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Negro Leagues Author in Keokuk

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Jason Parrott
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Tri States Public Radio

An acclaimed baseball author is traveling the country, sharing tales of some of the best players and teams of the Negro Leagues.

Phil Dixon fell in love with the game of baseball when he was a youngster.  In fact, he was known for his baseball card collection when he was in his early 20's.

"I think I was 21 (when) they wrote a story about me having 50,000 baseball cards," said Dixon.  "It wasn't that baseball cards were so unique, but most people had never seen an African-American kid with 50,000 baseball cards back in 1976-1977.  I had been collecting all my life.  I loved baseball books, I just love the game, I played the game."

Dixon grew up in Kansas City.  He said a former member of the Kansas City Monarchs lived in his neighborhood, so he was quite familiar with the team and its history.

But it was not until about 1980, when he was living in Topeka, that his passion reached its pinnacle.

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Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio
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Tri States Public Radio

"I met a former KC Monarch player and he started to tell me stories about the Negro Leagues," said Dixon. "And being a student of baseball all those years, I had never heard those stories.  I could not find them in books.  That was the beginning in 1980, I was (in my) early 20's and I decided I was going to write about it and I started with a passion.  That passion has created many books."

That passion also lead Dixon to help found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City in 1990, highlighting the leagues that were operational from 1920 - 1960.

He is now taking his passion on the road.

Dixon decided to mark the 90th anniversary of the KC Monarchs first Negro Leagues championship with a tour of 90 cities where the team played from 1920 - 1950.

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Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio
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Tri States Public Radio
Author Phil Dixon speaking to a crowd in Keokuk. He visited the city because the Kansas City Monarchs played there in 1938.

He's halfway through the tour, which he described as an amazing experience.

"It's just been fantastic," said Dixon.  "The people I've met, the history I've learned, and the baseball I've been able to share."

Dixon spoke to a crowd of about 30 people in the Keokuk Public Library's Round Room.  He had photographs and a jersey on display.

Dixon said the KC Monarchs played a team from Keokuk in 1938.  He said it became common practice for the Negro League teams to play local teams on off-days since they were already driving from city to city.

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Credit Jason Parrott / Tri States Public Radio
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Tri States Public Radio
Before he became "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks played for the KC Monarchs for several years. Banks passed away this month.

"It became a tradition and the KC Monarchs were as good as it as anyone," said Dixon.  "People always wanted to defeat the Monarchs, but rarely could.  That is how they ended up in 1938 playing a local team."

Dixon said it's been during his tour fascinating to find out what people know about the Negro Leagues.  He said most sports fans have heard of perhaps the most famous Negro Leagues player, pitcher Satchel Paige, but he is surprised by how few people in the general public are aware of Paige's career and impact.

Dixon said that's why it's important to spread the word about the league and its best players, so people can fall in love with his favorite game.

"I'm hoping that I can help other people do the same, especially a lot of young people.  We need to get a lot more young people out and tell them these wonderful stories."

Dixon said he plans to dedicate the month of February to one of the Monarchs' most famous players, Ernie Banks, aka "Mr. Cub".  Banks passed away January 23.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.