Baseball Hall of Famer, Ted Williams, Visited An All Black Little League Team in Knoxville, Tennessee
After They Were Discriminated Against in 1965
By Willie Blair
Member of the 1965 Cal Johnson Park Little League Baseball Team
Long before the Jackie Robinson West Little League Baseball team from Chicago was denied its championship award in 2014, a group of young black little league players from
Knoxville, Tennessee were similarly deprived of participating in the 1965 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And just like the lurid fate of the 2014 Little League team from Chicago was decided by an ineligibility due to a “boundary violation”, as explained by the Tennessee Athletic Commission, the kids from Knoxville, were also considered "geographically ineligible."
Imagine the disappointment of a once robust group of young Black Little Leaguers, their families and community supporters after coming in first place by a very wide margin and being on the precipice of representing the city and state in the highly heralded Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania that year, only to be told at the last minute that their team was being declared ineligible due to several of the kids living outside of a very "dubiously defined" geographic boundary. The pain, shock and unbelievable disappointment was devastating! I was one of those 11 and 12 year old kids standing there trying to fight back the tears and uncontrollable shaking! And even though I was absolutely devastated, I felt equally bad for my parents, and the many community supporters who had toiled for many hours putting on bake sales, selling fish dinners, and repeatedly going into their pockets to come up with whatever monies that they could afford to pay for our transportation, lodging and meals for the Williamsport trip.
But that trip never was to be! When we got the word of our ineligibility, all of the collective hopes and dreams of a proud people came crashing loudly to the earth! Was it really a legitimate case of boundary violations or geographic ineligibility, or just a cold dose of blatant, in your face "Southern Jim Crow" racism?
But how can I and so many others after more than a century in passing, still somehow smile and look back on such a negative experience and have feelings of pride and joy?
About a month or so after we received the dire news of our not going to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, our Post 80 Little League Team was asked to come down on an early Saturday morning to the Cal Johnson Recreation Center where we normally played our ball games. We were not told why we were being summoned to attend this meeting. We were only told that a very important person wanted to have a few words with us. You can well imagine that after all that we had just went through, the last thing that we wanted to do was hear from a stranger trying to heal the seemingly un-healable.
As we took our collective seats on the bleachers in the facility's gymnasium, about 15 minutes later, in strolled this tall, lean stern-faced white guy dressed in a sporty looking outfit and close behind him were several assistants hauling in several large boxes. We immediately recognized him from the many Saturday afternoons on television whenever the game featured the highly vaunted Boston Red Sox. Or, if we were lucky enough, one or two players of our team had his "rare" baseball card that aptly chronicled his other-worldly feats, as one of the very best to ever play the sport.
Yes, the "Splendid Splinter" himself, Ted Williams! To this day, I remember several things about his 15 - 20 minute talk. No. 1, he definitely did not need a microphone! And he opened his remarks by calling us Men!
As best as I can remember, Ted said "Men, I recently learned what happened to you and your not being allowed to play in this year's Little League World Series up in Williamsport. And that is a real shame, because God knows that each of you earned it. I know you are hurt and very disappointed. I can't say that I know the depth of your pain and even anger.
“But do me a favor when you get over this. And you will get over this. Keep loving baseball! Keep playing this game on the field and in your heart. I traveled here to be with you this morning because this game is my life and I hope that in some way you can still love this game, despite what you have been asked to suffer and endure.
“That is about all I wanted to say to you today. But please do one more thing for me. “I would like for each of you to accept one of these brand new baseball gloves with my signature on it. Will you please take this glove and go out there and catch not only that baseball, but all of the other good things that will soon be coming into each and every one of your lives! I'll see you down the road!”