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Retired players to honor Negro Leagues with Hall of Fame East-West Classic in May

CC Sabathia, who retired after the 2019 season, intends to pitch in the Hall of Fame East-West Classic May 25 to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues.George Walker IV/Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — CC Sabathia is getting ready to take the mound again next spring, five years after his retirement, to pitch in a tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game at the Hall of Fame’s Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“My career ended with me ripping my shoulder up and not being able to throw a baseball anymore, but I’m rehabbing myself to be able to come back and pitch an inning in this game,” the 43-year-old lefthander said Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Ozzie Smith have agreed to manage or coach at the May 25 Hall of Fame East-West Classic. It will be played in conjunction with the opening of the Hall’s “Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” exhibit.

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The Negro Leagues East-West All-Star Game began at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in September 1933, two months after MLB’s first All-Star Game at the same ballpark, and was played annually through 1962.

Jerry and Scott Hairston, whose grandfather Sam played for the Cincinnati and Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League, are among the players who said they will participate. Others include Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, David Price, B.J. and Justin Upton, Curtis Granderson, Dontrelle Willis, Adam Jones, Dexter Fowler, LaTroy Hawkins, and Edwin Jackson.

Thirty-seven of 343 people in the hall had careers mostly or entirely in the Negro Leagues, including Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, and Cool Papa Bell.

“The stories have been told and we think we know the stories but the more we dig into the stories, we find out there’s something that hasn’t been told,” four-time 20-game winner Dave Stewart said.

Major League Baseball has recognized seven Negro Leagues from 1920-48 as having big league status, but incorporating those numbers has not yet been completed.

“As a kid growing up, I thought Negro League baseball was backyard, barnstorming baseball. These guys were the best athletes in the game and in the world at the time,” Sabathia said. “These guys were the LeBron James of that time.”

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In 1997, the hall celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the major league color barrier with “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience.”

“The way in which the world views baseball, Black baseball, race relations has changed in 25 years,” Hall president Josh Rawitch said. “It’s also really important to the curatorial team and everybody else involved that it’s not just stories of struggle and challenges, it’s also a celebration.”

Sabathia, a six-time All-Star and 251-game winner, is eligible for the 2025 Hall of Fame vote. He went to Cooperstown two years ago with son Carter for a youth game.

“That was the first time I really, really, really thought about it, and I was like, damn, I really want to be in the Hall of Fame. I never thought about being in the Hall of Fame when I was playing,” Sabathia said. “Walking into the plaque room was like — for me was like walking into a church.”