Category Archives: Negro League World Series

Negro League World Series – Part 4

The 2017 Baseball Winter Meetings are scheduled for December 10 – 14 in Orlando, Florida.  Baseball fans will be looking on with anticipation for any trades or free agent signings coming from the meetings that will affect teams in 2018.   Also, Major League Baseball announced the first official exhibition games for Spring Training 2018 will be played February 23.  But this post in not about the upcoming 2018 Major League season.  It is the fourth and final segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.

 

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1944 Homestead Grays

With its fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population during World War 2, Negro League game attendance reached new levels.  It experienced a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945.  Negro League baseball grew to become nearly a three million dollar industry and in most cases the largest business operating in   the African-American communities of the cities with Negro National League (NNL) or Negro American League (NAL) franchises.  Another indication of Negro League baseball’s relative stability during this period was the Negro League World Series.

 

Although the Homestead Grays won the NNL pennant again in 1945, the average age of the team’s nucleus (Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, Jud Wilson, etc.) was well above 30 and their skills had begun to erode.  This became more evident when the Grays were swept four games to none by the younger Cleveland Buckeyes in the 1945 Negro League World Series.   Gibson, playing in his last Series before dying in 1947, hit only .123 (2 for 15) and Leonard .200 (3 for 15).  The Grays, scoring only 3 runs the entire Series, were shutout the last two games.

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With Monte Irvin, Leon Day, and Larry Doby returning from military service, the Newark Eagles ended the nine-year reign of the Homestead Grays and won the NNL pennant in 1946.  They faced the NAL’s Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Series.  Both teams had players who would cross over into Major League baseball:  Newark’s Irvin (1949) and Doby (1947), Kansas City’s “Satchel” Paige (1948), Hank Thompson (1947), Willard Brown (1947), and Connie Johnson (1953).  Led by Irvin’s torrid hitting (3 HRs, 8 RBI, and a .462 BA.), the Eagles won Game Six and Seven to win the Series 4 games to 3.

 

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Monte Irvin (right) and Larry Doby (left)

For almost 30 years Alejandro Pompez had been the “Latin Connection” in Negro League baseball.  He created a pipeline that brought dark-skinned Hispanic players from Cuba and other Caribbean countries to star for his Negro League teams; the Cuban Stars (1916 – 1927) and the New York Cubans (1935 – 1950).  The Cubans won the NNL pennant and faced the Cleveland Buckeyes the NAL   pennant winner in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  The accomplishments of both teams were overshadowed that year by Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Both teams in the Series had players who would later go through the door Robinson opened that year.  New York Cuban players Orestes “Minnie” Minoso (1949), Ray Noble (1951), and Pat Scantlebury (1956) would have careers in the Major Leagues; Minoso being the first dark-skinned Hispanic to play.  The Cleveland Buckeyes’ Sam Jethroe (1950), Sam Jones (1951), Quincy Trouppe (1952), and Al Smith (1953) also would spend time in the Major Leagues; Jethroe being the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year.  The Cubans, with Minoso hitting .426, defeated the Buckeyes four games to one in the Series.

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Orestes “Minnie” Minoso

In 1948, the Homestead Grays were no longer the team it had been since the late 1930s.  The team’s owner Cum Posey died of lung cancer in 1946 and Josh Gibson, considered the greatest home run slugger in Negro League history, died in 1947.  Also gone were team stalwarts Raymond Brown, Roy Partlow, Jerry Benjamin, “Cool Papa’ Bell, and Jud Wilson.  However, Buck Leonard and pitcher Wilmer Fields along with future Major Leaguers Luke Easter (1949) and Bob Thurman (1955) led the Grays to capture the NNL pennant.  The team defeated the Birmingham Black Barons four games to one in the 1948 Negro League World Series.  In Game Three, the only one won by Birmingham, the Grays’ Leonard was thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double by the Black Barons’ 17-year old center fielder; future Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays.  It would be the third time the Grays would win a World Series championship against the Black Barons, also in 1943 and 1944.

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Willie Mays

Although Jackie Robinson erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, racial integration in the Major Leagues went at a slow pace.  However, African-American baseball fans looked at the racial competition in Major League games as social progress and quickly began to lose interest in Negro League baseball.  Game attendance in the Negro Leagues dropped to financially dangerous levels for many teams and the economic stability of Negro League baseball began crumbling; never to recover.   After the 1948 season, the NNL disbanded with the few remaining teams absorbed by the NAL which limped on until the end of Negro League baseball in the early 1960s.

The end of Negro League baseball’s economic stability put a permanent end to the Negro League World Series.  The Homestead Grays, one of the most renowned Negro League franchises, played in four of these fall classics during Negro League baseball’s most profitable years, 1942 – 1945; winning two.  It is only fitting that in 1948 the team won the last Negro League World Series championship.

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Negro League World Series – Part Three

The Houston Astros have been crowned World Series champions bringing to an end the 2017 Major League baseball season.  Now begins the “hot stove league”, the name often referred to the baseball off-season, even though winter does not officially start until December 21.  Baseball fans will be waiting to see what changes will be made by their favorite team for improvement in 2018 season.  Especially those fans of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers; teams that made a good run in 2017 but fell short.  With the Astros being young and loaded, it will be an uphill climb for the other teams.  But this post is not my prediction about the 2018 Major League season.  It is the third segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.

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1943 Homestead Grays

After the United States in 1941 became involved in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the continuing operation of both Major League and Negro League baseball for the purpose of maintaining high morale in the country.  The military took such Major League stars as Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Greenberg while Negro League players Monte Irvin, Willard Brown, Leon Day, Larry Doby, and others served also during the War.  There were; however, Negro League stalwarts considered to old (over 30 years old) or with physical exemptions from military service.  This included players such as “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and others.

The war years became a period of economic prosperity for Negro League baseball.  With an estimated 1.5 million African-Americans by 1944 having jobs in industries producing military weapons, equipment, and supplies; Negro League fans had more disposable income to support their favorite team.  In addition, the fan base widened due to the growing northern migration from southern states of African-Americans seeking the increasing job opportunities.  Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades, experiencing a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945.  With this new economic stability came the rebirth of the Negro League World Series.

In 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL) played the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League (NNL) in the first Negro League World Series held since 1927.  The format of attempting to maximum revenue (ticket sales) by playing most of the games in cities with a large African America population remained as before; only one game of the Series would be in Kansas City while the rest in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington D. C., and Philadelphia.  However, the Series changed to be as the Major League’s; first to win four games would be champion.  In the midst of their nine-year reign (1937 – 1945) of winning the NAL pennant, the Grays were favored to defeat the Monarchs.  The Grays’ batting order included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, Howard Easterling, and Jud Wilson.  But the Monarchs’ pitchers led by “Satchel” Paige, Hilton Smith, and Jack Matchett shut down the powerful Grays’ batters and won the Series four games to none.  Josh Gibson only hit .154 (2 for 14) and Buck Leonard .188 (3 for 16).

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“Satchel” Paige (left) and Josh Gibson (right)

In Game Two of this Series, the pitcher-batter confrontation between the Monarchs’ “Satchel” Paige and the Grays’ Josh Gibson that is a part of Negro League folklore took place.  Wanting to demonstrate proof of being the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues at that time, Paige decided to face Gibson; considered the best hitter.  Leading 2 – 0 with two outs and a man on third base, Paige walks Vic Harris and Howard Easterling intentionally so he could face Josh Gibson.  Paige verbally taunted Gibson, telling before each pitch what he would throw.  Gibson struck out on three Paige fastballs, not quick enough to take a swing at any of them.  The confrontation is so baseball legendary, Monarchs’ first baseman Buck O’Neil gives a narration of it in Ken Burn’s 1994 television documentary miniseries “Baseball”.

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John “Buck” O’Neil

Both the 1943 and 1944 Negro League World Series pitted the Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons.  Paced by pitchers Johnny Wright (two shutouts) and Raymond Brown (two wins and a 2.10 ERA) the Grays won the 1943 Series four games to three.   Behind the hitting of Josh Gibson (.500, 8 for 16) and Buck Leonard (.388, 7 for 18), the Grays won the 1944 Series four games to one.

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Buck Leonard

Despite the war years being an economic boom time for Negro League baseball overall, the Negro League World Series struggled.  The 1944 Negro League East West All Star Game in Chicago drew 51,723 in attendance, the largest to see a Negro League game.  Only 29, 589 fans attended Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that summer held in Pittsburgh.  However in his book, “I Was Right on Time” (Simon & Schuster 1997), Buck O’Neil believed there were less than 5,000 people in stadium that saw the Paige vs Gibson event.  But the overall economic stability of both leagues allowed the Negro League World Series to continue.  Stay tuned for the fourth and final segment.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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