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Tue August 5, 2014
Evenings Upstairs Preview: Former Negro League Pitcher on Breaking Down Barriers
The McCracken County Public Library, Hotel Metropolitan and the Kentucky Humanities Council collaborate in an Evenings Upstairs at the Library on Thursday night. Former Negro League baseball pitcher Dennis "Bose" Biddle will share his work seeking justice for aging Negro League players without medical care, followed by Dick Usher performing as Pee Wee Reese, the player who supported Jackie Robinson's joining the Major Leagues. Biddle says American baseball fans have been robbed of ever knowing some of the greatest players in baseball, since black players were blocked from competing until 1947. Kate Lochte speaks with him on Sounds Good about his time in the league and his decades of social work.
"Our history has been misquoted and swept under the rug"
Dennis "Bose" Biddle was one of the youngest players in the Negro League, playing from 1945 to 1957 with the Kansas City Monarchs, the Indianapolis Clowns and New York Cubans. He played in four all-star games: 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1953. Following a leg injury, Biddle began a new career as a social worker and an advocate for aging Negro league players without medical benefits or pensions from Major League Baseball leading the organization Yesterday's Negro League Baseball.
His goal, he says, is to get his book Secrets of the Negro Baseball League in school systems so that the information can be handed down to young people. From 1920 to 1949, the history of the Negro League was recorded primarily by three black newspapers: The Pittsburgh Courier, The Chicago Defender, and The Memphis Courier. After Jackie Robinson opened the doors to black players in the major leagues, the media then turned its attention to those emerging players rather than the Negro League. So from 1950 to the league's decline in 1960, one would find very little written about the league and its players.
"Being a young player in the league, I felt that the information that was passed down to me as I was riding that bus with these old living legends should be shared with our young people. Because the historians and the writers - and I've got nothing against the writers - I'm just saying the real truth has not been told."
"The Man Who Beat the Man Who Beat the Man"
Biddle's nickname originated after his second professional game in Racine, Wisconsin. Pitcher Gerald "Lefty" McKinnis was one of the few players to have out-pitched legendary player Satchel Paige. In this game, Biddle beat McKinnis and was given the nickname. Biddle recalls a time when McKinnis gave him some advice about telegraphing his pitch to the batter, one the team owner backed up, saying "These men have missed their calling. When they see a young pitcher that's got a chance to make it to the major leagues, they see him doing something wrong. They straighten them out." That night, Biddle says, he learned how to pitch.
Working on Behalf of Aging Players
Today, Biddle works to ensure the history of the Negro League be written and passed down to young people. He has published Secrets of the Negro Baseball League and is working on a second book. Biddle says "Negro League" was never copyrighted and since 1960 the term and likeness has been taken advantage of around the world, not representing the players.
In 1996, Biddle copyrighted "Yesterday's Negro League" on behalf of the players. For 22 years, he's been fighting Major League Baseball to get pensions for the remaining living legends, some of whom may have been hall-of-famers had they been given the opportunity. He's secured health pensions for 27 players, but the criteria is so high that many of the rest ofthe men don't quality. There are approximately 53 players living today, most in their 80s and 90s, living without medical benefits. Biddle says this is why the foundation was set up, to help get benefits and to tell their story.