Negro League researcher Cam Perron talks about his new guide, the Negro Leagues, and the instances to come back


Writer Cam Perron chats with Deadspin about his new guide, Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Best Dwelling Negro League Baseball Gamers
Picture: Courtesy Cam Perron

In a profile over the summer season, I requested Cam Perron what he’s as much as subsequent. On the time, the younger Negro Leagues researcher, whose work of documenting gamers’ service time led to their receiving MLB pensions, was working his memorabilia enterprise and dealing on a guide set to hit cabinets in 2021.

After studying a duplicate of Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Best Dwelling Negro League Baseball Gamers, I referred to as Perron to speak concerning the new guide. He advised me it’s a bit about baseball, however extra of a narrative of “friendship, historical past, relationships, and a seek for data.” That is all true. However I feel that is additionally a guide about time.

The perfect tales ask extra questions than they provide solutions. And after studying Perron’s guide, I couldn’t assist however surprise concerning the time operating out. What occurs to those tales within the years to come back?

Thankfully, Perron and co-author Nick Chiles have captured former ballplayers in their very own phrases, telling their very own tales concerning the summers of previous. In doing so, the guide preserves part of sports activities historical past that’s far too typically forgotten.

Comeback Season: My Unlikely Story of Friendship with the Best Dwelling Negro League Baseball Gamers is out now.

Our dialog was edited for size and readability.

Illustration for article titled Negro League researcher Cam Perron talks about his new book, the Negro Leagues, and the times to come

Picture: Courtesy Cam Perron

DF: I need to begin on the literal starting of the guide. Hank Aaron wrote your foreword and which will have been one of many final issues that he wrote for anyone. How did you are feeling while you realized he was going to write down the foreword in your guide?

CP: I used to be simply unbelievably honored and excited. Hank Aaron was — is —  one in all my all-time favourite baseball gamers and a real idol of mine. Although he did go on to have an especially outstanding Main League Baseball profession, him alongside Willie Mays are the 2 most profitable baseball gamers, at the moment previous to Hank’s dying, to have performed within the Negro League that had been nonetheless alive. So having anyone like that to hitch forces with the guide, to assist him use his title and his story within the Negro League, and mix that with a number of the different gamers who we function within the guide, who don’t have the best Main League Baseball careers ever, is a cool combo.

DF: Aaron wrote this foreword in August of 2020. He died a number of months later. Your guide will publish round two and a half months after his dying. However what was going by means of your thoughts when Hank handed?

CP: I used to be simply actually unhappy to listen to of his passing. I hoped to get the prospect to fulfill with him after the discharge of the guide or earlier than sooner or later. So it’s unhappy that that by no means received to occur. After which only for the baseball world as an entire, , actually, actually unhappy to listen to of his passing.

DF: Yeah, and sadly due to the story and the folks that you just’ve been working with for years, dying is that this inevitable factor that retains developing within the guide. You speak about going to reunions 12 months after 12 months, and noticing there are some folks which are gone. And while you had been rising up, you’ll ship letters to those ballplayers and “return to sender” notes would come again with the phrase, “deceased.” Out of your private standpoint, how do you cope with this?

CP: I assume I’ll type of clarify like, what goes by means of my head after I hear {that a} former participant that was presupposed to reside passes away. Usually, I’ll simply get a name from one in all my analysis companions, Dr. [Layton] Revel or Chef [Clayton Sherrod], or a message from a member of the family or a former participant, they usually’ll let me know.

It’s normally later that evening after I’m like sitting down on my pc typing up on little posts for my Negro League Fb web page or simply going by means of some pictures and simply type of, like, remembering the participant on it, and occupied with it slightly bit extra, that’s typically after I’ll get unhappy and it’ll hit me that my buddy handed away. So, , it’s nonetheless exhausting.

DF: I’m questioning what made you need to write a guide within the first place? I imply, you’ve completed a whole lot of exhibits. You’ve had talking engagements. Why a guide and why now?

CP: Effectively, it was at all times behind my head. Within the guide, I discussed how a former participant, Irvin Castille, advised me after I was 13 years previous that I ought to write a guide. I used to be already gathering a lot data and so many tales. He even wrote down on a letter some attainable names for a guide. So it was in my head going all the best way again to age 13. However now I feel the explanation for the guide popping out now, it’s simply type of a mix of a number of issues.

I’m a bit older and we’ve had these reunions for practically a decade. We’ve got a museum in Alabama. And, lastly, it’s actually simply hitting the purpose the place a whole lot of the gamers are passing away in document numbers. So placing this entire story collectively, intertwining my story with the gamers’ tales and struggles — it’s, I hate to say it, however I simply don’t know the way a lot time we’d have left to do one thing like that.

DF: Yeah. I need to speak concerning the gamers and the characters that you just carry up within the guide as a result of there have been a whole lot of block quotes in there. What made you need to give the pen over to those ballplayers or researchers as a lot as you probably did?

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Cam Perron with Sam Brison (left) and Reaf Blue (proper).
Picture: Courtesy Cam Perron

CP: Once we began to place pen to paper, we had been making an attempt to determine the easiest way to let the gamers’ voices shine [and] inform their story in a extremely in-depth method. That couldn’t come from me. You need to choose guys to say that themselves.

We do that transition the place I’m type of explaining some analysis or monitoring down a participant, after which we bounce to the participant telling their facet of issues and diving into the place they got here from and their experiences. I simply don’t suppose it will’ve labored nicely if we didn’t enable the gamers to inform how they noticed it.

DF: And the way’d you get them to write down for you? Clearly, you may have an amazing relationship with them. Was it as straightforward as, “Hey, I’m penning this guide and I actually need to hear your story. So shoot me an electronic mail!” Speak us by means of that technique of how you bought these totally different gamers to write down within the guide.

CP: I’ve recognized a whole bunch of former gamers over time and a few guys have, what would we are saying, extra in-depth tales and histories and descriptions of their careers than others. Plenty of the fellows within the guide I’ve turn into very shut with over time. So simply asking them to do an interview shouldn’t be an issue. Plenty of them, I’ve arrange on numerous interviews up to now and labored with them to get baseball playing cards made or pensions. So getting them to contribute was not an issue. And from there we simply interviewed them over the telephone and recorded it after which put it into phrases. And together with a number of letters as nicely from gamers who’ve handed away.

We’ve [also] included a number of handwritten letters from again within the day when a whole lot of the fellows simply write letters backwards and forwards.

DF: You write about how “outsiders” had been extra involved concerning the racial side of this story than the “insiders” — you and the ballplayers. So in your phrases, I need to get you to speak about what that distinction is between the outsiders and insiders particularly of their perceptions of race within the story.

CP: Yeah. I feel while you don’t know something concerning the relationships of the gamers on the reunions, and the way I tie into it, and the way we’ve all turn into so shut, — it’s like this one large type of reunion household that meets yearly and always exchanges telephone calls with one another. I imply, over time, it’s turn into this actually distinctive type of group… So in that regard, we’re all simply buddies that share frequent pursuits.

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Perron with Actual Sports activities host Bryant Gumbel.
Picture: Courtesy Cam Perron

Whether or not you’re a ballplayer otherwise you’reme — 60, 70 years youthful than them — we’ve all simply type of disregarded our age our background our ethnicity, no matter it may be, as a result of all of us share the frequent pursuits of the Negro League. And for anyone who doesn’t know that they simply type of see, , who is that this? Who is that this younger, white man? That’s, that’s round all these previous black baseball gamers. And, , it simply type of brings up a query that’s in all probability on lots of people’s thoughts, “what precisely, is all this?”

DF: And by “all this,” what precisely do you imply?

CP: You understand, why is that this child concerned in researching solely former Negro league baseball gamers? Why isn’t he interested by simply present baseball gamers that play within the Main League? Why isn’t he simply interested by researching previous Main League Baseball gamers from the fifties and sixties?

And the explanation I gravitated in direction of researching Negro league baseball gamers was as a result of I used to be simply drawn in, in so some ways, the fascination with, with making an attempt to uncover and unearth quite a few newspaper articles, find former baseball gamers who had not communicated with their former teammates for the reason that day that that they had the bus drop them residence within the Nineteen Forties or 50s. Simply unearthing all of this data that isn’t on the market.

There was a lot data on the market that wasn’t recognized [and] hadn’t been documented, hadn’t been put collectively or searched out. And that’s what actually drew me in.

DF: I’m type of wanting to return to that remark you’ve been circling again to, that there’s actually not a whole lot of time left with a few of these gamers. In your estimation and from the analysis you’ve completed. Do you may have a way of what number of Negro leaguers are left? And of them, who do you continue to speak to most frequently?

CP: In my head, it’s very powerful to make an estimation. I don’t at all times have 100% information of if a participant could have handed away in latest months and we simply haven’t came upon but. However my estimation is, nonetheless over 200 former Negro League baseball gamers dwelling, most of whom performed within the 1950 and early 60’s. Whereas some folks take a look at the Negro Leagues as ending in 1950 or the early 50’s, there was a league that was in existence till 1963. And whereas the standard of baseball could have deteriorated as lots of the prime skills had been being signed into main league organizations, there nonetheless was a league.

Most of the guys within the guide are guys that I’m very shut with and we always talk. Each couple of weeks or a month we’ll chat. Some guys I speak to greater than others.

Eugene Scruggs, one of many gamers within the guide, we’ll speak on the telephone each month or two. Gilbert Black we’ll speak each month or two. Russell Patterson and I are speaking always by means of textual content message. Russell was my roommate on the reunions and we’ve turn into very shut over time. We’re at all times chatting about various things more often than not, not even concerning the associated stuff. Simply sports activities and what’s occurring on the earth and whatnot… I nonetheless talk with a whole lot of guys. I’ve a few dozen or two that I verify in with each couple of weeks to a month. I’d say I’ve about 5 to 6 that I textual content message each week or two. After which there’s, , one other 50 to 75 guys that I’ll verify in with each couple months.

DF: As a substitute of calling, have you ever FaceTimed any of them? Are you on social media with them in any respect? Simply questioning.

CP: There’s a pair ballplayers, like the fellows that do textual content messages, which have these capabilities the place they will really obtain an image on their cellphone. I’d say there’s solely a handful who’ve iPhones that really know learn how to use them. A few them these days have been capable of do zoom however usually with the help of a member of the family who type of will get them arrange. Like Russell Patterson, for instance, I keep in mind about three or 4 years in the past he at all times simply had a normal flip telephone. And I imagine for his birthday or Christmas, anyone upgraded him to love one of many new, like LG smartphones. And a month [after getting the smartphone] he couldn’t say sufficient about how he needed to return to the flip telephone as a result of he had no concept learn how to use the smartphone. I believed that was humorous.

DF: Don’t all of us need to return to the flip telephone?

CP: Yeah. The period of time I spend taking a look at pointless data all day… It’s ridiculous.

DF: I agree with that for certain!

Within the guide [and in the interview] you do preserve coming again to this concept that maybe in a decade or two not a whole lot of ballplayers can be left. I’m questioning, what occurs then? Are you anxious that the historical past of the Negro Leagues will go too?

CP: I don’t fear.

However there may be one place the place I’m involved, and I can’t do that all by myself. I want that we might do skilled video interviews of all of these dwelling gamers that we are able to come up with. Seeing their face, assembly them, getting their story whereas we nonetheless can, as a result of after I first began doing this and I reached out to guys over the telephone, we’d have some interactions, perhaps by means of some letters and a few telephone calls. I heard their tales after which they handed away and I had written down some notes, however that simply turns into like slightly piece of paper.

We don’t simply have these movies the place we are able to, , meet this participant and listen to their experiences. In order that’s one factor that I would like to see occur.

I do fear although when gamers move away. And at the moment in 10 to fifteen years, or nevertheless lengthy it might be if there’s no gamers which are doing little occasions or speaking about their profession, then folks won’t give it some thought as a lot.

I do suppose Main League Baseball making their assertion [to recognize Negro Leaguers] lately could draw some general curiosity from baseball researchers and followers who need to discover studying concerning the historical past of the Negro league slightly bit extra — familiarizing themselves with lots of the gamers who could also be within the corridor of fame or not within the corridor of fame who had superb careers within the Negro Leagues. However the little guys, these are those that I actually fear about their tales fading away.

DF: You talked about the MLBs announcement. I need to know when you’ve got any extra ideas on it.

CP: I feel it’s good. It positively brings some consideration and much-needed recognition to the Negro League. I simply need to see one thing extra come of it. Perhaps every staff sends a movie crew over to the gamers that reside of their space or carry them in for a recreation or will the pension program change? I don’t know. I simply need to see slightly bit extra completed as a result of I feel the truth that main league baseball has probably not introduced a lot consideration or recognition to the the Negro League and it’s gamers dwelling or diseased. They nonetheless do have an opportunity with the fellows which are left. 

DF: You wrote a chapter on surprising consideration too. Do you are feeling such as you ever received used to the eye? Are interviews like this nonetheless bizarre?

CP: I might say slightly bit. I nonetheless simply do that stuff as a result of I take pleasure in it. Talking with the gamers and doing these reunions was at all times simply one thing that I used to be keen about. The most important takeaway from having slightly little bit of consideration over time from numerous media retailers was it allowed extra folks to listen to concerning the Negro League and the gamers.

So I feel it simply helps general consciousness of the historical past—the wealthy historical past—and the tales and experiences of these guys.

DF: So what’s subsequent for you and what’s subsequent for the work that you just do within the coming months and years?

CP: Effectively, we’re having a convention name within the subsequent couple of days, Dr. Revel, Chef Clayton, and myself and one other particular person, simply making an attempt to determine what the subsequent large occasion goes to be. With COVID occurring, we’re simply making an attempt to determine when the perfect time to do one thing can be and what sort of occasion we’d do.

The gamers which are nonetheless with us have been cooped up like all people else for the final 12 months they usually need to come out and do one thing as folks get vaccinated. Hopefully, we are able to goal for one thing, perhaps September, October slightly later, unsure but. However once more with time of the essence right here, I feel we want to have a extremely large occasion the place we might attempt to get as many dwelling gamers in attendance as attainable.

DF: Earlier than I allow you to go, I’ve a query that isn’t associated to the guide, however it’s associated to your early upbringing as a [baseball] card collector. I needed to ask you as a man who made some cash flipping playing cards, what do you make of NBA High Shot? I imply, have you ever purchased in? Is that this the longer term? Do I want to start out doing this? Inform us what you suppose.

CP: Goodness. I’m staying away.

I see it as compared to the late Eighties and early Nineties bubble of baseball playing cards… The baseball card bubble of the late 80’s and early 90’s was, there was a big flock of latest traders and followers of baseball. And in flip much more folks began accumulating baseball playing cards, making an attempt to get playing cards of the latest, hottest rookies, after which a whole lot of adults [start] seeing them as a official funding… And all these corporations begin issuing extra baseball playing cards and to attempt to fulfill the demand. After which the provision overwhelmed demand. Plenty of the rookies don’t pan out. And, the values plummet and now persons are caught with a brick of 100 Gregg Jefferies rookie playing cards that they paid 10, 20 bucks a chunk for. They usually now can’t eliminate them they usually’re now nothing.

DF: That’s an fascinating method to take a look at it, I assume.

Lastly, I’ve to ask if there’s anything that you really want me to know concerning the guide, concerning the story, about you, perhaps even about NFT’s?

CP: Final thing I assume, regarding the guide, it’s not a baseball guide. It’s a guide that may attraction to, to essentially anyone. It’s about friendship, historical past, relationships, connection, a seek for data, actually simply so many issues that aren’t baseball-related.

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