White Negro Leaguer shares his story

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

SCHAUMBURG, Illl. (AP) — Louis Clarizio remembers riding the buses. He remembers seeing the signs that read, “White” and “Colored.” But most of all, Lou Clarizio fondly remembers his short time with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues. And what makes Clarizio’s story unique is that he is white.

Now 77 years old, living in Schaumburg and following the Cubs, Clarizio is part of a story that’s as unlikely as it is true.

Back in 1950, Clarizio and pitcher Lou Chirban, also white, were plucked out of “industrial league” ball in Chicago and signed to play for the Giants and their legendary manager, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.

By 1950, the Negro Leagues were dying, victims, ironically enough, of the integration of the major leagues, begun in 1947 by Jackie Robinson.

Looking for players, and partially answering critics who claimed that while organized ball was integrating, the Negro Leagues were all black, the Giants sought out white players.

“When Jackie Robinson went into baseball, people kept saying, ‘There are no white players in the Negro Leagues,’” Clarizio said recently. “Once he signed up and (Roy) Campanella and (Larry) Doby, it started to break up the black league because of the quality, and people stopped going.

“I played for Armour Stars, the meatpacking company. They were in the industrial league. We played in Washington Park on the South Side. The agreement was that I would play baseball two nights a week and Sunday, and then in return they gave me a real easy job.”

That “real easy job” consisted of Clarizio toting around asbestos, but he came away none the worse for it.

His real passion was baseball. While playing in Chicago, this graduate of Crane Tech caught the eye of scouts and the owner of the Giants, Dr. J.B. Martin.

“Martin came and said, ‘How would you like to play for the American Giants?’” Clarizio recalled. “I said, ‘Who are the American Giants?’ He said, ‘They’re in the Negro Leagues.’ I said, ‘What’s the pay?’ He said $200 a month. I think it was $3.50 or $7.50 a day for food. So I said sure.

“He said, ‘We play in Comiskey Park when the White Sox are out of town.’ That’s all he had to say. I said sure, ‘Sign me up.’ That’s where I wanted to go anyway, somewhere in the big leagues. That’s getting close.”

Clarizio, a right-handed hitting outfielder, and Chirban, signed together, becoming two of a handful of white players to play in the Negro Leagues after pitcher Eddie Klepp joined the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1946.

Although his career with the Giants was a brief — reference books say he got into only a handful of games — the experience for Clarizio was memorable.

And it started with Radcliffe, the manager who got his “Double Duty” sobriquet for being able to pitch one game of a doubleheader and catch the nightcap.

“He also drove the bus,” Clarizio said. “When we’d get to the stadium, they’d have to pay him half the money. He’d say, ‘OK, get out there.’ After the game, they’d pay him the balance. That way, nobody ever cheated us, maybe before, but not when I was with them.”

Clarizio said there were no problems with acceptance. He recalls the black ballplayers wondering only if he could play.

“When I first walked in, they said, ‘Can this gray cat play baseball?’” he said. “Then I heard them say, ‘Yeah, he can play.’ They didn’t say ‘white.’ They called them ‘gray cats.’ Everybody was a cat. It’s like now, everybody’s a dude. In those days, everyone was a cat.

“We went by talent. I really enjoyed it because nobody was above anybody. We were all equal. We rooted for each other and stuck together. There was harmony on the team.”