A little more than a year ago, I was involved in a conversation about my dad. The whole thing boiled down to the fact that there was nothing written and published about the early years of Sam Lacy. I gave some thought to devoting this space to an early life expose in chapters. My boss at the time seemed to think it was a wonderful idea, but current events at the time seemed to draw my attention elsewhere. Before I could get back to this task, the editor had moved on, and the idea was sidelined.
Recently during another discussion over the movie “42,” this idea was revisited. With this in mind, I decided to devote a few weeks of chapters on the early life of Sam Lacy under the title “He Made a Difference.” The following is his early life as told to me.
On Oct. 23, 1903 Sam Lacy entered this world with a piercing scream, thus serving notice that his voice would be heard.
His mother, Shinnecock, was Native American and his father was an African American (or in the PC parlance of the time, Negro). Sam grew up in the Negro community learning the values instilled by Shinnecock.
As with all young children, there were some doubts about which direction his life would take. When barely able to talk, he appeared one day at the back door several times asking his sister Rosina for a glass of water. After his third trip, Rosina thought she should investigate the source of his thirst. She went to the back door, there to witness the woodshed on fire. A sound spanking from his mother put his pyromania tendencies on hold.
Growing up in the shadow of Griffith Stadium (home of the former Major League Baseball team, the Washington Senators), the crack of the bats and the roar of the crowd created an irresistible lure, causing Sam to search for ways to gain entry to the park.
After a little investigation, Sam found a way to join the other kids who were given the opportunity to shag fly balls in the outfield. Being a personable kid, some of the players enlisted him to be their gopher. He was able to pick up dry cleaning and go for cigarettes and chewing tobacco and other personal needs. His popularity caused a vendor to bring him on board during games to be a stadium vendor.
Soon he became a fixture and was able to witness the White teams as well as the Negro teams in action. Little did he know that this was the planting of a seed that would find enough nourishment to lead him to be instrumental in the changing of sports history.
In the meantime, Sam was overcome with an itch that his entrepreneurial spirit made hard to scratch. At age 15, while perusing the want ads, his eye caught an advertisement for a chauffeur, and though he couldn’t drive, he was on his way.
He applied, was accepted, and directed to drive his employer downtown. This, being his first experience behind a steering wheel, turned out to be quite an adventure. After the hiccups and grinding of the gears, he finally arrived downtown.
On the spot his employer paid him a day’s wage, instructed him to return the car to the garage, and hit the road.
This was a less than auspicious beginning for a man who later helped to shape the future of Major League Baseball. More to come….
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