Worcester Red Sox Celebrate Negro Leagues History at the 21st Annual Jackie Robinson Celebration of Life Event
With the Worcester Public Library’s “Buck O’Neil…Right On Time” exhibit adorning the background, the Worcester Red Sox were joined via Zoom last week by roughly 1,500 Worcester Public School students to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s birthday on the eve of Black History Month. It was the 21st consecutive year that the
With the Worcester Public Library’s “Buck O’Neil…Right On Time” exhibit adorning the background, the Worcester Red Sox were joined via Zoom last week by roughly 1,500 Worcester Public School students to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s birthday on the eve of Black History Month. It was the 21st consecutive year that the Boston Red Sox organization has celebrated the Hall of Famer's legacy.
Facilitated by WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg and Vice President of Community and Player Relations Joe Bradlee, the Jackie Robinson Celebration of Life virtual event featured several notable guests: Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Mo Vaughn, Frank Jordan, Josh Ockimey, and Bob Kendrick. Each speaker shared their appreciation for Jackie Robinson and Buck O’Neil with the students, crediting each baseball legend and the Negro Leagues as a whole for the way that baseball appears today.
“Jackie had the character in addition to the ability to play,” Steinberg said. “He had the strength to go through things that I hope none of us ever has to go through. The taunts—you want to talk about bullying? This was bullying times ten. They were testing him to see, ‘could you take it?’ and he took it.”
Arranged on the first floor of the library, the “Buck O’Neil…Right On Time” exhibit—which was loaned to the library by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for two months—features a vast collection of poster boards that each tell a part of Buck O’Neil’s story and the history of the Negro Leagues. While library patrons browse the exhibit, they can read important elements of American baseball history, including the original copy of “Casey at the Bat,” written in Worcester in 1888.
Referencing the origin of his love for baseball, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Bob Kendrick said he started working at the museum as a volunteer. He wanted to learn as much as he could, and eventually he met the late great Buck O’Neil.
“Once you’re bitten by the Buck bug, it’s a wrap,” Kendrick said. “You just want to be on Buck’s team. The passion, the energy, the charisma that he had. I remember asking him, ‘Buck, what motivated you to want to build a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum?’ His answer was succinct, but oh so very poignant: ‘So that we would be remembered.’”
While talking about Jackie Robinson, Buck O’Neil, and the history of the Negro Leagues, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd also mentioned how important it is to protect the future of baseball.
“We have a big population of Black people in this area in the deep, deep South,” Boyd said. “Baseball was very much a part of our lives growing up, and I hate to see that it has started to decline. I wouldn’t say diminished, but declined. Guys like myself, Marquis Grissom, of course Mo Vaughn, and a lot of other ballplayers around the country that are out of the game, we’re trying to do as much as we can to bring back the spirit of the game of baseball in our communities throughout America.”
Echoing Boyd’s sentiment, Mo Vaughn (the last Boston Red Sox player to wear number 42) added how both he and Boyd were “very lucky” to have the talent to play and pass along what they learned through baseball.
“I think the information and the things that we’ve learned through the process and being able to project that and give that to the young people is what we’re here for now, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do,” Vaughn said.
Executive Director of the Worcester Public Library Jason Homer said the library was honored to be the host site for the WooSox' celebration of Jackie Robinson’s birthday, particularly since the event took place on one of the first days that the exhibit had been installed.
“We were really excited to have been able to set up our ‘Buck O’Neil…Right On Time’ exhibit right before the event so we were able to use [it] as the background,” Homer said. “[The exhibit] will actually run [until] right after the WooSox season starts, so it’s a great bookend from Black History Month and celebrating the history and the contributions to American baseball that Buck O’Neil created, as well as showcase a little bit of baseball’s history as the WooSox get into their third year.”
With the “Buck O’Neil…Right On Time” exhibit available for viewing until the beginning of April, the Worcester Public School students in attendance for the Jackie Robinson Celebration of Life still have time to visit and learn about a key time period in American baseball history, as does anyone else interested in Buck O’Neil, the Negro Leagues, and their early beginnings.
“I hope you can come to the Worcester Public Library and see this great display about the days before Jackie Robinson,” Steinberg said.