After viewing my previous post on Negro League baseball’s ambidextrous pitcher Larry Kimbrough, Wanda Weatherspoon wanted information shared about her relative who played with the Kansas City Monarchs; Eugene “Gene” Collins. If you have consistently read my blog posts, you know how strongly I believe Negro League baseball is forever woven into the fabric of 20th Century American History. Wanda is proud her relative is a part of the Negro League story.
Born January 7, 1925 in Kansas City, Gene Collins came to the Monarchs in 1947 when the face of Major League baseball began to change and the Negro Leagues’ swan song started its tune. That year Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play in the Major Leagues. A 5’8”, 168 pound left-handed pitcher, Collins joined a pitching staff that included Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, both now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A good hitter, Collins also spent time playing with Hall of Fame outfielder Willard Brown who along with Monarch teammate Hank Thompson would briefly play for the St. Louis Brown in 1947. By mid-summer of the next year, Paige would be pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Buck O’Neil, Ted Strong, Joe Greene, and Manager Frank Duncan were all Monarch veterans that help break in Gene Collins to the life of Negro League baseball.
For seven innings on May 22, 1949 Collins gave up no hits to the Houston (formerly Newark) Eagles. With Kansas City leading 14 – 0, the game ended after the seventh inning and some credit Collins with pitching the last no-hitter in Negro League baseball. Some research indicates without detail he had pitched a no-hitter earlier while with the Monarchs.
Five of Gene Collins’ young Monarch teammates during his 1947 – 1949 time with the club went on to play in the Major Leagues as racial integration continued in professional baseball; Gene Baker, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson, Curt Roberts, and Connie Johnson. Collins himself began his minor league career with the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Similar to other teams in the American League, the White Sox took a slow approach to racial integration. Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, there were still racial barriers that African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players had to face (quota for number on a team, utility player roster spots for white players only) that hindered many of their careers. The only African American pitchers in the American League until the late 1950s were two of Collins’ former Monarch teammates: Satchel Paige who pitched for the Indians (1948 -1949) and the St. Louis Browns (1951 – 1953) and Connie Johnson (White Sox 1953 – 1955 and Baltimore 1955 – 1958). After spending two years in the lower minor league levels of the White Sox organization, Collins played the remainder of his career in Mexican and Caribbean leagues. He never played a game in Major League baseball.
The second book I am currently writing deals with the plight of former Negro League players like Gene Collins. With the Civil Rights Movement’s initial beginnings as its backdrop, the book tells of the final demise of Negro League teams as the integration of Major League baseball gained unstoppable momentum in the 1950s.
I invite Wanda and anyone else who knew Gene Collins and would want to add more about his life to provide me your information and I will do another post about him.
To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com
Today’s guest is Douglas M. Branson, author of the new book, Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League, (University of Nebraska Press). Currently, Doug is a business law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“In April 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thereby beginning the integration of the National League. Eleven weeks later, in Chicago, Larry Doby came to bat for the Cleveland Indians, thereby launching integration of the American League. To date, fifty -five biographies, or more, of Robinson have been written, along with 3 feature length movies made. Only one biography of Doby exists, written in the 1980s.
Doby and Robinson were friends, who frequently commiserated with one another on the telephone, and barnstormed together once the season ended. Robinson and Doby were good baseball players. Robinson hit .297, with 12 home runs, in his rookie season. Doby hit .301, with 15 home runs, and led his team to victory in the 1948 World Series, in his first full year.
Robinson was a six time All-Star; Doby was a seven time All-Star. Doby too was the first genuine 5 tool (hit for average, hit with power, field, throw, and run the bases) African American player, although. Baseball writers voted Jackie Robinson into the Baseball Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible (1962). The Veterans Committee (not the Baseball Writers of America) voted Larry Doby into the Hall as well (1998), but 39 years after Doby had finished his playing days and 36 years after the Hall had inducted Jackie Robinson.
Why has Larry Doby remained so obscure, especially to younger generations? This book attempts to answer those questions, describing and critiquing the shadows that masked Doby’s achievements, both as a racial pioneer and as a first rate baseball player, from view. In doing so, the book disputes more than a few settled views of baseball history”.
Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League is available through Amazon.com and University of Nebraska Press (use code 6BFP for a 25% discount).
Although born in Talladega, Alabama on June 17, 1921, David Pope grew up in the Homestead Grays barnstorming region of Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Signed by the Grays in 1945, the left handed hitting outfielder shared the dressing room with Negro League immortals Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson. Pope was used mainly as a utility outfielder and pinch hitter on the Grays in 1948 when the team won the last Negro League World Series.
It was Pope’s potential as a hitter that caught the eye of Major League scouts. The Cleveland Indians signed him in 1950 and he made his Major League debut on July 1, 1952. He hit .294 in 12 games, but he was sent back to the minors a victim of his own fielding errors and the unwritten quota system African American players faced in the early years of Major League baseball integration.
He returned to the Cleveland after mid-season in 1954 to help the Indians win the American League pennant. He hit .294 in 60 games with 30 hits, four home runs and had three pinch hitting appearances in the 1954 World Series which the Indians lost to the New York Giants four games to none.
1955 would be Pope’s best year in the Major Leagues, but it would not be with Cleveland. After getting off to a good start he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. He finished the year hitting .264 in 120 games with seven home runs and 52 RBIs.
He was traded back to Cleveland the next year. He played in 37 games and wound up back in their minor league system as the team promoted younger white prospects such as Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito. Pope never made it back to the Major Leagues.
Along with Dave Pope, who were the four other members of the 1948 Homestead Grays that went on to play in the Major Leagues?