Former Negro League baseball player celebrated in Evanston

Edward Cox, Reporter

Inside his South Evanston apartment, former Negro League player Ray Knox flipped through a calendar with black and white photos of baseball players, reminiscing in his deep, gravelly voice on the friendships he forged in the black professional league.

Knox, who is in his 80s, said he is one of about 60 people still alive who played in the country’s primarily black professional baseball league when it started in the 1920s, surviving former Negro League players such as Ernie Banks. In light of Black History Month, South Evanston’s park district officials celebrated Knox’s role in baseball history.

“I just wanted to take the opportunity to honor … a living legend among us,” said Robert Bady, a Ridgeville Park District board member. “He deserves to be saluted, to be honored.”

Knox started playing for the Negro Leagues in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in the Major Leagues when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although many African-American baseball players from the Negro Leagues followed Robinson’s lead, some Major League teams remained reluctant to admit black players. Former Negro League player Dennis Biddle said there were 72 Negro League teams.

As a catcher for the Chicago American Giants and New Orleans Eagles, Knox said he traveled with teammates on a bus and suffered discrimination, such as not being able to rent hotel rooms or eat at restaurants. One mixed race player passed for white and brought food from restaurants back on the bus for teammates, he said.

Knox described the Negro Leagues as a “catch-all” for baseball talent, which he said often included white and female players.

“I don’t care how young you was if you was a lady,” Knox said. “If you could play the game then they will let you play.”

Team managers hosted the Negro League East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park, the former name of the Chicago White Sox’s current home, which drew crowds of black spectators for several years.

Negro League players added nicknames to their baseball stats, Knox said. Knox earned his nickname, Ray “Boo Boy” Knox, when a team he had left booed him when he came back to play against them. Despite the sport’s segregation, Knox said he focused on the game.

The Boston Red Sox was the last team to integrate its rosters in 1959. By that time, a few former Negro League players, such as Roy Campanella, were on their path to stardom in the Major Leagues. The Negro Leagues disbanded in the early 1960s after losing much of its talent to the Major Leagues.

Knox continued playing for the Negro Leagues until 1952, the year he got married. In 1970, Knox said he moved to Evanston where he managed a dry cleaning business. Knox said although he was not able to play for the Major Leagues, he doesn’t hold a grudge. He visits schools where he speaks about the Negro League and travels with former players to publicize the organization.

“I would have loved to go, but the Negro League was as just as good to me as anything I thought it ever been,” Knox said. “I just want to play another team. I didn’t care what color it was.”

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