Black ExperienceBlack HistorySportsWilliam J. Ford

Former Washington Senator Talks Baseball, Barry and Racism

Baseball fanatics and historians already know Fred Valentine played for the Washington Senators.

Baseball records show Valentine achieved a batting average of .276 in 1967 as a member of the Senators, his best as a professional that earned him 21st place for American League Most Valuable Players honors that season. He placed higher in MVP voting than Carl Yastrzemski, who played all 23 of his seasons with Boston Red Sox and eventually voted into the Hall of Fame.

The enthusiasm of baseball in the District has resonated with the Washington Nationals playing in the World Series. Washington will at least host Games 3 and 4 this weekend at Nationals Park in Southeast.

Some credit former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams bringing baseball back to the District. But Valentine, who played for the Senators between 1964-68, also served in the background to bring America’s pastime to D.C. as one of the founding members and current vice chair of the Major League Baseball Alumni Association.

“It took me about 30 years to get baseball back in the city,” Valentine, 84, said in an interview from his home in Northwest on Monday, Oct. 21. “It’s great to see all the excitement and fans just enjoying baseball.”

Valentine, who played part of the 1959, 1963 and 1968 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, can be considered “living history” on and off the field.

He saw future Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron play in the Negro Leagues when they played games where he grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.

Valentine met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Both men are members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

As a teenager, Valentine became a standout athlete at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis and attended the school with the late “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry Jr.

The two attended different colleges and achieved academic success.

Barry received a bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College in Memphis in 1958 and a master’s degree in chemistry in chemistry from Fisk University in 1960. He studied in a doctoral program at the University of Kansas and then the University of Tennessee.

Valentine garnered a physical education degree at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College, now known as Tennessee State University, in Nashville. He received a master’s degree in human resources from George Washington University in Northwest and then a law degree from the Antioch School of Law in Northwest. The University of District of Columbia incorporated Antioch’s mission that currently operates as UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law with one of its goals “to represent the legal needs of low-income residents through the school’s legal clinics,” according to the school’s website.

Valentine said he and Barry saw each other several years later on U Street in Northwest.

While Barry worked on his Pride Inc. jobs program, he sent youth interested in construction to George Hyman Construction Co. now called Clark Construction. Valentine worked for the company for 35 years with his last position as vice president of community relations. He retired in 2004.

“I put a lot of the kids that [Barry] had to work during the summer programs. Sure enough, we got a lot of kids into apprenticeship programs in reference to construction and went on from there,” he said. “I tried to help the young people find jobs interested in construction,” he said. “Marion was all about young people. That Pride program is the reason why young people got jobs and it remains talked about today.”

Playing Against Racism

Commitment remains a strong word in Valentine’s vocabulary with 60 years of marriage to his wife, Helena, and their three children.

He also served in the Army Reserves between 1957 to 1965; active duty for two of those years.

His patience, obligation and love for professional baseball would be challenged due to racism. The worst experiences occurred in North Carolina when he played for a minor league team in Wilson, North Carolina.

Valentine recalled how white fans in the stands hoisted dead and fake chickens on a string whenever he came to the plate, or reached first base.

“They would say, ‘Hey, N-word. There’s a chicken on second base. Let’s see if you can get it,'” he said. “Blacks always were supposed to like chicken. After church on Sunday, chicken was on the plate. Chicken is a cheap food and Blacks generated towards chicken. [Whites] brought it because that was a meal that Blacks loved it.

“Sometimes there would be live chickens,” he said. “Sometimes there would be dead chickens. The only way I interpreted to get through that was to get on second base. Somehow, I would get on third base and then get to home [plate]. That was a way of getting off the field during that time. I didn’t have to listen to all of that when I went back in the dugout.”

In Greensboro, North Carolina, Valentine recalled, he saw pointed, wooden sticks hanging out of the fence.

“It was broomsticks that were sharpened to the ends of them,” he said. “They were in center field and right field. [Racist fans] were just hoping that when I ran out for a ball in center field, I would run right into it. It was deadly.

“I told the general manager about it,” Valentine said. “He got the security guards and took them all out of the fence. He placed security guards in the outfield to make sure they didn’t put them back in.”

A significant moment occurred in 1957 at a segregated minor league ballpark in Wilson, North Carolina. Here’s a summary of what he recalled:

“Right after church, people were coming in flocks. It was about half an hour before the game. All of a sudden, I heard this big noise and the bleachers came down. Nobody really got seriously hurt. The general manager, I was the oldest one on the club, he came running down to me and said we got a problem. I told him there’s one thing you can do. Let [Blacks] sit at seats [next to whites] and I’m sure everybody will know everybody else and you won’t have any problem. What are you going to do, give them their money back? They aren’t going to stand up and watch a ball game. Sure enough, history was made. They never rebuilt those stands. The people were tickled to death. Talking to each other and having a good time. It was just God’s way of dealing with [racism].”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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