A Celebration of Black History Month: A Look Back at The Nine with Tad Myre and Wayne Tuckson
Louisville, Ky. - The City of Louisville has a deep and rich baseball history with roots in the early days of the Negro Leagues. From teams in the earliest documented league to stops on the famous Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige tours, the story of the Negro Leagues and its
*Louisville, Ky. - *The City of Louisville has a deep and rich baseball history with roots in the early days of the Negro Leagues. From teams in the earliest documented league to stops on the famous Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige tours, the story of the Negro Leagues and its players is a rich one yet is widely unknown to the public.
As part of a new initiative by Minor League Baseball last season, each team began to publicize their respective ties to Negro Leagues baseball with The Nine program, a Black-community focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate the historic impact numerous Black baseball pioneers made on the sport. In conjunction with the Louisville Slugger Museum, Pee Wee Reese Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Louisville Sports Commission and Frazier Museum, the Louisville Bats honored Felton Snow, a legend of the game and in his community, who sadly was buried in an unmarked grave until that injustice was corrected.
Accordingly, on September 1 of last year, the community gathered at Eastern Cemetery for a Felton Snow gravestone dedication with remarks from Billy Snow (the nephew of Felton Snow) and Larry Lester (co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum), Bats President Greg Galiette, SABR member Ken Draut and Mayor Greg Fischer. The next evening, the Snow Family, along with Lester, members of the Louisville Bats front office, SABR and many others gathered at Louisville Slugger Field to pay homage to Snow’s contributions to both the City of Louisville and the game of baseball with the retiring of his #2 jersey, a special trading card giveaway and ceremonial first pitches from Billy Snow and Lester.
In what became a large group effort, the celebration of Felton Snow never would have happened without the dedication of two individuals: Tad Myre and Wayne Tuckson, both members of the local SABR chapter, with Myre leading the group as its president, and a stroke of luck. The two friends, along with Draut, began working on a gravestone dedication for Snow over a year before the celebration at Slugger Field. Enjoying a meal together at a local restaurant, Myre and Tuckson were looking through an encyclopedia of Negro League baseball and landed on a profile of Felton Snow at the exact time the restaurant’s owner stopped by, looked at the book and interjected, “Hey, that’s my uncle!” The owner was none other than Billy Snow. From that point on Myre, Tuckson and Draut began a journey that fed into the efforts of others to honor and preserve the life and legacy of Felton Snow as well as the rich history of the Negro Leagues in Louisville.
“For me, it started with baseball, a sport I love. That intersected with my growing interest in Louisville’s West End, an area of our city that over 30 years of keeping my nose to the grindstone left me largely ignorant of other than from newspapers stories. Somewhere in there, I decided to lift my head up,” Myre said of his desire to bring light to the untapped stories of the Negro Leagues in Louisville. “Baseball also intersected with the Pee Wee Reese Chapter and its wonderful members, and of course with the Bats and with the Slugger Museum and Bailey Mazek, and by golly here we are. It was sometime after we got started with our part that Greg Galiette reached out to me to participate in The Nine initiative. Later we came to find out that Greg has his own Felton Snow history. So many sublime coincidences meant this was something that was destined to happen.”
Once the Chapter began to dive into the life of Snow and saw the impact he had on his community, which included advising Jackie Robinson during his jump to the Major Leagues, a consensus grew that a critical part of the City’s history was lost, or in danger of being lost. With the assistance (and hospitality) of the Louisville Bats, a team came together and decided that that would not happen.
“One of the things for me is we forget the contribution of the Negro Leagues; we forget the contribution of African Americans in this country period,” said Tuckson on the importance of the work they have done. “The Negro Leagues were a parallel, an uninvited one, to what was going on in the Majors; they used the same bats, the same balls, the same gloves, wore the same uniforms and played in the same stadiums, although at different times, and they played high-quality baseball.” For Tuckson, the importance goes deeper than just remembering the names of the players. “In terms of the things that the Negro Leagues brought in, they changed the speed of the game and are the reason we first had lights in ballparks, for they often had no choice but to play at night. I think it’s important to remember that the talent and innovations of the Negro Leagues. To overlook the history of these ballplayers, coaches and owners is another example of a failure to credit the contributions of African Americans to American culture and American history.”
A lot of work goes into an event like the two-day celebration of Felton Snow and the Negro Leagues. Luckily for this town, there is a dedicated group of individuals at SABR that are more than up to the task. “We have a pretty good team of researchers who have an interest in this area. There were a bunch of others who fed into the effort, too,” Myre recalled. “And we all benefitted from the groundbreaking and painstaking work of Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League Baseball Museum. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Larry, the number one researcher in the country in this area. His willingness to be part of this added class and credibility.” Tuckson reaffirmed Myre’s praise of Lester. “To learn what this guy did, he would go through newspapers, all the newspapers and pull out all the stats, who played, what they did, how they fared. He also went through obituaries and other public records to find out when they died, illnesses, relatives, you name it. To be able to call upon that level of research, it means something.” All in all, the two agreed that Lester’s effort has been an intense labor of love. “The work Larry did would have been mind-numbing without his underlying passion, mining stats from old forgotten and often incomplete records. His work has played a big part in legitimizing and crediting Negro Leagues’ statistics so they can be recognized as official Major Leagues stats. Now we can finally start comparing apples to apples when we’re talking about Major League and Negro Leagues baseball, you can put the two together like they should have been in the first place,” Tuckson said.
The rewards far outweighed the cost for Myre and Tuckson. “The smiles on the Snow family members and the obvious pride they took was something special,” Tuckson said. “You have to remember, for better or worse, stadiums are cathedrals and, all of sudden, you have someone being honored, the memory of a guy being honored in this immaculate ballpark and all these people were just over the moon. When I talk to Billy on the phone about it, you can still hear him grinning. You validated the man; you validated Negro Leagues ball for everybody. It’s just great.”
For Myre, the reward is a bit more personal. “The most rewarding thing for me has been all the people I’ve encountered because this is such a positive thing; there’s nobody trying to tear anything down,” Myre said. “We’re all building something together and have similar interests and like minds. Larry Lester, I didn’t know him but he’s now a friend of ours for life. Wayne, I got to know a lot better through this process. The SABR guys, you all, the Snow family, Billy Snow, so many others, I now have this group that I can think about and always smile.”
The two have continued their work together, along with other Chapter members, uncovering the lost stories of local legends and Negro Leagues greats as they prepare for this year’s Nine celebration, with the full expectation of repeating the success of the first.
[For those wishing to join or know more about the Pee Wee Reese Chapter, feel free to reach out to Tad Myre at [email protected]].