William McKinley Cornelius was not a famous Negro League baseball player. Born September 3, 1906 in Atlanta, Georgia; Cornelius said his mother gave him the nickname “Sugar” because he loved eating sugar as a baby. As he got older, it was shortened to “Sug” and stayed with him all his life. The right-handed pitcher did not play on the more renowned Negro League teams such as the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, Newark Eagles, or Pittsburgh Crawfords. After short stints with the Nashville Elite Giants, Birmingham Black Barons, and Memphis Red Sox, Cornelius had his best years with the Chicago American Giants from 1931 – 1946. His exploits on the field were not legendary, but “Sug” Cornelius’ had an established pro baseball career in the Negro Leagues.
Many former Negro League players said “Sug” could throw a curve around a barrel; it was his signature pitch. He battled with many of the Negro League’s greatest hitters with his curveball. His mound opponents included Hall of Famers Leon Day, Raymond Brown, and of course Satchel Paige. Also, he successfully pitched against Major League batters in exhibition games after the season and in the California winter leagues.
Negro League fans voted him to participate in three Negro League East West All Star Games. Cornelius pitched a scoreless top of the 11th inning for the West squad in the 1935 East-West All Star Game and became the winning pitcher after “Mule” Suttles’ home run in the bottom of the ending. But in the 1936 All Star Game “Sug” gave up two runs in the first three innings as the losing pitcher in the West squad’s 10 – 2 defeat. He received over 63,000 votes from fans, the second highest for all pitchers that year, for the 1938 game. But he had another rocky outing, giving up three runs in the first inning. The West squad rallied to win the game 5 – 4.
Past his prime years when Jackie Robinson erased Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”, “Sug” regretfully accepted the fact he had missed his chance. He said, “It was just one of those things. My skin was black and that denied me the right to play in the majors”.
“Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues by John Holway (1992, Da Capo Press – New York) was used as a source material for quotes and some other information for this article.
To read more on the history of Negro League baseball, order “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”, at (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)
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.
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.
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Willie Foster George “Mule” Suttles
On September 10, 1933, the first Negro League Baseball East-West All Star Game was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Negro League fans used ballots in the Chicago Defender, Pittsburg Courier, and other leading African American newspapers to vote for their favorite to appear in the game. The annual contest would become the annual national showcase for Negro League baseball through the 1930s and 1940s.
Here is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, describing the All Star Game:
“The NNL held its first East‐West All‐Star Game on September 10,
- It was the brainchild of Greenlee and two black newspaper
sportswriters, Roy Sparrow of the Pittsburgh Sun‐Telegraph and
Bill Nunn of the Pittsburgh Courier. It was played in Chicago’s
Comiskey Park where Major League baseball had its first All Star
Game earlier that summer.
The event was designed to be a national showcase for Negro
League baseball. Fans could use ballots in the Pittsburgh Courier,
Chicago Defender, and other black newspapers to vote for their
favorite player. “Mule” Suttles received 35,134 votes from fans for
the inaugural East‐West All Star Game. It was a tremendous success
as fans came from around the country dressed in their Sunday best
to see the game. With 19,568 attending the game, it was one of the
largest gatherings of African Americans for that time.”
The Negro National League (NNL) top vote recipients were divided into two squads for the game; East and West. It was won by the West 11 – 7. Willie Foster of the Chicago American Giants was the winning pitcher, going all nine innings. Teammate George “Mule” Suttles helped by hitting the first Negro League All Star Game home run.
There were eleven players on the field at Comiskey Park that day who would be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. James “Cool Papa” Bell, Oscar Charleston, Biz Mackey, Jud Wilson, Judy Johnson, “Satchel” Paige, and Andy Cooper were on the East All Stars. The West All Stars included Willie Foster, “Mule” Suttles, Willie Wells, and “Turkey” Stearnes.
To learn more about some of the players in the Negro League East-West All Star Game down through the years, read Last Train to Cooperstown. For more information go to www.klmitchell.com or BookLaunch (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown).