Four years after his death and 72 years after he began playing baseball in the Negro Baseball League, Hubert “Bert” Simmons reached home plate at last, but not alone.
For Audrey Simmons, Simmons’ widow, the search for a dignified, permanent home to commemorate the life and legacy of her husband and many other unrecognized, unsung Negro Baseball Leaguers has been well worth the effort.
On Nov. 20, after years of effort by former Negro Leaguers, their widows, and friends of Simmons, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that he would provide a permanent home for the “Bert Simmons” museum exhibition of memorabilia and artifacts, the newly built combined Owings Mills Library and Community College of Baltimore County.
In addition to Audrey Simmons, a great deal of the credit for creating a museum site for Simmons goes to Ray Banks, a longtime friend of Hubert Simmons known as the “Ambassador” for his constant effort to keep the memorabilia on exhibit at shows and fairs.
Born in 1924, Hubert “Bert” Simmons was known to many now-middle-aged adults throughout the Baltimore area as a teacher of business and technology for 30 years. Many others knew him as a Little League, high school, college and American Legion baseball coach.
Far fewer individuals knew that the tall, distinguished, and humble Simmons spent his young adult years playing baseball with some of the best players in the Negro Baseball League. After graduating from high school in 1941, Bert Simmons joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, started as a jobs creation program started by President Roosevelt.
That same year he relocated to Raleigh, N.C. with the CCC, and began playing semi-pro baseball as a pitcher and outfielder for the Raleigh Tigers from 1941-1942.
Throughout the years that followed, Bert Simmons continued playing baseball even while serving in the U.S. Army and later while attending college at North Carolina A&T. In addition to the Raleigh Tigers, Simmons played for the U.S. Army (1943-1945); the Greensboro Red Wings (1946-1948); the Ashville Blues (1949); and finally the Baltimore Elite Giants (1950). Simmons could play all nine positions in baseball, however, it was as a pitcher that he established a reputation for his knuckleball.
In 2008 when each Major League Baseball team drafted one former Negro Baseball League player to represent the many thousands of others who never played in the Major League, the Baltimore Orioles selected 84-year-old Simmons.
Over his years spent playing and coaching the game, Simmons collected many remnants of the by-gone era of segregated baseball and filled the basement of his close friend Ray Banks’ home.
The public announcement by Baltimore County leaders drew 150 attendees, including several of the remaining Negro Base League players now in their late 80’s and 90’s. Former players included Luther Atkinson, Eddie Banks, Jimmy Bland, and Al Burrows.
Kamenetz estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 visitors to the Owings Mills Library / CCBC site daily and will see the displays.
It is unlikely that any similar display of Negro Baseball League history exists in connection with a public library or a community college anywhere else in the country.
“Let our focus on baseball become genuine again, not just mechanical,” said Ray Banks, who spoke briefly about the lifestyle and love that was once part of the game. “Teach the basics of baseball fundamentals including a respect for the game and its history, which so many of today’s professional players lack.”