Category Archives: Negro League World Series

Negro League World Series – Part Two

The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions!!!  After all the adversity the residents of Houston and the surrounding communities have  experienced due to Hurricane Harvey, it is great that the city can now add “home of the World Champion Houston Astros’ to its many names promoting it.  Congratulations to long-time Astros fans like John McDonald who suffered with the franchise through the years of being the Houston Colt 45’s, the JR Richard and Enos Cabell years, the Killer B’s, and the 2005 Astros being swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox.  It is the 55-year-old franchise’s first World Series championship.  For the Dodgers, sorry long-time fan James O”Berry, this adds to the franchise’s World Series history frustration.  Although the Dodgers have won nineteen National League pennants, their six World Series titles fall short of their fans’ expectations.

This blog post is however not a final commentary of this year’s World Series.  It is the second part of last week’s post about the Negro League World Series which is an overlooked part of baseball history.

Negro League baseball held its first World Series in 1924 with the Kansas City Monarchs of Negro National League (NNL) defeating the Hilldale Club of Darby Pennsylvania from the Eastern Colored League (ECL).  Hilldale avenged its lost in the 1925 Series defeating the Monarchs.  In both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (ECL).  When extreme economic times hit African-Americans in the mid-1920’s, Negro League game attendance declined sharply forcing many teams to go out of business.   The ECL disbanded after the 1927 season.  It tried to reorganize in 1929 as the American Negro League, but failed after one season.  The NNL economically limped into the new decade.  With only one official professional Negro baseball league operating and facing the beginning of the greatest economic depression in America’s history, the Negro League World Series went on hiatus.

Negro National League founder Rube Foster died in December of 1930 and his league disbanded at the end of the 1931 season.  Two leagues were started in 1932, but without long-term success.  The East-West League lasted only two months into the season and the Negro Southern League dissolved at the season’s end.

However in 1933 Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburg Crawfords, organized a new  league consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States; and called it the Negro National League (NNL).  From 1933 – 1936, the Crawfords were a dominant force in Negro League baseball.  Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson all played with the Crawfords during those years.  They won the NNL pennant in 1933 and 1935.  In 1936, the NNL’s make-up changed to being teams in the Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.  The next season, Cum Posey’s Homestead Grays won it’s first of nine straight NNL pennants.

pittsc1

Also in 1937, the Negro American League (NAL) began operations consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Southern United States.  The Kansas City Monarchs emerged as the most dominant team in the league.  Starting in 1938, Buck O’Neil’s second year with the team, the Monarch’s won four straight NAL pennants.

kcm1

Kansas City Monarchs 1936

Despite the existence by the late 1930’s of again two Negro professional baseball leagues, the Negro League World Series did not return.  The economics of Negro League baseball worked against the year to year stability of both leagues as African-Americans continued to feel the effects of the economic depression.  However, this changed due to the United States involvement in World War II beginning in 1941. The war led to the improvement of economic conditions for some African Americans over the previous decade because of the country’s desperate need for factory workers.   Due to the labor shortage in industries with federal contracts to produce military weapons, supplies, and equipment; an estimated 1.5 million African Americans had jobs in those industries by 1944. In addition, large numbers of African Americans migrated from the rural South to cities in the Upper Midwest and Northeast seeking employment in those industries.

hg2

Homestead Grays 1939

As a result of the improved economic condition of many African-American baseball fans, Negro League baseball peaked as a business during the 1940s.  With the fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population, Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades.

With the greater stability for Negro League baseball, what about the Negro League World Series?  Stay tuned for Part 3.

For more on the history of Negro League baseball, read Last Train to Cooperstown

Advertisements

The Negro League Baseball World Series – Part One

The World Series is the most anticipated event and the most exciting time of the season for baseball fans.  The American and National League pennant winners clash in what is traditionally referred to as the “Fall Classic” to determine who will get the crown of World Series Champion.  It is a huge part of baseball history.  This year’s Series, the 113th, began last Tuesday.  The Los Angeles Dodgers, a long time National League franchise which began as the Brooklyn Grays in 1890, is going against the Houston Astros who began as a National League franchise in 1962 (Houston Colt 45s) and were switched to the American League in 2013.  The Dodgers are after their fifth World Series title (Brooklyn Dodgers 1955, Los Angeles Dodgers 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988), while the Astros their first.

But this blog post is not a commentary on the 2017 World Series.  It is to give attention to the other World Series also a part of baseball history.  On October 3, 1924; the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) took on the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania of the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the first game of the initial Negro League Baseball World Series.  Although never the financial success of the Negro League East-West All Star Game (1933 – 1948), the Negro League World Series gave an indication of Negro League baseball’s attempt at relative stability in the face of its economic and racial discrimination barriers.  Held for eleven years, 1924 – 1927 and 1942 – 1948, it is the “forgotten” World Series.

By 1924, the acrimony between the two primary Negro professional baseball leagues had subsided to a level favorable to begin a championship series with the pennant winners of each.  Chicago American Giant owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster had formed the Negro National League (NNL) in 1920 consisting of teams in mid America (Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.).  Organized of teams along the eastern seaboard (New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, etc.), the Eastern Colored League (ECL) began operating in 1923.  Many NNL players broke their contracts to play for more money in the ECL angering Foster.  In addition, he had other financial feuds with some owners of ECL teams.  However, the leagues were able to forgo their differences to pursue the potential benefits from a championship series.

nlws1

1924 Negro League World Series

In an attempt to maximize revenue (ticket sales), league officials decided on a best five out of nine series format; same as the Major League’s World Series in 1919 – 1921.  Also, in addition to the cities of the participating teams, some games would be played in cities with a large African-American population.

In the inaugural Negro League World Series in 1924 there were a number of players who now have plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York).  The Kansas City Monarchs had pitchers Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, a 1998 Hall of Fame inductee, and Jose Mendez (2006), who also was the team’s manager.  Third baseman Judy Johnson inducted in 1975, catcher Biz Mackey (2006) and catcher Louis Santop (2006) were on the Hilldale club.  The latter two were involved in one of the key plays in the Series.  In Game Seven with the Series tied three games apiece, the Monarchs trailed 3 -2 in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.  The Monarch’s batter Frank Duncan hit a foul ball behind home plate within the reach of Santop which should have resulted in a Hilldale victory.  But the catcher dropped it, giving Duncan another swing.  On the next pitch Duncan hit a ground ball that got past Biz Mackey who was playing shortstop to give the Monarchs a 4 – 2 win.

santop

Louis Santop

Hilldale recovered to win Game Eight to tie the Series.  Monarch’s manager Jose Mendez, supposedly past his prime at 37 years old, pitched  a 5 – 0 shutout in Game Nine for Kansas City to be the first Negro League World Series champion.  The teams played the Series in four cities; two games in Philadelphia, one in Baltimore, three in Kansas City, and three in Chicago.

 

Mendez

Jose Mendez

They met again in the 1926 Series, but with a different outcome.  accidentally punctured with a needle in the knee by his son, Monarchs pitcher and best hitter “Bullet” Rogan could not play.   Hilldale won the Series four games to one.  Biz Mackey, who had replaced the aging Louis Santop at catcher, hit .360 including three hits in the Series clinching Game Five.

Biz picture

Biz Mackey

Both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series featured the NNL’s Chicago American Giants against the ECL’s Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.  Due to a debilitating illness to “Rube” Foster, Dave Malarcher took over as manager for Chicago.  Excellent pitching highlighted the Series both years.  In 1926, Atlantic City left-handed pitcher Red Grier hurled a no-hitter in Game Three.  However, Chicago’s Bill Foster, Rube’s brother, was the pitching star for the Series.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 and considered the best left-handed pitcher in Negro League baseball history, Foster won two games as his team took the Series five games to three.  In Game Eight, the Series clincher, he pitched a five hit shutout winning 1 – 0.  In the 1927 Series, Atlantic City beat Foster twice.  However, he still won Game 1 and Game 8 as Chicago won the Series again five games to three.

bill foster

Bill Foster

In most written accounts of the “Great Depression”, it does not officially start until the New York Stock Market crashes in 1929.  However, economic hard times had hit African-Americans by the mid-1920s.  Negro League baseball game attendance dramatically declined as fans had no money to support the teams.  As a result many Negro League teams, low on capital from the start, went out of business.  After the 1927 season, the ECL disbanded and the NNL economically limped to the end of the decade.  With only one official league operating and facing extremely difficult economic times, the Negro League World Series disappeared after those four years, 1924 – 1927.   However, this is not the end of its story.  Stay tuned.

To read more about Negro League baseball history Last Train to Cooperstown

 

A Tribute to Monte Irvin – Part 1

monte irvin

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 1924 Negro League World Series

Mendez Jose Mendez          santopLouis Santop

If the Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series which begins this week, it will be the city’s ninth professional baseball World Series championship since 1900. The Royals won their first in 1985.  The Kansas City Blues, a minor league franchise that was in the city from 1888 – 1954 won three Double-A and two Triple-A Junior World Series championships.

The Kansas City Monarchs, one of the most well-known Negro League baseball franchises, must also be included in the World Series championship baseball history of the city. The Monarchs won the Negro League World Series in 1924 and 1942.

Due to racial discrimination that kept them out of Major League baseball for nearly the first half of the Twentieth Century, African Americans formed their own professional baseball leagues. The Negro National League (NNL) was formed in 1920, followed by the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in 1923. The first Negro League World Series was held in 1924 between the Kansas City Monarchs (NNL) and the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania (ECL). It was a best five out of nine Series and it featured five players now with plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Jose Mendez and Wilber “Bullet” Rogan for the Monarchs; Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, and Louis Santop for Hilldale.

In Game 7 with the Series tied three games apiece, Hilldale had a 3 -2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. The following excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown, tells what then happened:

The Monarchs rallied to have the bases loaded, but with two outs. Hilldale was one out from going ahead in the Series four games to threeThe Monarchs batter, Frank Duncan, hit a foul fly ball behind home plate within the reach of Santop. All the normally sure handed backstop had to do was catch it and Hilldale would win.  He dropped the ball!  Given another swing, Duncan hit a ground ball that got through third baseman Biz Mackey driving in two runs to give Kansas City a 4 – 3 victory”.

Although Hilldale rebounded to win Game Eight, the Monarchs got a stellar pitching performance in Game Nine from their aging manager Jose Mendez to win 2 – 0.  They were the first Negro League World Series Champions.  Hilldale revenged their lost the next year defeating Kansas City in the 1925 Series five games to one.

To learn more about the Negro League baseball careers of Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, and Biz Mackey; read 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.

 

 

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.

Negro Baseball History Fact

Mays blog picture Last Friday May 1, Alex Rodriguez hit his 660 career home run to tie Willie Mays as the fourth leading Major League All-time Home Run hitter.  Before having an illustrious 22 year Hall of Fame career in Major League baseball which began in 1951, Mays played Negro League baseball.

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born on May 6 in Westfield, Alabama; 1931.   As a 17 year old teenager, Mays played for the Birmingham Black Barons.  He was the center fielder on the Black Barons’ 1948 Negro American League pennant winning team.  In the last Negro League World Series, the Black Barons lost to the Homestead Grays that year four games to one.

After playing for the Barons in 1949, Willie Mays was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Giants in 1950. After Willie Mays, which former Negro League player is next on the Major League All-time Home Run list?

Negro League Baseball Fact

Buddy picture

Alfred Allen “Buddy” Armour played with four teams in his 13 year (1936 – 1948) Negro League baseball career.  Born in Jackson, Mississippi on April 27, 1927, the left handed hitting outfielder was a three time All Star and a member of a Negro League World Series winning team.

As a shortstop with the St. Louis Stars, Armour made his first Negro League East West All Star Game appearance in 1941.  Chosen as an All Star again in 1944 after becoming an outfielder and playing with the Cleveland Buckeyes, he got two hits in the West squad’s 7 – 4 victory.  While with the Chicago American Giants in 1947, Armour was chosen again an All Star by the votes of Negro League fans.  In the first of the two All Star Games played that year, he hit two doubles to help the West squad win 5 – 2.

Armour hit .307 in the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes’ four game sweep of the Homestead Grays for the Negro League World Series Championship.

By the time professional baseball became integrated in 1947, Armour was 32 years old and was never signed by a Major League club.  He played in the Canadian minor leagues from 1949 – 1951 before retiring.

Which of Armour’s teammates on the Cleveland Buckeyes would go on to win “Rookie of the Year” honors in the Major Leagues?

%d bloggers like this: