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White ballplayer from Schaumburg had stint in Negro Leagues
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Louis Clarizio, now 77 and living in Schaumburg, played outfield in the Negro Leagues in 1950. Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe was his manager.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Louis Clarizio of Schaumburg played for an industrial baseball team before he was asked to join the Negro Leagues and play for the legendary Chicago American Giants in 1950. He was among a handful of white players in the last years of the league.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Former Negro Leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, right, was 103 when he died in 2005. Earlier that year, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to a Washington Nationals, here with Nationals first-base coach Don Buford.

 

Associate Press 2005 file

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Published: 4/26/2009 12:00 AM

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Louis Clarizio remembers riding the buses.

He remembers seeing the signs that read, "White" and "Colored."

He remembers staring down - and being stared down by - one of the most infamous figures in the struggle for civil rights.

But most of all, Lou Clarizio fondly remembers his short time with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues.

And what makes Clarizio's story unique is that he is white.

Now 77 years old, living in Schaumburg and following the Cubs, Clarizio is part of a story that's as unlikely as it is true.

Back in 1950, Clarizio and pitcher Lou Chirban, also white, were plucked out of "industrial league" ball in Chicago and signed to play for the Giants and their legendary manager, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.

By 1950, the Negro Leagues were dying, victims, ironically enough, of the integration of the major leagues, begun in 1947 by Jackie Robinson.

Looking for players, and partially answering critics who claimed that while organized ball was integrating, the Negro Leagues were all black, the Giants sought out white players.

"When Jackie Robinson went into baseball, people kept saying, 'There are no white players in the Negro Leagues,'" Clarizio said in his living room recently. "Once he signed up and (Roy) Campanella and (Larry) Doby, it started to break up the black league because of the quality, and people stopped going.

"I played for Armour Stars, the meatpacking company. They were in the industrial league. We played in Washington Park on the South Side. The agreement was that I would play baseball two nights a week and Sunday, and then in return they gave me a real easy job."

That "real easy job" consisted of Clarizio toting around asbestos, but he came away none the worse for it.

His real passion was baseball. While playing in Chicago, this graduate of Crane Tech caught the eye of scouts and the owner of the Giants, Dr. J.B. Martin.

"Martin came and said, 'How would you like to play for the American Giants?'" Clarizio recalled. "I said, 'Who are the American Giants?' He said, 'They're in the Negro Leagues.' I said, 'What's the pay?' He said $200 a month. I think it was $3.50 or $7.50 a day for food. So I said sure.

"He said, 'We play in Comiskey Park when the White Sox are out of town.' That's all he had to say. I said sure, 'Sign me up.' That's where I wanted to go anyway, somewhere in the big leagues. That's getting close."

Clarizio, a right-handed hitting outfielder, and Chirban, signed together, becoming two of a handful of white players to play in the Negro Leagues after pitcher Eddie Klepp joined the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1946.

"When we went to sign, Louie brought his father," Clarizio said. "When he went to sign, his father pulled his hand down waiting for me to sign. After I signed, then he let his son sign."

Although his career with the Giants was a brief - reference books say he got into only a handful of games - the experience for Clarizio was memorable.

And it started with Radcliffe, the manager who got his "Double Duty" sobriquet for being able to pitch one game of a doubleheader and catch the nightcap.

"He also drove the bus," Clarizio said. "When we'd get to the stadium, they'd have to pay him half the money. He'd say, 'OK, get out there.' After the game, they'd pay him the balance. That way, nobody ever cheated us, maybe before, but not when I was with them."

Clarizio said there were no problems with acceptance. He recalls the black ballplayers wondering only if he could play.

"When I first walked in, they said, 'Can this gray cat play baseball?'" he said. "Then I heard them say, 'Yeah, he can play.' They didn't say 'white.' They called them 'gray cats.' Everybody was a cat. It's like now, everybody's a dude. In those days, everyone was a cat.

"We went by talent. I really enjoyed it because nobody was above anybody. We were all equal. We rooted for each other and stuck together. There was harmony on the team."

The harmony wasn't always there when the team would bus south. Clarizio remembers the Giants being a curiosity in some places, but in others, racism was overt.

And although the figure was unknown to him at the time, Clarizio remembers it dawning on him that he came face to face with a symbol of Old South racism.

"We went to Birmingham (Alabama) and got off the bus," he said. "Boom, the baton in the policeman's hand. There was an attack dog. The deputy had the attack dog. He said, 'Where you going, boy?' 'I'm going to play baseball.' 'Oh, no. White boys don't play baseball with black boys. Whites and blacks don't play baseball on the same field.'

"Duty grabbed me right away and saw that I was getting angry. I thought, 'I'm going to take this baton away from (the deputy) and hit him over the head with it,' but they had the attack dog. Double Duty said, 'He's just riding with us, and he wasn't going to play today.' They said, 'Fine, he can sit in the stands, not in the dugout.'

"I never put a name on that face until about 10 years later. I'm watching the news on TV, and I see a Martin Luther King walk. And here's that same guy. It was Bull Connor. And another deputy had them dogs."

Connor, the commissioner of public safety for Birmingham, earned infamy for turning water hoses and attack dogs on civil rights demonstrators in the early 1960s.

There were other indignities. After games, the players would be hungry. But in many places, they could not stop to eat.

"On the way home, if there was a drive-in open, we'd go up and I'd go in and tell them, 'You got room for 10 people in here?'" Clarizio said. "They'd say, 10 people?' I'd say, 'We're all baseball players.' 'What color?' 'Black.' 'No. No black people in here. You see any black people in here? If you'd like something to take out, I'll give you something to take out.'

"I'd go back out and tell Duty they said I could take something out. He said, 'OK, go in and get a dozen hamburgers.' So I'd get a dozen hamburgers and bring them out. I thought it was pretty bad. But I knew that's how it was."

Although Clarizio's career with the Giants was brief and he never did fulfill his dream of reaching the big leagues, he looks back fondly on being a small part of it.

"Yes, because I wanted to play baseball," he said "I thought, 'Well, that was a good time to get in and get exposure to the scouts.' We did have a good time. I would have liked to have played in the big leagues, but it was good baseball.

"The only bad (memory) was with Bull Connor, and I even took that out of my memory. No sense carrying that kind of resentment. I was kind of resentful of that for a while. I was just before the Civil Rights movement, but I was part of history in a sense."

Negro League timeline

1920: Negro National League was established in Kansas City, Mo., behind Andrew "Rube" Foster, its president, and operated until 1931.

1929: American Negro League formed after the collapse of the Eastern Colored League in 1928.

1933: A second Negro National League formed, and was the only black professional league operating until 1937. It featured mostly eastern clubs.

1937: Teams in the South and the Midwest form the Negro American League. The NAL and the NNL coexisted through the 1948 season.

1949: The NNL was absorbed in the NAL, which operated as the last black major league through 1960.

Source: NLBPA.com