Today’s guest is Douglas M. Branson, author of the new book, Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League, (University of Nebraska Press). Currently, Doug is a business law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“In April 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thereby beginning the integration of the National League. Eleven weeks later, in Chicago, Larry Doby came to bat for the Cleveland Indians, thereby launching integration of the American League. To date, fifty -five biographies, or more, of Robinson have been written, along with 3 feature length movies made. Only one biography of Doby exists, written in the 1980s.
Doby and Robinson were friends, who frequently commiserated with one another on the telephone, and barnstormed together once the season ended. Robinson and Doby were good baseball players. Robinson hit .297, with 12 home runs, in his rookie season. Doby hit .301, with 15 home runs, and led his team to victory in the 1948 World Series, in his first full year.
Robinson was a six time All-Star; Doby was a seven time All-Star. Doby too was the first genuine 5 tool (hit for average, hit with power, field, throw, and run the bases) African American player, although. Baseball writers voted Jackie Robinson into the Baseball Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible (1962). The Veterans Committee (not the Baseball Writers of America) voted Larry Doby into the Hall as well (1998), but 39 years after Doby had finished his playing days and 36 years after the Hall had inducted Jackie Robinson.
Why has Larry Doby remained so obscure, especially to younger generations? This book attempts to answer those questions, describing and critiquing the shadows that masked Doby’s achievements, both as a racial pioneer and as a first rate baseball player, from view. In doing so, the book disputes more than a few settled views of baseball history”.
Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League is available through Amazon.com and University of Nebraska Press (use code 6BFP for a 25% discount).
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 story that indicates how Ross Davis, born July 28, 1918 in Greenville, Mississippi, picked up the nickname “Satchel” is a testament to his pitching ability.
By the time he became a teenager; Davis had moved to St. Louis and gained notoriety as a pitcher in the city’s African American semi-professional leagues. He was tall and lean (6’2”, 165 pounds), but had a blazing fastball and sharp breaking curve. The story goes that one day “Satchel” Paige himself saw how hard the talented teenager threw the baseball and loudly began referring to young hurler as “my son”. The nickname, “Satchel”, stuck with Davis his entire short Negro League career.
In 1940 while with the Baltimore Elite Giants and only 22 years old, Ross “Satchel” Davis no-hit the Newark Eagles. His battery mate for that pitching gem was an eighteen year old Roy Campanella, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the Major Leagues. Pitching for the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1943, he defeated “Satchel” Paige in a head to head matchup.
Davis was drafted into military service after the 1943 season and contacted a serious case of hepatitis during World War II. He was advised to not play baseball again because of the lingering effects of his illness.
But Davis returned to the pitching mound after the war. First, he pitched in the short lived Untied States League and then in 1947 helped the Cleveland Buckeyes win the Negro American League (NAL) pennant. He retired after the season at only 29 years old due to the on-going battle with his illness.
Ross “Satchel” Davis died January 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas.
Who was Davis’ 18 year old battery mate for that 1940 no-hit pitching gem?
Yesterday was the birth date of Negro League baseball player James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey; born on July 27, 897 in Eagle Pass, Texas.The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which contains a profile of the Hall of Fame catcher;
“Eagle Pass, Texas is a small town south of Del Rio near the
Mexican border. Here on July 27, 1897 James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey
opened his eyes the first time. This makes him another member of
the Texas fraternity of Negro League ballplayers from the Lone Star
state; that includes Andy Cooper, Willie Wells, Rube Foster, Louis
Santop, and others. Before becoming a teenager he moved with his
family to Luling which is east of San Antonio on the road to
Houston. The Mackeys were sharecroppers. Biz, along with his
brothers, worked on the farm most of the day and then played
baseball until dark. They used boards as bats and anything they
could find as a ball.. By 1916 the black amateur baseball team in
Luling, the Oilers, had three Mackey brothers on its roster; Ray,
Ernest, and Biz.”
To read more about “Biz” Mackey one of the best catchers in baseball history, Last Train to Cooperstown is available via http://www.blackrosewriting.com/sports/last-train-to-cooperstown or Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and all bookstores.
There were two other hall of Fame players along with Mackey on the 1921 Indianapolis ABCs? Name them.
On June 4, 1939, George “Mule” Suttles hit four home runs in a doubleheader against the Homestead Grays. The games were played in Buffalo, New York which was a favorite stop on the Negro League baseball circuit.
After starting with the St. Louis Stars in 1926, Suttles became one of the leading home run hitters in Negro League history. A big man whose actual size varied from 6’ 3” to 6’6” and weighing 215 to 250 pounds according to differing accounts, he led the Negro National League (NNL) in home runs twice. The stories about the distances of his clouts, true and false, are many.
In his third year with the Eagles, Suttles had begun to show the decline of his skills due to age (38) and the years of hard grind in Negro League baseball. However, his performance that day in 1939 showed that “Mule” was still a dangerous hitter for pitchers to face.
As reported by the New York Amsterdam News (June 17 edition) and the Baltimore African American (June 10 edition), Suttles hit three home runs in the first game that June 4 day. The Eagles won 20 – 3. In the nightcap in which the Eagles won 14 – 6, he connected once. He also, according to both papers, stole home.
Despite their double victory that day, the Eagles could not put an end that year to the Homestead Grays dominance of the Negro National League. The Grays went on to win their third of what would be nine straight NNL pennants.
George “Mule” Suttles was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
There were four other Hall of Fame players on the Newark Eagles that day and three on the Homestead Grays. Name them.