Ex-Negro League player recalls 9 decades of living history - Tucson News Now

Ex-Negro League player recalls 9 decades of living history

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William Greason is a pastor, former Negro League baseball player and a veteran of World War II. (Source: CNN) William Greason is a pastor, former Negro League baseball player and a veteran of World War II. (Source: CNN)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (CNN) - At 90 years old, many people would have enough stories to fill a book. But no one's book would be quite like Rev. William Greason's.

His would include stories from World War II, the civil rights movement and being a player in the Negro Baseball League.

And he just added another honor to his growing list.

Greason received a Living Legend award recently from the Negro League Baseball Association.

Greason is a Marine Corps combat veteran and says he's blessed, if only because there was a time when he didn't expect to live past 25.

"When I went into the Corps I was on Iwo Jima. I prayed and asked God, if he saved me, whatever, whatever he wanted me to do, I would do it," Greason said.

His prayers were answered.

Greason eventually got off the island, but it's where he ended up that was unexpected. He is one of the only Negro League baseball players still alive.

“I never dreamed that I would have been a baseball player. Nobody taught me how to play. It was a gift,” he said.

It's a gift he shared with friend and teammate Willie Mays. Together, in 1948, the two won the Negro League World Series with the Birmingham Black Barons.

He was a pitcher with a sharp curve.

"I had a good downer. I through overhand, you know. It'd fall off the table," Greason said.

He even had a stint as a major leaguer with the St. Louis Cardinals as the team's first black pitcher.

Later, he moved from the mound to the pulpit. The church, Greason says, is his true calling.

"It's a joy to stand here to be able to speak to people. You're looking around, the choir behind you, everything's going pretty good," he said.

In 1963, Greason was a member the day that the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed. Four little girls were killed that day and dozens were injured.

“We were angry, of course we were, because they were using fire hoses on people. Then they brought dogs in like we were animals or something. That would anger anybody," he said.

The violent attack sparked unrest and the incident stands today as a flash point in the civil rights movement.

These days as a minister, it's the divine spirit that keeps him going.

A reverend, baseball revolutionary and war hero, Greason has lived a pretty interesting life by any standards.

“A few more words from the Lord, that's all I want. Just to stand a few more times and say something for him,” he said.

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