Lorenzo “Lo” Ogden Now Playing First Base With the Heavenly Host
When Lorenzo Ogden stepped on the Tuskegee Institute campus in1968, he was a tall, skinny kid off the sandlots of Birmingham, Alabama. He spent his summer days playing baseball during the week, but on Sundays you could find him at old Rickwood Field watching the Birmingham Black Barons play the best competition in the Negro Leagues.
While watching the games, “Lo” chased down foul balls and returned them to the team’s player-manager Lorenzo “Piper” Davis.
“Lo” was not recruited to play baseball at Tuskegee. History lured him to “The Pride of the Swift Growing South.” In January 1969, “Lo” joined the other Tuskegee baseball players in practice sessions held in Logan Hall, the school’s gymnasium. When the weather cleared, and the practices moved outside to Washington Field, “Lo” took his reps at first base. His chief competition was Jeff Walker, lanky but taller than “Lo.” Walker was the top home run hitter in Tuskegee baseball history that dates to 1893.
His teammates said that Ogden had a pair of good hands and nifty footwork around the bag but was a weak hitter. Before the season started, “Lo” sustained an injury that sidelined him for the season. Tuskegee went on to win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and secured their first invitation to the NCAA Regional Tournament. Walker graduated after banging out 14 homers that season.
In 1970 with Walker gone, the first base job was Ogden’s for the taking. He played solid defense, and his bat was beginning to pop. Tuskegee finished second in the conference just ahead of Fort Valley State College, where this writer was a freshman outfielder. The two teams did not play each other in 1970.
Later that summer, the lure of the historic campus at Tuskegee got a hold of me, and I transferred, planning to walk onto the baseball team when I met eligibility requirements. NCAA rules required a student-athlete to sit out a year when moving to a school in the same division.
There was one problem with that idea, Tuskegee hired a new coach, James “Big Jim” Martin, for the 1970–71 academic year. Before practice began in January 1971, I walked over to Logan Hall and met with Coach Martin. I requested permission to try-out for the team. Martin would not grant me permission to try-out. He cited having “so many players on the field, I wouldn’t know you were out there.”
It crushed me; another dream deferred.
When a high school classmate, David Lucas, learned that I was not at practice with the team, he wanted to know why. I told him. Lucas played defensive cornerback on the football team, and Coach Martin was his defensive coordinator. Lucas talked with Coach Martin and relayed my baseball bonifies.
Coach Martin agreed that I could try-out. Now the hard part began. I had to prove to a skeptical coach that I belonged on his 25 man roster. The veterans were not keen on me being at practice either.
On my first day at practice, on the first ball hit at batting practice, I put my head down and raced towards the barbed wire fence in the left-center field; I heard a voice yell something that sounded like it came from the first base area of the diamond.
Before I could discern the yell, I turned to look towards the ball as it was coming down. The ball landed in my glove at the same time I crashed into the fence, puncturing holes in my head and the right side of my torso. I fell to the ground. I struggled to get up. By the time I reached one knee, Lorenzo Ogden had raced out to the fence from his first baseball position and helped me to my feet.
I credit that moment, the athleticism, coupled with empathy from a teammate, as the moment I made the Tuskegee Institute baseball team. Had Ogden not run out to help me, I do not know if I would have received acceptance from the group.
A caring person is who “Lo” was. He was all about helping other people.
After the pre-season workouts started, I left the team to get in some playing time with the city’s semi-pro team, the Tuskegee Colts.
The following season in 1972, I was a full-fledged member of the Tuskegee baseball team. But there was yet another problem. For years, the baseball team had a tradition that new players had to have a “T” cut into their hair. While I’m a traditionalist at heart, I’ve never like initiation rituals. I balked at this one too and declared that I was not going along with the program, nope, no “T” in my prodigious afro.
We began the season against Alabama A & M College at Veterans Field on the Veterans Administrations Hospital campus. I entered the game as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning. I promptly stroked the first pitch off the left-center field fence for a double, driving in one run.
We traveled to Mobile, Alabama to face Eddie Stanky’s South Alabama University team on the weekend. We arrived in Mobile on a cold, dreary evening, worked out, and had dinner. After dinner, I showered and jumped into bed. Around nine o’clock, the veteran players stormed into my motel room. They demanded that I submit to the “T” ritual or they would not take the field the next day. I ordered them out of my room.
The next day the team leaders announced to Coach Martin that they would not play if I were on the team. Martin put me off the team. But Lorenzo Ogden, our senior first baseman, did not participate in that foolishness.
Such acts of integrity exemplified the life of the man we affectionately called “Lo.”
Two years before I joined the Tuskegee baseball team, I had become a vegetarian. A plant-based diet was a foreign concept to kids who grew up on farms in Alabama. So they bullied and poked fun at me at every turn.
My teammates would chide: “Harold Harvey, the only man in the world who don’t eat no meat,” followed by laughter. Then Dick Gregory came to speak on campus, and they changed the reframe: “Harold Harvey and Dick Gregory, the only two men in the world who don’t eat no meat.”
But not Lorenzo Ogden. As a young man, Ogden respected my dietary choices. In our latter days, he would call me up and say, “Michael, let’s go grab a beer and a bean sprouts sandwich.”
By the end of March in the 1972 campaign, Ogden had hit ten homers. He was hot on the tail of Jeff Walker (by now the third base coach at Tuskegee) for the most homers in a season. Ogden had developed into an efficient low-ball hitter. The best I have ever seen. He was a right-handed hitter and would drop his right knee like Mickey Mantle and drive collegiate pitchers mad.
In early April, Ogden hit two more homers, Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, now a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals pulled him aside after his 12th homer and recorded his biodata. Things were looking up; Ogden is scouted by the guy he chased foul balls for as a kid growing up in Birmingham.
Suddenly, Ogden lost his magic wand, his focus, and some teammates at the time said he had lost his favorite collegiate girl. One thing is for sure, his focus was gone, and Jeff Walker remains to this day the undisputed home run king at Tuskegee.
Ogden struggled in the NCAA Regionals that May, but undaunted, he went back home to Birmingham with his degree from Tuskegee Institute and took his big bat down to Rickwood Field for a try-out camp sponsored by the Pittsburg Pirates. Ogden hit his way into a free agent contract.
During the spring of 1973, Ogden received a bus ticket and instructions to report to a Pirates minor league spring training camp. The morning Ogden set out for spring training; he received a call from the Pirates. They informed him that the Major League Baseball Players Associations had gone on strike, and not only was he not to report to training camp, but they also told him to send the cost of the bus fare back to the Pirates.
By the time that the players’ strike settled, Ogden had said to heck with baseball. It was time to get a job. He went to work for Owens-Corning in Atlanta, Georgia. Some employees wanted to form a softball team, so Ogden joined the group. The softball team became phenomenally successful. Ogden got Owens-Corning to host a series of softball tournaments. Teams came from around the southeast to participate. From the fees earned hosting these tournaments, Ogden convinced his employer to build a softball complex on the premises.
After retiring from Owens-Corning, Ogden went to work for FEMA, where he could do what he does best and that is helping people in need. He traveled the country, rendering aid after hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fires.
Ogden loved Tuskegee University. He is a member of the Tuskegee University Hall of Fame and is a past President of the Atlanta Tuskegee Alumni Club. He promised to recommend me for the HOF the next time a class is inducted.
A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles critical of the management of Tuskegee University. Many alumni called me everything but a child of God. Quite a few stopped buying my books and interacting with me on social media. But not Lorenzo “Lo” Ogden. He owns all five of my books.
“Lo” would call me up and say, “Now Michael, I disagree with you on that point. Let’s grab a beer and a bean sprouts sandwich and talk about the good things happening at Tuskegee.”
When I called him in late January 2021, he was taking a battery of tests to prepare him for his next FEMA job assignment. We chuckled heartily about the old days playing baseball at Tuskegee and agreed that we would get together around early summer and grab a beer and a bean sprouts sandwich.
Now, Lorenzo “Lo” Ogden rests in a new league.
Tell Coach Martin, good buddy, that he can move Tyrone Phinnesse to DH, then pencil you in at first base, move Howard Carter to second to form a double play combination with William Matthews at short. You guys have a strong pitching rotation with lefty Al Stevens, Charles Allen, and Kenny Howell on the bump throwing strikes to Alfred “Cool” Moore behind the plate.
Fare de well, my friend.
Harold Michael Harvey is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines.com. Harvey is a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and a member of the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at [email protected]