BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A former Negro League player is calling a recent decision by Major League Baseball an honor. Up until this week, MLB didn’t officially consider the Negro League as a major league.
William “Bill” Greason had a pretty mean curve ball and could strike you out in a heartbeat with his fastball.
“If I got two strikes on you, it was over,” Greason said.
Greason, now 96, reminiscing of the days when he played for the Birmingham Black Barons which is a part of the Negro League. Before that, he was a member of the Montford Point Marines , America’s first group of African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. He ended up on Iwo Jima.
After the war, Greason turned to the ball field playing in the Negro League for several years.
“The Negro League was not a league for just anybody. You may play sandlot ball but in the negro league, you had to be a top performer,” Greason said.
He played alongside the likes of Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and one of his best friends to this day Willie Mays. Greason just got a Christmas card from Mays.
“He’s in California and I’m here and only two of us left from our team. Willie and myself,” Greason said.
Decades after his playing days, Major League Baseball is finally recognizing Negro League stats adding them to the official record. It’s something historians say is long overdue.
“I think it’s a good thing and I was thankful I was able to make a contribution,” Greason said.
For the past decade or more, three men have been working to track down former Negro League players across the country. You can find a lot of their hard work inside the Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham. Their work also leading to former negro league players getting a pension from MLB.
“We’ve worked hard with the negro league and you can only imagine all the ones that have never been acknowledged all these many years for us to finally get the news that that MLB is going to ascend them up to being a part of the major leagues which is outstanding,” Clayton Sherrod, a Negro League Researcher and well-known chef in Birmingham said.
“For them to move the ballplayers, the Negro Leagues up to the same stature as major leagues is tremendous,” Dr. Layton Revel, the head of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research and co-founder of the Negro Southern League Museum said.
Greason went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals becoming the team’s first Black pitcher. He later became a Baptist minister. To this day, Greason’s thankful for the opportunity to be a part of history.
“I give God all the credit for giving me that gift and somebody saw it and they decided to give me a chance to use it,” Greason added.
We had a great conversation Thursday with Sherrod, Revel, and Cam Perron with the Center for Negro League Research. You can watch the entire conversation below.