Pete Hill: One of the Best Outfielders of “Deadball” Baseball Era

I did not totally forget to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League outfielder Pete Hill last week, born October 12, 1882 – 84.  If you follow me on Twitter, @Lasttraintocoop, you saw my tweet acknowledging it.  Please excuse my unintended slight of him on this blog.  Hill, a fine fielder and consistent .300 plus hitter, is now considered one of the best outfielders in baseball during the “Deadball Era” (1900 – 1919).

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame agreed in 2006 with that assessment of Pete Hill.   He along with eleven other players and five executives all from Negro League baseball were inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that year.  Hill’s induction gave him overdue recognition as a contemporary of Ty Cobb (1936 Hall of Fame inductee) and Tris Speaker (1937 Hall of Fame inductee), the best Major League outfielders of the early 20th Century.

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, in which I profile Pete Hill and the other 2006 inductees from Negro League baseball.

“In 1901, Hill left Pittsburgh for New York to play for the Cuban X

Giants.  Being only 21, he could not break into the starting lineup to

play regularly.  But, the young outfielder caught the eye of Sol White,

manager of the X Giants’ main rival, the Philadelphia Giants.  White

recruited Hill to play for his team in 1903.

 

With the Philadelphia Giants, he began to mature as a ballplayer.

In 1904, he was the center fielder for what many say was the best

black team of the early 20th century era.  With Hill leading the way,

the Giants were proclaimed winners of the “Colored Championship

of the World” in 1904, 1905, and 1906.  This was the title given to

the top black team on the east coast.  Charles “Kid” Carter, James

Booker, Charlie Grant, Emmett Bowman, and Dan McClellan were

other good players on the Giants with Hill.

 

Another teammate of Hill was Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster at

that time was one of the best pitchers in black baseball.  He would

later become the “father” of Negro League baseball and a member

of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The friendship with Foster would have

a major influence on the remainder of Pete Hill’s baseball career.

After the 1906 season, Foster left the Philadelphia Giants to

become the manager for the Chicago Leland Giants.  He took six of

his Philadelphia Giants teammates with him, including Pete Hill.

 

Under the leadership of Rube Foster, Hill’s career blossomed

with the Chicago team.  He was the team captain and was taught the

ins and outs of managing by his friend.  Hill continued to build on

his reputation as a great hitter and the Leland Giants became one of

the most dominant African-American teams in the country’s

heartland.”

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To read more about Pete Hill and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

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John I. Kennedy: First African American Philadelphia Philly

The purpose of the postings on my blog and website is to promote the unshakable historical connection of African-Americans to the sport of baseball.  Although I earnestly try to verify information I use on the posts through multiple sources, there are at times errors in the content I write.  Dates may be incorrect, outdated or undocumented information may appear, or important facts not included.  In those occasional instances, the post needs to be updated with the necessary corrections.  My post on November 24, 2015, John Kennedy: First African-American to Play for the Philadelphia Phillies fits into this category; it needs updating for corrections.  Kennedy is an unsung pioneer who has a place in baseball history as the first African-American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies (April 22, 1957).

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Based on a number of internet sources, I indicated in the original post that Kennedy attended Edward Waters College in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. This is not correct; he attended Edward Waters High School.  Former Negro League player John “Buck” O’Neil indicates in his book, “I Was Right on Time” that during the times of racial segregation in the south there were only four white high schools in Florida that would allow African-Americans to attend.  With none of them being in his hometown of Sarasota, O’Neil said he went to the high school at Edward Waters College.  In learning John Kennedy attended Edward Waters; researchers mistakenly assumed college not knowing it had a high school branch/division also.

In the original post, I referenced Kennedy’s time in Negro League baseball with the Birmingham Black Barons and Kansas City Monarchs. However, I have discovered he also had a stint with the Indianapolis Clowns.  His All-Star season with the Monarchs got the attention of both the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Kennedy signed with Philadelphia on October 4, 1956.

Also missing from the first post; a description about the “buzz” Kennedy created during spring training for the Phillies in 1957.  “Philadelphia Bulletin” sports writer Ray Kelly reported Phillies’ Manager Mayo Smith referring to Kennedy as, “the most exciting newcomer in the Southland”, that spring.  Smith praised him for having confidence in his ability and showing poise.  He also complimented Kennedy’s hitting and excellent reflexes.  “Pittsburg Courier” sports writer Al Dunmore said Kennedy was considered one of the “four top Negro rookies” discussed that spring training in Florida.  Brooks Lawrence, African-American pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, described Kennedy to Dunmore as “a man verby tough to get out”. Although they had considered Kennedy a good player prior to that spring, the African-American Major League players who had battled against him in past fall barnstorming seasons could see his improvement.  His backhanded fielding of a hard hit ground ball off the bat of Cincinnati Reds’ slugger Frank Robinson many considered the best defensive play seen in all the training camps that spring.  To go along with his strong defensive performances, Kennedy batted .385 and for the first time the Philadelphia Phillies had an African-American on the regular season roster.

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John Kennedy (far right) with Philly teammates 1957

After Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947, the process of integrating Major League baseball went at a slow pace. Major League teams used age as one excuse to not sign or advance in their minor league systems former Negro League players.  To improve their chances, some African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic baseball players said they were younger than their actual age when signed by a Major League team.  Their actions did not denigrate or taint their Major League careers.  It is what they believed had to be done in fighting the racial discrimination that still existed in professional baseball.  Erroneously in my 2015 blog post about John I. Kennedy, I implied his Major League career fit into that category.  That is not true!  There is no documented evidence or proof that John Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age.  There is nothing to indicate that the team did not know 30-year-old John Kennedy came to spring training in 1957.

There was some confusion about Kennedy’s age. In my earlier blog I indicate Kennedy’s birthdate as November 12, 1926 which is the one given of him by most sources and the accurate one.  However, I also state another birthdate of November 11, 1934 for Kennedy from the book, “Crossing the Line:  Black Major Leaguers 1947 – 1959” (University of Nebraska Press – 2006).  Also, below is an excerpt from his profile in the 2000 Florida Times Union “Athletes of the Century” on-line article where Kennedy is listed as the 85th greatest athlete from the Jacksonville area:

On Kennedy: “John was a beautiful fielder with a good arm. I don’t think the Phillies intended to bring him up until he did so well in spring training. I don’t know this for fact, but I believe they released him quickly because they found out he lied about his age. He was 30, but he told them he was 21.” — Eugene “Stank” White, Kennedy’s teammate on several Negro League teams.

Despite this contrary information that has led to different a conclusion with some sources, there is no documented evidence Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age. In spite of Kennedy’s fantastic performances during spring training, the Phillies traded with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 5 for Chico Fernandez.  Five years younger and with more Major League experience than Kennedy, Fernandez began the regular season as the #1 shortstop.  Kennedy had played third base and second base in Negro League baseball, but the Phillies made no effort to use him at either position; even though the team’s 30-year-old 2nd baseman Granny Hamner (.227) and 31-year-old 3rd baseman Willie Jones (.218) were having a sub-par season.

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The Phillies also that season traded for Chuck Harmon, an African-American outfielder, who had been in the Major Leagues three years. With Harmon, the team appeared to have gone over its quota for African American and/or dark-skinned Hispanic players (no more than two) which the majority of Major League teams set in the 1950s.  The owners were afraid having too many players of color would drive away white baseball fans.  This made Kennedy, who according to some sources also had a sore shoulder and a seriously ill mother, the odd minority out.  Gone from the Phillies before mid-season, Kennedy played in only five games and had only two AT-BATS.  He spent three more full years in the Phillies minor league system (1958 – 1960) before retiring from professional baseball.  The team did not give him another opportunity to make its Major League roster.

If my original post about John Irvin Kennedy implied he misled the Phillies organization about his true age, I stand corrected. A talented African-American baseball player whose career was stymied by discrimination that existed during the slow process of Major League baseball racial integration in the 1950s, John Irvin Kennedy has an untainted place in baseball history.

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For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

 

Edsall Walker: Part of “the Long Gray Line”

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Last Friday I failed to give notice of Edsall Walker’s birthday.   Born September 15, 1913 in Catskill, New York, “Big” Walker pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1937 – 1940 and 1943 – 1946.  He received the nickname because of his 6’0, 215 pounds physical stature.  They nicknamed George Walker, 5’11”, 185 pounds who also pitched for the Grays during that time “Little”.

A left-handed pitcher, “Big” Walker had what opposing hitters called a wickedly sinking fastball that he consistently threw at 100 miles per hour.  However, he could not consistently get it in the strike zone.  Wild enough with his pitches to caused batters to fear being hit, Walker still threw enough strikes when needed to get them out.   That combination made him an effective pitcher.  With Hall of Fame left handed pitchers Willie Foster and Andy Cooper past their primes, “Big” Walker was one of the best southpaw pitchers in the Negro Leagues during his time.

Walker came to the Grays in 1937 after playing with a minor league team; the Albany Colored Giants.  Slugger Josh Gibson had returned to the Grays that same year in a trade after playing five years with the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  Starting with that season the Homestead Grays would win nine straight Negro National League pennants (1937 – 1945).  With the team known mainly during this stretch for its powerful offense due to Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, and others in the batting order, the pitching staff does not get the credit it deserved.  Hall of Fame pitcher Raymond Brown was the team’s ace with “Big” Walker one of the other key starters and its top reliever.  The Grays traded “Big” to the Philadelphia Stars in 1941.   After the United States became embroiled in World War II, he sat out the 1942 season to work fulltime in the Baltimore shipping yards and then returned to the Grays.

Walker’s only Negro League East-West All Star Game appearance came in 1938 as the starting pitcher for the East squad.  In the first three innings, he gave up five runs on four hits, three walks, and was the losing pitcher in the West’s squad 5 – 4 win.  It was a performance Walker hesitated discussing later in life because he was a better pitcher than he showed that day.

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The winning tradition established by the Homestead Grays has been called “the long gray line”. Although not a Hall of Fame or perennial All Star pitcher, Edsall “Big” Walker for seven years helped keep the line moving.

For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s Quebec Provincial League

This past Monday I acknowledged on Twitter the birthdate of former Negro League pitcher Bob Trice, born 8/28/26 in Newton, Georgia.  Bob Trice has a place in baseball history as the first African-American to play in a Major League game for the then Philadelphia A’s, September 13, 1953.   He was one of a group of former Negro League players that found success in Canada’s Provincial League during the slow beginning of racial integration in the Major Leagues and the steady demise of Negro League baseball.  They were scouted while playing in Canada and signed by Major League teams.

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Bob Trice

Organized in 1922, the Canadian (Quebec) Provincial League consisted of teams located in Canada’s Quebec Province. Operating independently of any professional baseball governing organization, the league began allowing African-Americans to play in the late 1930s.  In 1935 pitcher Alfred Wilson became the first African-American to be in the league, but I could not find information about him or others who played there during that period.  When the Provincial League became more recognized by organized professional baseball in the United States, the welcome mat for African American players disappeared.  However; when the process of racial integration of Major League baseball began in 1946 and Negro League baseball began to decline, the league in Canada attracted many former Negro League players.

In 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson had erased the “invisible color line” that had kept African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball for over 60 years, racial integration in professional baseball had slowly progressed. Along with Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers), there were eight other African-Americans or dark-skinned Hispanics who had appeared in Major League games that year:  Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella (Dodgers), Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin (New York Giants), and Larry Doby, “Satchel” Paige, Luke Easter, and Minnie Minoso (Cleveland Indians).  However, the future declining fate of the Negro Leagues had begun.  Negro League game attendance dropped dramatically as blackball fans enthusiastically flocked to see African-Americans compete in the Major Leagues.  Seen as more than an athletic contest, the games to African-American baseball fans were demonstrations of social progress.  As the 1940s concluded, the Negro National League (NNL) disbanded leaving only the Negro American League (NAL) to navigate the troubled water.  It was during this time that many Negro League players found refuge in Canada’s Quebec Provincial League.

In 1948, James “Buzz” Clarkson (Pittsburgh Crawfords, Newark Eagles, and Philadelphia Stars) led the Provincial League in home runs with 29 while playing for the St. Jean (Quebec) Braves. He signed with the Boston Braves in 1950.  Dave Pope, (Homestead Grays), played for the Provincial League’s Farnham (Quebec) Pirates in 1948, briefly serving as the team’s player/manager.  After one more season with Farnham, he signed with the Cleveland Indians.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, Bob Trice pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1948 – 1950.  When the Grays disbanded, he pitched in 1951 with the Provincial League’s Farnham Pirates managed by former Negro League player Sam Bankhead.  The team consisted of many former Negro League players such as Joe Scott (Birmingham Black Barons and Kansas City Monarchs), Joe Taylor (Chicago American Giants), Archie Ware (Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, and Cleveland Buckeyes), and Josh Gibson, Jr. (Homestead Grays).  After playing with Farnham in 1950, Taylor had signed with the Philadelphia A’s who sent him back to the Provincial League.  The A’s signed Trice after the 1951 season and then assigned both he and Taylor to play for St. Hyacinthe (Quebec) Saints in the Provincial League the next season.

Hall of Fame (2006) pitcher Raymond Brown whose Negro League career was with the Homestead Grays (1932 – 1945) helped the Sherbrooke (Quebec) Athletics win the Provincial League champion in 1951.

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Raymond Brown

Teammates with the Grays former ace that year included former Negro League players Claro Duany (New York Cubans) and Silvio Garcia (New York Cubans).

Also in 1951, former Kansas City Monarch Connie Johnson led the Provincial League in strikeouts pitching for St. Hyacinthe. After the season, Johnson signed with the Chicago White Sox.

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Connie Johnson

In the late 1940s, Major League scouts considered the Provincial League as a “Class C” level minor league. Many saw it a haven for Negro League players not considered Major League prospects because they were too old or lacked the necessary talent.  However, the league performance of a few players could not go unnoticed.  They used the Provincial League to get their opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.

After signing with the Boston Braves when 35 years old, “Buzz” Clarkson had two solid years with the team’s Class AAA affiliate. But he was given only 25 plate appearances in 1952 to prove himself in the Major Leagues.  Not getting the quick bang from Clarkson they wanted, he hit only five singles, the Braves sent him back to the minor leagues where he played the remainder of his professional career.

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Buzz Clarkson

Dave Pope had a four-year Major League career (1952, 1954 – 56) as a utility player including an appearance in the 1954 World Series with the Cleveland Indians.

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Dave Pope

Joe Taylor had a four-year Major League career (1954, 1957 – 59) as a utility player with four different teams: Philadelphia A’s (1954), Cincinnati Reds (1957), St. Louis Cardinals (1958), and Baltimore Orioles (1958 – 59).

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The first African-American to play for the A’s, Bob Trice labored for three seasons (1953 – 55) finishing with a career 9 – 9 record with one win being a 1 – 0 shutout of the New York Yankees in 1954.  After making his Major League debut when 31 years old, Connie Johnson pitched for the White Sox from 1953 – 56 and then the Baltimore Orioles from 1956 – 58.  He had a Major League career ERA of 3.44.  He struck out 136 batters in 1956 and 177 in 1957 the year he won 14 games with the Orioles.

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The Provincial League disbanded after the 1955 season. It resurfaced again from 1958 – 1971 as an independent league.  Used as a path for some Negro League players to the Major Leagues, it has a place in Major League baseball’s racial integration history.  The players who took that path were baseball pioneers who prevailed against the racial discrimination and prejudice that existed in the Major Leagues during the early years of integration.

For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

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Snapshot of Baseball Pioneer Frank Grant

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African-American players were not welcome in professional baseball prior to the beginning of the 20th Century due to racial prejudice and discrimination.  However, the “invisible color line” that would keep them out of Major League baseball for nearly half the upcoming 20th Century was not completely drawn prior to 1890.   Despite the adverse racial attitudes against them, there were eight known African-American players on white teams at the highest levels of organized professional baseball during the 1880’s; John W. “Bud” Fowler, Moses Fleetwood Walker, Weldy Walker, Robert Higgins, Richard Johnson, George Stovey, Sol White, and  Ulysses F. (Frank) Grant.

Born on August 1, 1865 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Frank Grant was not only the best of those eight but also one of the best baseball players of that era.  At 5’7” and 155 pounds, he was more than just a singles hitter with speed.  He stroked  doubles, triples, and even home runs during baseball’s “dead ball” era when the ball did not carry far when hit due to its soft center core.  An acrobatic fielder with a strong throwing, Grant played mostly second base but when needed also handled third and shortstop.

In 2006 Grant, along with fifteen others from the Negro League baseball era, were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The following is an excerpt of my profile of Frank Grant from my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”:

 “In the early years of professional baseball the attitude towards

black and Hispanic players was grounded in racial prejudice. Both

the National League formed in 1876, and the American League

formed in 1901, would not allow them the opportunity to play

baseball. The “color line” was drawn, but there were cracks in it

that allowed Frank Grant and a few other blacks to play on white

professional teams.

 

Grant began his professional career playing for Meriden,

Connecticut in the Eastern League at a time when the game was

still evolving. Batting averages were high as the batter had four

strikes and a walk counted as a hit. Teams were built on speed, not

power. The Meriden team broke up in July of 1886 and that’s when

Grant joined the Buffalo Bisons who were in the International

Association, one of the top minor leagues. In his first at bat Grant

hit a triple. He hit .340 for the remaining 45 games and a national

sports magazine called him the best all‐around player to wear a

Bison uniform.

 

The next year Grant helped lead Buffalo to a second place finish.

Not only was he the team’s leading hitter at .366, but he also hit

with power. Although only 5’7”, 155 lbs., he was the league’s leading

slugger hitting 11 home runs, 27 doubles, 11 triples, and he stole 40

bases. Grant hit for the cycle (home run, triple, double, & single) in

one game and stole home twice in two others. An acrobatic fielder

with a strong throwing arm, he also played shortstop or third base

when needed.

 

In spite of his success on the playing field, Grant had trouble due

to the color of his skin. Fans shouted racially insulting comments

from the grandstands at him, including the Bison fateful who never

believed the claim he was from Spain. Grant was a target for

opposing pitchers when he batted as they constantly hit him.

Opposing base runners tried to hurt him on put out plays at second

base. Instead of the previously customary head first slide, they

started sliding feet first to cut Grant’s legs with the metal spikes on

their baseball shoes. When he began wearing wooden leg castings

for protection, the white players sharpened their spikes in order to

split the wood when their feet hit his legs.”

 

To read more about Frank Grant and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

 

Happy Birthday “Biz” Mackey

 

 

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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 James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, born 7/27/1897:

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 ball players 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.

 

The San Antonio Aces, a black minor league team, signed Biz in

  1. Charlie Bellinger, the Aces’ owner, had a friendship with

Indianapolis ABCs’ manager CI Taylor. Bellinger always looked for

good ball players in Texas that would help Taylor’s team. After the

Aces folded in 1919, he sold Mackey and five other players to the

ABCs.

 

Biz arrived in Indianapolis at the perfect time. The first official

African-American baseball league, the Negro National League

(NNL), formed in 1920 with the ABCs one of the charter teams.

The twenty‐three year old Texan shared the dugout his first year

with Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston and Ben Taylor, along with

“Cannonball” Dick Reading. Used as a utility infielder and outfielder,

Mackey also began to learn the craft of playing the game under the

master teacher, CI Taylor. With his manager’s help, Biz became a

switch hitter and developed into one of the team’s top run

producers. Some records show he hit over .300 each of his three

years in Indianapolis, helping the team finish second in 1921.

CI Taylor died before that year ended, replaced by his brother

Ben as the ABCs’ manager. However, with his mentor CI gone,

Mackey’s ties to the team were loosened. The owners of the newly

formed Eastern Colored League (ECL) in 1923 looked to lure away

NNL players. Accepting an offer from Ed Bolden, owner of the

Hilldale Club, Biz headed east without hesitation.”

Mackey’s Hall of Fame induction solidified him with the white contemporaries his era, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, and Bill Dickey, as one of the best catchers in baseball history.

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To read more about “Biz” Mackey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown  

Larry Doby’s Major League Baseball Debut

doby 4Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary; July 5, 1947, of former Negro League star and baseball Hall of Fame center fielder Larry Doby’s Major League debut.  Less than three months earlier, April 14, Jackie Robinson had become the first African-American to play Major League baseball.  Robinson started the season playing first base for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers.  As the second African American in Major League baseball, the first to play in the American League, Doby’s status is overshadowed by Robinson.  Although not as well-known or revered, Larry Doby’s accomplishments in baseball are still of historical significance.

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Jackie Robinson (left) and Larry Doby

 

At Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox in the top of the seventh inning, Doby pinch hit for Cleveland Indians pitcher Bryan Stephens. He had started the season playing with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (NNL).  Doby joined the Indians three days prior to the game (July 2) when Eagles’ owner Effa Manley sold his contract to Indians’ owner Bill Veeck for $15,000; the first substantial price a Major League team would pay for a Negro League player.  After returning from military service in 1946, Doby played second baseman alongside shortstop Monte Irvin on the Eagles’ 1946 Negro League Baseball World Series Championship team.   When Robinson erased the “invisible color line” that had kept African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics out of Major League baseball for more than 50 years, Manley sold Doby  in a last attempt to keep her team operating.  She sold it after the 1948 season when the NNL disbanded. In his first Major League plate appearance against White Sox pitcher Earl Harrist, Doby struck out.  He played in 29 games and batted .156 the remainder of the season.

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However, in 1948 Doby became the Indians starting center fielder. In his first full Major League season, he hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 runs batted in to help the Indians win the American League pennant.  He batted .318 in the 1948 World Series and his home run, the first of an African-American in a World Series, was the winning run in Game Four.  The widely publicized  photo taken after that game of  Doby and Indian winning pitcher Steve Gromek was the first of an African-American and white player embracing each other.  The Indians defeated the Boston Braves in the Series four games to two making Doby and his teammate on the 1948 Indians, Satchel Paige, the first African-Americans to play on a Major League World Series champion.  Doby led the American League in home runs with 32 in 1954, helping the Indians again win the American League pennant.  In Doby’s thirteen year career (1947 – 1959), he hit 253 homeruns and played in six All Star Games.

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Steve Gromek (left) and Larry Doby

After years of being overlooked, Larry Doby’s baseball talent and his importance in the racial integration of Major League baseball received recognition by his 1998 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Although not as outspoken or charismatic as Jackie Robinson, Doby still overcame the same racism to be a successful Major League player.  He, like Robinson, successfully carried on his shoulders the hopes of his race in the face of failure’s dire consequences.

 

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“Satchel” Paige (left) and Larry Doby

 

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

Belated Happy Birthday Willard Brown

Willard Brown, born 6/26/15, is said to have fit the bill of what is called a “five tool” baseball player. A superb fielding outfielder; Brown ran the bases with blazing speed, had a strong throwing arm, and could hit for a high average with home run power.  Many ascribed to him by the nickname “Home Run” Brown.  He played for the Kansas City Monarchs mostly throughout his Negro League career (1935 – 1950).  He served in the military (1944 – 1945) during World War II and briefly played Major League baseball in 1947 with the St. Louis Browns.  On August 13, 1947 Brown became the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League.

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In 2006, Willard Brown and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  The following is a brief book exert from my profile of Willard Brown:

“Brown had a tendency to appear bored during games. When

that happened it is said he would take a magazine with him to the

outfield to read between pitches. And sometimes he would walk

instead of running to his outfield position, holding up the start of an

inning. This gave an impression of Brown by some as having a

“prima donna” attitude.

 

But former teammate and manager Buck O’Neil said, “Willard

was so talented, he did not look as if he was hustling. Everything

looked so easy for him.” Brown’s extreme talent made it appear he

did things effortlessly. While most players ran around the bases, he

seemed to glide. The exhaustion of the game would be evident on

most players, but it appeared Brown hardly broke a sweat. O’Neil

felt that no matter what “Home Run” Brown did, people thought he

could do a little more because of his enormous talent.

 

But Negro League fans appreciated the play of Willard Brown.

They selected him to participate in six Negro League East‐West All

Star Games. In ten All Star plate appearances Brown had five hits.

 

As an indication of Negro League baseball’s relative prosperity

after surviving the economic depression of the late 1920s and

1930s, the Negro League World Series was played in 1942. There

had not been one since 1927. The 1942 fall classic saw the two

most recognized Negro League franchises tangle, the Kansas City

Monarchs against the Homestead Grays. Willard Brown was one of

the series’ hitting stars as the Monarchs swept the Grays four

games to none. He batted .412 (7 hits in 17 at bats) with one double,

one triple, and of course one home run.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

A Snapshot of Negro League Baseball’s Cum Posey

Cumberland “Cum” Willis Posey, born June 20, 1891 began his baseball career playing with a black team in his hometown of Homestead, Pennsylvania; the Homestead Grays in  1911.  After becoming the team’s owner in 1920, Posey had turned the Homestead Grays into one of the most renowned and successful Negro League Baseball franchises by the time he died in 1946. From 1937 – 1945, the Grays finished first in the Negro National League eight times and played in four Negro League World Series, winning two:  1943 and 1944.

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In 2006, Cum Posey and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  The following is an  exert from my book with a preview of the chapter about Posey:

As the country’s economic condition worsened, Posey struggled

to pay the salaries of his ball players in 1932. He also faced a major

challenge from the new black team in Pittsburgh started by Gus

Greenlee a night club/restaurant owner and numbers operator, the

Pittsburgh Crawfords. He used a tactic Posey himself employed to

steal players from other teams. Greenlee offered the Grays’ best

players more money than Posey could pay them. Josh Gibson, Oscar

Charleston, and three other players took Greenlee’s offer and

signed with the Crawfords. Other players for the Grays also left for

other teams.

 

Determined to not let his team die, Cum Posey formed a

business partnership in 1934 with Rufus “Sonnyman” Jackson,

Homestead’s main black numbers operator. Posey operated the

club while Jackson provided the financial backing. Many black

sportswriters thought partnering with whom some called “black

mobsters” hurt Negro League baseball’s image with the fans. But

Posey and the other black owners said financial backing from

those men did not influence the teams’ performance on the field.

The numbers bosses were just fans who loved the game. The truth

was that if it were not for their investment Negro professional

baseball may not have survived.

 

Jackson’s financial backing allowed Posey to step away from

being the field manager and devote all his time to rebuilding the

team. He brought on Buck Leonard in 1934 as the first step of

putting together what would be the most dominant Negro League

team in the late 1930s and 1940s. The next year the Grays joined

the Negro National League (NNL). Despite Posey’s rebuilding

efforts, the team could not finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

In 1937 Posey got Josh Gibson back in a trade with his crosstown

rival. Part of the trade, as rumored, included “Sonnyman” Jackson

paying off a gambling debt of the Crawfords’ owner. By getting back

Gibson, Posey had the final piece to add to Leonard and the other players he assembled to

begin the Grays’ winning tradition.”

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To read more about Cum Posey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Snapshot of Negro League Baseball’s Sol White

King Solomon “Sol” White wrote about the plight of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century African-American professional baseball player, of which he himself experienced.  Born June 12, 1868 in Bellaire, Ohio, White played with teams in the minor league system of white professional baseball in the 1880s.  In the 1890s when the color line became solidified banning African-American and dark-skinned Hispanics, he then played with a number of the best Negro baseball teams and later the co-owner/manager of the Philadelphia Giants, one of the best black teams of the early 1900s.  His book written in 1907, “History of Colored Baseball”, gives a picture of obstacles he and other African-American professional baseball players faced as the game began its journey to become “the National Pastime”.

In 2006, Sol White and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  The following is a book exert from my profile of Sol White:

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“In 1890 Sol White played for the Monarchs of York,

Pennsylvania. The team’s owner, J. Monroe Kreiter, had also

attracted many of the players from the previous year’s Cuban

Giants. Failing in their attempt to get higher salaries from the

Giants’ owner, John M. Bright, the players were easily lured away by

the money that Kreiter offered. The Monarchs represented the city

of York in the Eastern Interstate League. It would be one of the last

breaks in the color line.

White played briefly in 1895 with Fort Wayne, Indiana of the

Western Interstate League. It would be the last time he played on an

integrated team. As the 1890s came to a close there were no black

players in organized white baseball. The ‘invisible color line” had

been set and would stay intact for over 40 years.

With the door to Major League professional baseball closed for

African-American players, Sol White continued his career in the

1890s with teams that were a part of Negro League baseball’s

early beginnings. They were African-American teams that played

small town white semi‐pro teams, other black teams, and anyone

that wanted to play them. No official Negro League existed at that

time. He played for the Cuban Giants in 1893 –1894, the Page

Fence Giants in 1895, the Cuban X Giants in 1896 –1899, and the

Chicago Columbia Giants in 1900. All of which were top African

American professional teams of that period.

In 1902 White joined forces with white sportswriter H. Walter

Schlichter to start a new black team, the Philadelphia Giants. As co-owner,

team manager, and one of the team’ top players, White

built what some called one of the best black teams of the new

century’ first ten years. Some of the best black players of that time

such as Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Charlie Grant, Grant “Home Run Johnson”

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Philadelphia Giants (Sol White fifth from left on back row)

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

 

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