By Matt Florjancic
LORAIN, OHIO - Baseball has undergone many changes since its inception.
From the uniforms being custom-made to fit each player to the multi-million dollar contracts given to those stepping between the lines, the game has evolved into an entertainment medium with worldwide audiences.
One thing about the game that has not changed over the years is baseball’s reliance on statistics and history. In no other sport do individual numbers matter so much. Current players are measured against their predecessors in every possible way from how far home runs fly to the ratio of groundballs to fly outs.
In a sense, players do not spend as much time pursuing championships as they do working against history. On Sunday night, neighborhood rivals Admiral King High School and Southview High School took time to honor the contributions of those who came before them and helped make baseball what it is today.
At The Pipe Yard baseball field, Admiral King and Southview donned the uniforms of two Negro League teams on the first annual Andrew “Rube” Foster Night.
Foster is credited with creating the first successful professional Negro League in 1920. The Negro National League was comprised of eight teams, the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Dayton Marcos, Cuban Stars, St. Louis Giants, Indianapolis ABC’s, Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs.
“This was something that came to me through the Athletic Director, Bryan Koury,” Admiral King coach John Akosi said. “He called me up and said ‘Your home game at The Pipe Yard’s going to be a tribute to the Negro Leagues.’”
“Last year, they recommended it to us and we started this series,” Southview coach Brad Ternes said. “We played under the lights with Admiral King here.
“They definitely look forward to it,” Ternes added about his players. “They were curious to hear about the Negro League and learn a little bit about it. I don’t think they were exposed too much to it before. They found it interesting.”
Prior to the first pitch, Lorain mayor Tony Krasienko joined the two teams on the field to honor former Negro League player and city resident Ernie Nimmons.
Nimmons sees the “Rube” Foster night as a way to teach today’s players about the Negro Leagues.
“To me it is [important],” Nimmons said. “It would be educational. It’s a way of defining happenings in the league at the time.
“There is a possibility to help contact former players in the league and get historians to come here,” added Nimmons. “There are not too many left alive that played in the league. We had 700 to 1,000 players and only 200 are left.”
Nimmons, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, played for the Indianapolis Clowns, Philadelphia Stars and Kansas City Monarchs. During the 1952 season, Nimmons, a center fielder, and Hank Aaron, helped the Clowns with the Negro American League Championship.
“I came up as a first baseman, but I never had the chance,” Nimmons said. “They won’t let me try. I could play [the outfield] better than anyone they had.
“Henry ‘Speed’ Merchant played first,” he continued. “He wouldn’t run against me. He was half as fast as I was.”
Two years later, Aaron was playing baseball for the Milwaukee Braves. Having followed in footsteps of Jackie Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers 1947-1956) and Larry Doby (Cleveland Indians 1947-55, 1958, Chicago White Sox 1956-1957, 1959 and Detroit Tigers 1959), Aaron went on to break Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs.
“It was nothing exceptional,” Nimmons said of baseball integrating in 1947. “Major League Baseball took all of the good players and the league fell. I figured that at least half of the players could make the majors if they tried.”
In the midst of honoring history, the Southview Saints, wearing the colors of the Indianapolis Clowns, and Admiral King Admirals, in the uniforms of the Chicago American Giants, did beat the weather and get a baseball game played.
“Considering the experience they had last year, we played with 650 people here,” Akosi said. “It was a big environment, a lot of people, a lot of cheering [for] the big game rivalry. The experience is going to be the same if not better with the added festivities.
“To honor something that long ago through high school players is something pretty special,” he added. “These guys are fired up about it. I think everybody’s fired up.”
Matt Florjancic, a freelance reporter and a sports show host for WOBL and WDLW, covers Northern Ohio for MaxPreps.com.