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Baseball Hall of Fame

National Baseball Hall of Fame sets Negro Leagues tribute

CC Sabathia, Josh Barfield excited to play in East-West Classic

NASHVILLE – As Josh Barfield donned a jersey of the Homestead Grays of the old Negro Leagues, the former big leaguer got chills Tuesday as he remembered visiting his late uncle Albert Overton. Barfield was excited to promote the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s upcoming East-West Classic.

Barfield was only six years old when his uncle died. But he still has vivid memories of listening to his uncle talk about his days playing in the Negro Leagues. 

Those childhood memories are part of the reason Barfield readily agreed to play in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s upcoming East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game, presented by Boeing.

Honoring East-West All-Star Game

The Classic will be held on May 25 at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., during Memorial Day Weekend. The exhibition will be part of the events tied to the opening of the Hall’s “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” exhibit.

Many star Black former major leaguers of the last decade have committed to play in the exhibition. The Classic pays tribute to the Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Game that was played annually from 1933 through 1962.

“The opportunity to step out there on the field again with a bunch of guys that you grew up playing with, playing against, watching, it’s truly special,” Barfield said. “I think it also bringing awareness to the history of Black baseball. Baseball is probably the most history rich sport in this country. 

“Black players played such a big part of that. A lot of that has been forgotten. … My great uncle played for the Negro Leagues. He played for the (Little Rock) Grays. He played for the Clowns. Getting to hear as a young kid a lot of these stories about what they went through and some of the guys, talking about the Jackie Robinsons and guys like that, and then as a player I got to meet Buck O’Neil before he passed.”

Return to Cooperstown

Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith will manage the East and West teams. Six-time All-Star CC Sabathia is arguably the biggest name committed to play in the game. He donned a Kansas City Monarchs jersey for the Hall of Fame press conference Tuesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Sabathia is a former Cy Young Award winner who may eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. For now, he’s focused on getting his left shoulder ready to pitch in the East-West Classic.

Sabathia has worked with Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch to recruit players for the game. He had no doubt he could recruit players for the game when Rawitch asked him if he thought they could find enough players.

Sabathia actually visited the Hall of Fame two summers ago with his son. He describes the visit as an “incredible experience.”

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“Getting a chance to visit the museum and now having the chance to bring all these players back that I’m so close with and that we’re so close with and connected to, to actually play a game there is going to be so much fun.” he said. “My career ended with me ripping my shoulder up and not being able to throw a baseball anymore. 

“But I’m rehabbing myself to be able to come back and pitch an inning in this game. I’m super excited to get up there and put on a good show with my friends that I know will really appreciate this.”

Sabathia and Chris Young will serve as captains for the Hall of Fame East-West Classic. That duo has helped the Hall of Fame recruit the roster.

All-Star roster headed to Hall of Fame for Classic

Barfield, a second-generation big leaguer, didn’t hesitate when Young invited him. Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the late Hall of Famer, also will play. Several former All-Stars have committed to play in the Classic.

Tim Beckham, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder, Dexter Fowler, Curtis Granderson, Jerry Hairston, Scott Hairston, LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Howard, Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Jeffress, Adam Jones, Russell Martin, David Price, Tony Sipp, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Dontrelle Willis are also committed to play in the classic.

The majority of those players have worked to encourage Black athletes to play baseball. Barfield, the son of former big leaguer Jesse Barfield, wants kids to know that there’s a rich history of Black excellence in baseball.

“It wasn’t long ago that a quarter of the guys in the big league when my dad was playing were African American,” Josh Barfield said. “There was a whole league of really, really talented African American players. Not only was it big at the time, but it was big business too.

“They were packing out stadiums. Basketball and football and these other sports were an afterthought back then. So I think it’s important to let young Black kids not only know that there’s opportunity there, but it’s part of our culture.”

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