Consider it a way to bring an exhibit to life. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will celebrate the opening of a new exhibit, “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball,” by putting recently retired Black players in vintage Negro League uniforms and playing nine innings.
The ballgame — and celebration — will take place May 25 at the historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., and will honor the annual Negro Leagues’ East-West All-Star Game, which took place annually from 1933 to 1962.
Big names ought to draw a sizable crowd over the Memorial Day weekend. Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith are among the Hall of Famers who will serve as the managers and coaches.
Players committed to participate include team captains CC Sabathia and Chris Young; Josh Barfield, Tim Beckham, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder, Dexter Fowler, Curtis Granderson, Tony Gwynn Jr., 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.
“The East-West All-Star Game was the annual showcase for the Negro Leagues, and we are privileged to be able to honor the legacy of those stars,” Sabathia said during a news conference held at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville. “As players, we are indebted to the pioneers who came before us, and recognizing the All-Stars of the Negro Leagues pays tribute not only to their playing ability but also to their courage and devotion to the game.”
Sabathia capped a decorated 19-year career in 2019 painfully, his left shoulder in shreds with injuries to his rotator cuff, labrum and biceps. He required a full shoulder reconstruction. More than four years later, he has a reason to rehab the shoulder and take the mound one last time in the exhibition.
“When I had the surgery, I told them I’m never going to throw again, so I never did the rehab,” he said with a chuckle. “Now I’m going to see if I can get the cutter moving again.”
The Negro Leagues’ East-West All-Star Game debuted in 1933 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park and in several years featured multiple games. Several future Hall of Famers starred in the game throughout the years, including Cool Papa Bell, Ray Brown, Andy Cooper, Leon Day, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Willie Wells.
Located on the Museum’s second floor in the Yawkey Gallery, The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball will feature not only stories of early Black baseball, the Negro Leagues’ era, the complexities of reintegration and Robinson, but also will document how few Black players break into the big leagues today.
The percentage of Black players peaked through the 1980s at about 18%. In 2023, only about 6% of MLB players were Black. The exhibit is part of the Hall of Fame’s Black Baseball Initiative that includes additional outreach programs, educational materials and virtual programming.
The exhibition game is called the Hall of Fame East-West Classic and for a year will take the place of the Hall of Fame Classic in 2024, the annual Cooperstown alumni game featuring former players from each major league team. Last year’s game featured Hall of Famer pitchers Bert Blyleven, Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris and Lee Smith as managers and coaches.
Utilizing the Memorial Day Weekend event to showcase the opening of “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” has been in the works for a while.
“Memorial Day Weekend will serve as a landmark event within a years-long initiative among the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and our partners to rethink how the stories of Black baseball are told in Cooperstown,” said Josh Rawitch, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “The Souls of the Game exhibit will tell the story of Black baseball through the voices of the men and women who broke barriers and made history on and off the field.
“The incredible enthusiasm from players participating in this legends game — players who faced their own challenges while helping to build on the diversity that has flowed through our National Pastime for more than a century — will make this a must-see event in Cooperstown.”
Tickets for the Hall of Fame East-West Classic are on sale at baseballhall.org/east-west. For more information about the Museum’s Black Baseball Initiative, visit baseballhall.org/BBI.