A Love Story

by Adam Jones, 14-year MLB veteran

The Negro Leagues Are Major Leagues Logo We have dramatically expanded our coverage of the Negro Leagues and Black major league players.

You know, it’s true what they say. You never forget the first time you fell in love.

For me, it was on a warm summer evening at old Jack Murphy Stadium in 1995.

I was just nine years old, but I fell hard and I fell fast.

Sure, everybody played tee-ball growing up and that was fun for me, but that night, watching the Braves-Padres game with Lemuel Campbell, a close family friend, I truly fell in love with the game of baseball.

Lemuel introduced me to the game and while he was talking with me, he taught me a lot about not just what was going on in front of me, but also what happened behind me. He taught me why certain guys that were playing that night, guys like Fred McGriff, David Justice, Tony Gwynn… why those guys had the opportunities that they had… because of other guys.

We heard about Jackie Robinson in school, but Lemuel dug deeper into why Jackie got the opportunity, how he got that opportunity and where it came from. He taught me about the guys that made it possible for Jackie to break the color barrier in MLB. The guys that made it all possible for a lot of different guys.

I became interested in the Negro Leagues at a very young age because Lemuel was so instrumental in helping me learn about them and to understand that I was getting the opportunity to play this game because of the guys who paved the way for me. And, as I got older, I continued to learn more. It was just part of my education in the game. It would’ve been ignorant if I didn’t study the reason why I was getting this opportunity. I recognized it was not just because of my talent, but also because of the sacrifices made by many others before me.

In 2007, I was a young, bright-eyed, fresh 22-year-old. I was with the Seattle Mariners and I remember going to play the Royals. Some of the older guys said they were going to take a trip to see the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This was my first time in Kansas City and I was excited because I had no idea the museum was there. I made sure that I got up early the next morning, caught that bus and went to the museum.

And… wow. When I arrived and got to meet Bob Kendrick, the museum’s president, and heard him tell stories about the history of the game… I just sat there and my jaw just dropped. There were just so many things that I did not know, so many things I was intrigued by. And if you know Bob, you know how charismatic he is and how inspirational his stories are… I just sat there like I was that nine-year-old kid again, like, please tell me more. Just. Keep. Talking.

And as the years went by, every time I went to Kansas City, I made it a mission of mine to not just go back to the museum, but to also bring younger players with me. White, Black, Latino… It didn’t matter to me. It was just important for me to take other players there so they could see other people’s struggle and other people’s grind, but at the same time, other people’s passion and other people’s love for the game. Other people’s vigor and perseverance. Because those Negro League guys? They were tough.

People need to know about the perseverance of these men. They were willing to play in front of anyone who was willing to show up. But they couldn’t go eat at local restaurants. They couldn’t stay at local hotels.

Perseverance. If you did something like that now, in the current climate of the world, there’d be so much uproar. But back then, they just said, “Okay, we’ll do what we gotta do. We came here to play ball, that’s what we want to do and we will go and stay where we need to stay, be together, go eat a good meal and mind our own business.”

But for me, thinking about all the things that they went through, it’s a tough pill to swallow knowing that some people just see you as an entertainer and nothing more. It goes back to stories I’ve heard about Bob Gibson. We all know he’s one of the best African American pitchers of all time. He could go and throw a shutout in St. Louis, yet he couldn’t go out and enjoy a nice steak after the game. It’s like, “You’ll cheer me on when I’m entertaining you, but all I’m trying to do is have myself a nice dinner and I can’t have that.” That perseverance right there—and that understanding of “Okay, we know you don’t want to see us as equals, but at the same time, we’re not going to make an uproar about it”—is one of the toughest things I’ve learned about because I can only think of myself in those situations and I know that especially in today’s climate, that stuff is not going to fly. People would film it and it would be all over social media. But back then, you didn’t hear anything about it.

They just wanted to be a part of something bigger. And they were. Oh, how they were.

Over the years, I’ve made it my mission to educate not just myself but also other people. Because what’s education? It’s good for you to know something, but if you know something that’s good and it’s right and it’s pure, why keep it to yourself? Why not share it? My relationship with Bob and the museum was a match made in heaven. I love Black history. I’m an African American. I love my history. I love learning more and more and more. And thankfully, during my time in MLB, a lot of other players were extremely receptive to visiting the museum with me and open to learning more as well.

You get in the locker room and it’s literally a melting pot. You’ve got White, Black, Latin, Asian... and you should want to know about your teammates’ backgrounds.

Right now, I’m playing in Japan and I want to know the history there. I ask my interpreter about it all the time. I got to play with guys like Ichiro, Kenji Jojima, Koji Uehara. It’s very important that I learn about Japan’s culture and their baseball history because I’d be a fool not to. That’s the educational part that I think many are lacking… They don’t have that desire to know more. To delve deeper like Lemuel and Bob did. And I think to myself, I have that desire and I want to share it. Especially with baseball. It’s my passion, it’s my love and I simply want to know more.

I think it’s extremely important that everyone understands the history of the game and all the integral parts of it. It’s just like with regular history. Black history is a very important part of history that is often forgotten and not taught as much as it should be. In baseball, I think many just skim over the major players of the Negro Leagues and don’t take the time to delve into the actual heroes that formed the league and changed the lives for many, many people. Heroes like Buck O’Neil, who wanted all of us to share and understand that history. Buck was instrumental in preserving Negro Leagues history and establishing the museum’s home in Kansas City. His lifetime of service to the game should be immortalized in Cooperstown, where he surely belongs among the game’s legends.

There's so much history in the Negro Leagues and that's what has always interested me, way back to that day at the ballpark with Lemuel in San Diego. Society just dumbs it down to Jackie Robinson and leaves it at that. But there are the players who didn't have the chance to play in the American or National Leagues during their careers like Rube Foster, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Leon Day and many, many more. And there are people who don't necessarily know about the Negro Leagues careers of players like Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Minnie Miñoso.

That's why I think the work that Bob and the museum have been doing all these years is amazing and that’s why I think it’s fantastic that Baseball Reference has now listed the Negro Leagues as major leagues. It’s so important to have all of that information accessible to everybody. The more information that can be made available and the more visible that we can make it the better. It's the history of the whole game, not just part of it.

People are finally going to get to see both sides of the story and get to understand that the Negro Leagues were very, very important, the players were very important and, most importantly, they brought the community together with a common love. And they’re important not just for Blacks, but for all people of color. There were a lot of early Latin American players and their stories also need to be told. All of these men—and some women, too, let's not forget about them—were very instrumental in the building of Major League Baseball and, like it or not, their stories need to be told.

I invite you to dive in and learn more with me, to share my passion and my love.

About the Author

Adam Jones is a 14-year MLB veteran. A native of San Diego, Jones was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 1st round (37th) of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft from Samuel F. B. Morse HS (San Diego, CA). He came up in the Mariners’ minor league system as a shortstop before transitioning to the outfield. He made his MLB debut with the Mariners on July 14, 2006 and played with them during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Jones was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 2008 and spent the bulk of his career there (2008-2018) before he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent for the 2019 season. Jones is a five-time MLB All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and a Silver Slugger winner. He currently plays for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. An avid history buff and a longtime supporter of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Jones is committed to educating others about the game and sharing his passion. Jones and his wife Audie have two sons, August and Axel.