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Queens Chronicle

Louis Armstrong, the baseball fan

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Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2013 10:30 am

With a stadium named in his honor at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, jazz and entertainment legend Louis Armstrong’s name has long been associated with the sport.

But with the Major League All-Star Game coming to Flushing this year for the first time in 49 years, the museum in Armstrong’s former Corona home is calling attention to Satchmo’s passion for baseball in an exhibit that will run through August.

“We maintain the largest archive of any single jazz musician in history, and the more time I spent looking through it, the more I kept coming across references to baseball,” said Ricky Riccardi, the archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

“He was a lifelong fan of baseball, even playing in New Orleans when he was young,” Riccardi said. “He was a passionate follower of the Brooklyn Dodgers ... He was always following the game.”

“Swingin’ with the All-Stars: Louis Armstrong & Baseball” features photographs, news clippings and references to baseball from Armstrong’s personal correspondence with friends.

He is pictured with Dodgers Junior Gilliam and Don Newcombe in 1955 after they defeated the Yankees in the World Series; and in another photo with Yankees Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins at a Chicago blues club.

Another exhibit combines his love of baseball and creating collages — a collage done in tribute to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Dodgers, and Monte Irvin, the New York Giants’ left fielder who became the second black man in the National League.

Riccardi said collages, with materials clipped from newspapers and magazines, were a hobby of Armstrong’s.

“We have nothing saying he and Jackie Robinson were friends,” Riccardi said. “But the collage indicates that Armstrong truly admired him.”

The display also included a page torn from a book on which Armstrong for some reason wrote the names of Robinson, fellow Dodgers Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges as his favorite players.

Armstrong was in the stands for Game 5 of the 1969 World Series when the Mets stunned the baseball world by defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.

“One of his biggest disappointments is that the Mets never asked him to play the National Anthem before a game,” Riccardi said. “He lived only a few blocks from the stadium. I guess he didn’t want to ask them.”

There also is a 1931 flyer promoting a game between a New Orleans semi-pro baseball team and “Armstrong’s Secret 9,” a rag-tag sandlot squad that the music great adopted upon returning to his hometown for the first time in nine years.

Riccardi said some of the players were the sons of friends from his youth, and that Armstrong, upon seeing the old worn uniforms and equipment they were forced to use, bought everything new.

“And they would get games against some good teams, like the New Orleans Black Pelicans,” Riccardi said. “A story he liked to tell is that from that point they never won any games — because they didn’t want to slide or dive for balls and mess up their nice new uniforms.”

Armstrong & Baseball

When: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m-5 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

Where: Louis Armstrong House Museum, 34-56 107 St., Corona

Tickets: Adults $10; students, seniors, children $7; group rate $8; members, children under 4 free.

(718) 478-8274,

louisarmstronghouse.org

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