Mahlon Duckett, 92, last surviving member of the Philadelphia Stars
The Overbrook High product liked to talk to young people about baseball and his Negro League experiences.
WHEN MAHLON Duckett trotted out onto the field to take his position as second baseman for the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League, he had to be awed by what he saw.
It was 1940, and Mahlon was 17, a star from Overbrook High School, and it wasn't the field at Belmont and Parkside avenues that impressed him. It didn't have the pristine, manicured look of today's professional ball fields. The grass was uncut and a bit stubby.
It was the array of talent displayed on that field that made it Mahlon Duckett's Field of Dreams. During his playing days, he found himself in the presence of some of the greatest baseball players, even though the white world didn't recognize them.
Mahlon played 10 years in the Negro League and the ballplayers he encountered included the hard-throwing philosopher Leroy "Satchel" Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs and Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays, who probably hit 800 home runs but nonexistent record-keeping robbed him of the total.
Also, Sammy T. Hughes, of the Baltimore Elite Giants, who hit above .300 six times and .416 in 1939; and outfielder James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell of the St. Louis Stars. "He had great speed," Mahlon said. "That's why they called him 'Cool Papa.' "
Mahlon might well have included himself in his personal Hall of Fame. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in his first year in the league, and went on to hold his own among the Negro League stars of the era.
Mahlon Duckett, the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Stars, died Sunday at age 92.
His playing days ended in 1950 after he had moved on to the Homestead Grays for his final year. After that, Mahlon reaped many honors and became a sort of ambassador for the game, seeking to inspire youngsters to play baseball.
In his reminiscences, Mahlon might have mentioned that he hit a home run off Paige in an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium. His son, Ronald, remembered that his father considered that feat a highlight of his career.
"Our dad lived a long, wonderful life," said his daughter, Dr. Mahlene Duckett Lee, a podiatrist, "and his legacy of love and compassion will always be a part of us."
Mahlon was a native Philadelphian and, while at Overbrook High, he was a member of the city champion relay team. He loved track and field, his family said, but his passion was baseball and he often flashed his speed on the base paths.
The field at Belmont and Parkside was often crowded with fans. He said as many as 25,000 would come out to watch Paige and Gibson and the other storied players. The teams sometimes played at Connie Mack Stadium on Mondays when the Athletics were idle, with exhibition games around the country.
As one of the few remaining players from the Negro League, Mahlon was often an honored guest at local games. He frequently appeared at Citizens Bank Park as a guest of the Phillies.
In 2008, he was selected by the Phillies in a ceremonial draft by Major League Baseball at the Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., held as a tribute to all Negro League players who were prevented from playing in Major League Baseball.
He was a guest of honor, interviewed by Peter Gammons, former ESPN sports analyst, at the final game in 2008 at the old Yankee Stadium, where he recalled his home run against Paige.
In 2008, he appeared in an HBO documentary, "The Blacklist," which chronicled the achievements of African-Americans in various fields from sports to politics.
Mahlon often spoke at schools and in front of organizations around the country about his Negro League experiences and what his playing days taught him. He never charged a fee for his appearances.
In 2011, Mahlon was honored by the National Association of Black Journalists at its convention in Philadelphia.
Mahlon was employed by the city and worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. He retired in 1988.
Besides his son and daughter, he is survived by four other daughters, Janice Council, Shirley Duckett, Beverly Marshall and Crystal Duckett; 12 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
Services: 11 a.m. Monday at St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church, 215 N. 57th St. Friends may call at 9 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Phillies Charities/Urban Youth Academy, the Phillies, One Citizens Bank Way, Philadelphia, PA 19148.