Historic Atlanta is an appropriate setting for CRG
ATLANTA -- He is 95, so James "Red" Moore (no relation) likes to say with one of his infectious smiles that you have to forgive his forgetfulness. Not to worry, though. When his mind slides toward silence, he usually has his wife, Mary, or his longtime spokesperson, Greg White, nearby to whisper his thoughts back into remembrance.
Moore actually remembers a lot, and he loves to share. Which means this is splendid for the rest of us, because Moore is the 21st century version of telephone booths, station wagons and yellow-headed parrots in that he is a rarity these days.
He is a former player from the Negro Leagues.
According to officials at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, there are no more than 150 or so such players still living. Maybe five remain in the Atlanta area, including the legendary Hank Aaron and Moore, whose fielding at first base was peerless.
To commemorate as much, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum uses Moore's glove as part of a mobile exhibit that travels across the country featuring Negro Leagues artifacts. Mary Moore still sighs over the matter. When the museum officials first approached her about borrowing the glove, she was more than a little hesitant, but she finally relented.
"Oh, lordy, Jesus," Mary Moore told me at the time. "We promised the glove to them, and we went on and gave it to them. Yeah, and it's the only thing we really had left from back then."
It was a glove for Moore's right hand since he is left-handed, but he began his baseball career with something different.
It was really different.
"When I first came up, we didn't have any gloves for left-handers," Moore said. "So I used to take a right-handed fellow's glove, and I'd have some of my fingers hanging out on the side, and I would just kind of fold a couple of them around the glove. It didn't bother me."
Hitters? It bothered. They'd watch Moore gobble up anything in his vicinity. But don't get the wrong idea -- Moore could hit, too. As a result, he was a prominent player for black teams during the 1930s such as the Newark Eagles, Indianapolis ABCs, Macon Peaches, Chattanooga Choo-Choos, Schenectady Black Sox and the Baltimore Elite Giants.
That said, Moore's baseball heart and fame mostly involved his hometown Atlanta Black Crackers, especially in 1938, when they were co-winners of the Negro Leagues. They were the city's only baseball champions until the Atlanta Braves won the World Series 57 years later.
"We kinda beat up on some teams," Moore said, chuckling, referring to Negro Leagues opponents -- along with white ones during the era of segregation. "We had plenty of talent. And they also knew that when they played us, they were playing a team."
White whispered in Moore's ear. The spokesperson wanted the old player to tell the story about a series of games in Mississippi that featured the Crackers winning, and then winning some more.
"After a while, the sheriff of the town showed up, and he told us, 'If you [black players] keep beating my [black players], we're gonna run you out of town,' " Moore said, laughing, recalling how the majority of his teammates suddenly forgot how to field, hit or run.
Then Moore lost his smile, adding, "Earlier on, there were a lot of white teams that they wouldn't allow us to play. Then they would, and once we started, we had some good games."
The memories continued for Moore, and so did his stories during what was a discussion entitled "The Rise and Fall of Negro League Baseball" at a downtown seminar inside the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.
How appropriate. Baseball is celebrating its Delta Civil Rights Game Weekend in town right now, and the Atlanta histories of Moore, Aaron and others show the appropriateness of it all.
The Braves' Turner Field sits just a few fungoes away from the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr., and then there is Andrew Young, a former Dr. King lieutenant, who became the mayor of Atlanta during the 1980s after he served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Young once told me that he joined Dr. King and others in relaxing between marches during the civil rights movement by listening to baseball games on the radio -- when they weren't playing softball.
You also had Dr. King befriending a native of Cairo, Ga., named Jackie Robinson. Soon afterward, Robinson extended his role as the man who broke baseball's color barrier by helping Dr. King, Young and others with the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.
John Lewis was another Dr. King disciple, and he was a keynote speaker at the Lincoln Memorial in Aug. 1963, when Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Now, Lewis is a longtime U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and he'll join Dodgers legend Don Newcombe on Saturday at a downtown ballroom to receive MLB Beacon Awards for their work through the years regarding equality in society.
Plus, there will be a roundtable discussion Friday called "Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement" at the Carter Center, which is the presidential library for Georgia native Jimmy Carter, and the Braves will conduct a clinic Saturday at Turner Field for local youth.
Then the Civil Rights Game will occur Saturday night between the Braves and the Dodgers.
Those are the official special events.
As for the unofficial ones, they are ongoing in Atlanta. They include anytime you can spend time with Moore.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.