07/13/2004 7:38 PM ET
Hartman recalls Negro Leagues
FanFest speaker also played two years in Majors
By Gary Washburn / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Are you kidding? 70 years old? J.C. Hartman looks as if he still could chase down some fly balls in left field. Yet with a youthful-looking face and build that most men his age would pay for, Hartman has the wisdom and knowledge of years in professional baseball.
|J.C. Hartman played with Satchel Paige (pictured) in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. (AP)
At the All-Star FanFest on Tuesday, just hours before the Major League's best players of black, white, Dominican, Venezuelan and various other colors took the field for the 75th All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park, Hartman talked of times when black players were not allowed on Major League Baseball fields.
Hartman was a member of the Negro Leagues as a player for the Kansas City Monarchs in the mid-1950s, when the Majors was not entirely integrated. The last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox in 1959, so advancing to the Majors in the mid-1950s was hardly easy.
"The Negro Leagues were in decline then," Hartman said during a Negro League symposium. "I think it had reached its time. Everything must come to and end. But it brought me great memories."
Hartman signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1956 and played in the Cubs' system for five years before being traded to the Houston Colt .45's in 1961. He played two seasons with Houston and has lived there ever since.
The symposium, which allowed kids to sit on a simulated baseball field and watch the interview close up, allowed Hartman to talk about some of his cherished baseball memories.
He played in the 1955 East-West All-Star Game at Chicago's Comiskey Park, a game that involved several Negro League legends. Hartman played on the Monarchs with Satchel Paige and had plenty of special memories.
"With Satch, the game didn't start until he got there," Hartman recalls. "And when he got there, he didn't warm up for 15 or 20 minutes like these pitchers today. He threw maybe eight pitches and was ready to go. He used to tell me, 'I am not going to waste my game in the bullpen. I'll throw my good stuff in the game.'"
Hartman was a part-time player in his two years with the Colt .45s, but played with some of the game's great stars when they were practically babies. That 1963 Houston team included a 19-year-old rookie named Rusty Staub and a 19-year-old second baseman named Joe Morgan.
"Rusty had a tough time hitting the curveball at first, but he kept at it and the rest is history," Hartman said. "Now with Joe, I used to take the game to Joe on the field in those days, but he won't admit it. But you could see that he was going to be a great player."
Hartman was a minor league teammate of Billy Williams, who actually left the Cubs' then minor league affiliate in San Antonio because of the heavy racism. Negro League legend Buck O'Neil retrieved Williams from his Alabama home, and he reported back to San Antonio.
Hartman said he has no regrets about his playing days or his arduous journey. It was tough to see the end of the Negro Leagues, but the reward was a Major League chance.
"During those times, things weren't always so nice," he said. "But we made it OK. I am grateful to the sport of baseball. I have been able to travel all over the world."
Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.