Willie James Lee and Archie “Dropo” Young, two jewels of the Negro Leagues, recently passed.
Lee passed on Oct. 12 and his service was held Friday, Oct. 20. Young passed on Oct. 19; his service is Friday, Oct. 27, at 11 a.m. at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
Lee played for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Kansas City Monarchs and Young for the Birmingham Black Barons.
Dr. Layton Revel of Dallas, Texas, knew both men.
“I had the pleasure to meet two outstanding ballplayers, called them my friends and hear tremendous stories about what they had done playing baseball,” Revel said. “Neither one of them bragged when (he) talked. They didn’t exaggerate their careers. They were outstanding ballplayers and outstanding individuals.”
Revel provided the artifacts for Birmingham’s Negro Southern League Museum. He was emphatic about building the museum, he said, so that there would be a place to bring the ballplayers to honor them and their history.
Revel recalled Young being in awe when he visited the museum.
“What he had done in the ‘50s as a ballplayer, that history was going to be preserved,” he said. “He autographed a baseball for me that’s in the museum. He autographed a picture for me that’s in the museum. He was just so proud that what he had done was being recognized by people and that legacy was to live on.”
Lee, Young and several other Negro Leaguers played for the love of the game, he said.
“With both of them, it wasn’t about big money contracts,” Revel said. “It wasn’t about glory and endorsements for shoes. They played because they loved baseball. They gave up the opportunity to go to college. While everyone else was learning a trade, they were playing baseball. They gave everything they could to the game.
“Quite honestly, financially they got little back. But historically, they made a significant impact.”
Revel described Lee as a soft-spoken man.
“Everybody knew Willie Lee was a good ballplayer,” he said. “He didn’t have to tell anybody that.”
Major League Baseball tried to give Lee a pension for the years he played in the Negro Leagues. Despite research done by Revel and others, Lee refused to accept the pension.
“I have to admire Willie because he felt deep down inside that he had not played one of the years we had given him credit for,” Revel said. “But we had found box scores that supported that year.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Somebody wants to give you money and you don’t want to take it?’” Revel said. “I had to respect his wishes but I’m still firmly convinced he qualified for one.”
Young got his nickname from Walt Dropo, a white member of the Boston Red Sox in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Like the major leaguer, Young displayed incredible home run power.
“No question, he was known as one of the best power hitters in the 1950s in Negro League Baseball and in the Birmingham Industrial League,” Revel said.