Anderson, Elmer 1941–
Elmer Anderson 1941–
Elmer Anderson is proud of his accomplishments. It is a pride which fills his voice with emotion and which holds his head high. From the fields in his Detroit neighborhood to the sandlot fields of the semi-professional leagues, Anderson’s life has been dominated by the game of baseball. When his playing days were over, he turned his energies and his passions towards ensuring that the contributions of African American baseball players -and athletes in general - to the world of American sports would be heralded forever.
Anderson was born on August 21, 1941 in Detroit, Michigan. As a youngster, he remained close to his parents and to his sister, Sharon Marie, who was several years his junior. As he reflected on his early years in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, Anderson noted that his childhood fantasies forever revolved around sports, and particularly around baseball. In fact, pick-up baseball games with his friends in the neighborhood fields constitute some of his fondest memories. Using sticks because they could not afford bats, Anderson and his friends went to the baseball diamond and spent hour upon hour reenacting the plays of their heroes, baseball greats such as Joe Dimaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Josh Gibson.
Anderson idolized Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, for he loved, as he told CBB, to “hit the long ball.” The homeowners surrounding the fields where Anderson played were less impressed with his drive and style, for rarely a day passed when he did not break a window. Chuckling, Anderson told CBB that after each crash, he would dash home, feign illness in front of his mother, and then hide in his bedroom. When not actually playing in a game, Anderson devoted still more hours to the sport, amusing himself by throwing balls against outdoor walls and then chasing them, outfielder-style.
In 1959, after graduating from Northeastern High School in Detroit, Anderson took the first step towards realizing his childhood dream of playing professional baseball when he signed with the semi-professional Detroit Motor City Redcaps, who were a part of the Jacksonville, Florida Redcaps of the then Negro League. As the Michigan Chronicle reported, Anderson is remembered for “his high-leaping, belly-sliding, dipsy-doodle catches in the outfield,” as well as for his
At a Glance…
Born Elmer Anderson on August 21, 1941 in Detroit, Ml; son of Rosie Lee Anderson; married Katie Butts in 1970, divorced in 1975. Education: Graduate, Northeastern High School, 1959.
Career: Outfielder, Detroit Motor City Redcaps, 1959–67; block fitter Wess Springs, Detiro it, Ml; blockfitter, Sebring Industrial Company, Detroit, Ml; employee, Detroit Diesel Allison Division, General Motors, Detroit, Ml, 1967–97; founder, World of Sports FirstInternational Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame & Gallery, 1982-.
Selected awards: Valuable Employee Award, General Motors, 1970; “Key to theCity,” Detroit, 1989; Gold Cast Fist Award, International Boxing Hail of Fame, 1994;Detroit Ring 32 Award, International Veterans Boxing Association, 1995.
Addresses: Office —World of Sports First International Afro-American SportsHall of Fame and Gallery, 26054 Carlysle, Inkster, Ml 48141.
power hitting. Sam Davis, who played with Anderson in several old-timers games and later served as the president and on the Board of Trustees of Anderson’s Hall of Fame, vividly remembers Anderson’s daring athleticism. In a discussion with CBB, Davis recalls Anderson leaping over an open manhole in the outfield to catch a ball and, in another instance, chasing down a drive in foul territory and snaring it, a catch no one in the park thought could be made. Anderson’s skill was later captured for a national audience when he played an outfielder in a made-for-television film in 1983 entitled Tiger Town.
Throughout his base ball career, Anderson worked for several companies as a block fitter for automotive frames. When the Red Caps folded in 1967, Anderson joined Detroit Diesel, a division of General Motors, in a similar capacity. In 1970 Detroit Diesel recognized Anderson’s dedication and accomplishments, awarding him with an engine trophy and a savings bond for an assembly line he had designed. As he explained to CBB, “I always liked to create something.”
Detroit Diesel proved to be far more than a simple place of employment for Anderson. During his early years at the plant, as the Negro leagues continued to disband, many former baseball players flocked to Detroit, and specifically into job openings at the major automotive factories. Anderson realized the wealth of sports history which his fellow assembly line workers possessed, and he wanted to ensure that it was captured before it was lost forever. In December of 1977 he approached Art Finney, then the newspaper editor of UAW Local 163, with the idea of writing articles in the union newspapers about former African American athletes. Finney capitalized on Anderson’s idea and started to write one story each month for his newspapers, stories drawn not only from the annals of baseball, but from football, basketball, and boxing, too.
As the number of published stories began to mount, the list of potential biographies grew exponentially. Initially Finney and Anderson had envisioned that the interviews would ultimately be compiled into a book entitled For the Love of the Game, a book which would remind its readership of the times when, as Leslie Smith reflected, “men played for the love of the game and fans watched them for the same reason.” However, Anderson and Finney soon discovered that there was far too much history for the confines of one book, and thus together they conceived of the idea of an African American sports hall of fame museum.
With the assistance of the Museum of African American History, Anderson and Finney worked to chronicle the history of African Americans in sports from the mid-1800s until 1960. Frank Saunders, a sports writer for the Michigan Chronicle, supported the efforts of Anderson and Finney and, through the Chronicle, began to gather stories nationwide that helped to generate interest in an African American sports museum. According to Finney, he and Anderson planned to target people “of all ages, colors, and creeds who accomplished something outstanding in any and all fields of endeavor, but never quite made it in the so-called big-time.”
In 1981, the museum concept received an even bigger boost when Anderson and Finney were invited to attend the Negro Baseball Reunion in Ashland, KY. There, the two men met Leroy “Satchel” Paige and James “Cool Papa” Bell. As Anderson recounted to CBB, it was at these meetings that the ideas for an organization to honor African American athletes “all started booming.” Having quickly befriended Paige, Anderson was chosen as “the young godfather” of the group. Older players promised to remain with him in spirit to help bring the museum to fruition.
Although he never fulfilled his dream of playing baseball at the major league level, Anderson did fulfill his dream of an African American sports hall of fame museum. As he told Valerie Lynn Dorsey of USA Today, “Satchel Paige told me not to let my dream die and that I could reach all kinds of people of all ages and all races from around the world.” On January 9, 1982 the National Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and Gallery officially opened to the public. It was the first organization to honor black athletes worldwide. With Anderson publicly recognized as the founder, Ronald Teasley was selected as the first president, and James Lewis was chosen as the curator.
Former baseball players rallied to energize fundraising efforts for the museum. Several old-timers games were played in Detroit and Grand Rapids in August and September of 1982. In 1983, Terry Cabell organized the Afro-American All Stars, a baseball team formed to play exhibition baseball games in order to raise funds for the hall of fame. The team consisted of former players from the professional, semi-professional, sand-lot, and Negro League teams. Anderson also played on the team. The Afro-American All Stars played their first game on September 24, 1983.
Not only did the old-timers games generate revenue for the museum, but they also helped to raise awareness and interest in the museum’s mission. At a ceremony held at Mercy College in Detroit on September 13, 1986, the National Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and Gallery held its first induction ceremony. Inductees included former Detroit Lion great Richard “Night Train” Lane, basketball coach William J. Robinson, and boxer Joe Louis. Anderson and Finney were also inducted. The Hall of Fame took a further step towards international recognition when it became a member of the International Association of Sports Museums and Halls of Fame in 1987. The museum officially became an international organization in 1990, and was renamed the World of Sports First International Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and Gallery.
Under Anderson’s guidance, the Hall of Fame has remained true to Anderson and Finney’s initial conception. The museum recognizes African American athletes whose success, according to Dorsey, “equaled or surpassed the achievements of white athletes with whom they were not allowed to compete because of segregation.” Moreover, the hall also recognizes African American sports pioneers and people of other ethnic backgrounds who helped to promote the accomplishments of African American athletes. While glorifying these athletes, the museum also seeks to educate children, especially African American youths, about their history, to delve into their struggles as well as their successes. As George C. Scott told Rob Parker of the Michigan Chronicle, “When we house who they were, what they did, and what they gave, it is symbolic enough for our young people to know they aren’t the first person trying to do something.” In 1994, Anderson was selected by the International Boxing Hall of Fame to have a gold cast fist made of his right hand. He was the first non-boxing sports celebrity to receive this award.
By 2000, the Hall of Fame housed pictures, artifacts, old uniforms, Hall of Fame plaques, boxing trunks, and boxing gloves. Anderson continues to dream about the museum and to build upon these dreams. Of primary importance to Anderson is securing a building specifically dedicated to the museum, which remains housed on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Building in Detroit. Moreover, Anderson dreams of establishing a “walk of fame” dedicated to African American athletes. Given all the dreams that Anderson has transformed into realities, it should not be surprising when he reaches these goals - and then some.
The All-Time All Stars of Black Baseball, TK Publishers, 1983.
Detroit Free Press, May 26, 1999.
Grand Rapids Press, September 12, 1982.
Jet, March 4, 1991, p. 50.
Michigan Chronicle, June 17, 1978; September 20, 1980; August 28, 1982; September 11, 1982; June 2, 1984; January 12, 2000; March 15–21, 2000.
Northwest Area Business Association, February 1987, p. 2.
Northwest Union News, November 1978.
USA Today, May 5, 1993, p. 11C.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, April, 2000, and from promotional materials provided by the World of Sports First International Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame & Gallery.
—Lisa S. Weitzman
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