Category Archives: Homestead Grays

The Last Negro League World Series Champions -Part Two

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.

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Buck Leronard

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.

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Birmingham Black Barons

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.

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Willie Mays

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.

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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.

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Luke Easter

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.

The Last Negro League World Series Champions – Part 1

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.

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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.

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Cumberland Posey

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!

Raymond Brown: Homestead Grays’ Ace

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Like all pitchers in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, Raymond Brown’s accomplishments on the mound were overshadowed by the talent, charismatic personality, and showmanship of Satchel Paige. However Brown, born on February 23, 1908 in Algiers, Ohio, helped pitch the Homestead Grays to eight Negro National League (NNL) pennants and two Negro League World Series championships.

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

”Of the five players the sportswriters suggested to the Pirates,

Brown has received the least notoriety in his career. Like other

Negro League hurlers, Raymond Brown’s abilities on the mound

were overshadowed by the great Satchel Paige. The most famous

pitcher in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s,

Paige’s accomplishments and showmanship antics on the mound

were well known.  Articles on him appeared not only in Negro

newspapers, but also in large national ones that seldom carried

anything about black baseball. Because of their refusal to cover the

Negro Leagues, those newspapers missed heralding that no Negro League pitcher won more than Raymond Brown.  When Brown

pitched his Homestead Grays knew they had a great chance for

victory. If he had possessed some of Paige’s talent for showmanship

on the mound, Brown would have received more of Satchel’s fame.

A versatile athlete, Brown made his debut into the world in

Algers, Ohio on February 22 or 23, 1908.  Located in western Ohio,

the town is half the distance between Toledo and Dayton.  He used

his 6’1”, 195 pound frame to become an all‐state basketball center

in high school. But that did not distract him from playing the game

he loved ‐ baseball.  Brown could not only pitch, but he swung a

solid bat. Early in his career he played outfield on days he had not

been scheduled to pitch. The switch hitter also frequently pinch hit.”

After leaving Negro League baseball in 1946, Brown pitched first in the Mexican League and then during the early 1950’s in Canadian semi-professional leagues.

 

To know more of Raymond Brown’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 http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

1942 Negro League World Series – Monarchs vs. Grays

Paige and Gibson

As one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League baseball history, the Kansas City Monarchs were Negro League World Series Champions twice. In 1924, the Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) defeated the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania who represented the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the inaugural Negro League fall classic. And it was during this week in 1942, on September 29th, the franchise won its second.

After the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City (ECL) in the 1927, the Negro League fall classic was discontinued. The ECL‘s financial problems became fatal and it went out of business before the next season. Also, the NNL had administrative problems due to the lengthy illness of founder Andrew “Rube” Walker. By the time Foster died in 1930 and the country was in the midst of the worst economic depression in history, Negro League baseball began the new decade having no formal functioning league.

However, by 1942 the state of black baseball had improved to the point that the Negro League World Series was reinstated. The Negro NNL was resurrected in 1933, this time consisting of teams along the eastern seaboard. The Negro American League (NAL) was established in 1937 consisting of teams in the upper midsection and the southern segments of the country. With the beginning of World War II in 1941, the overall economic condition for African Americans in northern and eastern cities of Negro League franchises improved due to the rise of military defense industry jobs. It was the beginning of the best years financially for Negro League teams as game attendance increased.

The stage was set in 1942 for the Kansas City Monarchs of the NAL to battle the Homestead Grays of the NNL for the Negro League World Series championship. Each had consistently dominated their league during recent years. Since the NAL’s beginning in 1937, the Kansas City Monarchs had won five of the first six league pennants only losing it in 1938 to the Memphis Red Sox. The Homestead Grays also had won five NNL pennants since 1937. Although professional baseball was segregated at the time, seven of the players in this Series would eventually be enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York: Satchel Paige, Willard Brown, and Hilton Smith of the Monarchs and Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Raymond Brown, and Jud Wilson of the Grays.

The Monarchs won the Series 4 games to 0. Monarch pitchers Paige, Smith, and Jack Matchett stymied the powerful bats of the Grays. For the Series, Leonard hit .250 and Gibson .206. Willard Brown, Buck O’Neil, and other Monarch hitters hammered the Grays starting pitchers; Ray Brown, Roy Partlow, and Roy Welmaker. They outhit the Grays .345 to .206 and scored 34 runs to the Grays’ 12.

After the Monarchs were ahead three games to none, Grays’ owner Cum Posey took drastic action. For Game Four, his team’s line up included three players from the Newark Eagles; including Hall of Fame pitcher Leon Day, and one from the Philadelphia Stars. With Day pitching for his team, Posey’s Grays won 4 – 1. But, the Monarch’s filed an official protest because the Grays used players from other teams. Posey claimed he had prior approval from the Monarch’s for the roster changes because the sudden loss of players due to injury and the military draft had decimated the Grays. Monarch owner J. L. Wilkinson denied he gave Posey such approval and the protest was upheld; the Grays victory was voided.

After arriving at the ballpark late for Game Four supposedly due to being stopped and given a traffic ticket, Paige was not the Monarch’s starting pitcher. However, he entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Grays winning 5 – 4. He held them scoreless the final five innings and the Monarchs rallied to win the game 9 – 5 and complete the Series sweep.

Read more about the journey of Negro League baseball in my book “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

From the Pitching Mound to the Pulpit – William “Bill” Greason

Bill Greason

William “Bill” Greason played professional baseball in many different places and at several different levels during his career.  Born on September 3, 1924 in Atlanta, Georgia, Greason applied his talent as a right-handed pitcher in both Negro and Major League baseball; in addition to high and lower levels in the minor leagues.  He pitched in cities across the United States, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Like other African American ballplayers of his era (1947 -1958) Greason saw the final demise of Negro League baseball, participated in the integration of the minor leagues, and experienced racism in the Major Leagues after the “invisible color line” had been erased.

The 5’ 10’’ and 170 pound ex-Marine first pitched in 1947 with the Nashville Black Vols and Ashville (North Carolina) Blues, both considered minor league African American teams. It was the year Jackie Robinson became the first African American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball. Greason was a power pitcher with a fastball and a sharp breaking pitch that he could throw sidearm. By the end of that season he had pitched his way onto the roster of the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League (NAL).

1948 was his breakout year. Greason pitched three scoreless innings in that year’s Negro League Baseball East-West All-Star game. Also, with him as one of its top pitchers, the Black Barons beat out Buck O’Neil’s Kansas City Monarchs to win the NAL pennant. Both Negro League stars Lorenzo “Piper” Davis and Arte Wilson were also on the Black Barons that year. In addition, a 17-year-old kid named Willie Mays played centerfield for the team. In what would be the last Negro League World Series, Greason pitched the Black Barons to their only victory against the Homestead Grays winning 4 – 3.

After leaving the Black Barons following the 1950 season, Greason pitched in the Class AAA and A levels in the minor leagues. He also pitched in the Mexican League and spent a short second stint in the Marines. When he returned to baseball in 1953, he became the third African American to play in the Class AA Texas League.

In 1954, Greason along with Brooks Lawrence and Tom Alston were the first African American players invited to a spring training camp by the St. Louis Cardinals.   He made his Major League debut on May 31 at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. In three innings, Greason gave up five runs on six hits in the Cards 14 – 4 lost. Three of the hits off Greason were home runs, one by the Cubs young shortstop and former Negro League player Ernie Banks. After appearing briefly in two more games, Greason at the end of June was sent to the minor leagues.

For the remainder of the decade he pitched with the Houston Buffs (Class AA Texas League), the Rochester Red Wings (Class AAA International League), and winter league baseball in the Caribbean. He never again played in the Major Leagues, getting only that one chance like a number of former Negro League players in the 1950s.

Greason retired in 1959 and was called into Christian ministry.  He was pastor of a church in Birmingham, Alabama for 30 years and was cited by the Alabama State Legislature in 2001 for outstanding ministry achievement.

“Double Duty” did it all in Negro League baseball

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After seeing Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe pitch the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium and then get behind the plate to catch the second game, New York journalist/writer Damon Runyon was so impressed he wrote about the black ballplayer in his newspaper column.  Runyon gave Radcliffe the nickname “Double Duty”.  Born on July 7, 1902 in Mobile, Alabama, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe had a nomadic 32 year journey through Negro League baseball that covered four decades (1928 – 1950).

He played with and against many of the Negro League greats.  Along with Hall of Fame players Willie Wells, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Mules Suttles, Radcliffe won a Negro National League (NNL) pennant for the St, Louis Stars in 1930.  He was on the 1931 Homestead Grays team that included Hall of Fame players Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Smokey” Joe Williams, and Jud “Boojum” Wilson.  He played the next year for a new team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, that had six future Hall of Famers including fellow Mobile native Satchel Paige whose birthday is also July 7 (7/7/06).  He was also on the Birmingham Black Barons’ 1944 Negro American League (NAL) inning team.

Wearing the uniform of over ten Negro League teams, Radcliffe also played in the Mexican League and the Cuban Winter leagues.  His career was the extreme example of an African American ballplayer’s life before the integration of Major League baseball.  He experienced all the good and the bad of Negro League baseball first hand.

The 5’10”, 190 pound right hand thrower was a reliable pitcher that, according to available statistics, won 19 games in 1932.  He was a good defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm that hit over .300 that same year.  A fan favorite, “Double Duty” was elected to play in six Negro League Baseball East-West All Star Games; three times as a pitcher and three as a catcher.  His three run home run in the 1944 game help lead the West squad to a 7 – 4 victory.

“Double Duty” Radcliffe was also the player/manager for which teams during his Negro League baseball career?

Negro League Baseball History Fact

Pope Picture

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?

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