Memories of Negro Leagues captured for new documentary, book

Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Immersive Learning, College of Communication Information and Media

March 15, 2011

The days of Negro Leagues baseball in Indiana may be over, but a group of Ball State University students is capturing the memories of former players for an upcoming documentary and book.

Under the mentoring of Geri Strecker, a Ball State English professor, 14 students are traveling the state to interview aging Negro Leagues veterans as part of Black Baseball in Indiana, an immersive learning project through Ball State's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC).

"When we talk about Negro Leagues baseball, we know about the teams in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Kansas City and Birmingham, but Indianapolis' legacy has long been forgotten," said Strecker, who in 2009 rediscovered lost photos of Greenlee Field, home to the Pittsburgh Crawfords — one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues and possibly in all of baseball.

African-American baseball players formed the Negro Leagues when they were not allowed to play in the white-only Major Leagues. The last of the Negro Leagues teams folded in the 1960s, following Jackie Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball almost in 1947 and the gradual acceptance of black players by most teams.

Negro Leagues baseball in the Hoosier state traces its long history to Indianapolis where the first recorded game was played on May 2, 1920, in Washington Park, a baseball stadium located in the vicinity of the current Indianapolis Zoo. The city's best known teams were the Clowns and the ABCs.

The Indianapolis Clowns continued as an exhibition team into the early 1980s, performing a unique brand of baseball, similar to what the Harlem Globetrotters do in basketball.

Strecker, a noted Negro Leagues historian, believes many Hoosiers are unaware of the deep roots the game has in the state.

"Few people know that former Major League home run champion Hank Aaron played for the Indianapolis Clowns at one point early in his career while Anderson's Jumpin' Johnny Wilson, known locally for his high school basketball exploits, was a member of the Chicago American Giants," she said. "It has been decades since the leagues shut down operations, and we are losing former players, managers and coaches every day. This is our opportunity to record their thoughts. "

Student leads documentary team

Zachary Perlinski, a Ball State senior studying telecommunications from Munster, Ind., is the executive producer for an upcoming 30-minute documentary.

"The movie will incorporate the memories of former players into an examination of the impact Negro Leagues baseball had on Indiana and how baseball shaped the players' lives," said Perlinski, who won the seventh annual Fox News Channel College Challenge with a fellow student in 2010 for a television news story on the potential to revitalize economically depressed Gary, Ind.

He is also writing a book chapter focusing on Bush Stadium in Indianapolis and the other remaining Negro League stadiums. Perlinski experienced his first VBC immersion in 2008 as a photographer for the Emmy Award-winning "State of Assault."  

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