Category Archives: Baseball History

Newspaper Article

Below is an article about “Last Train to Cooperstown” that appeared in the Kansas City Star newspaper on Sunday, February 7th.

Star Article

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

Negro League Baseball’s Maiden Voyage

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On February 13th and 14th in 1920, the first officially organized African American professional baseball league was formed in Kansas City, Missouri. The brainchild of black baseball team owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster, the Negro National League (NNL) was patterned after the two Major Leagues who at that time did not allow African American and dark-skinned Latino players to participate.   Foster’s Chicago American Giants along with the Kansas City Monarchs, Dayton Marcos, Indianapolis ABC’s, St. Louis Giants, Detroit Stars, Cuban Stars, and Chicago Giants were the initial teams in the league. Several black leagues had been previously organized, but none operated long enough to be historically significant.

“We are the ship, all else the sea”, is what Foster said to describe the NNL. He saw it as a ship travelling through the sea troubled by the stormy strong winds of racial segregation and discrimination.    Long term, Foster hoped the success of the NNL would highlight the talents of African American and Latino ballplayers; eventually leading to the breaking down of the racial barriers and integrating the Major Leagues.

After the second all black league was formed in 1923, the Eastern Colored League (ECL), the first Negro League World Series was played in 1924. The NNL’s Kansas City Monarchs were crowned champions as they defeated the ECL’s Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania.

As the decade ended, Foster suffered from mental illness and could not effectively operate the NNL as it faced financial problems caused by the “Great Depression” which rocked the country beginning in 1929. He died in December of 1930 and the NNL dissolved after the next season.

But, league structure Foster set up for black baseball would continue as the original NNL became the precursor for both the new Negro National League (NNL) that formed in 1933 and the Negro American League (NAL) which began in 1937. Both of these leagues, just as Foster hoped, continued to give African Americans and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers the opportunity to professionally express their God given talent; the opportunity not given them by white organized baseball.

Also; Foster’s vision became a reality when Jackie Robinson, a former Negro League player, in 1947 became the first African American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Fifty other former Negro League players went on to have Major League baseball careers after Robinson erased the “invisible color line”.

Name the teams that were in the 1923 Eastern Colored League (ECL).

 To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 2

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After eight years in the Negro Leagues, Monte Irvin signed to play with the New York Giants in 1949. The first African American to play in the National League for a team other than the Brooklyn Dodgers, he made his Major League debut on July 8th in Ebbets Field against the Dodgers.

In 1951, the Giants erased the first place Dodgers’ 13 ½ August lead to force a playoff. Bobby Thomson’s ninth inning home run, the “shot heard round the world”, in the final playoff game won the National League pennant for the Giants.  However, the team may not have overcome the Dodgers had it not been for Monte Irvin who hit .312, 24 home runs, and drove in a league leading 121 runs. He also served as a mentor that season for the team’s rookie centerfielder; Willie Mays.

The Giants had three African American outfielders in the starting lineup for Game One of the 1951 World Series., a significant Major League Baseball racial milestone. On that October 4th fall afternoon at Yankee Stadium; Irvin played left field, Mays in centerfield, and Hank Thompson in right field.  In the game, Irvin got four hits and stole home; but the New York Yankees won the Series four games to two.

Due to age and injuries, Irvin began losing his playing edge. In 1954, he hit only .262 with 19 home runs as the Giants won the pennant and defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.  Irvin played his last Major League season in 1956 with the Chicago Cubs.  Working in the Office of Baseball Commissioner handling public relations several years after he retired, Irvin became an ambassador for the game.

In 1970, Irvin chaired a committee formed by Major League Baseball to recommend candidates for Hall of Fame induction from the Negro League Baseball era. He had seen many of the great Negro League players in action.  He played on the same teams with many of them or on opposing teams against.  Starting with Satchel Paige in 1971, nine Negro League players were inducted into the Hall of Fame by 1977 as a result of the committee’s efforts.

In 1973 Irvin received his plaque for induction into the Hall of Fame. By the time his productive eight year Major League career began in 1949, he had already reached his 30th birthday and not in his prime as before serving in the military during the war.  However, the tremendous talent he displayed in the Negro Leagues could not be marginalized by the racial barriers that kept him out of the Major Leagues.

But no one from Negro League Baseball has been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2006; few if any have been considered for nomination. Despite verbal denials, the museum’s actions give the impression that its doors have been shut in regards to the Negro Leagues.  Is the Hall of Fame saying that its current 41 inductees from Negro League Baseball is the extent of the Negro League era’s place in baseball history?  By its current actions, the museum is re-establishing the untrue stigma of “not being good enough” hung over Negro League Baseball that Monte Irvin spent his baseball career erasing.

What Negro League pitcher did the New York Giants sign in 1949 along with Monte Irvin?

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 1

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Former Negro League and Major League player Monte Irvin died on January 11th, in Houston, Texas.  A member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Irvin helped to solidify Negro League baseball’s place in baseball history.  However, at this time when we celebrate his life, that place is again being marginalized.

Born in Haleburg, Alabama on February 25, 1919; Irvin’s family joined the migration of southern African Americans in the 1920s to northern cities looking for better economic opportunities and they settled in East Orange, New Jersey.  A four sport star in high school; track, football, basketball, and baseball, Irvin played with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (NNL) under an assumed name the summer of 1938 before heading off to Lincoln University (Pa.) on a football scholarship.  However, he quit school after a year and went back to the Eagles to begin his Negro League career.

His smile and easygoing demeanor made Irvin a favorite of Negro League fans, who voted him to participate in five East-West All Star Games. Fans in the Caribbean leagues where he played in the winter also loved him.  By the end on 1941, many considered the 6’1’’, 195 pound Irvin the best player in the Negro Leagues. A .300 hitter with a power stroke, Monte also had the speed and versatility to play in the infield or outfield.

Much has been written about how serving in the military during World War II took productive years away from Major League baseball stars such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller. The same can be said about Monte Irvin, who also served his country doing that time.  He missed nearly four seasons (1942 -1945) while in the Army.  When discharged in the late summer of 1945, he met with Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey about a new Negro League team.  Out of baseball for almost four years and suffering a nerve condition he had contacted while in the military, Irvin told Rickey he was not ready to play yet.  But he did not know Rickey really wanted him for the Dodgers.  It would have been Irvin, not Jackie Robinson, that would have become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues since before the beginning of the 20th Century.  Serving in the military altered Irvin’s place in baseball history.

By the start of the 1946 season, Monte felt ready to play again. He led the Newark Eagles in batting average as the team won the Negro National League (NNL) pennant and defeated the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League World Series.  In the Series, Irvin hit .460 with three home runs.

What Hall of Famer played second base for the 1946 Newark Eagles?

 

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

 

Jim Pendleton: A Career Altered by Two Hall of Fame Players

Jim Pendleton

Born on January 7, 1924 in St. Charles, Missouri, James Edward “Jim” Pendleton played shortstop for the Chicago American Giants in 1948 after serving in the military during World War II.  At 6’ and 185 pounds, he had speed and range playing the position; plus he could hit. Pendleton missed the desegregation of the US military, an early major step in the civil rights advancement of African Americans. President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which began the process of ending the racial segregation of the Armed Forces after the speedy infielder had returned to civilian life.  However, Pendleton would be involved in the concurrent major step in African American civil rights, the integration of Major League baseball.

After the 1948 season, it is said the Brooklyn Dodgers paid the American Giants $7,500 for Pendleton’s contract. Two of his Negro League teammates would also sign with Major League teams; Quincy Trouppe with the Cleveland Indians in 1952 and Roberto Vargas With the Milwaukee Braves in 1955.  The “invisible color line” which had kept African Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics out of Major League baseball for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947 by Jackie Robinson, but the integration process began slowly.  Other than the Dodgers, who along with Robinson had Roy Campanella, the Cleveland Indians were the only other Major League team in 1948 with African American players.  Larry Doby and “Satchel” Paige were on the World Series Champion Indian team that year.

But with Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese the unmovable fixture as the Dodgers’ shortstop, Pendleton spent four years (1949 – 1952) in the team’s minor league system. Before the 1953 season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves and converted into an outfielder.  In 120 games he batted .299 that season and hit three straight home runs during a hot streak at the plate.  It would be his best Major League season.

The Braves traded for New York Giant star outfielder Bobby Thomson before the 1954 season. He broke his ankle during spring training and opened the door for Pendleton to become a fixture in the Braves’ outfield.  However, after failing in his attempt to get a higher paying contract, Pendleton arrived at spring training late and not in top shape.   He lost the opportunity to replace Thomson to Henry Aaron; a 21 year old rookie who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. Pendleton never returned to his 1953 form and spent the remainder of his Major League career as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder.

After two more seasons with the Braves, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the start of the 1957 season and in 1959 traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Pendleton spent two years in the minor leagues, 1960 -1961, and then resurfaced to play for the Houston Colt 45s in 1962.  It was the inaugural season for the National League expansion team.  Although 38 years old, he had his best statistical season since 1953 playing in 117 games and batting .246 with a career high eight home runs.

To learn more about Negro League baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”:  http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

Happy New Year!

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A belated Happy New Year! Thanks to all who supported my blog on www.klmitchell.com  in 2015.  Your encouraging feedback inspired me to continue providing content for it each week.

Thanks to everyone also for the support you gave my first book, Last Train to Cooperstown. ( http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)  The response towards it last year was fantastic and I anticipate more activity surrounding it in 2016.  This coming February and April I will discuss it during my program, “Negro League Baseball: The Deep Roots of African Americans in America’s Great Game”, that will be presented at several branch locations of the Mid-Continent Public Library System in the Kansas City area.

My blog’s focus for 2016 will be the time period when the “invisible color line” for professional baseball was erased and the process of integrating Major League baseball began; the late 1940s and the 1950s. It was a period of joy, but also frustration for African American and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers.  The door to the Major Leagues had opened, but the process of integration was slow due to the prevailing racial prejudice and discrimination.  Also occurring in the period was Negro League baseball’s final descend into oblivion.

Continue to enjoy http://www.klmitchell.com in 2016 and spread the word about it!

 

 

HAPPY NEW

YEAR!

2016

Keep Hall of Fame Door Open to Negro League Baseball

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Two weeks ago the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Pre-integration Committee voted on ten candidates for induction next summer. None of the ten were from the Negro League baseball era.   No one from that era has been selected for induction into the hallowed halls of the museum in Cooperstown, New York since 2006.  The 17 inducted that year are profiled in my book Last Train to Cooperstown.  Is the door for other candidates from the Negro Leagues closed?

For years the Hall of Fame’s Veteran’s Committee had been responsible for considering candidates who failed to get the necessary votes needed for induction during their initial years of eligibility. However, in 2010 the committee was restructured into three separate committees.  The Pre-integration Committee was created to consider candidates that existed prior to 1947, the year Jackie Robinson crossed the “invisible color line” to become the first African American or dark-skinned Latino to play Major League baseball.  The other two created were the Golden Era Committee to consider potential Hall of Fame candidates from the period 1947 – 1973 and the Expansion Era Committee to consider those from after 1973.

With a grant from Major League Baseball, the Hall of Fame in 2006 created a special committee of baseball historians to give a thorough review of the Negro League baseball era. Based on the committee’s work, 99 individuals were identified as eligible for Hall of Fame recognition.  Of those, a final vote was taken on 39 of which 17 were recommended to be a part of the 2006 induction class.

It will be the responsibility of the Pre-integration Committee for adding others that are deserving recognition from the Negro League era. The committee meets every three years and so far there have been no nominations from that era.  The legitimacy of Negro League baseball is no longer in question.  It is time to give a second look at some of the 82 identified from the black ball era, but not chosen by the 2006 special committee.

As I stated in The Last Train to Cooperstown;

“It is uncertain as to whether any of the other former Negro League players and executives/managers not chosen during the 2006 selection process will be someday elected into the Hall of Fame. Although one, John “Buck” O’Neil, has a statue now at Cooperstown recognizing him as Negro League baseball’s greatest ambassador, he did not get selected for induction in 2006 as a player.  Also not selected were:  “Cannonball” Dick Redding, who some say threw the ball as hard as Hall of Famer “Smokey” Joe Williams; Grant “Home Run” Johnson; Dick Lundy; Newt Allen; C. I. Taylor; or Minnie Minoso who also had an All-Star Major League career.  They will be included in the on-going debate along with former Major League players such as Gil Hodges, Roger Maris, and others about who deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.

But being a part of the black baseball era should not negatively affect the Negro Leaguers in this debate. Negro League baseball has come from behind the “invisible color line” and is now clearly identified as an everlasting fixture of baseball history.  The 17 Hall of Fame inductees from the Negro Leagues that arrived on the train to Cooperstown in 2006 cemented that fact”.

Book Cover 47 KBFor more information go to

Last Train To Cooperstown

Ernest Westfield – One of the Last Negro League All Stars

Ernie Westfield

The following is an excerpt from my book, “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”:

“Jackie Robinson broke through the color line in 1947 and began his successful Major League playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  With the line erased by Robinson and as more African Americans began playing in the Major Leagues, the eventual future end of Negro League baseball became obvious by the early 1950s.  Instead of attending Negro League games, more and black baseball fans began following former Negro League players in the Major Leagues.  By the middle of the decade talented young African American players were bypassing the Negro Leagues and directly signing with Major League teams.  The death of Negro League baseball came by the early 1960s due to economic problems caused by a declining fan base and a decreasing level of talent.”

Born on November 30, 1939 in Cleveland, Tennessee; Ernest Westfield was the starting pitcher for the East squad in the last Negro League Baseball East-West All Star Game.  The contest was held on August 21, 1960 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the same as where the first was played in 1933.

A 6’3”, 160 pound  right-handed pitcher, Westfield spent the 1958 season in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.  The next year he signed with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League (NAL).  In spite of the league’s decline, it was still an honor to be chosen to participate in the All Star Game.  Ike Brown, the West squad’s shortstop, went on to play for the Detroit Tigers in 1969 and was the last player from the Negro Leagues signed by a Major League team.

Westfield gave up three runs in the first three innings and the West squad won the game 8 – 4.

 

Book Cover 47 KBA perfect Christmas gift for the sports fan on your shopping list.  Go to https://klmitchell.com/books/.

John Kennedy – Broke the Philadelphia Phillies’ “Color Line”

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John Irvin Kennedy’s Negro League baseball career was wedged between his two attempts to play in the Major Leagues.  After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells.  Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy was released after one season in the team’s minor league system.  He played the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956.

The talent level in the Negro Leagues had decreased by the mid-1950s as the best players had been signed by Major League teams.  However, Kennedy was an All Star while with the Monarchs and got the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who in 1957 were the only National League team without an African American player.  He was invited to the team’s spring training camp that year and made a strong effort to be their number one shortstop.

However, just as other former Negro League players in the 1950s faced when signed by a Major League team, Kennedy a had problem about his age.  The Phillies discovered he was not 23 years old as told, but 30.  Some records say Kennedy was born November 23, 1934 in Sumter, South Carolina.  But, his official birthdate was October 12, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida.

A younger shortstop was brought in, but Kennedy remained with the team and on April 22 became the first African American player to appear in a game wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.  He entered against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field as a pinch runner.   Kennedy appeared in four other games and then was sent back to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder; never to play in another Major League game.

“Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  is the perfect gift for the baseball fan on your Christmas list.  For more information go to www.klmitchell.com  or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

“The Cuban Strongman”

Torriente picrtureIn a poll of former Negro League players and sportswriters conducted in the early 1950s, Cristobal Torriente was named one of the best outfielders to play in the Negro Leagues.  Known as the “Cuban Strongman, Torriente was born on November 16, 1893 in Cienfuegos, Cuba.  The left handed slugger stood 5’11”, 185 pounds, with broad shoulders, and a rifle for a throwing arm.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which profiles the Hall of Fame outfielder:

“Pitchers had a hard time getting him out due to his quick,

powerful swing. They could not throw strikes pass him. Getting him

to swing at pitches out of the strike zone also did not work because

the Cuban was a notorious bad ball hitter. Facing him was an

experience pitchers dreaded.

Many stories have been told as a testimony of the Cuban’s

power when batting. One is about a line drive he hit off the right

field wall in Indianapolis against the ABCs. Supposedly the ball was

hit so hard, it got to the wall so fast, the right fielder was able to

throw the speedy Torriente out at first base. Another story is about

a ball he supposedly hit in Kansas City against the Monarchs. It

smashed a clock 17 feet above the centerfield fence. According to

Torriente’s American Giant teammate shortstop Bob Williams,

“The hand of the clock started going round and round.” It is doubtful

all the stories of balls hit by Torriente are true. But there is no

doubt he was one of the best hitters seen by Negro League fans.”

For more of Cristobal Torriente’s Negro League baseball story, read Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  For more information, go to www.klmitchell.com  or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

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