Oldest Negro leaguer found
Silas Simmons was handed a photograph and asked if he recognized anyone in it. He fixed his eyes on the sepia image and moved his curled fingers over the glass and frame, soaking in the faces for more than 20 silent seconds.
It was a picture of the 1913 Homestead Grays, a primordial Pittsburgh-area baseball team that played before the Negro leagues were even born. His mind, Simmons said, needed time to connect the faces to positions to names. He was entitled to the delay; next month, he will turn 111 years old.
Simmons, known as Si, was born on Oct. 14, 1895 -- the same year as Babe Ruth and Rudolph Valentino. He played at the highest level of black baseball while a boy named Satchel Paige was still in grade school.
That Simmons is still living was unknown to baseball researchers until this summer, when a genealogist near the nursing home where he lives in St. Petersburg alerted a Negro leagues expert.
"My reaction," said Negro league researcher Wayne Stivers, "was, 'We need to talk with him immediately.' "
A member of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research confirmed a baseball historian's dream: that Simmons was indeed a man who had pitched and played the outfield in the equivalent of the black major leagues on and off from about 1912 through at least 1929, and that he had played against such stars as Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson and Biz Mackey.
Lloyd was like "the second Honus Wagner," Simmons said. "Judy Johnson, they called him Pie Traynor."
The oldest living person who played Major League Baseball is Rollie Stiles, 99, who pitched for the St. Louis Browns in the early 1930s.
Confined to a wheelchair but reasonably communicative, Simmons has no major health issues beyond his extraordinary age. He is an avid sports fan who watches many Tampa Bay Devil Rays games on the television in his room -- "I like young players," he said -- and even attended a Devils Rays game at Tropicana Field this summer with his church group.
Friends of his at the Westminster Suncoast retirement community said Simmons rarely talked about his Negro leagues career. Dorothy Russell, 90, said: "When we played volleyball -- with balloons -- he said, 'You know, I used to play baseball.' But he didn't make it sound so spectacular. And I didn't know enough to ask him about it."
Simmons' first games were not in the Negro leagues as they are now remembered. The first established circuit, the Negro National League, started in 1920. Before that, local all-black teams would play against one another, against all-white teams or occasionally against groups of big leaguers barnstorming in the off-season.
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Tina M Janke - 10/13/2006
Ebbets Field Flannels announced the creation of a unique and very special vintage baseball jersey, designed and produced to commemorate the 111th birthday of Negro Baseball Leaguer great Silas Simmons. The Jersey will be a handcrafted,
authentic replica of the original 1913 Homestead Grays uniform that Simmons wore while pitching in the Negro Leagues. According to the New York Times, Simmons is the oldest surviving member of this historic period in American baseball. Until he was recently discovered at a retirement home in Florida, he had been thought by baseball authorities to be long deceased.
“When we heard about Mr. Simmons and his connection to the Negro Leagues, we had to get involved,” said Jerry Cohen, president of Ebbets Field Flannels, designer and manufacturer of handcrafted sports apparel. “We’re busy making an exact copy of his 1913 Homestead Grays jersey which will be given to him this Saturday.”
Dr. Layton Revel, the director of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research. is throwing the party for Silas. The serendipitous discovery of Mr. Simmons in Florida was the subject of a September 26, 2006 story by Alan Schwarz in the sports section of the New York Times. Simmons will turn 111 years old on October 14th.
“We are proud that Ebbets Field Flannels was the first apparel company to recognize the Negro Leagues. We were able to go to our research files and quickly create an exact reproduction of the uniform Simmons wore as a member of the 1913 Grays. It was a very unusual pinstripe fabric, which fortunately we had on hand.”
Ebbets Field Flannels is the leading manufacturer of vintage, historically inspired athletic clothing. Since 1988 the company has been creating fine handcrafted
clothing, based on extensive historical research, a passion for authenticity and a belief that athletic clothing of the early-to-mid 20th century makes a great
statement today. The company offers authentic jerseys with a classic look; satin-lined melton wool athletic jackets; and a full-line of T-shirts and baseball caps
through its catalog and online.
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