The Other Boys of Summer is a departure from standard baseball documentaries, offering viewers a unique look at baseball’s Negro Leagues through first-person accounts from the people who lived it, the players themselves. And thanks to a recent Kickstarter campaign, it’s nearing completion.
When lifelong Mets fan and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Lauren Meyer began researching baseball’s Negro Leagues, it was a way to explore the topic of civil rights, segregation and racism in America. After 10 years, her “passion project” evolved into a film that gives a voice to the men (and woman) who lived their dreams of playing professional baseball the only way they were allowed in a deeply divided America.
She recently turned to creative project funding platform Kickstarter to raise funds for the film, The Other Boys of Summer, which is nearing completion. She kicked off the campaign, appropriately enough, on Martin Luther King Day 2018, initially to generate funds to pay for the rights to the music and archival materials used in the film. Without those rights, the film, which she’d previously funded out-of-pocket, cannot be screened publicly. She raised the $12,800 she sought in four days and donations continue to come in.
“It was crazy. People were so excited about the film, there were backers and I got support from everywhere,” she said. “It’s phenomenal, because now I know the film will be seen. I can actually screen it. ”
With six days left in her campaign, she’s raised $17,877. She plans to use the additional funds to help market the film to ensure that it is seen by as many people as possible.
The Players’ Perspective
Meyer is the first to admit that there is no shortage of information about baseball’s Negro Leagues available to people looking for it. But her film is different.
“It’s a firsthand personal account, told by the people who lived it,” she explained. “It’s not some history lesson. It’s not going to teach you who won the East/West Classic, it’s not going to tell you who the best batter was, it’s not the facts and figures and statistics of baseball. It’s really a personal story of what it was like to pursue your dreams when segregation was a law.”
The stories are important because people often don’t have a deep understanding of what it meant to be a player in the Negro Leagues, said Sean Gibson, great grandson of Negro League star catcher and power hitter Josh Gibson. Josh Gibson played for both of Pittsburgh’s Negro League teams, the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, and was the second Negro Leagues player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
These guys are really heroes. They played the game, but they also lived a dangerous life playing the game.
“I think there’s still a lot of people who still don’t know about the Negro Leagues and if they do, they don’t know the stories behind what these guys went through, what they endeavored, what they had to overcome, the obstacles and adversities,” Sean Gibson said. “These documentaries, especially hearing from the players, they’re going to tell you the real deal. And that’s what I want people to know. It wasn’t all fun and games – I mean, they had great times in the Negro Leagues – but they had a lot of hardship. There was a lot of racism going on, segregation in the different cities and they were going through different things,” he added.
Gibson is the Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, which works, among other things, to keep the legacy of the Negro Leagues alive for new generations.
Inspiration Close to Home
Meyer’s research was initially inspired, unsurprisingly, by a teacher. However, this teacher was her mother, who shared with her daughter the lesson plan she’d developed for Black History Month for her first grade class. And while she maintained that her mother, now retired, was a fabulous teacher, Meyer wasn’t impressed with the material with which her mother had to teach.
“My first thought was, that’s not really that interesting. Are first graders really going to get excited about that?” she recalled. “So it got me thinking about how you tell a story, how do you explore that topic with something that would actually captivate people and make them dive deeper?”
So she turned to the sport for inspiration. She started by consulting books and then put pen to paper.
“I sent old school letters to any player I could find an address for, I didn’t know if the addresses were even valid, but I sent letters. And I started to hear back from some of the players and then one contact leads to the next to the next, and I started having a chance to meet the players and began my interviews,” she said. She began filming them, conscious of the opportunity she had to capture their unique voices and window into history.
Once they’re gone, their stories vanish with them.
She admits that she was intimidated when she began the project, understanding that given the topic, people might not feel she was the right person to tell this story.
“Going into it, I had no idea if they were going to want to talk to me. To be perfectly frank, I’m this white girl calling you to talk about your life in the Negro Leagues and how you were discriminated against. So I didn’t know if they would even want to talk to me at all,” she said. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all. “[The players interviewed] are the nicest, most generous, classy, dignified, graceful, players I’ve ever met. They talked to me about what they went through, and for them it was really, I think, an opportunity for them to share their stories.”
That was 2007 and since that time, she’s cataloged conversations with scores of players for multiple teams in the Negro Leagues.
“That’s Just the Way Things Were”
The stories she’s captured range from how players were signed to play in the Negro Leagues to details about how players would stay with private families when playing road games, because African Americans were typically barred from staying in hotels during that time.
“I asked one specific question of everyone I interviewed and that was – When you were playing, didn’t it make you angry – the fact that you couldn’t go certain places, or eat in certain places or weren’t allowed in certain stadiums – didn’t that make you angry?” she said. “And 100 percent across the board the answer was ‘no.’ They all said, ‘No, that’s just the way things were. I got to play baseball, they paid me to play baseball.’ And their eyes lit up and they smiled and were thrilled. To them their dream came true and they never even imagined THAT was possible.”
And that is the real point of her film. To tell the stories of people, who in the face of hate and injustice, could still see what they were doing as an opportunity to live out a dream and support their families and communities.
“The men in the Negro Leagues changed America by pursuing their dreams…they impacted the history of our country by playing baseball. They didn’t set out to integrate society, that wasn’t their goal. But because of who they were and what they did, not only did they change baseball, but they changed history,” she said.
The Other Boys of Summer is still in post-production, Meyer said, with editing mostly completed. It is currently undergoing audio mixing and from there will go through color correction before its ready for screening. While the Rutgers graduate has funded the project (until the Kickstarter campaign) completely on her own, devoting time when not working on film projects for a variety of networks and digital platforms, the film has received support from former MLB players, Major League Baseball, the MLB Players’ Association,the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the National Baseball Hall of Fame (which provided her with a large number of the archival photos used).
She hopes to begin marketing and PR efforts to promote the film and begin screenings at film festivals and educational events soon.
Watch the trailer for The Other Boys of Summer here:
For More Information:
To learn more, visit the film website
To make a contribution to The Other Boys of Summer, visit its Kickstarter page
Learn more about Josh Gibson and the Josh Gibson Foundation
Featured photo courtesy of Robert H. McNeill