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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Showing respect
Cubs' DeShields pays tribute to Negro Leaguers
By Carrie Muskat/MLB.com


Delino DeShields credits Negro Leaguers for his success in baseball.
MESA, Ariz. -- In 1991, Delino DeShields' second full Major League season, he decided to wear his socks high. It's a tribute to the men who played in the Negro Leagues.

"I just figured I would never get to meet a lot of those guys and tell them thank you personally," DeShields said. "Hopefully they'll see me and say, 'Hey, that guy right there, he might know something.'"

What the Chicago Cubs second baseman knows is to respect the Negro League players. If not for them, he says, he wouldn't be in the Major Leagues right now.

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"You have to know and respect where you come from," DeShields said. "If you don't know those things, then you don't know where you're going. That's where I came from. If those guys didn't go through the things they went through, I wouldn't be here playing. It's really important."

He has so many Negro League jerseys that he can't remember all the teams. On Thursday, he reported to the Cubs first full workout wearing a red ABC Crackers jersey. DeShields also collects books on the subject and has visited the Negro League Museum in Kansas City several times.

DeShields has been lucky. He has had the opportunity to meet Buck O'Neil, a Negro League player and former Cubs coach who signed Ernie Banks.

"You just sit there and listen," DeShields said of his times with O'Neil. "Some of the stories he tells you, you just sit there and listen. It's an honor to be in his presence sometimes. I think he's a great dude." DeShields, 33, would like to see more African-American ballplayers interested in their roots.

"It hit me when I got out of high school," said the Delaware native. "There wasn't a lot of African-American history in school. After school when I got into pro ball, I started reading and I started collecting more and more books and it turned into an avalanche, I guess you could say."

He'd like to see the Negro Leagues added to course curriculums.

"It's part of American history," he said.

Does DeShields ever wonder if it could've been him having to cope with the prejudicial times?

"Even when I struggle a little bit now I'm like 'Shoot, this ain't nothing compared to what those guys went through,'" he said. "So it kind of keeps me going a lot of times, too."

Jackie Robinson had to endure tremendous pressure when he broke into the Majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 but DeShields is still studying some of the details.

"Jackie, that was big," he said. "But the reasons behind it are what throw me off a little bit. I don't know if (Dodgers owner) Branch Rickey thought Jackie was a nice guy and he wanted to give African Americans a chance or if it was strictly for the money. I don't know. That's why I have mixed feelings about it. When Jackie went, it was the downfall for the Negro Leagues. For every one guy that got to play, there were 10 who had no where to play anymore."

His mixed feelings are justified. The integration of Major League Baseball contributed significantly to the end of the Negro Leagues.

DeShields grew up in Delaware but now lives in the Atlanta area.

"I have a lot of friends who are Southern boys now and I told them I didn't grow up being called names and things like that," he said. "We all got along. When I went different places, that was my first time experiencing anything like that."

Among the Negro League players who fascinate him are Oscar Charleston, who played between 1915-54, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and career .309 hitter Judy Johnson -- "because he's a Delaware dude," DeShields said.

"And Rube Foster," DeShields said of the father of the Negro Leagues, "for having the vision to put this all together back in a time when things weren't really good. Probably out of all those guys, Rube is the one who sparks my interest the most. Not only was he a good ballplayer but a tremendous person and a visionary."

Carrie Muskat covers the Cubs for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.