The following article was posted courtesy of the Portsmouth Daily Times newspaper, Portsmouth, OH, Frank Lewis, editor.
It was the early 60’s and the times they were a-changin’.
Race was still an issue at Portsmouth High School, even though outright discrimination was not visible. I am sure there are people who went to school there who felt the worst kind of racism, defacto racism, but we kept chugging along.
Young black youth had to crash the gates to gain admission to the pool, and they still didn’t get admission that day either.
I remember girls who were ostracized because they crossed racial barriers to date.
I will be totally honest, I didn’t really like those days.
People ask me why I have never gone to a class reunion, and I tell them, they were just not important years to me.
But I said all of that to say this — I made a friend for life during that time. His name is Al Oliver. Our friendship transcended all of that atmosphere.
We met Monday afternoon at the Ramada Inn for a casual conversation, and Al said, ‘Frank, we were integrating long before a lot of other people,” and I was honored by that observation.
Al was recently honored with his own bobblehead in Pittsburgh, where he had some of his best years in the major leagues, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Al and his very good friend Larry Hisle left for the major leagues at about the same time, and a lot of people misunderstood Al. The truth that people didn’t know at the time was that both of them were gentlemen.
Larry, a little more soft spoken, while Al was absolutely brash.
Back then people didn’t have much use for brash black men.
I can tell you, of all of the misunderstood and unappreciated people I have met in my life, Al Oliver would be at the top.
I think he was one of the best hitters ever, and his over-300 lifetime batting average proves it.
I am hoping Al doesn’t share with the rest of the world some of the things we got into as high school students, but I can tell you, he always had morals, and he always had values, and that is the real Al Oliver.
I remember several years ago attending an Old Timers Game in Cincinnati.
I got down close to the dugout and shouted “Albert.” That’s right, to his closest friends, he was always Albert back then.
Well, he came out of the dugout, took the time to talk with my sons, and to take a ball to have signed. He actually replaced it with a newer ball, and it is one of my prized possessions.
Anyway, back to the story. My son Michael said, “hit me a home run.” Al said, “I will,” and as he was always true to his word, he did.
It has to be a little, no, a lot frustrating that things happened to him like being traded after winning the battle title, and for some ridiculous reason, left out of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
But being a great baseball player is not what has endeared me to Al all of these years. It isn’t even his great athletic prowess.
Al has never for one minute forgotten his roots, his friends. He is one of those loyal people who loves his community and his friends.
I can tell you, one day there will be a Genuine Friend Hall of Fame, and when they form it, he is a first ballot inductee.
Thanks, Albert, for being my lifelong friend, and thanks for being a leader in our community.
Portsmouth is a better place because you are here.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.