The Birmingham Black Barons won three Negro American League (NAL) pennants in the 1940s. The heart and acknowledged leader of those strong Black Baron teams was Lorenzo Davis. The nickname that stuck with him throughout his career, “Piper”, came from the coal mining town near Birmingham where he was born on July 3, 1917; Piper, Alabama.
After graduating high school, Davis played basketball on scholarship one year at Alabama State (Montgomery, Alabama) and for a few winters was a Harlem Globetrotter in the early 1940s. But Piper knew that baseball was his escape from the coal mining work of his father’s generation.
He established his reputation as a ballplayer first in the all black Industrial League sponsored by Birmingham’s steel and mining industry companies. At 6’3”, 188 pounds, Davis could play every infield and outfield position. He did not hit with home run power or have blazing speed, but was fundamentally sound. Davis was an excellent fielder with an accurate, strong throwing arm and a high “baseball” IQ.
He started playing second base with the Black Barons in 1942 and would form one of the best double play combo’s in Negro League baseball history with shortstop Arte Wilson who came to the team in 1944. Davis was also selected four times by fans (1946 -1949) to play in the Negro League East-West All Star Game.
In 1948, Davis was the Black Barons’ player/manager and led them to their third NAL pennant only to lose to the Homestead Grays in what would be the final Negro League World Series. He played an important role that year as mentor for the Barons’ 16 year old outfielder, Willie Mays.
Davis was wrongly labelled an undesirable prospect by some Major League scouts due to his intensely competitive approach to playing the game. In 1950, he became the first African American player signed by the Boston Red Sox. Released after one season in the Red Sox minor league system, Davis spent the next eight years integrating the minor leagues. For seven years he played in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), Triple AAA minor league baseball. His final year, 1958, he was a player/coach in the Texas League (Double AA).
Davis never played in the Major Leagues, but his ability to evaluate a player’s talent was well known. After retiring, he spent many years as a Major League scout.
Who was the first African American to play for the Boston Red Sox?