Me with Carl Long at Grainger Stadium, Kinston NC, 2011
I lost a friend yesterday. Carl Long, a former Negro League player and member of the Negro League Hall of Fame passed away yesterday. He had suffered a series of strokes in November and sadly never recovered. I got to know Carl in Kinston North Carolina, when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune. I met him in June, the day after I found out that one of my former Marines had been killed in Afghanistan. I had cried myself to sleep that night and badly needed the solace of baseball, which as Annie Savoy said in the movie Bull Durham ” for me is “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”
Over the course of the 2011 season, which was the Kinston Indian’s final season in that town I spent good amount of time with Carl. Gregarious, friendly and always will to share I treasure those times. Through Carl I got to know some of the other dwindling number of former Negro League players including James “Spot” King, Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten who both played for the Indianapolis Clowns, and Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954. He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.
Carl Long Night: L-R James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten, Dennis “Bose” Biddle and Carl Long at Historic Grainger Stadium, Kinston NC June 2011
Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente. He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season in Kinston which has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez.
Carl was a pioneer, but he did not have a long baseball career. He injured his shoulder and then met his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl. She stole his hear and he never left his adopted home town. In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. After he retired he toured with other Negro League players and often spoke to school children about the need for education and overcoming life’s difficulties.
The truth of the matter is that Carl and the other players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society. The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated. When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations. A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.
I count myself blessed that in an hour of crisis that Carl, as well as my other friends from Grainger Stadium was there for me. I will miss him.
May Carl and all the departed rest in peace, and may God grant comfort to his widow Ella.