MLB to 'draft' Negro Leaguers

MLB to 'draft' Negro Leaguers

Jimmie Lee Solomon sees professional baseball going more global each day, but as one of the game's top executives, Solomon is mindful of the game's past, which for nearly half of the 20th century did not include black ballplayers in the Major Leagues.

"You can't really go and plot out your future if you don't look around over your shoulder and see where you've come from," said Solomon, executive vice president of Major League Baseball.

Solomon and others took a look at that past, and they decided the sport needed to find yet another way to remember those surviving Negro League players who had been excluded from the Majors.

As part of its 2008 First-Year Player Draft next month, Major League Baseball will hold a ceremonial selection of players from the Negro Leagues. Participation in the draft is voluntary, but most of the 30 clubs are expected to take part as baseball continues its efforts to keep alive the history of the Negro Leagues.

The ceremonial event will be streamed live by BaseballChannel.TV at 1 p.m. ET, directly preceding the start of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft at 2 p.m. ET. Both events will take place at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. Fans are encouraged to attend and admission is free, with seating available on a first-come, first-served basis.

"You don't ever want to forget your history," Solomon said Tuesday. "The whole gist of what we've been trying to do in this area of diversity -- in this era of inclusion -- is to go full circle: look at our present and examine our past and rededicate ourselves to the true essence of what the American pastime should be."

Under the initiative, teams will "draft" surviving Negro League players, he said. The individuals selected will represent all the black ballplayers that were denied a chance to play in the Majors because of their skin color.

"It's a good idea," said Joe Scott, one of the surviving players likely to participate. "I applaud anything that Major League Baseball does for us."

In this salute to men like Scott, Major League Baseball will preassign draft selections, based in part on any requests teams might have.

Each team will compensate the player it selects with a stipend, Solomon said. Major League Baseball will pick up the travel expenses for each player (and a companion) to the Draft headquarters in Orlando.

In discussing the Negro Leagues aspect of the event, Solomon credited Hall of Famer Dave Winfield for being the engine behind the idea. Winfield met with Solomon and Commissioner Bud Selig, and they developed the concept that blossomed into the ceremonial draft.

"We felt this could be a very appropriate way to pay tribute to their legacy, to their place in history and to give them a day in the sun," Solomon said.

He acknowledged that some people might question the timing, particularly since the list of players from the Negro Leagues shortens each day.

"Sometimes, some of the past wrongs in our society are never really adequately addressed when you try to do it years hence," Solomon said. "But you've got to try; you've got to make peace with our history."

Scott, in his late 80s, can still remember the days of exclusion, but he said he never believed that blacks would be excluded forever.

"I said, 'One day we're going to get there,'" he said. "All you had to do was show them you could play baseball with anybody."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.