Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues

Apologies for being silent for a couple of weeks … but I’ve been working night and day on something amazing and, I think, important and beautiful. I hope you’ll want to be a part of it, and I hope you’ll encourage others to be a part of it, and I hope you’ll help turn this thing into an extraordinary success.

You can read all about it here at The Athletic.

You can check out the early version of the website.

Or you can just read on. I want to make this as easy as possible.

We are calling the campaign: “Tip your cap to the Negro Leagues.”

The idea is basically as straightforward as the title. This year is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues. In 1920, a group of men met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City to create a new baseball league, one where the best African-American and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers could play the game they loved and demonstrate the brilliance they had developed over their lives.

This was 27 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier — and that was (as Buck O’Neil always used to say), seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, 14 years before the Freedom Riders rode through the South, 16 years before Martin Luther King shouted “I have a dream,” 18 years before marchers were attacked by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

The challenges were overwhelming for those Negro Leaguers. That goes without saying. Still, for the next 40 years, through the Great Depression and World War II, through segregation and Jim Crow, through financial catastrophes and racist taunts and threats and through the silence and indifference that was meant to discourage them, they played ball. They played it so well and with such joy that, in the end, they could no longer be ignored. Negro Leaguer Jackie Robinson broke the barrier. Negro Leaguer Larry Doby followed.

Over the next dozen years, some of the greatest players to ever play the game of baseball — Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson, and so many others — shattered the myth of white supremacy that had been unwritten law in Major League Baseball.

As Buck used to say, America has done a good job of honoring those players who made it across the bridge. Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 has been retired across baseball. But, he added, we tend to forget those people who built the bridge. This has been so true of the Negro Leagues. For many years, many people simply pretended the Negro Leagues didn’t exist. Then, there were those who downplayed the leagues, questioned the quality of the players, dismissed the league as a minor side note to the history of baseball.

In recent years — thanks to the effort of people like Buck O’Neil and the extraordinary efforts Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — the Negro Leagues have gotten a bit more attention. And this year was supposed to be particularly special because of the Centennial. Major League Baseball planned an unprecedented celebration to honor those players who were denied their chance to even dream. In fact, this Saturday every player in baseball was planning to come out of the dugout before the game and tip their cap to the Negro Leagues, a simple but powerful gesture of respect.

Obviously, that can’t happen.

And so, we are going to make something else happen. We are asking people everywhere to do this simple thing — take just a moment and tip your cap to the Negro Leagues, then send us the photo or video and, if you like, a few words to photos@tippingyourcap.com. It can be any cap. The words can be anything at all — it can be about the cap your tipping, it can be about why you love baseball, it can be about social justice, it can be about the Negro Leagues, it can be whatever is in your heart.

As I mentioned in The Athletic piece, we are launching the campaign this week at tippingyourcap.com with some absolutely amazing people who are tipping their cap. I don’t want to ruin the surprise guests, but let’s just say: We overshot the moon.

Obviously, we want you to be a huge part of this.

Already, people have asked: What do you hope will come from this? There are any number of answers. Obviously, we want people to share the story of those Negro Leaguers. Obviously, we would love for people to donate a few bucks to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — there’s a donate button right there at the top of the website. Obviously, we would love to have this campaign go viral so that we can talk about the Negro Leagues and baseball (and not talk about, say, owner-player squabbles).

But for me, personally, it’s even more basic than that: There’s a lot of talk about “history” in the news these days, what is history, what isn’t, how do you honor history, what does it mean to forget history, etc. Well, there are very few statues dedicated to Negro Leagues’ baseball players. There are only a few books about them. There are only a handful of streets named for them. There are only a few songs written about them. There is so much we don’t know.

We talk about who is remembered by history. Well, it seems to me: That’s our choice.

And what I find so beautiful about this project, so profound about this project, is that the request is so simple and yet powerful: We just want you to take a few seconds to think about those Negro Leagues players who played ball in the shadows, who energized African American communities, who never got the chance to show their talents in the Major Leagues. It’s a small gesture, sure, but one that even now, especially now, I think carries so much power.