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Marvin Price, Negro League ballplayer, dies at 81


Marvin Price

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Updated: August 23, 2013 3:36PM

Marvin Price’s muscle memory was as reliable as the tide.

During a stay at an assisted living facility, he shot basketballs and tossed beanbags all day long--and never missed a shot.

The staffers were amazed. They had no idea the elderly man had once been struck out by Negro League legend Satchel Paige, a pitcher so gifted that many white baseball hitters said he was the best they’d ever seen.

Mr. Price also was a player in the Negro Leagues, where African Americans could compete when they weren’t welcome on white teams. He was proud of his nickname, “Thumper,” bestowed for his ability to whack the ball.

“Marvin Price was a wonderful person,” said another former Negro League player, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks. “He was a friend who used to come by the house.”

“My respect and condolences go to Marvin’s family,” said White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, a veteran of the Negro Leagues. “What I miss about those times was the way the game was played. The respect we all had for the game, for our teammates and for doing things that right way.”

Mr. Price, 81, who died last month at South Shore Hospital, was one of the youngest athletes in the Negro Leagues. His family said he started playing here and there when he was about 14. In a brief 1946 debut with the Chicago American Giants, a Negro American League team, he was “barely 14” and thought to be the youngest league player, according to the Brent Kelley book, “The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes.”

In 1992, he was among the Negro League players honored at the new Comiskey Park, just across from the old ballpark where he had once been vanquished by Paige.

Mr. Price recalled Paige’s powers in the Kelley book. “I swear the ball got halfway up to the plate and took off. His hands were so long and lean. His curveball would break a foot and a half.”

Born on the South Side, he attended McCosh grade school. The McCosh playground was the epicenter of life for the children of West Woodlawn, said his longtime friend, William Harden. They pitched horseshoes, shot marbles and played baseball, softball and touch football. They saw movies at the Tivoli, the Maryland, the Ark and the Midway. His mother, Mary Emma, was a teacher. His father, Porter Price, taught him to play baseball and he played first base for Englewood High School.

From 1949 to 1952, he competed in the Negro Leagues — usually shortstop and first base. He played for the Houston Eagles, the Cleveland Buckeyes, the New Orleans Eagles, the Chicago American Giants and the Chicago Monarchs, according to Dr. Layton Revel, founder of the Texas-based Center for Negro League Baseball Research, and Gary Crawford, founder of the website Mr. Price was frequently scouted by Major League Baseball, Revel said.

“I didn’t really play baseball to be exonerated by white people, “ Mr. Price said in “The Negro Leagues Revisited.” “I played ball with my own and I really started out that way, and when guys like [Hank] Aaron, [Willie] Mays and [Ernie] Banks thought I was a ballplayer, I thought I reached the pinnacle anyway.”

From 1952 to 1956, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard. When he returned home, he began working at the Post Office, playing ball in his spare time. In 1987, he retired from the postal service. He also worked as a supervisor at Chicago’s Jackson Park.

“I didn’t have a bad living — I was the boss of the post office over 23 years, I worked for the park district — and I don’t feel bad,” he said in the Kelley book. “Kids have a lot of respect for me ’cause they know I tell ’em the truth. I’ve been a lucky man.”

Mr. Price is survived by his longtime friend, Enola Maxwell; his sisters, Victoria Lloyd and Gloria Stimpson; his daughter and son, Stephanie and Marvin Price, and two granddaughters.

Despite Alzheimer’s, up until two years ago, he knew all the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

A family celebration of his life is being planned at U.S. Cellular Field.

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