By Jerry Crasnick
As baseball players, retired players, former U.S. presidents and fans unite in honor of the Negro Leagues’ centennial celebration, a new partnership is showing its support in the form of a fashion statement.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, in conjunction with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the lifestyle brand Roots of Fight, has launched a new apparel line to recognize the African-American pioneers who laid the groundwork for diversity and inclusion in the game. CC Sabathia, a six-time All-Star and winner of 251 games over 19 big-league seasons, is creative director of the clothing collection.
“Preserving the legacy of the Negro Leagues’ contributions to baseball is vital to growing our game’s diversity and popularity,” said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark. “This partnership will help bring to life the spirit of these great players for a new generation of players and fans.”
A share of proceeds from all sales will benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s efforts to preserve and celebrate African-American baseball history and its impact on society at large. Roots of Fight will donate a portion of sales from the new apparel line and its Web site to the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and other programs to help further racial equality and justice.
The announcement comes amid the 100th anniversary celebration of the formation of the Negro Leagues under Rube Foster at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City in 1920. While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of several public events this year, the campaign has continued in virtual form under the direction of Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. During a month-long “Tip Your Cap’’ campaign, former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama posted videos on social media to express their gratitude and respect for the Negro Leagues.
Sabathia, who retired after the 2019 season, joined Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins and other luminaries in the “Black Aces’’ fraternity when he posted a 21-7 record for the New York Yankees in 2010. The term, coined by former Minnesota Twins pitcher Mudcat Grant, refers to the 15 African-American pitchers who have won 20 games in a season in the majors.
Sabathia designed the new program and accompanying apparel to include the phrase “They Played for Us” to represent the enduring influence Negro League players have had on baseball and popular culture. Hoodies, T-shirts and other garments in the collection will recognize the Negro Leagues’ centennial and the legacy of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Clark, who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues before joining the MLBPA staff in 2010, received the Jackie Robinson Award from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 2016. He has spoken often of his desire to pass along an appreciation for the game’s history and its trail-blazing figures to his baseball-playing son, Aeneas.
In conjunction with the announcement of the new clothing line, Roots of Fight offered the following retrospective of the Negro Leagues and its significance:
“They brought a community together in times of radical division. They created a hub of support and economic prosperity. This was bigger than a baseball league. This was bigger than sports. The National Negro League games became an unmissable social gathering -- a place to express yourself free from discrimination and hate. The pioneering few behind its inception built an environment for a culture to flourish. They played for us so we could play for all.’’