Category Archives: Negro League Baseball

Negro League Baseball Catchers – Part One

Since the beginning of March on Twitter (follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop) I have been tweeting about Negro League baseball catchers.

If you have been reading my blog posts any length of time, you are aware of my journey through playing Little League and high school baseball handling the so-called “tools of ignorance”.  That is the nickname given to a catcher’s protective equipment:  catcher’s mask, chest protector, shin guards.  Supposedly coined by Major League catcher “Muddy” Ruel who played in the 1920s and 1930s, the phrase ironically points out the so called smarts needed by a catcher to handle the responsibilities of the position and the foolishness needed to play a position where such protective equipment is required.  My less than stellar performance at times questioned if I had the smarts to required for the position, but the pain experienced from being hit by foul tips and from base runners crashing into me trying to score (catchers could block home plate back then) showed my foolishness in playing it.

The catchers I mention in my tweets have not gotten the recognition as the four former Negro League catchers currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame:  Roy Campanella (1969), Josh Gibson (1972), James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey (2006), and Louis Santop (2006).  However, some did briefly play Major League baseball.  Others were outstanding contributors to the success of their team.  They all developed the skills necessary to handle the responsibilities of the position and helped to build the legacy of Negro League baseball.

Following are a few of my Twitter tweets on Negro League baseball catchers:

Bruce Petway, best defensive catcher in Negro League baseball in early 1900s.  Cuban X Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Chicago American Giants 1911 – 1919, Detroit Stars 1920 – 1925.

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Larry “Iron Man” Brown, Negro League career 1921 – 1946, teams included Memphis Red Sox and Chicago American Giants, 7-time Negro League All-Star, Memphis player/manager 1942 – 1944.

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Frank Duncan, Kansas City Monarchs 1921 – 1934, 1937, 1941 – 1947.  Played on both of Monarchs’ Negro League World Series champions 1924 and 1942.  Monarchs’ manager 1942 – 1947.

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Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, Negro League All-Star, 3-times catcher and 3-times pitcher, 1931 Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1932, Memphis Red Sox 1938 – 39, 41, Birmingham Black Barons 1942 – 1946.

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Quincy Trouppe, 5-time Negro League All-Star, St. Louis Stars 1930 – 1931, Indianapolis Clowns 1938, Cleveland Buckeyes 1944 – 1947, signed Cleveland Indians 1952, Major League debut 4/30/52.

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Joshua Johnson 1934 – 1940  Homestead Grays 1934 – 35, 1940 back up to Josh Gibson, also played with New York Black Yankees 1938.

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Albert “Buster” Haywood, most productive years Cincinnati/Indianapolis Clowns 1943 – 1953, Negro League All-Star 1944, named manager of Clowns 1948, first manager for Henry Aaron 1952.

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Sam Hairston, Indianapolis Clowns 1945 – 1948, Signed Chicago White Sox 1950, MLB debut 7/21/51, 1952 – 1960 mainly in White Sox minor league system, 2 sons and 2 grandsons played MLB .

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Ray Noble, New York Cubans 1946 – 1948, played on team’s 1947 Negro League World Series champion, New York Giants 1951 – 1953, MLB debut 4/18/51.

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Otha “Little Catch” Bailey, Negro League career 1950 – 1959, Cleveland Buckeyes, Houston Eagles, Birmingham Black Barons, 5’6’’, 150 pounds, One of the best catchers in talent diluted Negro Leagues in 1950s.

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All photos the courtesy of a variety of internet sites via Google Images

 

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Remembering Those Who Played Their Last Inning in 2017: Part 1

Before getting further into 2018, I need to briefly mention the Negro League players who took the field for the last inning of life’s game in 2017.  The lives on each one I name in this post were a chapter in the Negro League baseball story.  I may not have known about the death this year of others from the era, so the list could be incomplete.

I need to mention three players who died in 2017 not involved in the Negro League baseball era, but were a part of the game’s “Golden Age” (1950s and 1960s).  They will be in my next post.

 

Art Pennington  –  January 4, 2017

The legendary story surrounding Art Pennington has him briefly lifting  the front or back-end of an automobile when 10 years old while helping fix a flat tire.  From this event, whether true or false, he got childhood nickname “superman” which remained with him during his baseball career.  The left-handed 1b/OF played with the Chicago American Giants from 1940 – 1946, and 1950.  A 2-time Negro League All-Star (1942, 1950), Pennington also played in the Mexican League during the late 1940s.  One of a group of African-American players that integrated professional baseball’s minor league system in the early 1950s, Pennington finally signed with the New York Yankees in 1958.  At 35 years old, he briefly played in the team’s lower minor league before retiring after the 1959 season.

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Art Pennington

 

Paul Casanova  –  January 12, 2017

An excellent defensive catcher from Cuba with a strong throwing arm, Casanova first signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1960.  After being released, he finished the 1961 season with the Indianapolis Clowns, the final remnant of Negro League baseball.  While Casanova played with a semi-pro team in 1963, a scout for the Washington Senators noticed him.  He remembered seeing Casanova play with the Clowns and signed him.  Casanova went on to have a 10 year Major League career, 7 with the Senators (1965 – 1971).  In 1967, he played in 141 games and was named to the American League All-Star team.

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Paul Casanova

 

Cleophus Brown  –  March 14, 2017

The left-handed pitcher and first baseman played in the Negro Leagues during the decade the era limped to its eventual end.  A Korean War vet, Brown signed on with the Louisville Clippers in 1955 an independent team.  It had been in the Negro American League (NAL), but dropped out after the 1954 season.  After one season with Louisville, Brown worked in the Birmingham, AL. steel mills (17 years) and then the Post Office while playing in the city’s semi-professional baseball Industrial Leagues.

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Cleophus Brown

 

John L. Gray  –  May 4, 2017

Gray attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio and then signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1956 as a catcher and outfielder.  He played that first year with the Indians’ Class D minor league affiliate the Daytona Beach Islanders (Florida State League).  In 1958 after some dissatisfaction with the Indian’s minor league system, Gray signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League (NAL).  While with the Clowns, Gray hit a home run at Yankee Stadium which he frequently mentioned to his children and grandchildren in his golden years.  He finished his baseball career playing in the minor league system of first the Chicago Cubs in 1959 and then the Chicago White Sox in 1960.

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John L. Gray

 

Maurice Peatross  –  June 26, 2017

In 1944, while 17 years old, Peatross played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the short-lived United States Negro Baseball League.  The 6’1”, 230 pound first baseman went into the military after high school and returned in 1947 to sign with the Homestead Grays as backup support for the aging Buck Leonard.  The legendary first baseman was 40 years old and still the main drawing card for the Grays.  Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, Peatross spent the next four years in the team’s minor league system and then retired from baseball to spend more time with his growing family.

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Maurice Peatross

 

Bob Motley  –  September 14, 2017

The last surviving and one of the most well-known umpires in Negro League baseball, Motley entertained fans during the late 1940s and the 1950s with his animated calls.  The ex-marine World War II Purple Heart recipient handled the umpiring duties for the games of such Negro League players who went on to the Major Leagues such as Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Henry Aaron, and Elston Howard.  Motley tenaciously fought to overcome the racial discrimination he faced as a professional umpire.  He became the second African-American umpire in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1959.

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Bob Motley

 

Willie James Lee and Archie “Dropo” Young

The former teammates on the Birmingham Black Barons died within the same week in 2017.  Willie James Lee died on October 12 and Archie “Dropo” Young died October 19.  They were briefly teammates with the Black Barons in 1956.  After one game Lee (left on the picture below) went on to the Kansas City Monarchs where he got the reputation of being a power hitting outfielder.  Constant injuries hampered his development in the minor league systems of first the Detroit Tigers and then the Minnesota Twins from 1959 – 1964.  A Korean War veteran, Archie Young (below right)  played with the Black Barons in 1956 and 1957 while also working in job in the coal mines.  The power hitting first baseman got the nickname “Dropo” after the American League first baseman during that time, Walt Dropo.

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Mamie “Peanut” Johnson  –  December 19, 2017

One of three women (also Connie Morgan and Toni Stone) who played Negro League baseball in the 1950s, Mamie Johnson pitched for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953 – 1955.  Johnson stood 5’3” and weighed 120 pounds.  An opposing player said she “looked like a peanut” on the mound and that started the nickname “Peanut”.  With Negro League baseball on a steady decline during the 1950s, the Clowns added comedy routines to their performance on the field in hopes of attracting fans to the games.  But Johnson’s pitching had nothing to do with comedy.  A regular in the Clown’s rotation, she had an arsenal of pitches to throw against opposing batters; slider, curveball, screwball, change of pace, and a fastball that got to home plate sooner than hitters expected.  Her unofficial 3-year record is given as 33 – 8.  Racial discrimination banned her from playing in the All-American Girls Professional League (AAGPL) as in the movie “A League of Their Own”.  After baseball, Johnson had a long successful nursing career.

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Mamie “Peanut” Johnson

 

 

Last Train To Cooperstown Book Trailer

Book Cover 47 KB

“Last Train to Cooperstown”

The perfect holiday gift for the sports fan on your shopping list!

To order go to Last Train to Cooperstown

Negro League Baseball Connected to Black History Month

Check out my interview discussing “Last Train to Cooperstown” on the podcast BASEBALL HAPPENINGS NET.  Thanks to Nick Diunte for having me on his website’s podcast.

The death of former Negro League player Art Pennington is mentioned in the interview.  He died last month, January 4.  Pennington played outfield and first base for the Chicago American Giants from 1940 – 1946, 1950.

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His passing is another loss in the dwindling number of former Negro League players still alive.  This makes it even more important for the story of Negro League baseball must continue to be told.  As the nation celebrates African-American history this month, the Negro League baseball era should be included in the celebration.  Although established due to racial discrimination, it is an important part of 20th Century African American history.

To read more on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

Remembering Those Who Played Life’s Last Inning in 2016

Many of my blog posts celebrate the birthdays of African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players of the past; mainly those of the Negro League baseball era and of the game’s “Golden Age” (1950s and 1960s). However as 2016 comes to an end, I would like to briefly mention those who died this year.  If there are some not listed it is because I was not aware of their deaths.  Of the eight named in this blog post, some had more productive careers statistically than others.  However, they all helped to grow the deep, unshakable roots African-Americans have in the great game of baseball

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Monte Irvin (left)

Monte Irvin – January 11, 2016

The Hall of Fame outfielder, inducted in 1973, spent the prime years of his career in Negro League baseball with the Newark Eagles. Considered the best player in the Negro Leagues by many in 1941 before going into military service, Irvin returned in 1946 to help the Eagles win the Negro League World Series Championship.  In 1949 he became the first  African-American to play for the New York Giants.  He helped them win two National League pennants and the 1954 World Series Championship.

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Walt Williams – January 23, 2016

I remember Walt Williams as a hustling, energetic outfielder with the Chicago White Sox (1967 – 1972) who had the nickname “No Neck” because of his short and stocky physique. A contact hitter without much power, he had an outwardly enthusiastic approach to playing baseball.  Williams also spent time with the Houston Colt 45s (1964), Cleveland Indians (1973), and New York Yankees (1974-1975).

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Ted Toles, Jr. – April 5, 2016

Ted Toles played Negro League baseball from 1943 – 1947 and then in 1949. A pitcher and outfielder, he played for the Newark Eagles, Cleveland Buckeyes, and Jacksonville Eagles.  He spent time in the minor leagues in the early 1950s.

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Joe Durham – April 20, 2016

After playing in Negro League baseball with the Chicago American Giants, Durham signed with the St. Louis Browns in the fall of 1952. The Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 and called Durham up from the minor leagues the last month of the season.  He made his Major League debut on September 10 and two days later became the first African-American player to hit a home run in an Orioles’ uniform.

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Charley Beamon – May 3, 2016

Arm trouble cut short the career of Beamon, a right-handed power pitcher with a good curveball.  A high school classmate of basketball great Bill Russell and Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson (McClymonds in Oakland, CA.), Beamon made his Major League debut on September 26, 1956.  He outmatched Whitey Ford in beating the New York Yankees 1 – 0 giving up only 4 hits.  But he missed most of 1957 due to arm soreness and was 1 -3 with the Orioles in 1958, his last Major League season.

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Jim Ray Hart – May 19, 2016

A power hitting third baseman for the San Francisco Giants 1963 – 1973, Hart smashed 31 home runs in 1964 and 33 in 1966.  He finished second in the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year voting next to winner Dick Allen.  Hart averaged 92 RBIs a year for the 1964 – 1967 seasons.  He finished his career playing with New York Yankees in 1974.

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Chico Fernandez – June 11, 2016

Fernandez signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 as a shortstop.  With future Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese still in his prime, Fernandez spent five years in the team’s minor league system.  But the Dodgers traded Chico to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957 and he became the first dark-skinned Latino to play for the team.  He had two productive seasons (1957-1958) with the Phillies.  In 1960, the team traded Fernandez to the Detroit Tigers where he became their number one shortstop for three years (1960 – 1962).

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“Choo Choo” Coleman – August 15, 2016

Coleman had a unique career in baseball.  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, but after going nowhere in the their minor league organization he signed with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. 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.  However, there were Major League teams still interested in Coleman as he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960 and  the Philadelphia  Phillies in 1961.  Choo-Choo would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason the next season as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets who  were 40 – 112 and are known in historical baseball lore as the “hapless 1962 Mets”.

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

Jim Gilliam: 1953 Rookie of the Year

In 1953, eight former Negro League players made their Major League Baseball debut.  Only in 1951 did as many from Negro League baseball go through the door into the big leagues Jackie Robinson had broken down in 1947. Gene Baker, Ernie Banks, Jim “Junior” Gilliam, Dave Hoskins, Connie Johnson, Jim Pendleton, Al Smith, and Bob Trice all were former Negro League players who were Major League rookies in 1953.  Banks went on to have a nineteen year Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Cubs.  But it was Gilliam who the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) named 1953 National League “Rookie of the Year” on that December 23.

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Five of the first six previous winners of the National League Rookie of the Year award had been former Negro League players.  Jackie Robinson (Kansas City Monarchs) in 1947, Don Newcombe (Newark Eagles) in 1949, and Joe Black (Baltimore Elite Giants) in 1952 all won playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Sam Jethroe (Cleveland Buckeyes) won the award with the Boston Braves in 1950 and Willie Mays (Birmingham Black Barons) won it playing for the New York Giants in 1951. Gilliam was the sixth and last one from the Negro Leagues to win the award.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee; Jim Gilliam began playing with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1946 as a seventeen year old second baseman. With the Giants, he became a switch hitter and got the nickname “Junior” because of his age.  Gilliam appeared in three Negro League East West All Star games and was signed in 1951 by the Brooklyn Dodgers.  In his rookie year, he hit .278 with 63 RBIs and a league leading 12 triples.  He also scored 125 runs.  Walter Alston, the Dodgers’ manager, loved Gilliam’s ability to play second base, third base, or left field.  Gilliam hit .296 with two home runs in that year’s World Series as the Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees 4 games to 2.  He hit .292 in the 1955 World Series win against the Yankees; the Dodgers only World Series Championship while in Brooklyn.

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When the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Gilliam played on three more Dodgers World Series Champion teams (1959, 1963, and 1965). He played in a total of seven World Series (39 games) with the Dodgers.  The “Dodger blue” was the only uniform Gilliam wore in his 14 year (1953 – 1966) Major League career.

 

Remembering “Sad” Sam Jones

Past feature articles, game summaries, and game box scores of African-American newspapers indicate there were at least 29 no-hitters thrown in Negro League baseball.  Most notably there were two by Satchel Paige and one each by Hilton Smith, Andy Cooper, “Smoky” Joe Williams, and Leon Day; all Hall of Fame pitchers.  The “invisible color line” that kept African–American ballplayers out of the Major Leagues was not erased until 1947 which was too late for these and many other good Negro League hurlers who were by then either dead or passed their prime.  But there were younger Negro League pitchers that got their opportunity in the Major Leagues; “Toothpick” Sam Jones was one of them. He is the only former Negro League pitcher to throw a Major League no-hitter.

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Born 12/14/25 in Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones also spent a portion of his youth in West Virginia. He left for military service before starting the life of a coal mine worker as were many of his family members and friends.  He played with a local black team while stationed in Orlando, Florida in 1947 and caught the eye of Quincy Trouppe, then the manager of the Negro American League (NAL) Cleveland Buckeyes.  Jones signed in time to help the team win the NAL pennant, but they lost to the New York Cubans in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  Jones got his nickname from having a toothpick in his mouth while on the pitching mound.

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With Quincy Trouppe 1952

It would be 1950 when the Cleveland Indians finally noticed the talented right-handed hurler that had been in their own backyard. However, Jones pitched in only 16 games with the Indians in four years before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1954 season. Once in the National League, the talented pitcher proved what he had done in the Negro Leagues was no fluke.   Opponents claimed Jones, a power pitcher standing at 6’4” and weighing 200 pounds, had the best curveball in the National League.  He faced batters with a never-changing, expressionless look on his face which resulted in him also being called “Sad” Sam.  That is the nickname I mostly remember.  But opponents also said Jones had a mean streak exhibited by his pitches; he hit 14 batters in 1955 (league leader).  There was an ongoing intense confrontation whenever Henry Aaron faced Jones that is well documented.  Jones struggled at times with control of his pitches; he led the National League in walks four times.  But he also could be overpowering; being the league leader in strikeouts three years and pitching 17 shutouts in his 12 year Major League career.  He became a two-time National League All-Star, winning 21 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and 18 in 1960.

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But it was on May 12, 1955 as a Chicago Cub that Jones pitched himself into the Major League Baseball record book with a 4-0 no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It was a “Sam Jones” pitched type of game.  He struck out six batters, walked seven, threw a Wild Pitch, and was helped with two double plays.  In the ninth inning, he walked the first three hitters before striking out the final three.

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He retired after pitching with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964, the sixth team played with during his time in the Major Leagues; Cleveland Indians 1951 – 1952,  Chicago Cubs 1955 – 1956, St. Louis Cardinals 1957 – 1958 and 1963, San Francisco Giants 1959 – 1961, and Detroit Tigers 1962.  On November 5, 1971, the 45 years old Jones died of throat cancer.

“Sad “Sam Jones won 102 games in the Major Leagues. He lost 101.  No doubt the inconsistent control of his pitches cost him victories early in his career, but he still had 1,376 career strikeouts.  And no former Negro League pitcher, other than Don Newcombe, had the success in the Major Leagues as Sam Jones.

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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

 

 

Hank Thompson: Played a Role in the Integration of Major League Baseball

In my opinion, Hank Thompson does not get the notice he deserves in the integration of Major League baseball. Playing with the St. Louis Browns in the summer of 1947, he followed closely on the coat tails of Jackie Robinson (after two months and two days) and Larry Doby (after two days) to break through the “invisible color line” that had kept African-American and dark-skinned Latinos out of Major League baseball.  Although the Browns released him that summer, Thompson’s talent could not be denied and he went on to have a productive eight year Major League career with the New York Giants.  Born on December 8, 1925 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the left-handed hitting Henry Curtis Thompson played a part in the historic changing of baseball’s face.

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Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League on April 15, 1947 to become the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th Century.  At that time, Hank Thompson was in his second season with the Kansas City Monarchs since returning from the military after World War II. He had begun playing Negro League baseball in 1943 as a teenaged outfielder with the Monarchs before the military draft.  The potential as a ball player he exhibited before military service was coming to fruition.  On July 5, 1947 Larry Doby played his first game with the Cleveland Indians to become the first African-American to play in the American League.

Seeing the large crowds Jackie Robinson attracted to ballparks, the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Hank Thompson and his teammate Willard Brown from the Monarch. The Browns were the worst team in the American League with attendance below 1,000 fans during many home games.  The team’s management hoped having the black players would generate fan interest.  Thompson played his first Major League game on July 17. On July 20, he and Brown made history as St. Louis became the first team to field two African-American players.  Their teammates refused to accept them and Browns’ manager Muddy Ruel only used the black players sparingly.  The integration experiment did not attract the crowds as desired.  With no intention of helping to nurture their baseball talents as the Dodgers did for Robinson and the Indians would do for Doby, the Browns released both Thompson and Brown on August 23.  Although he did not get a fair opportunity with the Browns, Thompson showed promise hitting .256 in 27 games playing mainly second base.  At only 21 years old, he would get another opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.  Unfortunately, being 32 years old, Willard Brown did not.

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Hank Thompson (left) and Willard Brown (right) with the St. Louis Browns 1947

 

Thompson returned to the Kansas City Monarchs for the 1948 season and received his second chance the next year when signed by the New York Giants. He along with Monte Irvin made their Major League debuts on July 8, 1949 to become the first African-Americans to play for the Giants.  In 1950, his first full year with the team, Thompson hit .289 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs while playing 148 games mainly at third base and was considered one of the best in league at that position.  But he also played in the outfield as he did with the Monarchs.  In 1951, the Giants won the National League pennant and played in the World Series against the New York Yankees.  Thompson played alongside Monte Irvin and rookie Willie Mays as the Giants become the first team in World Series history to field an all African-American starting outfield.

When Mays left for military service, Thompson hit 17 home runs in 1952 and 24 home runs batting .302 in 1953. When Mays returned in 1954, Thompson hit .263 with 26 home runs and 86 RBIs to help the Giants win the National League pennant.  In the team’s World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians, he hit .364 with seven walks (a four game Series record) and made a spectacular fielding play at third base in Game Three.

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(Left to right) Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, and Hank Thompson

Throughout his playing career Thompson battled with alcoholism. By 1956 it dramatically took its toll on him.  He became so unproductive the Giants sent him to the minor leagues late in the 1956 season and he retired from baseball in 1957.  He died on September 3, 1969, only 43 years old.

Hank Thompson does not have a plaque in Cooperstown as does his former teammates on the New York Giants; Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. However, he should be remembered as one of the Negro League players who proved that once given the opportunity, he belonged in the Major Leagues.  His success kept the door open for others to follow.

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Former Negro League players(left to right) Ernie Banks, Hank Thompson, Gene Baker, Willie Mays

 

 

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

LA Dodgers’ Dave Roberts is C. I. Taylor -type Manager

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Last week, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) named Los Angeles Dodger skipper Dave Roberts as the 2016 National League Manager of the Year. In his first season, I watched him manage the team with a low-key approach.  Even doing pressure situations in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the Chicago Cubs, Roberts kept an even keel and did not appear to get rattled.  To me that is what I would call the C. I. Taylor style of managing.  Now the question you may be asking is, “Who is C. I. Taylor”?

During the Negro League baseball era, African-American teams faced constant criticism for being unstructured and undisciplined. Most of it came from Major League team owners as a way of justifying the “invisible color line” that kept African American and dark-skinned Latinos out of Major League baseball.  The criticism also came from African American sportswriters in their ongoing battle with Negro League team owners in trying to improve the status and condition of black baseball.  Negro League players in reality were no more undisciplined than white ones in the Major Leagues.  Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and many others had problems, but they were not publicized.  There were no 24 hour Cable TV sports networks or social media around to spotlight an athlete’s off field activities.  Although some of the criticism may have been valid, it unfairly stereotyped many Negro League teams.  However, none of it could be applied to teams handled by Charles Isham Taylor; one of the best managers in Negro League baseball.

A native of Andersonville, South Carolina, C. I. Taylor like Dave Roberts did not have a standout playing career. Neither he a weak hitting second baseman, nor Roberts an outfielder with a below average throwing arm was considered an All-Star caliber player.  Both of their baseball careers were odysseys that had several stops.   After first being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1984, Roberts went on to play with five other Major League franchises (Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, Padres, and Giants) while developing a reputation of being a good teammate who played the game with hustle and enthusiasm.  After retiring in 2009 he first worked as a baseball TV analyst and broadcaster before holding several administrative and coaching positions with the San Diego Padres.

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C. I. Taylor began as the player/manager for the Birmingham Giants, one of that city’s first black professional baseball teams, in 1904. His three younger brothers were also with him; “Candy” Jim, “Steel Armed” Johnny, and Ben the youngest. As a part of the African-American migration north during that time, Taylor took his brothers in 1910 and became manager of the West Baden Sprudels, a team sponsored by a resort in West Baden, Indiana. Although located in the remote area of southern Indiana, the Sprudels became one of the best African American teams in the country’s heartland.  In 1914, Taylor became co-owner and manager of the Indianapolis ABC’s; named after the American Brewing Company.

His teams did not fit the Negro League stereotype. A strict disciplinarian, Taylor’s players had a dress code on the field and when they traveled.  The son of a Methodist minister, C. I. demonstrated a manner different from most of his contemporaries, black or white.  He did not curse, nor rant and rave at his players.  He had a sense of calm and composure about him rarely seen on a baseball field during those times.  Described as being fair, honest, and patient; C. I. taught his players the fundamentals of the game while having their admiration and respect. Always having an eye for good talent, he discovered an 18-year-old center fielder from Indianapolis who became a Hall of Fame player; Oscar Charleston.  C. I. also helped younger brother Ben to become a Hall of Fame first baseman.  His list of former players that went on to be managers or coaches includes Charleston, Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey, Dizzy Dismukes, David Malarcher, Bingo DeMoss, and each of the other Taylor brothers.

Most importantly, C. I. Taylor’s teams won. From 1914 – 1916, his ABCs would battle the Chicago American Giants in a season ending series to determine Negro League supremacy.  The Giants were managed by Andrew “Rube” Foster, considered the father of Negro League baseball.  The two managers respected each other, but the contests between the teams were heated. Taylor’s team won in 1916.

When Foster formed the first official Negro League in 1920, C. I. Taylor played a key role.  The ABCs were a charter member of the Negro National League (NNL) and he served as Vice-President.  However, Taylor unexpectedly died in 1922 at age 47, a setback for Negro League baseball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have not played in a World Series since 1987.  Dodger fans are hoping Dave Roberts can lead the team to soon ending its 28 year drought.  It is my hope the National Baseball Hall of Fame will realize that only one of the two best managers in Negro League baseball has a plaque at the museum in Cooperstown; Andrew “Rube” Foster (1981).  Hopefully C. I. Taylor will someday get his.

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Rube Foster and C. I. Taylor

 

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

Hall of Fame Negro League Outfielder Cristobal Torriente

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Cristobal Torriente, like most of the 2006 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees from Negro League baseball, had not been well-known to many baseball fans. That includes a long time one such as yours truly.  His feats on the diamond had not been celebrated as contributions to Negro League lore similar to those of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, James “Cool Papa” Bell and the other Negro League legends that had previously been enshrined in Cooperstown.  But Torreinte deserved Hall of Fame recognition and he received it in 2006.

Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba on November 16, 1893, Torriente saw a few of his white countrymen play Major League baseball. However, he could not due to the dark hue of his skin.  Just like African-American professional baseball players for nearly half of the 20th Century, he could not cross Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”.  Instead, Torriente showcased his baseball talents in the Negro Leagues.

In 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, 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.

 

Little is known about the early life of Cristobal Torriente in

Cuba. From most information, he was born in 1893 in Cienfuegos.

His family worked in the fields and boiler houses of the area’s sugar

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mills. By 17 he was in the Cuban Army displaying his physical

strength by loading heavy guns onto mules; while also blasting

baseballs around local sandlots.

 

After being a young phenomenon in the 1913 Cuban Winter

League, the 19 year old Torriente joined the Cuban Stars and played

his first season in the United States. The Stars were a traveling team

that played mainly against independent black professional baseball

teams. No official African American league existed at the time, but

the Stars competed against such black teams as the New York

Lincoln Giants, New York Lincoln Stars, Chicago American Giants,

and others. The change in surroundings did not hinder Torriente.

He quickly began to establish himself as the team’s hitting star

going up against the likes of “Smokey Joe” Williams, “Cannonball”

Dick Redding, ”Big Bill” Gatewood, and other Negro League

pitchers. By many accounts, Torriente hit .383 that first year. And if

the Stars’ opponents believed that was just rookie luck, the strong

Cuban put that to rest the next season by again hitting over .300. In

his years with the Cuban Stars, he reportedly never hit less than

.300.”

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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 http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.

 

 

 

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