IN SEPTEMBER former Negro leaguer Silas Simmons told The New York Times that he might have been good enough to play in the majors but before Jackie Robinson, "it was useless to try." Alas, by the time Robinson came along, in 1947, Simmons was 51 years old and had been out of the game for almost 20 years. Simmons, who is believed to be the longest-living professional baseball player ever, died last week at the age of 111. The lefthanded pitcher, who baffled hitters with his "slowball" for several teams during a career that lasted roughly two decades, was born in Middleton, Del., in 1895—the same year as Babe Ruth.
Baseball historians were unaware that Simmons, who has outlived all of his five children, was still alive until a genealogist found him this year in a nursing home in St. Petersburg. Last month the Society of American Baseball Research presented him with a plaque recognizing him as the oldest living baseball player, and the Devil Rays—whose games he occasionally attended with his church group—gave him a jersey with the number 111 on the back. He also found himself frequently asked about his playing days. "I played against some fellas who were great ballplayers," he'd say. "That's what I remember."