John Henry "Pop" Lloyd was one of the greatest shortstops of all time - maybe the greatest - and yet he never got the chance to play in the major leagues.

"People ask me who's my favorite player, and there's no hesitation at all: Pop Lloyd," said Lawrence Hogan, author of "The Forgotten History of African American Baseball." "I'd give my eyetooth to have met him. But I feel I have, I've talked to so many who did."

Hogan and former Negro League player Pedro Sierra, of Mays Landing, talked about Lloyd at an event Wednesday night at the Atlantic City Free Public Library, also home to the exhibit "Breaking Barriers" showcasing Lloyd and two other notable local black athletes, Art Dorrington and Sara Spencer Washington.

Hogan's fascination with baseball is a long and established one - "I started to love baseball in my mother's womb," he joked. He became interested in the Negro Leagues while writing a dissertation about African American newspapers in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, which were filled with reports and accounts of black baseball.

"You had the greatest baseball players in the world, and they couldn't play with other great white players. They had to play amongst themselves," Hogan said. "And they would play so much, more than the white guys did. There's a story about a white reporter asking a white player, Mule Haas, 'How come black players are so good?' And he said, 'They ought to be, they play all the time.'"

Sierra - the last Afro-Cuban Negro League player signed by a major league club, the Washington Senators in 1970 - recalled his days playing for the Indianapolis Clowns and Detroit Stars in the 1950s, when the Negro Leagues acted as a feeder system after the big leagues were desegregated.

"The pay was OK. We didn't make a lot of money - $125 a month - but it was not easy to play in the Negro Leagues," Sierra said. "We traveled a lot. We'd be in Atlantic City today, the next day, Miami, Fla., the next day Birmingham, then Texas, then Detroit, then across the border to Hamilton, Ontario. At times we'd play two games and, though rarely, three games a day, everywhere from a cow pasture or rodeo field to major league parks."

Lloyd's playing career lasted from 1906 into the the early 1930s, with his most notable team being Atlantic City's Bacharach Giants, for which Lloyd both played and managed.

Pop Lloyd was enough of a legend by the time his playing days were over that Atlantic City built a stadium in his name on Absecon Boulevard in 1949.

"It's a great testament to Pop," Hogan said. "No one was paying attention to the Negro Leagues (then). All the attention was on Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby. And Atlantic City spent $100,000 on a stadium dedicated to one of their own."

"Atlantic City has a lot to be proud of in terms of the black baseball journey," Hogan said in his presentation Wednesday night. "As I come off the Atlantic City Expressway, I'm reminded always of the name Bacharach and its initial association with black baseball in this city. But (Harry Bacharach) didn't start the Bacharach Giants. A black businessman named Henry Tucker went to the aspiring mayor and asked, 'Would you support a baseball team?'"

The Giants later saw a no-hitter pitched by Red Grier in the 1926 Negro League World Series before folding in 1929.

"But while they were here, boy, were they special," Hogan said.

Sierra, who was a pitching and bench coach for several New Jersey teams (and one Taiwanese team), visits local schools to talk about the Negro Leagues and their significance.

"I want to tell the younger generation, and those who have eyes on professional athletics, to remember that they're making a big step and commitment," Sierra said. "It was a great experience from the beginning. I was lucky I had wonderful managers and players trying to give me advice. ... For me, I just wanted to play baseball."

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THE EXHIBIT

A new Atlantic City Free Public Library exhibit "The Atlantic City Experience: Breaking Barriers" showcases three local black athletes, including Negro League legend John Henry 'Pop' Lloyd, hockey player Art Dorrington and golf club founder Sara Spencer Washington.

•Through staff research, coordinator Beth Ryan said the library learned that Spencer's Apex Country Club in Galloway Township - now the Pomona Country Club - opened in May 1947, earlier than once thought.

Spencer, a self-made millionaire through her beauty products, made sure her club was "open to all," Ryan said. "An article in the Atlantic City Press on May 1, 1947, said it opened its doors (that day) and there would be a grand opening in July. As of the opening in May, it already had hundreds of members."

•Dorrington, called the "Jackie Robinson of hockey," was a Nova Scotian who came to Atlantic City to play for the minor league Seagulls after becoming the first black player to sign a professional hockey contract with the New York Rangers in 1950.

After his career was over, Ryan said, "He chose Atlantic City to make his home."

•Pop Lloyd played baseball in the Negro Leagues from 1906 into the the early 1930s, including with Atlantic City's Bacharach Giants.

A "Flashback Friday Archives Series" behind-the-scenes tour of the creation of the Breaking Barriers exhibit, from the idea through research to display, will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the library at 1 N. Tennessee Ave.

Steven Lemongello