Thursday, November 3, 2011

Local Teen Helps Negro Leaguers

These days, it's refreshing to hear stories about teens doing remarkable things. One such teen is Cam Perron of Arlington, Mass. Cam has turned an interest in collecting baseball cards into making real contributions to the lives of many former Negro League players—including getting some of them long-deserved pensions. Last May, the Boston Globe did a feature piece on Cam. In September, he received an award from the BoSox Club (the official booster club of the Red Sox) for "research and support of Negro League baseball" (see photo). FenwayNation was lucky enough to chat with Cam recently. Here are the highlights:

What first got you interested in the Negro Leagues?

I always collected baseball cards, and in 7th grade a friend introduced me to writing to players through the mail. All of the players that he had gotten to sign for him were retired players. One was Buck O’Neil, a former Negro League player who had passed away a year or so before. From this I began to write and send cards to former retired players from the 50’s and 60’s, as well as a few Hall of Famers. Guys like Duke Snider, Andre Dawson, George Kell, Bobby Shantz, Mel Parnell, and a bunch of others. At this time, I was about 12, and I had done this for about 6 or 7 months. In 2007, Topps came out with the Allen and Ginter Baseball card set, which included a few Negro League players' cards. Guys like Stanley Glenn, John “Mule” Miles, and Ted Toles. I instantly heard back from these guys. A few of them sent me long letters back. Unlike the retired major league players who were unrecognized and underpaid, these guys were even more unrecognized. I then began to write letters to other Negro League players who didn’t have baseball cards. I had gotten their addresses on different sports websites—primarily . From this, players began calling me up, asking about other teammates and information, and it all quickly grew into this ginormous never-ending research project, which has now morphed into somewhat of a non profit research group. It all really started with baseball cards and autographs, and it led me to a totally different path of research and helping these players out.

How did you come up with the idea of creating your own baseball cards for Negro League players?

From speaking with many players, I learned that many had played long careers, and played in high-level minor leagues. Since they never made the Major Leagues, they were never recognized like MLB players were, and that included by the press, with baseball cards, statistics, etc. This, mixed with the fact that many players were relying on Social Security to get by, I started making baseball cards on my computer, and printed them out on cardstock from Staples, and then handcut them out. The players could then sell these from people who wrote to them through the mail, or at events for $5-$10, which added up after a while. I did this for 10-15 players before it became way too time consuming, so I approached a professional custom sports cards company to make up professional looking cards on high quality glossy card stock, for approximately 15-18 cents a card.

Does your success make you want to purse this type of work as a career when you're older—something dealing with baseball and research?

Yes and No. I would love to do what I am doing now as a career, but there is no money in it. As Dr. Revel, a researcher in Texas I work with has told me, it is best to establish yourself in something else, make your money there, and then do this as a hobby. I plan on majoring in business, or entrepreneurship in college, but I would also love to be some sort of sports agent. Negro League players have been quickly dying off, and in 15, 20 years most of them will be gone, so I cant really do this forever, which I know. I love what I do/have done, but I don’t think that I will ever make a career out of researching, I’m just not that type of person. Oh, and most researchers like to read and write books. I rarely read, and I don’t like writing, so I do not believe I would do good with that profession.

Has Major League Baseball talked to you about recognizing your efforts in securing pensions for eligible Negro League players?

No, they have not. In the past when I have helped with securing pensions, I give my information to Dr. Layton Revel of Dallas, Texas. He then submits an official report to Major League Baseball. When a player inquires to MLB about getting pensions/benefits, they go to him in order to document and verify that they played. In the past, when a player does not have a lot of newspaper articles, or documentation he turns to me. There are many players who played 8-10 years, and have numerous photos and articles saying they played. Since you need 4 years to receive a pension, a player like this is considered easy.

What gives you more satisfaction—getting the pensions for players or rekindling the memories and friendships from the past?

Getting pensions is great, since most of these guys are relying on small Social Security checks to get by. A pension of $10,000 a year is extremely helpful to these men, but personally I think money is not the most important part. In the past, when I have gotten a player in touch with one of his old teammates, it is priceless. You cannot put a value on an experience like that. Many of these guys never stayed in touch with their teammates, and moved on to different jobs when they retired from baseball. The memories that are brought back when two guys who haven’t spoken for 60 years are unbelievable. For example, I once called a player up telling him that I had tracked down his teammate. This was at about 7 pm. He ended up calling him right after he hung up with me. I called him back at about 9 or 9:30 later that night to see if he ever spoke with him. The funniest part is that, they were still on the phone after all of that time!!

Considering how you like players who have been under-appreciated (rather than stars), who's your favorite Red Sox and/or MLB player?

I have never really had a favorite player, retired or current. I have always been the type of person who roots for the underdogs, and the underrated players. Being that I am a big autograph person, I take into consideration if the player is nice and signs for fans. If a player isn’t a good signer, then I am not going to root for him that much. Alfredo Aceves on the Red Sox fits all of these categories. He is extremely underrated—although he led the team in highest win/loss percentage and was 10-2 this year. He is also from Mexico (I have always been interested in players born outside of the U.S.) and he is extremely fan-friendly. He always signs for fans, and is a friendly person as well as a very talented pitcher.

(Photo courtesy of BoSox Club)