RICHMOND, Va. -- 16 years ago, filmmaker Lauren Meyer began working on a passion project of hers, trying to answer a question she had for many years.
“This (movie) started because racism and segregation didn’t make sense to me,” Meyer said.
“I wasn’t questioning that it occurred or that it was still happening, but I thought what better way to explore it than through people who lived through it and could share their personal stories.”
So the lifelong baseball fan, who still follows the New York Mets, decided to track down as many living members of the Negro Leagues as she could find.
The result is a documentary called “The Other Boys Of Summer," which chronicles the lives and experiences of players in Negro Leagues.
Meyer's documentary has been screening in select cities over the past few weeks. Richmond was one of her stops, with the help of the Flying Squirrels.
Hall of Famers Minnie Minoso and Monte Irvin are featured in the film as well as several players who played in the Negro Leagues.
Black professional teams began before the Civil War, with the Negro American League playing until 1958, just a few years after Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues.
Robinson's breaking of the color barrier was something that was once inconceivable to those Meyer interviewed.
“All the players responded the same way, in that they never envisioned a time when blacks and whites would play together,” Meyer explained. “Growing up, they didn’t aspire to play in Major League Baseball because they didn’t even think it was a possibility.”
Irvin recounts in the movie how he was approached by then-Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey about becoming the first Black player in the major leagues.
However, this came after his time served in World War II, and Irvin didn’t feel like he was ready to play at that level so soon.
Irvin eventually played for the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs. He was one of several Negro League players whose skill was eventually proven to be MLB-worthy.
“What people don’t realize is that the Negro Leagues were top-level baseball,” Meyer said. “They were equivalent to the MLB, but they were separate because they were not permitted to play in the MLB. Once Jackie (Robinson) integrated the major leagues, the level of skill in the Negro Leagues declined only because the MLB teams hand-picked the top players from the Negro Leagues.”
The movie was screened at the Black History Museum of Virginia. Meyer has taken her film to several cities that host minor league teams in the hopes that some of the grassroots elements of today’s game will help shine a light on some forgotten pillars of the past.
“The one thing I hope people take away from this film is the humility of the players,” Meyer explained. “Their grace, their humility. They didn’t hold any bitterness. Everything they went through, I asked them ‘didn’t that make you angry?’ Every single player answered the same. ‘No, I wasn’t angry. It was a different time period. They paid me to play baseball, what was I going to be angry about?’”
“I was playing the game I loved!”
You can learn more about the movie and where it might be available by visiting this site.