Local Color, Baseball’s Finest
I don’t follow baseball, but I do follow history and when I heard about an exhibit featuring items belonging to one of the greatest players in baseball that nobody’s ever heard of, I had to check it out.
Newspaper clippings, baseball cards, bats, gloves, a video, and other pieces of history from the Negro Leagues are on display at the Museum of African American History for the exhibit, The Color of Baseball in Boston.
William ‘Cannonball’ Jackman was a dynamo player for the Boston Royal Giants, a black baseball team in the late 1920s. He played for many teams over the course of 30 years, but settled in Boston because of the welcoming reception that he got from the city. He was a member of the Negro National League and a day was even dedicated to him at the Carter Playground in the South End neighborhood of Boston.
Those who remember him rave about his mighty pitch and powerful swing. Thousands came from all over the region, just to see him play. He was called the Black Babe Ruth. The manager of the New York Giants, John McGraw, even said that he would pay $50,000 to the person that could make Jackman white.
But Boston loved him and community newspapers wrote about him extensively and local baseball enthusiasts take great pride in the fact that he represented the city.
Several of his belongings have been professionally restored and are now propped up in a glass display at the Museum of African American History in Boston. Some of the items include his cap, his jersey, a belt, his pants, and his cleats. One of the walls in the museum’s gallery is adorned with Cannonball memorabilia, like his application to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he never made it into and a poem written by a Medford native titled “Bill Jackman.” The poem invites the reader to look into the “magic mirror of memory” and describes the thrill of remembering this fierce and fiery player at his best.
Other notable black baseball greats have a presence in this exhibit, too. There are dozens of photos that were taken by the photographer Ernest C. Withers in the late 1940s and early 50’s. Black and white images of the legendary Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and a team photograph of the Chattanooga Choo-Choos, which includes a teenage Willie Mays, all depict how baseball was a great convener and helped to shape community pride.
I appreciated this exhibit because it shows black Bostonians’ excitement for and interest in baseball in the earlier days of the sport. Details such as a map depicting very familiar fields and parks used to host the sport throughout the city helped to make the story real to this Boston native. This exhibit is also about a time in the history of the city when people came together in spite of their prejudices just to see the magic one player can bring to a game.
And who knew that April 15th was Jackie Robinson Day around the nation? Back in 2005, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig named the day because in 1947 Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball by joining the Major Leagues. There’s a home plate in this exhibit that was signed by the members of the Boston Red Sox in 2006 to commemorate that day.
Even if you don’t follow baseball, you will be impressed by how the museum was able to resurrect the famous and not so famous African American players of America’s pastime.
For more information about The Color of Baseball in Boston, visit http://maah.org/.
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About the AuthorValerie Linson
Valerie Linson is the Managing Producer for WGBHArts. She is also the Series Producer for Basic Black and the Executive Editor for its accompanying website at WGBH.org. Basic Black is New England's longest-running television program devoted to explorations of the black experience.