Teen's research brings Negro Leagues to life
Boston-area 17-year-old becomes valued friend to former players
The first check arrived in the mailbox at Paul Jones' Hamilton, Ohio, address in June of 2010.There it was, in permanent ink: "$833.33." Proof, finally, of a Negro League past of which few were aware. It was pension money long-deserved and newly claimed, decades after Jones suited up for the Cleveland Buckeyes, Homestead Grays and Memphis Red Sox. "To get something like that, something that belongs to you," Jones says of that monthly pension, "it makes a big difference in your life." And for that, the 84-year-old Jones has an accomplice to thank. For he would not have had evidence of the extent of his Negro League service time and his pension eligibility if the Center for Negro League Baseball Research's best gumshoe hadn't been assigned to the case. That researcher was Cam Perron, an Internet-savvy sleuth who has tracked down dozens of Negro League players whose stories had never been told. Perron scoured newspaper archives to find proof of Jones' playing days, and that information was passed on to Major League Baseball to process the payments. Within a week of Perron's discovery, the first check arrived at Jones' home. Jones now considers Perron one of his closest friends. A close friend who happens to be a white teenager from suburban Boston. "Boy, I tell you," Jones says, "that kid is magnificent."
Perron began writing to former big league ballplayers requesting autographs when he was in the seventh grade. He didn't target the superstars but rather the bit players who would show a genuine appreciation for the attention. And in 2007, when Topps released a set of cards that featured players from the alternative leagues where black players were relegated before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Perron started writing to those guys, too.Responses began to arrive. Some of them even included phone numbers. The players wanted to talk to the youngster, to see if he had any information about their old teammates. "I wasn't able to offer them any information at all," Perron says. "I was like 13." Perron came to realize something about the players they were asking about. Not only did they not have baseball cards of their own, but, in many cases, no almanac had ever chronicled their playing time and no researcher had ever unearthed their existence. So Perron made a call to Dr. Layton Revel, the executive director of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research. In the 16 years since Revel founded the all-volunteer non-profit organization, it has located hundreds of players whose whereabouts were either unknown or undocumented. Perron wanted to assist in the search. Revel gets calls all the time from people intrigued about the Negro Leagues, and many of them are kids writing a school paper. Perron's call, then, didn't strike him as strange. Revel informed him of some resources for locating ballplayers, and that was that. "But he called back again," Revel says, "and the more we talked, the more we found this young man is interested not only in the history of Negro League baseball but the ballplayers themselves. What started as a typical conversation we have with the school students interested in writing a paper became watching someone grow and develop over the years into a top-line researcher."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.