Category Archives: Indianapolis Clowns

Bill Blair – Ballplayer and Newspaper Publisher

blair-2                       blair-1

After an injury cut short his time on the fields of Negro League baseball, William “Bill” Blair became a newspaper publisher and prominent community activist in his hometown of Dallas, Texas.

Born on October 17, 1921, Blair left Prairie View College to join the military and became the youngest black first sergeant in the United States Army during World War II. After the war in 1946, he began his Negro League baseball career pitching first for the Cincinnati Crescents and then the Indianapolis Clowns.  He retired from baseball after the 1951 season due to an injured pitching arm.

Blair’s Elite News, first published in 1951, is now the longest existing African American newspaper in North Texas. It covers issues of political, social, economic, and religious importance for African Americans in the North Texas area.  In 1985, Blair was instrumental in organizing Dallas’ first Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade which is today one of the largest such tribute to Dr. King attracting thousands each year.

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)

In Memory of “Choo Choo” Coleman

Choo old

On August 25 last year, I posted an article on this blog entitled: “Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman: Seeing both a baseball sunset and a new dawning”.  It celebrated Coleman’s 78th birthday (born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida). 

I received an email from Coleman’s niece who saw my blog post. She indicated his family had begun the process keeping his name and his story alive for baseball fans. A web site was in the making and other activities were being planned.

However on August 15th, ten days before his 79th birthday, Coleman died in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

In memory of “Choo Choo” Coleman, I have re-posted last year’s article. To me his baseball life was unique.  He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball in the 1950s and had a role in the history of a Major League franchise’s new dawning.

 

Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman: Seeing a Sunset and a New Dawning

choo choo 1

The on field statistics of Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman; born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida, do not make his baseball career anything special. But it is the timing of when he played and the teams in which he was on that draws interest when his name is mentioned.  He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise.

Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators who had their Class D minor league team in Orlando. The Senators were in the American League which as a whole by 1955 as compared to the National League was slower in signing African-American and dark- skinned Latino ball players. The “invisible color line” which kept Major League baseball segregated for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947, but there were still two American League teams without Black or Latino players the year Coleman was signed; the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Going nowhere in the Senators’ minor league organization, Coleman signed with the Indianapolis Clowns midway through the 1956 season. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans.  The Clowns had become the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball when Coleman joined them.  The former Negro American League (NAL) team travelled from city to city to compete against semi-professional and amateur squads while performing on field antics designed to generate laughs for fan entertainment.

By 1960, however, there were Major League teams still interested in Coleman. The 5’9”, 165 pounds undersized catcher was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers that year and was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961.  Coleman made it to the Major Leagues in time to be on the worst team in baseball that season.  The Phillies lost 107 games.  Making his debut on April 16, 1961, Coleman hit .128 playing in 34 games

Choo rookie

The next season “Choo Choo” would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets. The team was 40 – 120 its first season.  And although Coleman had his best year statistically; batting .250 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 55 games, he became a part of the popular baseball lore about the hapless 1962 Mets.  His nickname “Choo Choo”, that Coleman says he got being a fast runner as a child, made him a fan favorite.

Choo met

He was demoted to the minor leagues after he hit .178 in 1963; 3 home runs, 9 RBIs in 106 games. Coleman returned to play briefly for the team in 1966, which would be his last season in the Major Leagues.

Negro League Players of the 1950s – Raydell Maddix and Hank Presswood

Both Raydell Maddix and Henry Presswood played Negro League baseball after the “invisible color line” was broken and Major League teams began signing African Americans.  Maddix and Presswood were opponents and teammates of Negro League players that went on to play in the Major Leagues.  However, neither of the two went beyond playing in the Negro Leagues.

Raydell Maddix

A left handed pitcher who was born in Tampa, Florida on October 7, 1928, Raydell Maddix played for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1947 – 1953. Like most Negro League players in the late 1940s and in the 1950s, he was hoping to catch the eye of Major League scouts. His teammate, Sam Hairston, was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1950. However, military service interrupted Maddix’s career for two years; 1951 and 1952.

A power pitcher nicknamed “Lefty Bo”, Maddix twice lead the Negro American League in strikeouts; 1948 and 1949.   He pitched against Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Jim “Junior” Gilliam and others who went on to play in the Major Leagues. However, Maddix at times was inconsistent with the   command of his pitches and walked batters. He had potential, but integration at that time had not progressed to the point that many Major League teams were willing to invest the time and money on developing African American players; especially pitchers.

Hank Presswood

Henry “Hank” Presswood was born on October 7, 1921 in Electric Mills, Mississippi. A light hitting infielder, his five year Negro League career ran parallel to that of Raydell Maddix.  After coming out of the military in 1947, Presswood played with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1948 – 1950.  His 1948 Buckeye teammates Sam Jethroe, Sam Jones, and Al Smith went on to play in the Major Leagues.  Presswood finished his Negro League career playing for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1951 – 1952.   Ernie Banks was his teammate.

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

 

 

“Choo-Choo” Coleman experienced both a baseball sunset and new dawn

Choo-Ch00

The on field statistics of Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman; born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida, do not make his baseball career anything special. But it is the timing of when he played and the teams in which he was on that draws interest when his name is mentioned. He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise.

Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators who had their Class D minor league team in Orlando. The Senators were in the American League which as a whole by 1955 as compared to the National League was slower in signing African American and dark skinned Latino ballplayers. The “invisible color line” which kept Major League baseball segregated for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947, but there were still two American League teams without Black or Latino players the year Coleman was signed; the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Going nowhere in the Senators’ minor league organization, Coleman signed with the Indianapolis Clowns midway through the 1956 season. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans. The Clowns had become the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball when Coleman joined them. The former Negro American League (NAL) team hectically travelled from city to city to compete against semi-professional and amateur squads while performing on field antics designed to generate laughs for fan entertainment.

By 1960, however, there were Major League teams still interested in him. The 5’9”, 165 pounds undersized catcher was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers that year and was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Coleman made it to the Major Leagues in time to be on the worst team in baseball that season.  The Phillies lost 107 games. Making his debut on April 16, 1961, Coleman hit .128 playing in 34 games

The next season Choo-Choo would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets. The team was 40 – 120 its first season. And although Coleman had his best year statistically; batting .250 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 55 games, he became a part of the popular baseball lore about the hapless 1962 Mets. His nickname “Choo-Choo”, that Coleman says he got being a fast runner as a child, made him a fan favorite.

He was demoted to the minor leagues after he hit .178 in 1963; 3 home runs, 9 RBIs in 106 games. Coleman returned to play briefly for the team in 1966, which would be his last season in the Major Leagues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Birmingham Sam” Brison – Last “Clown Prince” of the Indianapolis Clowns

 

Sam Brison

The last “clown prince” of the Negro League baseball’s Indianapolis Clowns, Samuel “Birmingham Sam” Brison, was born on July 24, 1940 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Here are nine (9) facts about his baseball career:

  1. Brison, a shortstop, first played for the Birmingham Black Barons when 18 years old in 1958.
  2. The Black Barons, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Clowns, and Kansas City Monarchs were the only teams in the Negro American League (NAL) Brison’s first year.
  3. In 1962, Brison began his fifteen year stint with the Indianapolis Clowns.
  4. The Clowns in 1962 were strictly a barnstorming team and the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball.
  5. Brison replaced Richard “King Tut” King who had retired in 1959. “King Tut” had been the Clowns’ leading comedy performer and a fan favorite for the team since the 1940s. At times during those years with a midget named “Spec Behop”, King would perform comedy stunts before the game and between innings.
  6. Because Brison looked so much like King, Clowns’ owner Syd Pollock initially billed him “King Tut Jr.”. However, because “King Tut” was so popular with the fans, Brison said he felt uncomfortable with that name. It was changed to “Birmingham Sam”.
  7. There is unconfirmed information about Brison’s opportunities to play in the Major Leagues while with the Clowns. Supposedly, he was on the spring training camp roster for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1969. However, there is no record of Brison officially playing for a Major League team in his career.
  8. He had a small part in “The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars”, a 1976 movie that loosely depicted life in Negro League baseball.
  9. Brison played basketball in the winter of 1963 with the Harlem Road Kings along with former Indianapolis Clowns first baseman “Goose” Tatum.

“Birmingham Sam” Brison died in April 1204 while living in Birmingham.

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