Roy Wood Jr. Tells Us All About The ‘Road To Rickwood’ Podcast In The Latest ‘In The Gap’

With MLB set to hold a game in honor of the Negro Leagues later this month, Roy Wood Jr. joins our 'In the Gap podcast' to discuss.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 09: Roy Wood Jr. attends the "Black Twitter: A People's History" New York premiere at Midnight Theatre on May 09, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by John Nacion/Getty Images)

In the latest episode of the In The Gap podcast here on JustBaseball, Daily Show legend, comedian, and Cubs fan Roy Wood Jr. stops by to talk all about his new podcast mini-series, Road To Rickwood. The series is all about the famed 114-year-old stadium that will host the Giants and Cardinals in a historic game honoring the Negro Leagues on June 20.

In addition to the new show, we’re talking all about Roy’s Cubs fandom, ballpark food strategy, and the ‘90s baseball movie that’s unwatchable to him. We’re also going off-the-wall with hilarious conversations about chess cheating scandals and why we’re never ever getting teleportation. It’s a fun episode, check it out here and read on for a couple of highlights. 

On ‘The Road To Rickwood’ podcast:

So Rickwood Field is the oldest professional baseball stadium in America, and it was host to segregated baseball, then desegregated baseball.

Every Negro Leaguer, you can name, played there. It was the Birmingham Black Bears, one of the first teams that Alabama native Willie Mays played at. So he’s from a suburb of Birmingham. So this field has so much history and NPR reached out to me, shout out to Alana Schreiber over there.

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And the people at NPR, the people at MLB thought, as we lead up to honor the Negro Leagues, it would be cool to have an accompanying podcast. And it’s just four episodes. This isn’t some 20-episode deep dive. It’s four, hour-long episodes detailing how this field connects to so many other things in society.

[Talking with] people who helped to build the stadiums, widows of ones that have passed and gone. Former Negro Leaguers who are still alive and breathing oxygen on this earth, living in the Birmingham area. I spoke with them as well about their time playing in that stadium, and some of the finer moments that they remember, and some of the bigger players that they remember playing against.

And even after baseball became desegregated, it’s also about how the stadium changed. Because the one thing we talk about with Jackie Robinson, right? “Yay, first black Major League Baseball player.” Okay, cool. But he was so good, every other white team in MLB was like, “well, I got to get me a Black player.” And what happened is, the good players in the Negro League slowly started getting picked away. And I know for one thing to flourish, sometimes another thing must wither.

And that’s part of what happened to the Negro Leagues in a way, is that desegregation stunted the growth, and eventually led to the death of it. And so you look at Rickwood Field and what it became as this place in Birmingham in the ’60s where… I don’t have to tell you what Birmingham was like in the ’60s. You’ve seen the footage, or you’ve seen a couple of Ava DuVernay movies, but Rickwood was its own little place where it could just exist. And Black people and white people, still segregated, kind of got along. So it was just this one place where there was unity, while surrounded by a place where there wasn’t any.

On the importance of the game on June 20: 

It’s such a dope thing also for the City of Birmingham, and Major League Baseball is bringing all of these major leaguers, these former Negro Leaguers to the stadium to honor them. And that’s going to be in front of millions of people watching on television. And I think when we talk about the decline of Black Americans in baseball, I think seeing that is something that could help.

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I’m not saying that, that’s the one be-all, end-all. I don’t think that showing Black people who used to play baseball is going to be the one thing that gets Black Americans back playing baseball. There are a lot of systemic issues that got nothing to do with MLB, and how they run their ship. But I do think that taking a moment to acknowledge the past is a wonderful, wonderful way to start moving forward.

On how long it has taken for MLB to properly honor the Negro Leagues: 

I do not know [why it has taken so long]. And then you have the other thing that baseball just did… Hell, it may have been a couple of weeks ago. I think the middle of May, or end of May, they announced that all living Negro Leaguers will be eligible for MLB pension now. And I think the rule before that was that you had to have played at least four years in the Negro Leagues. Well, how do you prove you played during a time where paperwork was a little shaky?

So there are attempts by Major League Baseball to right a lot of wrongs. And I don’t even think that any of this is triage to the wounds, as much as it is just a bandaid and some ointment, and then you just got to move forward.

The thing I found interesting with the podcast, and talking to a lot of former Negro Leaguers, is that we are more upset and angry than most of them are. I don’t think I talked to a single former Negro Leaguer for this project who was like, “MLB can kiss my ass.” Reverend Bill Greeson who played for the Black Barons. He was on one of the last two teams that played in the final Negro League World Series, in 1948. He actually played in that, and then served in Iwo Jima.

This man served in Iwo Jima, also played Black baseball, and then came back to Birmingham, and became a minister, and he has been a minister longer than anything else in his life. He’s not going to the game. And it’s not so much that he doesn’t care and feels he’s, “Oh, this,” and blah, blah, blah. It’s just, “That was a period in my life, I had a great time, I was underpaid. It was some of the best years of my life, I was mistreated,” and I think that part of it, for a lot of players, they are past it. It’s like when you talk to your granddaddy about something traumatic, and you’re just now finding out about it for the first time. And you’re trying to get him to open up about it, and he’s just like, “Man, get the hell out of my face with that, I’m doing this, this, and this.”]

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On whether he’s ready to be a little league dad:  

I have no interest in it. I have no interest in it, my son is into robotics. But here’s the irony of it is, that you think having a child that likes indoor, quote, unquote, “nerd stem activities,” saves you? But it doesn’t. A chess tournament is air-conditioned, but it’s five hours. A little league game is 90 minutes, probably 60, depending on the league you play in. 75 if it goes extra innings, they might let you go long, and play a couple of extra innings, and then you’re home. The only exception is tournament days where your kid wins at 8:00 in the morning and then their next bracket’s not till 2:30. And you got to find something to do in the middle of nowhere, at some baseball complex. But other than that, it’s not a bad life. Chess, you’re there, bro.

You don’t even get to cheer the kid on, because parents cheat and send in hand signals, and all of that shit. So you’re just sitting at a lunchroom table in a school. [I’m] 6’2” 235 sitting at a lunchroom table made for second graders. Your ass is numb.

On his favorite and least favorite baseball movies:

For Love of the Game. It’s reflective. This guy, he’s at a crossroads in his life. His life is in shambles, but also in the middle of throwing a no-hitter. This is pretty cool. And it’s the perfect Kevin Costner movie, because he loves baseball so much, I’m going to be that guy eventually. I’m probably too old now, my movie would be a softball movie. It’d be like Eastbound & Down, but for softball.

[Rookie Of The Year] does not stand out. I mean, you love it, because, “Oh, the Cubs,” the movie’s terrible. I loved it at the time, it does not stand up. It’s like the Like Mike, of its era. “What if a kid could magically do grown man things,” era of movies? So I get it, but no. If that’s on TV, I’m flipping the channel.

Roy Wood Jr’s ‘Road To Rickwood’ podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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