As much as possible, I like to keep this site dedicated to the historical aspect of HBCU baseball and to black pioneers of college ball. Since sometimes historical data on HBCU ballplayers from the mid-twentieth century and before is sketchy, it becomes harder to feature college careers of certain individuals… like those stars from the old Negro Leagues.
One such ballplayer was Bert Simmons. I say “was” because Mr. Simmons passed away recently at age 85.
Bert Simmons was a star in the Negro Leagues and the last surviving member of the famed Baltimore Elite Giants.
As a teenager, Simmons’ high school had no baseball team, so he played with teams around his home in Tarboro, North Carolina. After graduation in 1941, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was sent to Raleigh, where he played for the Raleigh Tigers, a semi-pro team.
In 1943, Simmons enlisted in the Army and served in Europe with the Quartermaster Corps. After the war, Simmons attended North Carolina A & T State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1950.
While there is little documentation on his college career, Simmons often relayed in interviews that he had experience at all nine positions, but decided to try out for the baseball team as a second baseman.
“The team needed pitchers, and the coach got me to pitch,” Simmons said. “I could throw curves, so I decided to give it a shot.”
Simmons estimated that he went 35-7 on the mound for A&T. He played on three championship teams and twice earned all-conference accolades.
Following his baseball playing career, Bert Simmons remained an avid supporter of Negro League baseball and its importance in American culture.
His efforts were rewarded in 2008 when Simmons was “drafted” by the Baltimore Orioles in the Negro Leagues Player Draft, held prior to the Major League draft at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Each Major League club drafted a surviving former Negro Leagues player, who represented every player who did not have the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues.
Bert Simmons was inducted into the North Carolina A&T State University Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.