Black baseball history stays alive on Web
DANVILLE – Hubert "Daddy" Wooten of Goldsboro, N.C., and Dwight Lucas of Danville have something in common: They are glad Bobo Smalls hasn't given up on drawing attention to the last Negro barnstorming team, the Indianapolis Clowns, on which he played from 1964 to 1986.
Wooten, once a player and manager with the team, and Lucas, a friend and executive director of the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency, appreciate that Smalls is taking another stab at immortality for the Clowns and himself in the process.
"I've gone to conventions where there are Negro League players and they have tables with T-shirts, but none of them have their picture on them," Smalls said. "That's what I wanted."
Instead of marketing just one item after he designed a T-shirt, Smalls set out to gather all things he had been asked for and establish a Web site.
Smalls has set up a Web site, www.bobosmalls.com. Another area Negro League player, Ernie Westfield of Champaign, also has a Web site, www.kyr star.com/ELWhomepage.html. Both men have a variety of merchandise as well as their stories.
Westfield was with the Birmingham Black Barons from 1959 to 1965.
Both men enjoy sharing their personal histories, the history of the Negro League and barnstorming as well as their love of baseball.
Smalls' merchandise features his trademark of a hand holding four baseballs. In addition to the clowning he used to do, he was known for his ability to throw four baseballs to four different catchers with one pitch.
Westfield has had his site up for a while and said the merchandise is selling well.
"People collect stuff, and if it's autographed they like it even more," Smalls said.
"Having a Web site is just one more way for people to find you and more about the history of the Negro Leagues," Westfield said. "I speak at schools and a number of other gatherings to let them know about discipline and the mentoring that's involved in baseball."
Wooten is happy to know that Smalls is working on a biography and has gotten his Web site up and working.
"Bo was such a great ballplayer. I didn't want him clowning around. He had it – good speed, a good fastball. He should have really played in the big leagues," Wooten said. "But clowning was his thing and he knew how to work the stands and spent 22 years playing baseball and entertaining, longer than anybody else."
Wooten said every time he would speak with Smalls he would ask if he was doing his "paperwork."
"I tell him, 'Son, you need to get your due. You spent an awful lot of time out there riding the bus.'
"He needs to expose the last team," Wooten said. "The Clowns didn't get their due because they weren't in the Negro Baseball League, but they went on a long time going from place to place playing all-star teams from the places they were booked. The Negro league opened the door and the Clowns closed the door. They survived even after the Negro League shut down."
"We had some talent. We won most of our games and probably could have been a good AA team," Wooten said. "I told Bo that maybe he's the chosen one – the one that can get the word out about those that went before him and with him in baseball history."
"I think it's great," he said. "I was in Kansas City for a meeting a few years ago and went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Bobo's name wasn't there. So I came back and told him and now his scrapbooks, photos and lots of things are there along with a lot of other men who were lost or forgotten as having played."
Lucas thinks the Web site will promote awareness of the old Negro League, as well as the barnstormers, that no one knew about.
"A lot of people don't know about black baseball – a lot of black people don't know about it," Lucas said.
"When I was growing up, you either didn't have the money to get into a game or they wouldn't let you in anyway. The Clowns brought baseball to us and in an entertaining way. I knew Bobo, but I didn't know the history of the league and after and that's what he's promoting now."
Smalls and Westfield love to talk to children about playing baseball.
"There aren't a lot of black children playing baseball anymore. It's all basketball, football and track," Smalls said. "I want to see more kids get involved."
"You don't see as many blacks in the big leagues, either," he said.
"It peaked at 27 percent and now it's down to seven percent. We need to encourage kids to play and work their way up through the levels. That's how we'll see the numbers increase again."