Recognition holds deep meaning
Suttles, Posey among Negro Leaguers to enter Hall of Fame
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Merriett Burley and her family fought the same fight that Nancy Boxill and her family fought. Both families sought recognition and, at the same time, justice for their relative, each a forgotten figure from "black baseball."
"We tried for so long and for so many years," said Burley, who lives in Los Angeles. "We called newspapers; we called the different sportscasters to ask them, 'Why Uncle George wasn't ever mentioned?' They never said anything about him.
"They talked about Satchel Paige [and] Josh Gibson, but they never mentioned Uncle George, and we wondered why."
Burley and her family won't have to wonder anymore, because on Sunday, George "Mule" Suttles, a hard-hitting first baseman, will earn everlasting recognition when he and Boxill's grandfather, Cum Posey, enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame with closer Bruce Sutter and a group of 15 other figures from "black baseball."
"We're certainly, of course, excited and proud," Boxill said at a news conference on the eve of the induction ceremonies. "We're thrilled.
"But there's also sadness: sadness that his wife and children weren't here to be a part of this; sadness that it couldn't happen in his lifetime; sadness that the men and women he worked with, that the players that he had on his team, that those folks who knew his contributions best, were not around to savor the moment with us."
As the Suttles clan did, Boxill said two of Posey's four daughters worked for 20 years talking to anybody they could about the possibilities of immortality for their father. The daughters felt the same frustration that Burley and her family felt when the work bore no fruit.
"I didn't have that frustration; I came along after all of their work," Boxill said. "I regret that they can't be here to see the benefits for their work, but I know that it's well done."
Boxill and Burley spoke for their respective families Saturday afternoon, but they easily could have been the voices of the entire induction Class of 2006. A relative of each of the inductees will be on center stage for the induction ceremonies.
Their purpose will be to accept an honor that was too long delayed. Each will stand up for a man or -- in Effa Manley's case -- a woman who had left an imprint on baseball. They will be sharing with the world a piece of family history that had been told over and over at dinner tables and holidays, Burley said.
"Oh, sure, we knew he was a baseball player," she said. "That's all the family could talk about. They talked about their brother George all the time. We had a brother and a famous uncle who was playing baseball. That was all the talk."
The same talk ran through the Posey family, Boxill said. Posey was a larger-than-life figure in the Negro Leagues. He owned the Homestead Grays, a powerhouse team, and left his stamp everywhere on the game and on the city of Pittsburgh.
Boxill, who attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said she couldn't hide the fact that her grandfather was a civic force in the city. He didn't just own a baseball team; he owned one of the most storied teams in Negro Leagues history.
Now, the world will know. It will be able to look at Posey and Suttles and Manley and Ray Brown and Biz Mackey ... and say, yes, they've made it to baseball's "Promised Land."
But Boxill, who lives in Atlanta, isn't sure how the actual moment will play out for the families here. She's hoping she'll be able to get through the reading of Posey's plaque, which will go on the wall in Cooperstown.
"I know that I'll feel the spirit," she said. "How can you not? I mean, the Hall of Fame is full of spirits. I know our family's spirit joins it."
Burley echoed that sentiment. She, too, is prepared for the tribute to Uncle George, a man who's been part of the family's life long after his death. The rest of the world will be able to share him now.
"He's always been in our minds," Burley said. "And now it's five generations of us -- little bitty babies. Great, great, great, great grandkids. They're talking about their Uncle George. They say, 'When are we gonna see Uncle George?'
"So you tell 'em, 'You can't see Uncle George, because Uncle George is not there. But he was a great baseball player.' "
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.