There were three former Major League baseball players I need to mention who died in 2019.
One is Hall of Fame (1986) outfielder Frank Robinson, the first African American baseball superstar who did not get his start in the Negro Leagues. Robinson died on February 7 last year in Los Angeles, California.
Another is Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, the first African American to play for the Boston Red Sox. He died on July 12 in San Leandro, California.
Finally, there is Jim Archer. He has no place in baseball history as the previous two. However, as one of the starting pitchers in the first Major League game I attended, Archer has a place in my personal history with baseball. He died on September 9 in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
If you read my two March 2019 blog posts, you would know what I think about Frank Robinson; born August 31, 1935 in Beaumont, Texas. I took his death from bone cancer personally. When the first time I saw him on television circling the bases after hitting a home run in the second Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1959, he became my favorite professional baseball player.
Frank Robinson’s autobiography is called “My Life is Baseball” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 1975). That title reflects a true picture of his accomplishments in the game. National League Rookie of the Year in 1956, he hit 38 home runs. Robinson is the only one to receive the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in both leagues; in the National League with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1961 (they went by the Redlegs, not Reds back then) and in the American League in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles. Hitting 586 career home runs, he played on five pennant winning teams and two World Series Champions; 1966 and 1970 Baltimore Orioles.
Robinson became the first African American Major League manager in 1974 with the Cleveland Indians; first of the four teams in his 16 year career as a manager (1,065 wins and 1,176 losses). He had the reputation as having a “hardnosed”, “old school” approach, although he did mellow in the in the way he handled players as he got older. During his career, he also served as a batting coach, an outfield coach, a consultant for club owners, and held positions in the Office of Major League Baseball.
I will miss my favorite baseball player. However, I still have his 1959, 1960, 1964 Topps baseball cards (lost the 1965) and also the Post Cereal Frank Robinson cards for 1961 – 63.
On July 21, 1959 when he entered the game against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park as a pinch runner, Elijah “Pumpsie” Green became the first African American to play for the Boston Red Sox. Twelve years after Jackie Robinson broke into Major League baseball, the Red Sox were the last Major League team pre-expansion (existing before 1969) to have an African American or dark-skinned Latino player on the Major League roster.
Born on October 27, 1933 in Boley, Oklahoma, Green’s family moved to Richmond, California when he turned eight years old where he became a three sport star (baseball, football, and basketball) in high school. At 6’ and 175 pounds, he became a switch hitting shortstop that played baseball in junior college. While playing in the California League (Class C minor leagues) Green signed with the Red Sox in 1955.
He made his Major League debut after four years in the team’s minor league system. In his four years, (1959 – 1962) with the Red Sox, the team used Green as a utility infielder and outfielder. In 1961, he played 69 games at shortstop and 41 at second base. After the 1962 season, the Red Sox traded Green to the New York Mets. After his one season with New York, Green played two more years in the minor leagues and then retired. In 344 Major League games, Green batted .246 with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs.
On August 20, 1961 I attended my first Major League baseball game at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. I saw the Kansas City A’s play the Chicago White Sox. Seven-time All Star left-hander Billy Pierce started for the White Sox. The starting pitcher for the A’s that game, Jim Archer.
Born May 25, 1932 in Max Meadows, Virginia, Archer signed with the New York Yankees in 1951. In 1961, he came to the Kansas City A’s as a rookie southpaw in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles. By that August, he had become one of the A’s front line pitchers.
On the field for the White Sox that day were two former Negro League players; outfielders Orestes Minnie” Minoso and Al Smith. Also, the White Sox had Hall of Famers Luis Aparico at shortstop and Nelson Fox at second base.
Scoring three runs in the sixth, the White Sox won 5 – 3. It would be the ninth of Archer’s fifteen losses for the season. He won nine games and had a 3.20 ERA. The A’s were 61 – 100, finishing in ninth place. Problems developed in Archer’s left shoulder in 1962. He pitched only 27 innings and the A’s sent him to the minor leagues. He never again appeared in a Major League game.
Historical notices from week of January 5: Birthday for Jim Pendleton former Negro League and Major League player born January 7, 1924 and Earl Battey former All-Star catcher for the Minnesota Twins (1960 – 1967); born January 5, 1935.
For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It is not only the start of a new year, 2020; but also a new decade. Whether you are continuing the weekend celebration of the beginning of both or putting the finishing touches on your 2020 goals and objectives; take a moment to pay tribute with me to a group of former Negro League and Major League baseball players who died in 2019.
Due to their advancing ages, the number of surviving former Negro League baseball players decreases each year. Most of those who played before Jackie Robinson erased “the invisible color line” in 1947 opening the door for the racial integration of Major League baseball have died. The remaining former Negro League players began their careers in the late 1940s and 1950s. Some played only in the remaining Negro Leagues; others spent their career integrating professional baseball’s minor league system and only briefly played in the Major Leagues, while others had productive Major League careers.
Of the five former Negro League players listed below, three played only in the Negro Leagues, one played briefly in the Major Leagues, and one had a stellar Major League career.
There may be other former Negro League baseball players whose deaths in 2019 I missed, so this list could be incomplete.
Don Newcombe – February 19, 2019
Born 6/14/26 in Madison, New Jersey. Newcombe began his career with the Negro League baseball Newark Eagles in 1944. Starting in 1949, “Big Newk” (6’4”, 220 pounds) became the workhorse pitcher of the Brooklyn Dodgers “Boys of Summer” era winning 138 games between 1949 – 1956 despite missing 2 two seasons due to military service (1952 & 1953). On average, he pitched 215 innings per year. Named National League Rookie of the Year in 1949, the 3-time National League All-Star won 20 games three times. In 1956 when he won 27 games, “Big Newk” became the first recipient of the Cy Young Award and also received National League Most Valuable Player honors. World Series horrors: 0 – 4 with 8.22 ERA in five Series starts against New York Yankees. Plagued by alcohol abuse his entire career, Newcombe retired from baseball at age 34. He worked many years after retirement in programs providing support for individuals suffering from alcoholism and in community relations for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Charles “Chuck” Harmon – March 19, 2019
Born May 23, 1924 in Washington, Indiana, Harmon earned All-American basketball honors at the University of Toledo in 1943. After three years of military service, Harmon signed with the Indianapolis Clowns in the summer of 1947 to make extra money before returning to school. He used a different name in order to keep his NCAA college basketball eligibility. After just a one week road trip, the St. Louis Browns offered him a contract. Although he had good offensive years, the slow pace of Major League baseball racial integration kept him stuck in the Browns’ minor league system. However, the Browns traded Harmon to the Cincinnati Reds in 1952. In 1954, he and Nino Escalera became the first African American and the first dark-skinned Latino players to appear in a Major League game for the Cincinnati Reds. Used as a utility player, Harmon spent 1954 – 56 with Cincinnati and 1957 with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Bob Mitchell – June 12, 2019
Born November 18, 1932 in West Palm Beach, Florida, Mitchell pitched in the Negro baseball minor leagues in Florida after high school. In 1954, he pitched for the Florida Cubans against the barnstorming Kansas City Monarchs managed by Buck O’Neil. O’Neil liked the talent he saw in Mitchell and offered him a contract. Mitchell played for the Monarchs from 1954 – 1957 and then retired from baseball to spend more time with his wife and young children. He had a 30 – 14 career pitching record.
Lee Vester Spann – October 19, 2019
Spann, born June 4, 1948 in St. Louis , Missouri, played with Indianapolis Clowns in 1965 after coming out of Hadley Tech High School . Not much else is known about him. His name came in the news when his insurance claim failed and the family had to make attempts to raise money for his funeral this fall.
Paul Jones – December 12, 2019
Born October 11, 1927 in New Iberia, Louisiana, Jones first played in the Louisiana network of Negro amateur/semi-professional baseball barnstorming teams after coming out of the military in 1946. From 1949 – 1951, Jones caught for the New Orleans Black Pelicans; the top Negro minor league team in Louisiana.
In my next blog post, I will make note of 3 former Major League players who died in 2019.
Historical notices from last week: Birthday for Ted Strong former Kansas City Monarchs INF/OF (1939 – 1942, 1946 – 1947) born January 2, 1914, in South Bend, Indiana and Tito Fuentes 2nd baseman for San Francisco Giants (1965 – 1974) born January 4, 1944, in La Habana, Cuba.
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
A major mews media story line about the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series is the team’s ending of a 95 year drought of no World Series championship for Washington D. C. baseball fans. However, as I discussed in my previous blog post, the 1924 Washington Senators were not the last professional baseball team in Washington, D. C. to win a World Series. The last professional baseball champions from Washington D. C. were the 1948 Homestead Grays.
The 1948 Negro League World Series pitted the Homestead Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League, a third Series re-match. The Grays had defeated the Black Barons in the 1943 and 1944 Series.
The teams played the 1948 Series as aftershocks from the racial integration of Major League baseball were just beginning. Jackie Robinson’s 1947 successful season erased the “invisible color line” opening the door for the initially slow but eventual flow of African American and dark-skinned Hispanics into the Major Leagues. The erasing of the color line had come too late for 40 years old Homestead Grays first baseman Buck Leonard and the Grays’ power-hitting catcher Josh Gibson who had died in early 1947. However, 1948 Grays’ players first baseman Luke Easter, pitcher/outfielder Bob Thurman, pitcher Bob Trice, and outfielder Luis Marquez, all went on to play in the Major Leagues. For the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons infielder Artie Wilson, pitchers Bill Greason and Jehosie Heard would briefly play in the Major Leagues. But the Black Barons’ 17 years old center fielder, Willie Mays, would have a Hall of Fame Major League career.
Having to rent playing facilities for their games, Negro League teams had to adjust game schedules to field rental availability. Griffith Stadium had been booked for Washington Redskins football games, so the Grays did not play any home games in the Series. Three of the games had to be played at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, home of the Birmingham Barons Southern League team.
Not all the Negro League World Series games were played in the cities of the participating teams. World Series games were played also in other cities with a large population of African Americans. Negro League officials saw playing the Series in multiple cities would afford more African American baseball fans the opportunity to see the games and hopefully maximize ticket sales. For the 1948 Series in addition to the games played in Birmingham, Kansas City and New Orleans also hosted games.
The Grays won the first two games of the Series, 4 – 3 and 5 – 3. The Black Barons rebounded to win Game Three. The Grays outscored the Black Barons 25 – 7 to win the final two games of the Series.
The shift in the interest of African American baseball fans clearly revealed itself during the 1948 Series. The fans were more interested in following the few African American players in the Major Leagues. They saw the integrated Major League games as racial and social progress. African American baseball fans were focused on the 1948 Major League World Series contest between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves. Former Negro League players Larry Doby and Leroy “Satchel” Paige played for the Indians.
The October 16, 1948 issue of the Baltimore Afro American, one of the leading national black newspapers at that time, is an example of the fan interest shift. The weekly paper’s front page headline that day: “DOBY SERIES HERO, Young Fielder Is Brilliant. Single in Sixth Game Beats Boston. Slams First Homer Over CenterField.” The adjoining front page article highlights Larry Doby’s contributions, his leading .318 Series Batting Average with 1 home run, in the Cleveland Indians’ four games to two games victory over the Boston Braves. Also on the front page, the photo of teammates Doby and Cleveland pitcher Steve Gromek in a smiling embrace after the Indians’ 2 – 1 win in Game 5. The photo of Doby whose third inning homer broke a 1-1 tie and Gromek the winning pitcher sent a new visual message across the country of racial harmony in Major League Baseball. On the front page also, an article questioning “Satchel” Paige’s role with the Indians for 1949. He had only pitched two-thirds of an inning in the Series.
On the Sports Page, buried under additional headlines, articles, and pictures about Doby, and Paige, the paper had a brief article about the Homestead Grays’ 11 – 6 win over the Birmingham Black Barons in Game Five to be the 1948 Negro League World Series champion.
The Negro League World Series ended after 1948. The Negro National League disbanded before the next season began. The Homestead Grays stopped functioning as a professional baseball team. Negro League baseball limped through the 1950s selling their best players to the Major Leagues before fading away in the early 1960s.
In 2009 the Washington Nationals paid tribute to the Homestead Grays by placing a statue of Grays’ Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson in the Center Field Plaza at Nationals’ Park. Negro League baseball operated in the shadow of the Major Leagues for nearly half of the 20th Century. However, the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series triumph shined a larger spotlight on the Homestead Grays. The Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship brought the Homestead Grays from behind that shadow to show the teams’ place in Washington D. C. professional baseball history.
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals, the 2019 Major League Baseball World Series Champions! With their 6 – 2 win in Game Seven over the Houston Astros, the Nationals become the seventh team qualifying for the playoffs as the “Wild Card” to win the World Series; the last being the 2014 San Francisco Giants.
Also, as one of the 2019 Fall Classic’s story lines, with their victory the Washington Nationals ended a 95 year drought of having a World Series championship for Washington D. C. baseball fans. Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck mentioned this as the Nationals took command of Game Seven Wednesday night. The 1924 Washington Senators were World Series champions after defeating the New York Giants 4 games to 3. Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson (23 – 7 with a 2.72 ERA) and Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin (12 HRs, a league leading 129 RBIs, .344 BA.) lead that Senators’ championship team. However, the 1924 Washington Senators were not the last professional baseball team in Washington, D. C. to win a World Series before the Nationals won this year. That distinction had belonged to the Homestead Grays, one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League professional baseball. The Grays were Negro League World Series champions in 1943, 1944, and 1948.
After losing the 1933 World Series to the New York Giants, the Washington Senators finished .500 or above only once more in the 1930s, twice in the 1940s, and twice in the early 1950s. Despite showing signs of improvement in 1960, the team finished below .500 for the seventh straight year. The franchise then moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins.
In 1961 the American League placed a new Washington Senators franchise in D.C., an expansion club, but it finished near or at the bottom in the league’s standings from 1961 – 1968. Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams became manager in 1969 and led the Senators to an 87 – 75 record. However, after finishing below .500 for the 1971 season the Senators’ owner moved the franchise to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the team became the Texas Rangers. Major League Baseball would not return to Washington, D. C. until 2005 when the Montreal Expos National League franchise moved to the nation’s capital and became the Washington Nationals.
For nearly the first half of the 20th Century, the “invisible color line” in white organized professional baseball kept African Americans and dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball. In the face of this racial prejudice, Homestead Grays owner Cumberland Posey created a winning tradition in Negro League professional baseball. At one time or another ten Negro League players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame wore the uniform of the Homestead Grays, including long time Grays’ first baseman Buck Leonard and catcher Josh Gibson. Beginning in 1937, the Grays won eight consecutive Negro National League pennants. The Grays originated out of Homestead, Pennsylvania across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. However, in 1940 it began playing half of its home games in Washington, D. C. to tap into the increasing African American population in the city. The city previously had been the home of two other Negro League teams; the Washington Pilots briefly in 1932 and the Washington Elite Giants in 1936 – 1937. The Grays leased the Senators’ home ballpark, Griffith Stadium, for their home games. In 1943, Washington became the home base for the Homestead Grays. As the Senators continued to struggle on the field, many considered the Grays the best professional baseball team in the nation’s capital from 1940 – 1948. Despite being mainly a second division team during this period, the Senators remained profitable due to the fees charged to the Grays for leasing Griffith Stadium.
The Washington Nationals being in this year’s World Series helps to shine the spotlight on the Homestead Grays, who played in the shadow of the Washington Senators. Part two of this post will tell more of the 1948 Homestead Grays, the playing of the last Negro League World Series, and the beginning of the end for the Negro League baseball era. Stay tuned!
Following are the remaining 10 of my Twitter posts, Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I began this past spring on Negro League baseball managers. Three were catchers when they played, two pitchers, and one played both positions. Three played on Negro League Baseball World Series champions, two managed their teams to World Series championships, and four were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They all made outstanding contributions in building the legacy of Negro League baseball, a forgotten sports institution.
Negro League Baseball Managers: Frank Duncan, C, playing career included Kansas City Monarchs 1922 – 1934, 1937, catcher on Monarchs’1924 WS champs, player/mgr. Monarchs 1941 – 1947, won 2 NAL pennants 1942 & 1946, WS champs 1942.
Negro League Baseball Managers: Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, catcher, playing career 1920 – 47, player/mgr. Newark Eagles 1941, 1945 – 47, Negro League World Series Champions 1946 (team included Monte Irvin & Larry Doby), elected HOF 2006.
Quincy Trouppe, career 1930 – 48, player/mgr. Cleveland Buckeyes 1945 – 47, World Series champs 1945, Chicago American Giants 1948, signed Cleveland Indians 1952, MLB debut 6/3/50, played 6 games
Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, catcher & pitcher, career 1928 – 1946, player/manager Cincinnati Tigers 1937, Memphis Red Sox 1938 – 1941, Chicago American Giants 1943
Sol White, born 6/12/1868, Bellaire, OH., inf, white organized baseball before solid color line & teams early beginnings Negro Leagues 1880 – 1900 Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants, etc, player/mgr Philadelphia Giants 1902 – 07, HOF 2016
Negro League Baseball Managers: Andy Cooper, 2006 Hall of Fame LHP, Manager Kansas City Monarchs 1937 – 1940, won 3 Negro American League pennants, 2-time manager of Negro League All-Star game west squad
Negro League Baseball Managers: Felton Snow, 2-time Negro League All-Star 3B, player/manager Baltimore Elite Giants 1939 – 1947, manager East squad 1940 East-West All-Star Game
Negro League Baseball Managers: Grant “Home Run” Johnson, 1897 – 1912, mainly Cuban X Giants 1903 – 1905, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1906 – 1909, 1912, Philadelphia Giants 1911
Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, born 7/3/17, Piper, AL., 4-time Negro League All-Star INF., Birmingham Black Barons 1942 – 1949, player/mgr. Black Baron’s 1948 Negro American League pennant winner, played in minor leagues of 4 MLB teams
Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, born 7/28/1893, Oklahoma City, OK., P/OF, Kansas City Monarchs 1920 – 1938, no wind-up motion, hard thrower, 1924 World Series champs, 2-1 with 2.57 ERA & .325 BA, Monarchs’ player/mgr. 1928 – 34, HOF 1998
Again, you can find me on Twitter at Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
This past spring on Twitter, follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I began posting a series of tweets about Negro League baseball managers.
Starting their careers first as players themselves, then player/managers, and then just managers after their playing days; they each developed an insight into baseball from their many years of involvement in the game. Not included in my series of tweets, former pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster, the most well-known Negro League owner/manager. The 1981 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee managed his Chicago American Giants from the 1910s through 1920s into one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League baseball history.
Of the managers in my tweets, some are more famous than others. There were also many others not in my series such as Jose Mendez, Ben Taylor, John “Pop” Lloyd, Willie Wells, and John “Buck” O’Neil. Negro League managers made outstanding contributions in building the legacy of Negro League baseball as a forgotten sports institution.
Following are 10 of my Twitter posts on Negro league baseball managers:
Frank Warfield, Hilldale Club 1923 – 1927, Eastern Colored League pennant 1924 & 1925, 1925 World Series champs, Baltimore Black Sox 1929 – 1931, American Negro League pennant, Washington Pilots 1932
William “Dizzy” Dizmukes, went to Talladega College, managed various Negro League teams including Indianapolis ABCs 1923 – 1924, Memphis Red Sox 1925, St. Louis Stars 1937, Birmingham Black Barons 1938
Charles Isham (CI) Taylor, Birmingham Black Barons 1904 – 09, West Baden Sprudels 1910 – 13, Indianapolis ABCs 1914 – 21, mgr. contemporary to Andrew “Rube” Foster, VP Negro National League 1920
Dick Lundy, best SS Negro Leagues 1920s, SS/mgr. Bacharach Giants 1926 – 28, ECL pennants 1926 & 1927, Philly Stars 1933 & Newark Dodgers 1934, All-Star 1933 – 34, mgr. 1934 East All Stars, mgr. Newark Eagles 1938 – 40
“Candy” Jim Taylor, managed in NL 3 decades including St. Louis Stars 1923 – 28, Chicago American Giants 1937 – 39, 1941 – 42, 1945 – 47, Homestead Grays 1943 – 44, started as 3B Birmingham Black Barons 1904 – 08 bro. CI Taylor mgr
Vic Harris, 7-time Negro League All-Star OF, player/mgr. Homestead Grays 1937 – 1942, 1946 – 1948, won NNL pennant 1937 – 42, Negro League World Series champs 1948, 6-times named All-Star Game mgr.,
Jose Maria Fernandez, C/1B, 30+ years Negro League with Cuban teams beginning 1916, except 1930 Chicago American Giants, player/mgr. New York Cubans 1939 – 48, 1947 Negro League World Series champs
Oscar Charleston, OF/1B, one of best players baseball, 1915 – 41, teams he was manager Pitts. Crawfords 1932 – 38, Philly Stars 1941 – 44, 1946 – 50, Bklyn Brown Dodgers 1945, Indy Clowns 1954, HOF 1976
Negro League Baseball Managers: Winfield Welch, Birmingham Black Barons 1942 – 1945, Negro American League pennant winner 1943 & 1944, 4-time manager West squad Negro League All-Star Game, mgr. Chicago American Giants 1949
Negro League Baseball Managers: Fred “Tex” Burnett, C/1B, playing career 1922 – 1941 including New York Black Yankees 1931 – 1932, 1941, Homestead Grays, 1934, Newark Eagles 1937, manager Newark Eagles 1937, NY Black Yankees 1940 – 1943
Again, you can find me on Twitter at Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
Last fall I had a series of Twitter posts, Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop, listing Negro League Second Basemen. In last week’s blog I listed ten of those posts. Following are ten more.
Two of them listed were multiple time Negro League All-Stars, three were on Negro League World Series championship teams, and one broke through the color barrier of a Major League team. Each of them exemplified the high quality of talent that played the position during the Negro League baseball era:
Curt Roberts, Kansas City Monarchs 1947 – 50, 1st African American to play Pittsburgh Pirates, signed 1953, Pirates 1954 – 56, MLB debut 4/13/54, 1954 hit .232 in 134 games, 1957 – 63 in AAA minor league
Elwood “Bingo” DeMoss, considered 1 of best defensive 2nd baseman in Negro Leagues 1910s and early 1920s, mainly Chicago American Giants 1917 – 1925
McKinley “Bunny” Downs, teams include Hilldale 1917 – 22, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1923 – 24, Harrisburg Giants 1925, as exec Indianapolis Clowns signed high school prospect Henry Aaron early 1950s
Barney Serrell, Chicago American Giants 1941, Kansas City Monarchs 1942 – 1945, 10 hits vs Homestead Grays 1942 Negro League World Series won by Monarchs, late 1940s & 1950s in Mexican League
John Henry Russell, known for his defense, Memphis Red Sox 1923 – 1925, St. Louis Stars 1926 – 1930, DP combo with HOF SS Willie Wells and HOF 1B Mule Suttles, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931 – 1933
Sammy T. Hughes, 5-time Negro League All-Star, good fielder, consistently solid #2 hitter , speedy base runner, Nashville/Columbus/Washington/Baltimore Elite Giants 1933 – 1940, 1942, 1946
Johnnie Cowan, Birmingham Black Barons 1940, Cleveland Buckeyes 1942 – 1947, starting second baseman for Buckeyes’ 1945 Negro League World Series championship team, Memphis Red Sox 1948
Pat Patterson, 4-time Negro League All-Star, played on various teams, member 1935 Negro National League champion Pittsburgh Crawfords , KC Monarchs 1936, Philadelphia Stars 1938 – 39, 1941 – 42
Frank “Weasel” Warfield, Negro League career 1914 – 1932, including Hilldale of Darby, Pennsylvania 1923 – 1928, on Hilldale’s 1925 Negro League World Series Championship team
Wilson Connie Day, Indianapolis ABCs 1921 – 1923, Baltimore Black Sox 1924 – 1926, Harrisburg Giants 1927
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
Last fall on Twitter, follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I posted a series of tweets about Negro League baseball second basemen.
Frank Grant, inducted in 2006, is the only former Negro League baseball second baseman with a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, that does not indicate a lack of talent existed at the position in Negro League baseball. Listed below are Twitter posts for 10 Negro League second basemen. At a point in their careers, seven were chosen by fans as to be a Negro League All-Star. One had a successful AAA minor league career after the integration of white professional. One has a plaque in the Hall of Fame as an outfielder after changing positions when playing Major League baseball.
Dick Jackson, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1921, New York Bacharach Giants 1922, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1923, Harrisburg Giants 1924 – 25, Baltimore Black Sox 1926 – 28, Hilldale 1930, good hitter, hot-tempered
Herberto Blanco, New York Cubans 1941 & 1942, Negro League All-Star 1942, also played in the Mexican League, Canadian Provincial League, and US minor leagues, brother Carlos played 1B for Cubans in 1941
William “Billy” Horne, 2B/SS, Chicago American Giants 1938 – 1941, Negro League All-Star 2B 1939 & 1941, Cleveland Buckeyes 1942 – 1944, 1946, military service 1945, good defense, base-stealing speed
Chester Williams, 2B/SS, multiple teams, 1931 – 1942, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931 – 1938, Philadelphia Stars 1939 – 1940, Homestead Grays 1941 – 1942, Negro League All-Star 1934 – 1937, solid defense, aggressively competitive attitude
Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Negro League All-Star multiple times, Birmingham Black Barons 1943 – 49, Boston Red Sox minor league system 1950, integrated Triple AAA minor leagues (PCL) 1951 – 57
Dick Seay, 2-time Negro League All-Star 2b, career 1926 – 47, mainly Newark Eagles 1937 – 40, part of 1938 Eagles’ “million dollar infield”, New York Black Yankees 1940 – 42, 1945 – 47, good defense, light hitter
Walter Cannady, 1921 – 45 Negro League career, INF/OF but 2B best position, played with various teams including New York Black Yankees 1933 – 39, 1-time Negro League All-Star 1938
Jimmy Ford, various Negro League teams 1933 – 1945, including Memphis Red Sox 1937, 1944 – 1945, 1941 Negro League All-Star while with St. Louis/New Orleans Stars
Larry Doby, Newark Eagles 1942 – 44, 1946, Negro League All-Star 1946, Negro League World Series champs 1946, signed Cleveland Indians 1947, switched to OF, 7-time MLB All-Star, elected HOF 1998
Jesse Warren Douglass, Chicago American Giants, 1937, 1944 – 45, Kansas City Monarchs 1940, Birmingham Black Barons 1941, also played shortstop and outfield, independent minor leagues & Mexican League 1950s
BUT WAIT! I will have a list of others who played the position in Negro League baseball next post. STAY TUNED!
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
This is the second part of my tribute to Frank Robinson, my personal favorite baseball player who died of bone cancer this past February 7th. In remembering him, I will always think about 1966. That year, I got the opportunity to see him play in person. And more importantly, after being defined as “past his prime” and traded, Frank Robinson had the best year of his career.
The Baltimore Orioles did not have a strong history with African-American players since coming into the American League in 1954 when a group of Baltimore investors bought the failing St. Louis Browns franchise and moved it to the city by Chesapeake Bay. The team followed the American League’s slow pace of racial integration in the 1950s. Despite building a strong minor league system, the Orioles’ had not developed an African-American star player. Joe Durham and Jehosie Heard, in 1954, were the first African-Americans to play for the Orioles; both having only brief non-impactful careers. Two former Negro League players had solid seasons with the Orioles in the late 1950s. Pitcher Connie Johnson won 14 games in 1957 and first baseman Bob Boyd hit .300 three consecutive seasons (1956 – 1958). In the early 1960s outfielder Sam Bowens had one good season, 1964, hitting 22 home runs in 139 games. But despite that history, after finishing 3rd the previous two seasons, Baltimore Orioles’ management believed acquiring Frank Robinson could put them over the top in 1966. He hit a double his first At Bat in spring training starting a magical season that would prove them correct.
On May 27th that year, while sitting in the upper deck bleachers far down the right field line at the Kansas City Athletics’ Municipal Stadium, I cheerfully saw Frank Robinson take his right field position; I saw the strut. In his first At Bat, he crowded the plate just as I had seen him do on TV; challenging the pitcher. In the 4th inning he got hit by the pitch, one of the 198 times of his career. The next game I attended when the Orioles came to town Robinson went hitless, but the talk of him winning the Triple Crown had begun. Each day I looked at the newspaper baseball box scores to check his progress. Robinson finished ahead of 4-time American League home run champion Harmon Killebrew 49 to 39. He finished ahead of Tony Oliva, who had won the American League batting title the last two seasons, .316 to .307. With also leading the League with 122 RBI, Robinson won the Triple Crown.
My high school drafting teacher brought a TV to watch the World Series. From my front row drafting desk I saw Frank Robinson’s 1st inning two run home run off Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale that set the tone for the Orioles’ four games sweeping of the Series. He hit another home run off Drysdale to win Game Four. Named American League Most Valuable Player in 1966, Robinson is the only one to receive MVP honors in both leagues, winning it while with Cincinnati in 1961. During Robinson’s time in Baltimore, the Orioles also won American League pennants in 1969 – 71 and were World Series champions in 1970.
Frank Robinson’s autobiography is called “My Life is Baseball” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 1975). That title reflects a true picture of his relationship with the game. Near the end of his playing career in 1974, he became the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians were the first of four teams in Robinson’s 16 year career as a manager, 1,065 wins and 1,176 losses. He had the reputation as having a “hard-nosed”, “old school” approach at managing, although he did mellow in the in the way he handled players as he got older. I remember Robinson’s competitive spirit on display when seeing the Indians play the Kansas City Royals in 1975. Throughout the National Anthem, Robinson jawed back and forth with the home plate umpire while they both looked up at the flag. He had his critics, but also gained the highest respect and esteem in the Major League Baseball community for his overall accomplishments in the sport. During his career, Frank Robinson served as a batting coach, an outfield coach, a consultant for club owners, and held positions in the Office of Major League Baseball.
I will miss my favorite baseball player. Playing on my high school’s first baseball team the spring of 1967 and throughout the amateur summer leagues, I chose # 20 as my uniform number. I still have his 1959, 1960, 1964 Topps baseball cards (lost 1965s) and also the Post Cereal Frank Robinson cards for 1961 – 63. I still have memories of that 1966 season. Also, I still have that vision of my first seeing of him circling the bases after that home run in the 1959 All-Star Game. Frank Robinson had the run, that strut, I will never forget.
From 1959 – 1962 there were two Major League All-Star Games played with most of the revenue from the second going for players’ pension fund. During the telecast of the second All-Star Game in 1959, played on August 3 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, I saw Frank Robinson for the first time. I had only heard about him when my father and older brothers talked about African-American baseball players. However; three days before my 8th birthday, I got my first real look at #20 that afternoon on our RCA black & white TV screen. The 83 years old former outfielder and manager died this past February 7th. I know this post will get lost in the thousands of verbal and written tributes to him and his accomplishments in baseball. But I have to write it. I took the death of Frank Robinson, my favorite all-time baseball player, # 20, personally. In remembering him, the following thoughts come to my mind.
First, I will remember Frank Robinson as the first African-American star Major League baseball player that did not get his start in Negro League baseball. Signed out of McClymonds High School in Oakland, California by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1953, he faced the existing racial discrimination in professional baseball in the 1950s; in the minor leagues (SALLY League 1955) and in spring training (Tampa, Florida). Before national sportswriters voted Robinson National League Rookie of the Year in 1956 when he hit .293 with 38 home runs, the previous African-American winners were all former Negro League players: Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Sam Jethroe (1950), Willie Mays (1951), Joe Black (1952), and Jim Gilliam (1953). In 1961 Frank Robinson won National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors (.323 BA, 37 HRs, 124 RBI, 22 SB) leading Cincinnati to win the National League pennant. The African- American MVP Award winners up until that time were all former Negro League players: Jackie Robinson (1949), Roy Campanella (1951, 1953, 1955), Willie Mays (1954), Henry Aaron (1957), and Ernie Banks (1958, 1959). Frank Robinson followed the path in the 1950s set by Jackie Robinson and other former Negro League players to have a Hall of Fame (1982 inductee) baseball career.
Secondly, I will always remember how Frank Robinson ran. During that second 1959 Major League All-Star Game, Robinson hit a 5th inning home run off Early Wynn. The way he circled the bases in his sleeveless Cincinnati Redlegs (they were not called the Reds back in 1959) uniform wearing a red short-sleeved jersey underneath, got my attention. To me, Robinson had a distinctive running style; straight-backed, stiff-legged, pumping his arms up and down at his hips. It seemed like a confident strut or pimp, a reflection of his highly competitive aggressive approach to playing baseball, and it stuck in my mind about him. I still have an image of other stars from that era; Mickey Mantle swinging his bat with all his body’s physical strength, Willie Mays running from under his cap, Henry Aaron playing with such ease and grace he hardly seem to break a sweat, and Ernie Banks’ smiling “let’s play two” joy about the game. But Frank Robinson, to me, had the run; the strut.
Then I will always remember Frank Robinson’s best season, 1966. Cincinnati’s trade of him to the Baltimore Orioles on December 9, 1965 turned the American League on its head. The team rosters of that 1959 All-Star Game when I first saw him reflected the slower pace of racial diversity in the junior circuit at that time. The American League All-Star team had three African-American or dark-skinned Latino ball players as compared to nine for the National League. It had been twelve years since Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947, but two American League clubs had just become integrated; the Detroit Tigers with Ozzie Virgil in 1958 and the Boston Red Sox with Pumpsie Green in 1959. In 1963, Elston Howard of the New York Yankees, a product of Negro League baseball, became the first African-American to receive MVP honors in the American League. In ten years with Cincinnati, Robinson hit 324 home runs while averaging 100 RBIs and a .301 batting average. However General Manager Bill Dewitt, believing him past his prime and calling him “an old 30 years of age with an old body”, in what would turn out to be one of the worst trades in baseball history sent Frank Robinson to the American League.
My tribute to the late Frank Robinson will continue in my next blog post. Stay tuned!
All images used for this post were taken from internet web sites