The Broken Ankle That Launched a Hall of Fame Career – Henry Aaron

I have not published this post in three years.  It is an example of how one quirk of fate can have tremendous impact on baseball careers.

On March 13, 1954 during an exhibition game in Florida; Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base on a force play.  Three years after his pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants, Thomson had come to the Braves in a trade to add power to their line-up.  It was a forgone conclusion when spring training began that the Braves’ opening day outfield would be Thomson along with Billy Bruton, and Andy Pafko.  But with Thomson injured, a triple fractured ankle, the Braves had to change their plan.

Twenty-year old Henry Aaron had doubts about making it on the Braves roster that spring.  Purchased from Negro League baseball’s Indianapolis Clowns in 1952, Aaron had spent two years destroying pitchers in the Braves’ minor league system.  While one of the first African-Americans in the Southern Atlantic League (Sally League) in 1953, he hit .362 with 22 home runs and won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  However, Aaron thought at best he would be assigned to the Braves’ Triple A team in Toledo, Ohio.

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But, with Thomson breaking his ankle and reserve outfielder Jim Pendleton (also a former Negro League player) not reporting due to a salary dispute, the Braves’ turned to Aaron.  The next day in his first time in the starting outfield, he hit a home run.  Exceeding his expectations, Aaron left spring training as the Braves opening day left fielder.

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He went hitless in five at bats during the season opener in Cincinnati on April 13, but got two hits in the Braves home opener on April 15.  In St. Louis on April 23 against Cardinal pitcher Vic Raschi, Aaron hit his first Major League home run.  He finished 1954, his rookie season, batting .282 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.

To read about the Negro League baseball era  The Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – James “Buzz” Clarkson

The baseball career of James Buster “Buzz” Clarkson, born 2/13/18 in Hopkins, South Carolina, covered a large amount of ground; not much different from his Negro League contemporaries.  It included stints in Negro League baseball, the Mexican and Canadian Leagues, and the winter leagues in Puerto Rico and Cuba; in addition to serving in the military (1943 – 1945).  In the 1950s, Clarkson also played Major League baseball and helped integrate the minor leagues

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At 5’11’ and a solidly built 210 pounds, Clarkson could play any infield or outfield position.  He began his   Negro League baseball career with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1937.   When Clarkson played shortstop for the Newark Eagles in 1940, fans selected him to participate in the Negro League East-West All Star game (scored a run).  He also played right field in 1949 All-Star Game while with the Philadelphia Stars (one hit and one RBI).

Clarkson signed with the Boston Braves in 1950 as a third baseman.  After hitting over .300 in two minor league seasons, he made his Major League debut on April 20,1952, at 37 years old per Major League Baseball records.  Knowing being older may hinder their careers, many former Negro League players did not give their true age when signing with a Major League team.  His advanced age and the Braves having 20-year-old rookie Eddie Mathews at third base that year, the first of a 17-year Hall of Fame career, made Clarkson expendable.  In his only Major League season, he played in 14 games with the Braves that year hitting .200; five singles in 25 AT Bats (.200).

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Spending the remainder of his career in the minor leagues, Clarkson became as one of the first African-Americans to play in the Texas League (Class AA); hitting 42 home runs in 1954.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era The Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball Fact For Today – Lyman Bostock

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will recognize this post.  It is one I have done the last few years on this calendar day commemorating Lyman Wesley Bostock, born March 11, 1918 in Birmingham, Alabama.   Twenty-four year old Bostock, a promising Negro League baseball player, went into the military in 1942.  Thirty-three years later Bostock became one of the less than handful of former Negro League players who had sons that played in the Major Leagues.  Being twenty-four years old in 1975, Lyman Bostock Jr. began his Major League baseball rookie season with the Minnesota Twins.  He fulfilled the dream that alluded his father

Before going into military service, the senior Bostock played first base for the Birmingham Black Barons.  Selected by fans as an All Star in 1941, he got a hit in the Negro League East West All Star Game.  However, after returning to baseball in 1946, he did not regain his All-Star form and no opportunity to play in the Major Leagues came when the “invisible color line” disappeared in 1947.  Had integration in Major League baseball come prior to Bostock’s years in the military, it could have been a different story for him.  Bostock played in the Negro Leagues until 1954.

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Lyman Bostock, Sr.

Lyman Bostock Jr. became one of the first players to benefit from the Major League baseball free agency system in the 1970s.  After hitting over .300 for two years with the Twins, he signed a huge contract with the California Angels in 1978.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see the full extent of Lyman Bostock, Jr.’s baseball ability.  A gunman cut short the ballplayer’s career, killing him during the season that year.  A senseless tragedy ended the great story that the son of a former Negro League player had become a Major League baseball player.

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Lyman Bostock, Jr.

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Lyman Bostock, Jr.

The indisputable ties between Negro League baseball and the Major Leagues were not fully acknowledged during the late 1970s, before the boom of interest in the Negro Leagues that exists today.  But, Lyman Bostock, Jr. displayed the actual DNA representation of those ties.  How great it would be for baseball today if a Negro League player’s descendant dawned a Major  League baseball uniform.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Walter “Rev” Cannady

Walter “Rev” Cannady’s twenty-four years (1921 – 1945) Negro League baseball journey encompassed nine cities and included him playing for fourteen teams.  Born on March 6, 1904 in Lake City, Florida (or Norfolk, Virginia); his baseball experiences in that long career include being traded three times and playing with a Negro League Baseball World Series Championship team.

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With a reputation of being a good defensive second baseman, Cannady had the versatility to play any infield position solidly.  On a few teams; he also played in the outfield, put on the catcher’s gear, and even pitched.

Everyone in the Negro Leagues also knew “Rev” Cannady could hit a baseball.  At 6’0” and 180 lbs., he had a batting average of over .300 with home run power several times; consistently hitting in the middle of his team’s batting order.

Although his career began in 1921 with the Cleveland Buckeyes, he spent most of his career with teams in New York.  His longest stint with the New York Black Yankees (1933 – 1939).  In 1938, Negro League baseball fans elected “Rev” to play in the East-West All Star Game.   After playing for the Homestead Grays in 1923 – 1924, 1929, and 1932; he returned to the team in 1944.  Playing third base, Cannady helped the Grays win the 1944 Negro League World Series Championship.

In 2005, Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame commissioned a special committee of Negro League baseball historians to make recommendations of individuals from Negro League baseball for Hall of Fame induction in 2006.   After an extensive research of the Negro League baseball era, the committee developed a group of 97 in which they would vote on to make up the final list that would be recommended.  They included Walter “Rev” Cannady in that group.  He did not garish enough votes from committee members to be one of the seventeen recommended for Hall of Fame induction.  However, to be included by the committee in the group of 97 indicates at the very least Walter “Rev” Cannady’s legacy as a good Negro League ballplayer.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Parnell Woods

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Parnell Woods.

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Born on either February 16 or 26, 1912; Parnell Woods began his Negro League baseball odyssey with his hometown Birmingham (Ala.) Black Barons in 1933. The solid fielding third baseman, who occasionally hit over .300 during his career, finally left home in 1940 to play for the Cleveland Bears (Negro American League).  Formerly known as the Jacksonville (Fla.) Red Caps in the 1930s, the franchise moved back to Jacksonville for the 1941 season.  Woods returned to Ohio in 1942 to be the player/manager for the Cincinnati Buckeyes; the youngest skipper in Negro League baseball at that time.

The team relocated to Cleveland the next year and hired a new manager who named Woods team captain. As one of the team’s best hitters, he helped the Buckeyes surprisingly become one of the best teams in the Negro American League (NAL) from 1945 – 1948.  They won two NAL pennants (1945 and 1947) and defeated the Homestead Grays to be Negro League World Series Champion in 1945.

Negro League fans selected Woods to participate in five straight East West All Star Games (1938 – 1942).

In 1949 at 37 years old, Woods played with the Oakland Oaks (Triple AAA minor league), his only season in white organized baseball.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

To read about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Eddie Dwight

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Eddie Dwight.

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Eddie Dwight first kneeling right to left

Born in Dalton, Georgia on February 25, 1905, Eddie Dwight played for the Kansas City Monarchs for two periods of time; 1928 – 1929 and 1933 – 1937. He made his home in Kansas City, Kansas, my hometown on the west end of Kansas City’s Intercity Viaduct.  The Dwight’s lived on the northeast side of KCK, his children went to school with members of my family.

Although a good outfielder with speed and range, Dwight could not break into the Monarchs’ starting line up during his first stint with the team. However, he returned in 1933 to become the No. 1 centerfielder.   A good contact hitter and bunter with base stealing speed, Dwight primarily led the Monarchs offensive attack batting first.  Negro League fans selected him to play in the 1936 East-West All Star Game.

After retiring, Dwight owned a retail store in the 1950s. In 1962, his son Eddie Dwight, Jr. became the first African-American chosen by NASA for astronaut training.

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Eddie Dwight, Jr.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history

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The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – John Henry Russell

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: John Henry Russell.

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Although primarily a second baseman, John Henry Russell’s versatility gave him the ability to also play first base, third base, or shortstop during his 12 year Negro League baseball career (1923 – 1934). Born February 24, 1898 in Dolcito, Alabama, he gained the reputation of being excellent on defense by using quick hands and feet combined with a strong throwing arm.  He did not consistently have a high batting average, but his speed made him a better than average baserunner.

After starting his career with the Memphis Red Sox, Russell played with the St. Louis Stars (1926 – 1930). He paired with Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells for the Stars to have one of the best double play combinations in the Negro Leagues during that time.  St. Louis, who also had Hall of Fame center fielder James “Cool Papa” Bell and Hall of Fame first baseman George “Mule” Suttles, won the Negro National League championship in 1928 and 1930.

While with the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931 – 1933), Russell received honor from Negro League fans by being selected to play in the inaugural East-West All Star Game. On that September 10th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Russell shared the field with such Negro League greats as Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, and others.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

To read more about the Negro League Baseball Era Last Train To Cooperstown

 

 

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Raymond Brown

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact:  Raymond Brown.

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Like all pitchers in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, Raymond Brown’s accomplishments on the mound were overshadowed by the talent, charismatic personality, and showmanship of Satchel Paige. However Brown, born on February 23, 1908 in Algiers, Ohio, helped pitch the Homestead Grays to eight Negro National League (NNL) pennants and two Negro League World Series championships.

In 2006, Raymond Brown was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The following is an excerpt about him from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era. 

”Of the five players the sportswriters suggested to the Pirates,

Brown has received the least notoriety in his career. Like other

Negro League hurlers, Raymond Brown’s abilities on the mound

were overshadowed by the great Satchel Paige. The most famous

pitcher in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s,

Paige’s accomplishments and showmanship antics on the mound

were well known.  Articles on him appeared not only in Negro

newspapers, but also in large national ones that seldom carried

anything about black baseball. Because of their refusal to cover the

Negro Leagues, those newspapers missed heralding that no Negro League pitcher won

more than Raymond Brown.  When Brown

pitched his Homestead Grays knew they had a great chance for

victory. If he had possessed some of Paige’s talent for showmanship

on the mound, Brown would have received more of Satchel’s fame.

A versatile athlete, Brown made his debut into the world in

Algers, Ohio on February 22 or 23, 1908.  Located in western Ohio,

the town is half the distance between Toledo and Dayton.  He used

his 6’1”, 195 pound frame to become an all‐state basketball center

in high school. But that did not distract him from playing the game

he loved ‐ baseball.  Brown could not only pitch, but he swung a

solid bat. Early in his career he played outfield on days he had not

been scheduled to pitch. The switch hitter also frequently pinch hit.”

After leaving Negro League baseball in 1946, Brown pitched first in the Mexican League and then during the early 1950’s in Canadian semi-professional leagues

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

To read more about Raymond Brown and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

 

 

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Charlie Peete

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Charlie Peete.

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Born February 22, 1929 in Franklin, Virginia; Peete had a short and unproductive stint in Negro League baseball. He played 31 games with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1950, batting only .231.  However, this did not prevent him from going further in baseball.

After serving in the military, he became one of the African-American players that integrated the Piedmont League (Class B minor league) in 1953. The speedy center fielder got the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals who signed him in 1954.  Peete won the batting title hitting .350 in 1956 with the team’s Omaha Class AAA minor league club.

When given the opportunity to play with the Cardinals towards the end of the 1956 season, Peete only hit .192 with six RBIs in 23 games. However, the team kept him on roster for the for 1957.  After team officials saw he had the skills to play centerfield and had promise as a hitter, they still considered him a good prospect.  In addition, the Cardinals had been criticized for misfiring on two previous African-American players.  Pitcher Brooks Lawrence won 19 games in 1956 after they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds.  Tom Alston, who in 1954 became the first African-American to play for the Cardinals had been demoted to their minor league system.  He and Peete were teammates at Omaha in 1955.

The center fielder for the Cardinals in 1956, Bobby Del Greco, only hit .216. Depending on how Charlie Peete would have hit in spring training of 1957, he had the opportunity to be the Cardinals’ main centerfielder.  However, on his way to play winter baseball in Venezuela; Peete, along with his wife and three children were killed in a plane crash on November 11, 1956.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

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The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today – Bill Cash

In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Bill Cash.

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Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia; William (Bill) “Ready” Cash played his entire Negro League baseball career (1943 – 1950) with the Philadelphia Stars.  A good defensive catcher known for his strong throwing arm, Cash also proved himself as an above average hitter. He played in the 1948 and 1949 East-West All Star Game, hitting two doubles in the latter to help the East squad to a 4 – 0 victory.

He signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1952 when 32 years old and never rose above the Class C level during two years in the teams’minor league system.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

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