National Honor Society Induction
May 1, 1997


With the arrival of spring, nearly everyone’s attention in Cleveland is turned to baseball. The coming of the new season brings a renewed joy and a refreshed sense of hope. Perhaps unlike most of you, my love of baseball came not from my father, but from my mother. My earliest memories of the game are of her teaching me to keep score. My mother lost much of her sight in her late teens due to macular degeneration. In spite of this challenge, she persevered and went on to become a nurse, put two sons through school, she started and managed the hot lunch program at my grade school, and has now managed the City Hall Cafeteria for ten years.

Only later did I realize that her teaching me to keep score was probably her way of fooling me into being her eyes, but it successfully passed on the love of the game she in turn got from her father, Wanamaker Gregory. Growing up in a small town in southeastern Missouri, my mother and grandfather would listen to Harry Carey broadcasting Cardinals’ games on the radio and occasionally travel up to St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park. Grandpa Wanamaker was a pretty good catcher in his day. I have always loved to hear his baseball stories. He is nearly ninety today and has forgotten more of the game than I could ever hope to learn. He played with people I have only read about. In his prime, star pitchers from the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals would ask him to catch for them during their off season workouts. As was all too common in that era, he was considered good enough for the fields of Poplar Bluff, but not good enough for the field at Sportsman’s Park.

This year, the national pastime is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jack Roosevelt Robinson breaking the color barrier playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. That same year, two other teams, the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Browns (today’s Orioles) followed the Dodgers’ lead and fielded Black players. And while we should rightly celebrate this momentous event, I think it is necessary to remember that “firsts” are not all that should be remembered. Baseball was far from integrated in 1947. In fact, it would be another two years before a fourth team, the New York Giants, would sign a Black player, 10 years for the Phillies, 11 years for the Tigers, and 12 years, until in 1959, the Boston Red Sox became the last team to field an African-American.

In the 1996 HBO movie Soul of the Game, there is a conversation between Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, the Negro Leagues superstar pitcher who eventually became a 42-year-old big league “rookie”:

JR: I was thinking about my brother Mack. About how you know you guys think I’m so fast? I just looked like I was walking next to him. He ran the 200 meters in the Olympics in Berlin.

SP: That’s one of them that Jessie Owens won.

JR: That’s right. That’s right. But Mack came in second. Then, a couple of weeks later, he ran the best pace of his life, beat Jessie’s time. Set a new world’s record. Yeah.

SP: I don’t recall that.

JR: No one does.

SP: So, what’s he doing? He playing ball now?

JR: Uh, he’s a janitor now.

Matthew “Mack” Robinson did indeed win a silver medal in the 1936, but how many of us, like Satchell Paige, “don’t recall?”

ABC News recently featured Larry Doby as the largely forgotten second Black to play in the major leagues (the first in the American League). Doby was an All-Star for six consecutive years, led the American League twice in home runs, once in RBIs, and was a key player in the Indians’ 1948 World Championship team giving him (as well as Satchel Paige) the rare distinction of having won a championship in both the Negro and Major Leagues. Doby’s number was retired by Cleveland in 1994.*

Many of us still remember Opening Day in 1975 when Frank Robinson became baseball’s first Black manager and hit a home run in his first at bat as the Cleveland player/manager. But not many remember that Larry Doby followed yet another Robinson in becoming the second African-American to manage a Major League ballclub.

I mention these people because one of the themes of the National Honor Society is leadership. I would define leadership with a term we Ignatians know very well: magis. Leadership is following the call to do “more.” I am honored to speak to you, the inductees, today even though I was never a member of the NHS as a student. Although disappointed at not being selected, I realized that, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” I concentrated my efforts on following up the successes of my Junior year with an even stronger Senior year. I went on to be accepted early decision at Georgetown, became a National Achievement Finalist, and studied what I truly loved: languages and literature-- a love I in turn hope to pass on to you as a teacher here at Ignatius.

So while you should indeed be very proud of your accomplishments, you must remember that “it ain’t over.” Being a member of the NHS is not an end in and of itself. You are being called to service, to do more, the magis. It is for this same reason that we call graduation commencement “a beginning.” True leaders realize how much more remains to be done.

This is not an enviable task. The magis is neither easy nor comfortable. Some of you may even be wondering, when does it all end? How much more do I have to give? You may begin to feel like Sisyphus, forever damned to roll a boulder up the top of a steep slope only to see it fall down the opposite side of the hill and begin the arduous task of rolling it back to the top.

Don’t be discouraged. There is hope. Albert Camus said the only way for the myth of Sisyphus to make any sense at all, il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux--you have to imagine him happy. I have to admit, I’ve always had trouble imagining how anyone could spend all eternity pushing a boulder back up a hill only to see it roll back down the other side and be happy. That is, until I met my father-in-law, Mr. James Woods.

Mr. Woods’ greatest joy in life was cooking. Nothing gave him greater satisfaction than seeing others enjoy a good meal. Mr. Woods lived an incredibly full life. He had served in the navy during the Second World War and traveled to North Africa. His ship had been torpedoed in the Caribbean and he was injured. My mother-in-law personally wrote to President Roosevelt and got him discharged. He worked for Ford for 25 years and retired and in his “spare” time ran a restaurant/inn in Angola, Indiana. He was a very gentle man. Nothing ever phased him. After a decade long bout with cancer, my father-in-law passed away last September. In spite of his growing pain and increasing difficulty in walking, he never complained. Mr. Woods greeted everyone with a smile and every new day with joy. He could imagine Sisyphus happy. He realized that the moment when the boulder had been placed at the top of the hill, now matter how brief, was worthy of celebration. That all of the preceding labor had not been in vain, but was merely the necessary preparation for that celebration, and as such, was indeed an endeavor worth continuing.

So I ask you gentlemen to accept the challenge of being leaders. Perhaps leaders like Jackie Robinson, but more importantly, leaders like Mack Robinson. Norma Jean Turner. Wanamaker Gregory. Larry Doby. James Woods. And thousands of other men and women whose labors may be all too easily forgotten. Be leaders who will insist that these examples live on.


* Larry Doby was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1998.  Larry Doby died on June 18, 2003.