I started my car one morning a few weeks ago with the thermometer at minus two degrees and the ache of the cold immediately seizing upon my arthritic knee—but then I remembered that catchers and pitchers were reporting to spring training the next day, and the barest whisper of Springtime touched my cheek. As always, the arrival of baseball a few thousand miles away delivered a mortal wound to winter, the icy grip loosened ever so slightly by a group of men soft-tossing across some emerald infield. I knew it was time to pick up a few baseball books from the library and start reading my way toward Opening Day.
Much of the off-season has been dominated by the ugly prose and uglier sycophancy of the Pete Rose "confessional" book. I found myself floating around the issue, not quite caring, but after reading excerpts from the book in Sports Illustrated, I felt a growing sense of the indignity that Rose has brought on the sacred game, not so much through his gambling escapades as through his unapologetic apology. That impression was only furthered when I picked up a slender volume this winter called "I Will Never Forget": Interviews with 39 Former Negro League Players (McFarland & Co., 2003) by Brent Kelley. This is the third volume in a series compiling interviews (along with Voices from the Negro Leagues and The Negro Leagues Revisited). These interviews are fascinating, unpretentious, at times quite moving. Most of the players represented in the third volume played at the very end of the Negro Leagues era, after the major leagues had integrated, but the abuses of racism were by no means gone in the Fifties and Sixties.
What struck me most about these men was their quiet dignity, the very thing lacking in the whole Pete Rose conversation. ...1