SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Negro Leagues Baseball with Playwright Kevin Kane and Dr. Lawrence Hogan

Nov 7, 2020

Singer-songwriter, playwright and educator Kevin Kane at one of his performances. He has participated in many Negro Leagues events.
Credit Kevin Kane

The 100th anniversary of Negro Leagues Baseball is being celebrated this year, especially by two men who mutually respect each other's talents and passions.

The latest guests on SportsJam with Doug Doyle are New York-based musician, playwright and educator Kevin Kane and Black Baseball author and historian Dr. Lawrence Hogan. Hogan is also a Professor Emeritus of History at Union County College.

Kane, who taught more than a decade at Wagner College and is now teaching in the New York school system, penned a popular Negro League-version of the legendary poem "Casey at the Bat" called Breaking the Line With the Mudville Nine.  The YouTube version of Breaking The Line With the Mudville Nine can be seen and heard right here featuring the saxophone work of Bill Saxton.

Kane and Dr. Hogan quickly became friends after a few events together.

"I worked with Larry a couple of times at Union College and he would just give me a seed, an idea and I performed a long narrative song about Frederick Douglass that a gospel singer from New York City came in and sang and I played the guitar with her.  And then Larry was doing a program at Cooperstown about a year from when he approached me and said it's the 125th anniversary of "Casey at the Bat", the iconic and classic American poem and he said 'It would be nice if you could do a Negro League version of it?  I had done a lot of Negro Leagues' programs with him'.  Three weeks before I was supposed to perform the whole thing kind of popped into my head.  I typed as fast as I could and this long narrative poem popped out that I'm really pleased with."

Dr. Lawrence Hogan is a historian and author of Black Baseball who loves to tell the stories of players he has met along the way
Credit Dr. Lawrence Hogan

Dr. Lawrence Hogan is the author of The Forgotten History of African American Baseball and editor and co-author of Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African American Baseball published by National Geographic and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  He also served as Executive Producer and historian for the documentary "Before You Can Say Jackie Robinson: Black Baseball in New Jersey and America in the Era of the Color Line."

What's the first thing that comes to Larry's mind when he thinks about the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues?

"Players who I've met across the years and grown with them as they tell stories.  It's built up a spirit in me that otherwise wouldn't be there.  John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Leon Day, those three of course so much connected to Newark, Pop connected to Atlantic City, so it's a Jersey story in many ways that I'm telling."

Dr. Hogan at a Union County College event
Credit Dr. Lawrence Hogan

Dr. Hogan says he knew Kevin Kane would be the perfect person to come up with a Negro League-version of the legendary Casey. 

"You know I recognized the talent right from the start.  Out at Union County College when he did a couple of programs with me I knew he was someone who could really get into the spirit of the Negro Leagues, bring it alive in ways that have had never been brought alive before."

In Kane 's version, K.C. of Kansas City would replace the white "Mighty" Casey.

Kane has also written a play titled "A Love of the Game" about a Negro League player and a white minor league ballplayer.  

During this edition of SportsJam, Kane also talked about his friendship with the iconic playwright August Wilson during their days working together at the O'Neill Theater in Waterford, Connecticut in 1982.  At that time, Wilson was just a librarian in Pittsburgh who was submitting plays.  

"We were sitting on this back porch and I would play my guitar and harmonica and August loved the Blues and he knew everything.  He knew every guy and every recording and every song and he wanted play the harmonica real bad.  So I gave him a harmonica.  We would work on that.  He was smart, nice, quiet guy who would get a couple of beers in him and he would tell you stories.  He would listen to your stories.  He was a great listener.  And we became good friends."

Eventually after gaining fame, Wilson asked Kane to be his representative at various events.

"August was a shy man who liked to work and didn't like going out.  So when he had plays, openings all over the country he didn't want to go.  They would arrange a nice hotel room and a ride there and he said 'Either I'm gonna go or I'll send my "performance representative" and that was me."

Kevin Kane performing live during a Zoom chat with SportsJam host Doug Doyle and historian Dr. Lawrence Hogan
Credit Zoom/Doug Doyle

Kane is currently working on a musical.

Dr. Hogan's latest project is a book about John Howard Johnson, a priest in Harlem and the last president of the Negro National League.  

Click above to hear more stories from Dr. Lawrence Hogan and Kevin Kane.

You can catch the video version of this edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle here