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Baseball fans honor Negro Leagues players

July 1, 2010 at 9:30 AM   |   Comments

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COLUMBIA, Mo., July 1 (UPI) -- Baseball fans who revere the Negro Leagues of the 1920s, 30s and 40s placed a $700 headstone at the unmarked grave of "Big Bill" Gatewood in Missouri.

In a brief ceremony Tuesday at Memorial Park Cemetery in Columbia, a Chicago doctor, a customer service representative for a St. Louis insurance firm and a Negro Leagues historian from Kansas City, Mo., gently lowered a 150-pound gravestone on the unmarked plot where Gatewood was buried after his death in 1962 at age 81.

Gatewood, a giant of a man at 6-feet-7 and 240 pounds, won 117 games for more than a dozen Negro Leagues teams from 1906 to 1928, pitching recorded no-hitters in 1921 and again in 1925, when he was 45 years old, The New York Times said.

In an era of harsh racial injustice long before Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues, Gatewood was a successful Negro Leagues manager, mentor of legendary outfielder James "Cool Papa" Bell and coach of star pitcher Satchel Paige. Many former Negro Leagues players ended their playing days destitute and died in obscurity.

Gatewood was the 19th player honored with a headstone by the 7-year-old Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project.

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