collector
to this Negro league research obsession.
I even asked for Negro league autographs
and stamps for Christmas.
So, going on through high school,
I began to take this work
in the Negro league much more seriously.
I started working with
adult Negro league researchers
where I began working on a few different programs.
The first being the Negro League Annual Reunion
in Birmingham, Alabama.
At the reunion,
we'd have about 50 to 60 Negro league ball players
from around the country,
and they'd all come together,
and these players would just,
you know, sit in the hotel lobby for me
from 8 a.m. until the late hours of the night
just catching up, telling stories,
and here we just had a week of events
and these guys got some of this
recognition and honor
that they never really had before.
The second program that I began working on
was the Negro League Pension Program.
And the Pension Program was a program
that was offered by Major League Baseball,
and if you played four years
in the Negro league,
and you can document it,
these players would be entitled
to $10,000 a year.
This meant a lot for these players.
Many of these guys never really did much
after baseball,
they didn't make much money.
So, when I was able to get these players pensions,
it really made a difference.
When I started doing this,
I encountered a lot of difficulty.
I had to go through hundreds and hundreds
of newspaper articles
trying to find this documentation
to prove they played, and in many cases I did.
Also I want to mention, when I was speaking
with these players on the phone,
tracking them down, it wasn't easy either.
I would go through hundreds of articles
trying to look for names,
trying to find information,
and I encountered quite a lot of failure.
I would call people up,
it would be the wrong person.
It would be really awkward.
I'd also have a lot of times
where I'd call players up,
and they didn't want to speak at all to me.
They would hang up.
When I said the word baseball,
they would just refuse to talk altogether.
This was because
they faced a lot of segregation
during their playing careers.
Along with the lack of glamorization that they faced,
they also dealt with a lot of racisim
on and off the baseball field,
which just lasted with them throughout
their whole lives.
These guys, you know,
it was very emotional for them to talk about baseball,
and it was really hard
to kind of get these guys back, you know,
talking about this game
that they had kind of left behind.
Lastly though,
I encountered, you know,
quite a lot of success as well.
Some of these guys I'd call up
I'd talk to them for two to three hours,
and these guys would just
go on and on about their stories,
you know, telling me, like, exact baseball games
and memories that they had.
Nowadays, I've attended four Negro League Reunions,
three of which
I've actually roomed with
former Negro league ball player
Russell "Crazy Legs" Patterson
of the Indianapolis Clowns.
He actually snores at night,
in case you all were wondering.
I've worked on about a dozen pensions,
and I've tracked down over a hundred
Negro league ball players,
constantly finding new ball players,
getting them in touch with their former teammates,
bringing baseball back into these players' lives
and bringing these guys back into the game.
Thank you!
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【TED-Ed】How one teenager unearthed baseball's untold history - Cam Perron

17139 Folder Collection
Kevin Tan published on November 6, 2014
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