|The Legend of Danny
"Suits" Sparrow, the only white man in the Negro
"Suits" is my dad, whose recollections prove that he
must have been the world's greatest athlete. It's
difficult to tell that now because he's old, nearly
80, and when we play one-on-one basketball he
sometimes has to resort to blocking my shots with his
hands, instead of with his feet as he did in his
prime. Barred from major league baseball because of
the damage he would have done to its competitive
equilibrium, he played out his entire career as the
only white guy in the poorly-documented Negro Leagues,
or barnstorming with the Washington Generals
basketball team, the patsies who play against the
Here is a picture of Danny with his greatest
team, the legendary 1935 Philadelphia Cheesesteaks.
Today his feats are little remembered or recognized,
since the Hall of Fame, in a bizarre twist of double
reverse discrimination, now admits players from the
Negro Leagues, but not if they were white. We
have only his words to remember those glory years:
- I remember the day I was playing catcher for the
old Boise Networks against a major league all-star
team, and Cobb tries to steal on us. Pulls it off
twice, because we don't have an infielder that can
hold on to my throws. So when the bastard takes off
a third time, I just catch the pitch, out-run him to
second and tag him out. Had to kick his ass, too.
They tossed me out of the game, but it was worth it
to see him cry. Good thing for him I was only 9
years old then.
- There was the day I got my nickname. I'm playing
for the San Francisco Treats and we're playing an
exhibition against the Dodgers at Ebbets field. They
have this sign in the outfield, from some tailor
named Abe Stark, that says "Hit this sign. Win a
suit". That day I go 5-for-5. Five at-bats, five
suits. Hell, I mean it was a big sign. So this Abe
finally says he'll make me a suit anytime I need one
if I just stop aimin' for the sign.
- We didn't get paid much then, so we would play
exhibitions, take up a collection and split the
take. Didn't care much for money anyway. Not like
those guys today. Just played for the love of the
game. And the love of suits
- One of the most famous exhibitions was the time
they staged a race ... me against light. Sorry to
say I lost my supporters a bunch of money that day.
I still think I coulda won if I hadn't gotten such a
big lead. I got cocky and stopped at Denny's for
breakfast, and dammit, I'da still won if I had the
regular breakfast instead of the Grand Slam.
- Got so everybody knew me in every Denny's, cuz in
those days all ballplayers used to carry 365
different ID's on the road, with one for every
birthday. That way, we could always eat free at
Denny's. But after a while, I stopped going to a
different Denny's each time because all the Denny's
employees knew it wasn't really my birthday, but
they give me a free meal anyway. After a while it
becomes a joke. I walk in the door every day during
a homestand, and every employee winks at me, and
says, "Happy birthday, Danny". After about a year
some reporter gets aholt of it, writes it up, and
then everybody I meet everywhere says "Happy
birthday, Danny" to me every day instead of "Hiya".
In 1942 we're playing an exhibition to sell war
bonds, and Roosevelt is there. I go up to ask for
his autograph, and he signs it, "Happy birthday,
- I forgot there wasn't any Denny's back then. It
was another chain that run the same promotion.
- Man I used to hate to go down to New York and play
our road games against the Staten Island Ferrys.
Those guys had a different way to tag you, if you
catch my drift.
- Back in 1937, I'm on the roster of the Niagara
Falls Slow Turners, and we're playin' an exhibition
in the Polo Grounds against the Giants. Hubbell
fools me a bit with the screwball, so I get on top
of the ball, and I only hit it for a ground rule
double. Well, you shouda seen the crowd. They break
through the security and carry Hubbell around the
field on their shoulders for a good half-hour. Hell,
it didn't make no difference. When the game resumed
I stole third and home, so it was a good as a homer
anyway, but they just loved King Carl there.
- That Havlicek could play some D. He made the two
best defensive plays I ever seen. Everybody knows
about "Havlicek stole the ball", but not many folks
remember the time he was guarding me and forced my
shot to hit the rim on the first play of the game.
Oh, sure, the shot went in as usual, but the crowd
was stunned into silence for about a minute when
they saw it graze the rim. The ref stopped the game
and asked Havlicek to autograph the ball. Lookin'
back on it, I sure wish I had made it to the game on
time so I didn't have to go out for the opening tip
in my socks.
- I mean back in them days where else but baseball
could a guy like me get to travel the world and meet
such high flyers. We played in Japan before the war,
and we played in Rome after the liberation. The
Italian people loved us, even though they didn't
understand baseball. How can I ever forget when the
Pope comes up to me and DiMaggio. I was kinda
surprised he doesn't know the Clipper, cuz I thought
every Italian knew Joe D, but he just turns to him
and says, "Bless you Americans, my son". Then he
comes up to me and says, "The lord has truly blessed
Italy today. It's a real honor that you chose to
spend your birthday with us in Rome, Danny".
- Yeah, they were the great times. Play a game in
the Apple, then head down to the Algonquin Hotel and
get lit up afterwards with F. Scott, Zelda, and
Groucho, and them round table people. Dorothy Parker
would always find some kooky way to say "Happy
birthday, Danny," like a pun in Swedish or
something. Some days, Zelda would get depressed, so
I'd take 'em all up to Abe's to get new suits, and
then she'd be all right for a while. I don't think
there'll be another era like that.