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GR woman is last surviving owner of Negro Leagues baseball team

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Posted at 8:07 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 22:31:07-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Minnie Forbes will never forget her time as owner of the Detroit Stars from 1956-1958.

"I'm very grateful to have been a part of the history of the Negro League team, not only Black history but American history," Forbes told FOX 17. "It gave me a sense of pride, just to know that I've known those great players back in that time."

The Negro Leagues were founded in 1920 to give African-American players a chance to play professional baseball during segregation.

Forbes grew up playing baseball in Grand Rapids as a way to stay out of trouble.

As a young woman, she also worked with her Uncle Ted Raspberry, who owned a minor league team in Grand Rapids.

"He had a team here called the Grand Rapids Black Sox, and then from that he got interested in the Negro League," she explained. "He purchased the Detroit Stars... he also bought the Kansas City Monarchs."

By this time, the Negro League had begun to shrink as players followed in Jackie Robinson's footsteps, leaving to play in the majors.

"At that time, there were only four teams in the league, and he owned two of them, so according to the rules he couldn't own two teams, so that's how I ended up with the Detroit Stars," Forbes recalled.

Forbes was in her mid-20s, shocked but prepared to take over.

"I was really excited...I had always worked with the teams, I worked with [my uncle] as secretary, and I knew the players and traveled, so that part was very easy."

Although there had been other female owners before her, Forbes said she was the only one during this time.

As a woman, it wasn't safe for her to travel with the team through the south.

It was also dangerous for the players.

"They weren't able to stay in the hotels in the South and couldn't eat in the restaurants in the South either, so during traveling they had to sleep and eat on the bus," she said. "They only wanted to play ball, and they loved playing baseball, so they were determined they were going to play a game that they loved, without someone telling them whether they can or can't."

Forbes also had a chance to suit up and get in the game when the Kansas City Monarchs visited Grand Rapids.

"My uncle and I decided it would be good publicity," she recalled. "I was on third base, and I thought what would I do if a ball would have come? I didn't get any balls so I made I through."

Forbes made the decision to leave the team in 1958 for a career in retail. She also married and had a daughter.

In 2013, she was invited to the White House alongside other members of the league to be honored by then President Obama.

"It was exciting; it was very emotional, also for me for him being the first Black president," she said. "It was just wonderful."

Forbes, now 88, still keeps in touch with many of the players.

She is often a big part of the celebration each year when the Detroit Tigers hold an event at Comerica Park, honoring members of the Negro League.

The event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Forbes is hopeful it will resume this year.

Forbes is proud to be an important part of American baseball history.

"When [people] mention the Negro League I get real excited because there's a lot of people that don't know about the league, what happened, what they had to go through, and don't really know anything about the league at all," she said. "The Negro League players were some of the best players around at that time...They had to be strong and be determined that they were going to play because they definitely were not allowed to play."

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