Prior to the Birmingham Barons’ 6-3 defeat of the Tennessee Smokies at Rickwood Field on Wednesday, Southside Ball little leaguers Henry and Matthew Thomson (aged eight and seven) interviewed one of the game’s honorees, former Negro League pitcher Eugene “Dick” Scruggs, while fellow Southside Ball players Clayton and Adam Hemingway (aged eight and six) interviewed the game’s special guest, Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins. Transcripts of the interviews follow.
A native Alabamian, Scruggs made his professional baseball debut in 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons, who shared Rickwood with the Barons. The lanky right-hander went on to record 28 wins against just 13 losses over three seasons with the Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs.
Henry: When and where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Scruggs: I was born May 17, 1938 in Madison County, in Huntsville, Alabama. I grew up in an area called Meridianville, a suburb of Huntsville. I have six brothers; I’m the next to the oldest.
Henry: What was it like when you were growing up?
Scruggs: I grew up on a farm, my parents being sharecroppers. I used to have to make my own baseballs and bats, and everything I had to play with. I’d wind the balls from old string. For bats, I’d get a broom handle or some kind of old hickory limb I’d trim down.
Matthew: Did you always want to be a baseball player?
Scruggs: Yeah, that was my dream. That’s the only thing I had to think about at that time. Baseball was the number one sport that let black players get ahead in life.
Matthew: What team did you play for?
Scruggs: I started out in Birmingham in 1955, then I played for the Kansas City Monarchs and Detroit Stars in 1956, ’57 and ’58.
Matthew: What’s your favorite team now?
Scruggs: It used to be Brooklyn, but the Dodgers have changed cities and changed players so much, I’ve lost contact with them. My favorite team now is the Chicago Cubs.
Henry: What is your favorite part and least favorite part of baseball?
Scruggs: My favorite part was this, when I was growing up: I couldn’t wait until spring came to hear the sound of a baseball bat. My least favorite part is, now that I’ve grown up and had children and grandchildren, they don’t like baseball — they say it’s too slow a game. I don’t agree with them.
Henry: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would you change?
Scruggs: I would change things so that no matter what color your skin may be, whatever your desire, you could go after it without any fears.
Henry: If you could go and see the future, what would you want to go and see? What would you want to see happen?
Scruggs: Since I was a boy, I’ve wanted to see everybody treated equal; and to see color have no place in society or life for anyone. And I’d like to see people grow to have respect for others.
Matthew: What advice do you have for little leaguers?
Scruggs: Be a good sport. Players can get too caught up in being a star on a team. A team player does better than an individual player. If you play as a team, as a unit, you can do anything.
Henry: One last question: What’s your favorite food, your favorite TV show, and your favorite color?
Scruggs: My favorite food is any kind of food. I don’t watch TV unless there’s some kind of game on — football or baseball. And my favorite color is blue. I always wanted to wear Dodger Blue so bad, everything I bought was blue, and I just about lost my wife because I wouldn’t change my color. Detroit’s was the closest blue I could get to Dodger Blue.
The first Canadian-born player in the Hall, Fergie Jenkins had a 19-year Major League career that included three All-Star berths, 284 wins and the 1971 National League Cy Young Award. In 2009, his primary team, the Cubs, retired his number, 31. The 6’ 5” right-hander also spent two basketball seasons playing for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Clayton: What sports did you play when you were little?
Jenkins: I was a hockey player at first, basketball and then baseball third.
Clayton: What team did you like when you were little?
Jenkins: I was always a Detroit Tigers fan. I lived close to Michigan.
Clayton: How many home runs have you hit?
Jenkins: I hit thirteen in the big leagues and four in the minor leagues.
Clayton: What is your favorite pitch?
Jenkins: A strike. Throw a strike, regardless of how it breaks, throw a strike.
Clayton: What is your favorite food?
Jenkins: Well, in the mornings, I like to have bacon and eggs. And in the afternoons, when I pitched, I always liked to have a steak — a lot of protein.
Clayton: Did you play hockey when you were growing you up in Canada?
Jenkins: Yes, I played Junior B hockey until I was seventeen, and the Philly organization wanted [me] to understand that if I was going to sign a contract with them, I’d have to sign to be in health, so I stopped playing hockey.
Clayton: Did you ever lose as a Harlem Globetrotter?
Jenkins: No, the two years I played with them, we never lost to the Washington Generals. [Laughs.] Your dad got you that question, right?
Adam: My cousin lives in Canada. He likes ketchup on his mac and cheese. Do you?
Jenkins: I like ketchup on french fries. Do you go to McDonald’s quite a bit?
Jenkins: Ketchup’s good for you — tomatoes!
Clayton and Adam: Thank you, Mr. Jenkins.
Jenkins: Those were some pretty good questions.
The featured image of this post was shot by Fanpix.biz.