Pittsburgh Students View, Discuss New Documentary on Negro League Baseball


Joel Gray (left), Charlene Foggie-Barnett (center), Lauren Meyer (right) discuss “The Other Boys of Summer” | Picture credit: Sam Bisno

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

On Monday, approximately a dozen Obama students attended a screening of The Other Boys of Summer, a documentary featuring interviews with several former Negro league baseball players. The film was released earlier this year and has since made its way across the country via school and community showings. Yesterday’s event was organized by the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of their ongoing initiative to highlight the rich history of African Americans in professional baseball. Students from Manchester Academic Charter School and Propel Homestead were also in attendance.

The Negro leagues were a series of professional baseball leagues that materialized in the 1920s. Negro league players were predominantly black, although some were Latin-American. Early Negro league teams faced financial difficulties; in 1932, with Negro league baseball on the precipice of failure, Pittsburgh numbers runner and owner of the Crawford Grill in the Hill District Gus Greenlee purchased the Pittsburgh Crawfords, initially intending to use the team as a front to launder money. However, after learning of the success of the crosstown Homestead Grays, Greenlee reconsidered and began to recruit talent. Shortly thereafter, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, widely considered to be the two best Negro league players of all time, debuted for the Crawfords. Greenlee went on to found the National Organization of Professional Baseball Clubs and institute the annual East-West All-Star Game. While the players in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game were at the time chosen exclusively by sportswriters, Greenlee had the radical idea to allow fan voting, a practice that MLB has since adopted. At the zenith of black baseball, the East-West All-Star Game drew crowds of upwards of 50,000.

The Other Boys of Summer took Emmy-nominated director Lauren Meyer 12 years to complete. Meyer, a lifelong Mets fan whose filmography ranges from an episode of the TV show Wife Swap to a 2015 documentary series on everyday Americans entitled The American Dream Project, says she began work on The Other Boys after realizing that “if she didn’t go and interview the players now, their personal stories would be lost forever.”

Those interviewed included left fielder Monte Irvin, who might have entered the Majors prior to Jackie Robinson were it not for time spent serving in World War II but who eventually starred for the New York Giants; pitcher Mamie Johnson, just one of three women to play in the Negro leagues; left fielder Minnie Miñoso, the first African American to play for the White Sox (he would be named to nine All-Star teams and win three Gold Gloves); infielder and captain of the Kansas City Monarchs Jim Robinson; and pitcher Robert Scott. The former players recounted their careers, from staying in a funeral home because all of the hotels in one southern town were whites-only to watching white spectators line their cars up on nearby streets to view their games. They told stories of, after integration, being forced to eat in restaurants’ kitchens while their teammates ate in the dining rooms, and of using the Negro leagues as a means to escape poverty. One sentiment was shared by each interviewee: they had no regrets.

The screening was followed by a forum with Meyer, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Pirates Joel Gray, and Teene Harris Archive Specialist Charlene Foggie-Barnett. The panelists shared their thoughts on the importance of the film and of remembering the Negro leagues in general. Said Meyer, “People often refer to baseball players as ‘the boys of summer,’ but I wanted to highlight the other side of that story.”

The discussion was hosted by legendary KDKA-TV reporter Harold Hayes. Students were given an opportunity to ask questions, and everyone walked away sporting a new Pirates cap.

Those interested in watching the film for themselves can book a screening here.