HOUSTON -- Ray Mackey had heard about his Uncle Raleigh, or "Biz," as he was known by relatives and friends who played with him in the Negro Leagues. But Mackey didn't fully understand the significance of Biz Mackey until he picked up the phone one day last April.
Jeff Idelson of the National Baseball Hall of Fame called to tell Ray Mackey his great-uncle, James Raleigh "Biz" Mackey, who died in 1965 at age 68, would be part of the largest group of inductees in Hall of Fame history as a member of the 2006 class.
"I thanked God for allowing it to happen, and for such a great honor being bestowed on my family," Ray Mackey said. "It was a little emotional, because it brought back my dad. I could see my dad and grandfather, and my great-uncles, Raleigh and Ernest, all on this little farm, all playing baseball. I can picture them dreaming to want to get off that little farm. All those dreams and struggles and sacrifices became a reality at that very moment."
Three months later in Cooperstown, N.Y., Ray Mackey and his sons Kyle and Konner shook hands and had breakfast with Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and legendary Negro Leaguer Buck O'Neil.
During Hall of Fame weekend, Irvin and O'Neil told Mackey about his great-uncle Raleigh, one of the great players of the 1920s through the '40s. They shared emotions talking about the old times and the struggles Negro League players endured. Biz Mackey mentored Irvin, along with greats like Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and Don Newcombe. Baseball historians view him as one of the greatest catchers in Negro League history.
Ray Mackey's grandfather, Ray Sr., was Biz's younger brother. The Mackeys were sharecroppers in Luling, Texas. They picked cotton, hauled hay and shucked corn. After work, they played baseball until dark. They used 2-by-4s as bats, and anything round they could find as a ball.
Ray Mackey has faded newspaper clippings in a shoebox and a photo album from the latter part of Biz's playing career in the 1940s, and Irvin and O'Neil helped fill in some of the blanks from the past.
"I knew then my great uncle's memory didn't need to die with a plaque hanging in Cooperstown, which is a great achievement, but it didn't have to stop there," Ray said. " Buck and Monte told me Uncle Raleigh took great delight in teaching players, mentoring players like Roy Campanella. It's what has inspired me to continue to carry my uncle's impact."
In March, Ray Mackey plans to establish the Biz Mackey Foundation. He has backing from the Houston Astros, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball's RBI program. The goal is to increase awareness of baseball and raise resources to support inner-city youth leagues.
"I want to reach out not just to African-American kids, but disadvantaged kids, and keep his legacy alive," said Ray Mackey, 42, who runs a Houston-based entertainment technology company. "My message will be to motivate these kids to realize that they can play. I can tell them why, that I had a great-uncle banished from the game, and all of the odds were against him, and he didn't let that stop him. "
Joseph Santoliquito is the Managing Editor of RING Magazine and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.