Sunday, July 4, 1999
Missing the glory years, but still playing
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sonny Webb, 64, grew up in Walnut Hills bouncing a rubber ball off a concrete ledge at his home at 2320 May Street, where hitting certain spots produced ground balls, line drives and pop-ups.
Sonny Webb, center, won the Dayton AA League batting title in 1960, with Lebanon manager Charles (Tommy) Thompson and coach Chuck Shoop.
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This helped him develop soft, quick hands, a necessity for a baseball player. He played with some neighborhood kids of Italian descent and later played ball at Purcell High.
Mr. Webb's idol was the pitcher Lou Dula, who lived in the neighborhood and played for one of the great Negro League teams, the Homestead Grays. Mr. Dula was a friend of Mr. Webb's parents, and would sit in the Webbs' family kitchen and play cards and regale them with tales from the Negro Leagues.
He'd join Sonny and his friends in the middle of the street and play stickball with them. Mr. Webb remembers driving in a big Packard with his family to a Homestead Grays game in Washington, D.C., and he also saw Mr. Dula play at Crosley Field.
Mr. Webb was one of a handful of African-Americans who was invited to Reds' spring training in Laredo, Texas, in 1958. But when that didn't work out despite his having an outstanding camp, he hooked up with the Detroit Stars of the Negro League and barnstormed through West Virginia.
He loved it . . . and yet he loathed it.
"I didn't see any future (in the Negro Leagues) for me, because they were pretty much decimated by then," he said. "I regret that it wasn't there for me the way it was for guys five and 10 years earlier. I missed out on something that was great - I was only on the edges of it. They (the major leagues) were looking for players to sign and take to camp; I'd already done that."
He would later play in a semipro league in Dayton, winning the batting crown in 1960, the year Pete Rose was taken from the league to join the Reds farm system.
Mr. Webb still plays baseball in the men's 30-and-over league in Cincinnati. Every winter, he travels to Fort Myers, Fla., and plays with the over-50 New Jersey Wonderboys in the Roy Hobbs World Series. He lives on a 38-acre farm in Blanchester, where he is leveling out a ballfield for the young people in the area.
Anybody who wants to come by to play is welcome, he said.
Negro League Stories