He was among the trailblazers in his sport, born too soon. But, for the 13 years Memphian Joe Burt Scott was a star in pro baseball's Negro Leagues in the 1930s and 1940s, remorse never followed him to the batter's box.
The passing of the 92-year-old Scott, who suffered an apparent heart attack in his sleep on Thursday, serves as the final chapter in a life that found meaning and purpose early on derived from the simplicity of a bat, a glove and ball. In one of his many interviews with Fox 13 News over the years, Scott reflected on his days as a self-confident Chicago high schooler who wouldn't let his desire to play the game be abated by family or a skeptical coach.
"I got whippings for playing baseball in my younger days. My mother was very religious," he said. "Said ain't no blacks ever played on the team. I said, well, I'll be the first…I grabbed a bat. Went up there and I doubled and we won the ballgame."
Hitting and winning came easy to Scott. While blacks were still banned from Major League baseball, the young first baseman outfielder found plenty of competition as a member of the Memphis Red Sox. With a lifetime batting average of a hefty .332, Scott quickly earned the respect of his peers, especially after banging out a triple against the Negro League's most legendary flame-throwing pitcher.
"I never had no fear of any pitcher that I ever faced and I faced some of the greats from Satchell Paige…Satchel come over. Said, ‘kid what did you hit?' I said, ‘that fire you throwing...you keep throwing it.'"
Though Scott and his compatriots mightily tried to make the game come alive for appreciative African Americans audiences, one man's decision would lead to the death of the league while changing the face of the game forever. That man was Jackie Robinson.
"The Memphis Red Sox. Kansas City Monarchs. Barnstorming all over the country. The crowds were minimal then because there were a lot of black ballplayers in the major leagues," said Scott.
But, while his time in the "bigs" never came, Scott's sheer joy for playing the game proved infectious to people like Memphis inner city baseball coach Boo Lewis who needs only to pull a card out of his wallet to be inspired by a man with a heart as big as his talent.
"Joe told me never give up. Just keep going. It's going to happen. He told me to never quit. Because if you got it in your heart, it's going to happen."
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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