Monday, October 16, 2006

Humbly, A Baseball Legend Turns 111

From the St Petersburg Times

Silas Simmons might not tell you, but his secret is out: He’s the oldest former professional baseball player of all time.

By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 13, 2006
St. Petersburg Times

ST. PETERSBURG — The gentle, soft-spoken man living at Westminster Suncoast retirement community rarely talked about his baseball past.

All his caregivers knew was that he loved to watch ball games on the little color television in the corner of his two-person room. Every so often, Silas Simmons mentioned that he once played ball as a young man in Philadelphia.

To them, he was just Si, a popular resident who has seen life unfold in three centuries, the recipient of a letter from President Bill Clinton when he turned 100 in 1995 and from President Bush last year, marking his 110th birthday.But all that changed one day this summer.

Simmons had a visitor: Dr. Layton Revel, the founder of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research.

“I know you grew up in the Philadelphia area and there were a lot of good ballplayers there,” Revel said. “There was a Si Simmons that played ball back then.’’

“Well,’’ Simmons replied in a voice strained and raspy from the years, “that was me.’’
Revel showed Simmons a stack of old professional team photos, including a sepia-toned print of the 1913 Homestead Grays. It was filled with three rows of African-American players and coaches from an era predating the Negro Leagues by almost a decade.

Simmons studied the photo, picked out a few players.

Then he pointed to a young man with a roundish face, his arms crossed, looking back at the camera with a confident visage.

“That’s me,’’ he said. “Right there.’’

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