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Celebrity athletes at UHS Vestal autograph baseballs for free

August 29, 2018
  • A new generation of baseball fans were able to meet retired legends of the sport, such as famed pitcher Al Downing, at UHS Vestal Aug. 29 in connection with a celebrity golf tournament in Greater Binghamton benefiting local charities.
  • Members of the public visiting UHS Vestal Aug. 29 had the chance to meet celebrity athletes like Fred “The Hammer” Williamson during the “12 Black Aces” tribute that is connected to the annual Jim “Mudcat” Grant All-Star Golf Tournament.

Three celebrity athletes autographed baseballs Aug. 29 at UHS Vestal as part of an annual “12 Black Aces” tribute in Greater Binghamton to benefit programs of the Urban League.

Major League Baseball legend Al Downing, All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League player Gina “Chirpie” Casey and football player-turned-movie star Fred Williamson were on hand to do the signature honors in the UHS Vestal Lobby.

Dozens of people received free autographed baseballs and enjoyed the chance to talk with the celebrities, who are now retired from their respective sports and devote much of their time to charitable activities.

The celebrities visited UHS Wilson in connection with the Jim "Mudcat" Grant All-Star Golf Tournament.

Mr. Downing played for the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1961 through 1977.  He was an All-Star in 1967 and the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1971.  A left-handed pitcher, he allowed Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974. 

Ms. Casey played second base in the minor league division of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954.  The organization later was the subject of the hit movie, "A League of Their Own" (1992), starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks.  Today Ms. Casey is an official representative of the historical league. 

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Mr. Williamson played in the National and American football leagues during the 1960s, and was a defensive back in the first and fourth Super Bowls.  He later became an actor, appearing in such films as “Three the Hard Way,” “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” and “Black Caesar,” as well as the original movie version of “M*A*S*H.”

The annual golf tournament in the Southern Tier, presented by Security Mutual, traditionally benefits several local charities, including the Broome County Urban League.

The name “12 Black Aces” originally referred to the first 12 African American pitchers to win at least 20 games in a single season after the racial integration of Major League Baseball. 

The group's leader, famed pitcher Mudcat Grant, encouraged the retired players to engage in charitable activities, such as the Binghamton golf tourney and visits to area hospitals, and continues to be participant in the annual event himself.

Today the group has expanded to include a number of other retired athletes, both white and black, who have been inspired by Mr. Grant to accompany him on his goodwill tours.