Grand Slam

A local Negro League baseball icon keeps the memories (good and bad) alive.

Yeadon’s Stanley Glenn, president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association.Stanley Glenn’s closest friends held on to their secret until a recent John Bartram High School reunion breakfast. Finally, the fellow octogenarians told Glenn about a visit a New York Yankees scout once paid to their Philadelphia school. He came looking for the strong-armed catcher known as “Slamming” Stanley Glenn, who knocked baseballs over a high fence and onto Elmwood Avenue. But when he learned that Glenn was black, he turned around and went home.

As one of the last living players in baseball’s Negro League, Glenn has known—and lived—plenty of injustices in the intervening years. The Yeadon resident could harbor an unsettling dissatisfaction with the inhumane treatment, the lack of press coverage, even the slipshod statistics that may forever keep deserving black players out of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Penmar Park, where Glenn’s Philadelphia Stars played, was often “dirty.” It lacked sufficient lighting. Trains making the Belmont and Girard stops would bellow coal smoke into the games.

But Glenn, who turns 83 next month and remains president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association, isn’t bitter. In 2006, he titled his self-published book Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away.

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“It’s true,” Glenn says of the title. “Unless you were black and lived in the South, no one could tell you all the things that either made you a good person or an angry person. My father—a true Christian—wouldn’t let us say anything about anyone in the house. He taught that you should love people for the sake of loving them.”

In recent years, America has come to love its remaining Negro League players. Sadly, only about 30 remain. This summer, the U.S. Postal Service released 44-cent tribute stamps featuring the league, which flourished from the 1920s to the late ’40s. There will be another reunion Aug. 14 at the Wilmington Blue Rocks’ Judy Johnson Night, held annually to honor the Negro League third baseman and 1975 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

The middle of last decade, Philadelphia Stars Negro League Memorial Park was dedicated at Parkside Field’s original site. The centerpieces there are a 7-foot, 1,000-pound bronze statue of a Negro League player mounted on a 4-foot pedestal, and a mural honoring black baseball in the city. Future plans at the site include a Little League ball field and a Philadelphia Stars museum. The league also is represented at memorabilia and African-American history shows and conferences.

“[The recognition is] overdo, but it’s great,” says Glenn’s nephew, Cal Puriefoy, who handles media relations for the remaining Stars, a team in existence from 1933 to 1952.

Other than Glenn, surviving Stars include Harold Gould, Overbrook High School’s Bill “Ready” Cash and Mahlon Duckett (another Overbrook alum and the Negro National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1940). Just how bad was their struggle? “We don’t say ‘bad,’” Cash says. “It was worse than that.”

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On a 28-day road trip in 1949, the Stars slept in a bed for just four hours. They couldn’t stay in hotels, eat in restaurants or use restrooms. They dressed under bleachers, not in team rooms.

“Everything was off-limits to us,” says Glenn. “I remember when we couldn’t go into the ballpark [as kids]. If you did get in, there was no place to sit—forget about even thinking about playing.”

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Stanley Glenn grew up in Eastwick, a section of Southwest Philadelphia in a neighborhood called Elmwood (locals pronounced it Ellenwood). It’s where singer Patti LaBelle was raised.

By 1942, Glenn was the first black baseball player at John Bartram. Chip Wilkes (also from Elmwood) followed. The coach, Menchy Goldblatt, took Glenn under his wing. “He kept telling me, ‘You’re going to play,’” Glenn says. “What a great guy. He was like a second father. He’d tell me things I should do, and made sure my friends were the right kind of people. He didn’t want any trouble. He was sticking his neck out there, too.”

Black baseball in Philly lasted 85 years. It began with the amateur Pythians and Excelsiors in 1867. The city’s first black pro team was the Philadelphia Giants (1902-16). There were two successors. One, the Darby-based Hilldale Club (1910-32) was a Colored World Series champ in 1925 and played fewer than two miles from where Glenn lives. The Stars followed, winning their only Negro League title in 1934, a decade before Glenn signed out of Bartram.

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A year prior, in 1943, the Stars were finally permitted to play at Shibe Park, but only on Monday nights. Then a three-team city, the Philadelphia Athletics and the Phillies each drew 10,000 fans at home. The Stars attracted 30,000—and that was on Mondays.

By 1947, Penmar Park had been abandoned. Stars’ owner Ed Bolden died in 1950, and the team disbanded two years later, along with the league—though several teams did barnstorm for a couple of years. By then, the focus was on integration in Major League Baseball. Still, the A’s left town in 1954, and the Phillies didn’t roster a black player until Richie Allen a decade later.

Glenn remained in Philadelphia through 1950, the year the Phillies won the National League pennant. He wasn’t catching the late Robin Roberts, a Glenn contemporary, but he did catch Hall of Famer Satchel Paige with the Stars.

Thereafter, the then-Boston Braves signed Glenn. He spent 10 years in their minor league system and played out of the country every winter—all for the shot Jackie Robinson had in 1947. At Class AAA, two catchers—better or not—were still ahead of him: Walker Cooper and Del Crandall.

Glenn never played a single game in the majors. “I don’t regret [that decade],” he says. “We always said, ‘Let’s just play.’”

That’s what Robinson kept encouraging. The others asked him “everything,” Glenn says, but he wouldn’t talk about it. “He just said, ‘Keep playing,’” Glenn recalls. “We believed him. No one else could’ve gone through what he did and come out sane.”

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Glenn once hit four home runs in a game, though he only ever wanted to catch. One year, he was hitting .215 when the organization sent Tommy Helms from Boston to manage (Class AAA) Hartford and straighten him out. The team’s nine pitchers made sure Helms didn’t remove him from the lineup. “They told him they wanted me as their catcher, or they weren’t pitching,” he says.

Glenn remained in the lineup but never made it out of the minors. “No matter what we did, there were only ever going to be a few [blacks called up],” Glenn says. “It was an [unwritten] law among the owners.”

Now, there are just a few left like Glenn. Still slim today, he would’ve looked good in a Phillies’ uniform. A raspy voice betrays the ravages of cancer of the larynx he’s beaten with chemotherapy. He laments that he’s the last of a dying breed. “There’s hardly anyone left,” he says. “So many of the guys are gone.”

Glenn thinks of Gene Benson, Larry Kimbrough, Al Wilmore and Wilmer Harris, the latter being the left-handed pitcher featured in the center of David McShane’s mural on the Penmar site at 44th Street and Parkside Avenue. Harris died before it was finished. “We were like brothers,” says Glenn. “But no one comes here to stay, so we’re not going to stay. Most of us lived full terms, full lives.”

So was it divine intervention—to keep alive the spirit of the game and the struggle of the men who played it with the slimmest hope of reaching the game’s highest perch? “No doubt,” Glenn says.

“As a kid following the Negro League, I always thought it was illegal for a catcher to stand up and throw because Uncle Stanley threw them out while sitting down,” says the 73-year-old Puriefoy, Glenn’s sister’s son.

Glenn’s namesake son is a 37-year-old assistant district attorney in Port St. Lucie, Fla., despite his own disability; he’s hearing-impaired. Stanley Glenn Jr. graduated from Malvern Prep, where he played football “to satisfy [me],” admits his father, who also has a daughter, Lisa, and lives with his third wife of almost 40 years, Vera.

After his playing days and two years of coaching in the minors, Glenn worked for almost 50 years at Woodland Electric Supply in Philadelphia, two blocks from Bartram. How electric would the majors have been if they’d tapped more Negro League talent?

“Can you imagine having a team with four or five guys who played Jackie Robinson-style baseball?” poses Glenn. “You’d almost never get anyone out.”

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