It's been more than 50 years since Bob Scott stood on the pitcher's mound in Yankee Stadium, positioning his fingers in just the right way to deliver his signature screwball. And on the days he wasn't pitching, Scott played first base.
It was another time, a time when a pitcher, or at least the pitchers in his league, threw for the entire game, no matter how many innings. And there was no disabled roster, not for him, not for his teammates, because not playing was just about the quickest ticket back home.
That was life in the Negro leagues, when baseball was segregated,with blacks playing only on teams with other black Americans. But for all the discrimination, for all the disparity in the way black players and white players were treated, none of that has diminished Scott's love for the game.
"Playing in the Negro leagues was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Playing baseball in Yankee Stadium was one of the greatest things you could ever do," Scott said.
A long-time resident of Elizabeth, Scott started playing baseball in 1941 with his father's team, the Macon Braves. In 1943, he moved on to the Macon Cardinals, eventually working his way north to play with the New York Black Yankees from 1946 to 1950.
Scott, 79, spoke recently, along with Union County College history Prof. Lawrence Hogan, about the Negro Leagues. The evening program, one of several events marking Black History month, was hosted by the college at its Cranford campus and sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders through the county's Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
Hogan, who holds a doctorate in American and African-American History from Indiana University, is the principal author of "Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball."
While the South may have lost the Civil War, segregation remained a fact of life and that included baseball; although early on in baseball's history, those attitudes were not shared in the north. In Newark, blacks played on integrated teams in the 1870s and 1880s, Hogan said.
But that would start to change, and with the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation, baseball team owners would follow suit, with separate leagues for black players and white players that would remain until baseball legend Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Hogan said there were popular Negro League teams across New Jersey, from the original Cuban Giants in Trenton to the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants who moved up from Jacksonville, Florida to play ball at the seashore resort city. Hogan maintains that the AC team was the best black team in the state.
Scott said that as a young man, when there weren't a lot of jobs to be had, baseball, even though segregated, offered opportunities.
"The Negro league was big business and an opportunity for the young black man. "They signed me at $175 a month--and 50 cents for meals," he said. But he would go back to that time and do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Baseball has changed since then--and not all for the better, he said.
"Today we're in a different time," Scott said. "You ve got ballplayers who are just playing for money. They're not playing for the game. You offer a guy $6 million a year to play and he says 'No.' There's got to be something wrong with him." But Scott is not one to dwell on the negative. While there are those who would think he should be bitter because of the racism of the era, that is not what he focuses on, he told the audience.
"You stand tall, and it makes you stronger," he said, moving on to share some of his favorite memories, like being picked by Jackie Robinson to play on an all-star team.
Scott also recalled what it was like to go up against the great Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige.
"I was very young and he was pretty fast," Scott said, joking how he wasn't even halfway through his swing and the catcher was already throwing the ball back to Paige.
"But I wasn't the only man who couldn't hit him," Scott said. And laughed.
The college's second major program celebrating Black History Month, which was also sponsored in part by the county's Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, had to be canceled due to the recent snowstorm.
Union County Freeholder Deborah Scanlon, the board's liaison to Cultural and Heritage, said she hoped residents would be able to adjust their schedules and attend the daylong event, now scheduled for Feb. 17.
"The evening program includes a performance by the Newark Boys Chorus and the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club. It should prove to be a very enjoyable evening," she said.