Three baseball players from the past visited Goodfellow Air Force Base Saturday. Everett Turner, Joseph "Lefty" Vaughn and Dick "Lefty" O'Neal all played baseball at various times in America's past. Though none of them ever made it to the Major Leagues, they each were part of something much bigger. Through persistence and love of the game, these men overcame adversity while playing for teams of the Negro League during the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Both Mr. Turner and Mr. O'Neal are Air Force retirees and both men played for the Negro League while on active duty.
"I started playing for the Houston Sluggers when I was 14," recalled Mr. Turner of his team in his hometown of Houston. "That was 1948."
Mr. Turner played for the team until 1955 when he joined the Air Force. After a tour in Japan, Mr. Turner returned to Texas.
"I spent the rest of my state-side time in San Antonio," Mr. Turner said, explaining that he had moved several times over the years from one base to another in the area.
During his time in San Antonio, Turner again played in the Negro League for the San Antonio Redbirds, Indians and Blacksox until 1971. Mr. Turner retired from the Air Force after more than 24 years of service.
Dick "Lefty" O'Neal has a somewhat different story. After enlisting in the Air Force and being assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Mr. O'Neal decided to play for the Biloxi Dodgers, another Negro League team, on his off time. The decision had some scratching their heads; Mr. O'Neal is white.
"There was adversity," Mr. O'Neal recalled, "but it was worth it for the love of the game." With time, Mr. O'Neal's teammates accepted him wholeheartedly and if he was not welcome at an establishment the team visited, then the entire team would stand up for him.
Mr. O'Neal earned a commission in the Air Force and retired in 1994 at the rank of Major.
Joseph "Lefty" Vaughn also played for the Negro Leagues, and became a formidable left-handed pitcher while playing for the San Antonio All Stars from '51-'52, and the San Antonio Indians from '53-'64.
All these men overcame diversity in their own way. After the integration of baseball in 1947, the Negro League's best talent was slowly siphoned off to the Majors, causing the Negro League's fan base to diminish until it's total demise in the 1970s.