By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
Special to the AFRO
Pardon my name dropping, but I mentioned to Adam Jones in a Zoom meeting the other day that all my favorite baseball players were center fielders.
I loved watching baseball with my dad when I was a little boy. He’d be sitting in his easy chair and I’d be on the floor watching the games.
One year, watching one of the two Major League Baseball All-Star Games played each summer, Ralph E. Moore Sr. said to me, “Root for the National League, son, they got more Negro ballplayers.” And so, I did.
Race consciousness and race pride became a very significant part of me. And that’s when I met Mr. Willie Mays who, at the time, played with the San Francisco Giants.
He was a phenomenal baseball player—no one else could hit or catch like Mays. In fact, some say he once made the greatest catch in baseball history during game one of the 1954 World Series, where he played for the New York Giants against the Cleveland Indians.
With eight innings and a 2-2 tie, with runners on first and second, the Cleveland first baseman, Vic Wertz, pounded a ball 400 feet out to center field.
Mays went back and met the ball with an amazing over the shoulder catch. He fired the ball into the infield and kept the score tied (the lead runner only got to third base from second). Mays’ Giants won that game 5-2 and eventually won four games as well as the ’54 World Series. I was two years old at the time. By then I learned who Mays was; he was already moving fast toward legendary status.
Thus began my fascination with center fielders: Mays, Paul Blair of the Baltimore Orioles, Adam Jones and Cedric Mullins, who also played for Baltimore. I eventually embraced my hometown team because more Blacks were playing in the American League, too.
Recently, Adam Jones was our featured speaker at the Frank Fischer Scholarship Benefit Dinner at Loyola Blakefield, my high school alma mater. He joined us on Zoom from his current home in Spain. I had to tell him about my favorite ball players and asked him why he picked center field as his chosen position.
“It’s more challenging than other positions. Shortstop is very busy. For example, if you can handle shortstop, then you can handle center field,” he said.
Jones has a calm, friendly manner when he speaks. I’ve heard him a few times when he was here in Baltimore. He has a weekly podcast known as the Adam Jones Show on 98.5’s The Sports Hub.
The African-American alumni of Loyola gave their Black, Blue and Gold award to Adam Jones at the aforementioned dinner for his tremendously inspiring athleticism and altruism. We also gave the award to Jean Fugett, Jones’s father-in-law, a local attorney and businessman who inspired so many Black Catholics. Finally, we presented Reginald A. Boyce (Loyola High School class of 1969) with the Black, Blue and Gold award for being a star athlete, the first diversity director at Blakefield and an effective mentor to many young men. Incidentally, Boyce also played center field.
Paul Blair played in the major league for 17 years after growing up in Los Angeles and distinguishing himself as a high school athlete in baseball, basketball and track. He had his career high, batting an average of .293 in 1967. I remember him covering a lot of ground in the center field of the old Memorial Stadium where he is best known for his defensive skill.
Cedric Mullins scored the first 30/30 season in Orioles history in 2021. No one before him scored 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in one season. Some say the unique success of that year might be attributed to his decision to only bat with his left hand (.291) when most ballplayers were switch hitters.
Mullins was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during the 2020 baseball season, but waited until the end of the season to have the intestinal surgery.
In the 2021 season, Mullins also distinguished himself as the starting center fielder in the All-Star Game on the American League team.
Mullins, 28, was born in Greensboro, N.C. and has been in the major leagues since 2018. He started his career with the Aberdeen IronBirds in 2015.
No matter how great Blair, Jones and Mullins were out in Center Field, it all started with Mays. Willie “the say hey kid” Mays showed many people that they can be the best and be kind at the same time.
I own a baseball signed by Mays and I will pass it on to one of my grandchildren one day once I tell her or him who Mays was to me—an enduring source of Black pride and identity for which I am exceedingly grateful.
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