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The Indianapolis Clowns’ legacy in Negro league baseball

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A century ago, some of America’s best Black baseball players took to the diamond while segregation kept them from playing against white players, so they formed the Negro league.

They’ve always had the same talent. But now their accomplishments are being written in black and white in the Major League Baseball record books, and the Circle City is part of that history.

In 1930, the team that would eventually become the Indianapolis Clowns formed. The late great baseball legend Hank Aaron, at 17, started his professional baseball career with the Clowns. His story is just one for the record books. There are plenty more to tell.

The baseball diamond is a space where players should stand on equal ground. But for generations, America’s favorite pastime kept Black people out, forcing the best to form what would be called the Negro leagues.

“As a kid, I had a lot of former Negro league players live in my neighborhood,” said former Clowns player Pedro Sierra.

In 1954 at 16 years old, the Cuba native took to the pitcher’s mound at the old Bush Stadium with the Indianapolis Clowns.

“It’s something I can never forget. I am riding the shoulders of those who played before me, which allowed me to come and play,” he said.

He said being Afro-Latino, there were racial tensions in Cuba. But in America, those tensions exploded.

“I had not heard at that time of what was the N-word. And then I asked the guys what it means. And they told me. And then when people were insulting, do you know what I did? I said “Yo no hablo ingles,” he said. It means “I don’t speak English” in Spanish.

In those days, he said, ignoring the insults took practice. And with them coming left and right, he had the opportunity to hone that skill, too.

“Their stories sometimes just stir my soul and they raise my consciousness about what they had to go through. And put a tear in my eye,” said author and Negro league historian Larry Lester.

He’s been collecting Negro league records for 50 years. He said when it comes to skill, the Black players and white players stood equal. It was the color of the Black players’ skin that limited them.

“Satchel Paige struck out about one batter per inning. Same numbers for Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens in the white league,” he said.

The Indianapolis Clowns were one of the most traveled teams, he said. And while they weren’t one of the most widely known, they won more championships and the team lasted longer than any of the other Negro league teams.

Sierra is one of a few still around and able to share the story.

“In my opinion, it’s the most important chapter in the history of baseball,” Sierra said.

Only two years separated Sierra and Aaron from playing ball together. Sierra said he and Aaron met a few times over the years and would always have a smile for a fellow Clown. Sierra also eventually went on to play for the Detroit Stars and the major leagues.