The Negro League Baseball Fact For Today – George “Mule” Suttles

Teammates would say when Negro League power hitter George “Mule” Suttles, born March 31, 1900 or 1901, swung his bat at a pitch they could feel the earth shake. “Kick Mule, Kick Mule”, is what fans and teammates would chant when “Mule” came up to bat.  The fifty ounce bat he swung was a testament to his strength.

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Although the year of his birth is in dispute one thing is not, other than Josh Gibson; no other power slugger was feared by Negro League pitchers more than “Mule”.  Suttles may not have hit more home runs than Gibson, but he could hit them as far.

The following about Suttles is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era:

“Because of the lack of documented Negro League baseball statistics, the total number of home runs hit by Suttles is not known. Supposedly, he led the Negro National League in round trippers twice. There is an eyewitness account of a 500 foot home run he hit over the centerfield fence at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Hall of Fame Negro League shortstop Willie Wells frequently told the story of a 600 foot home run “Mule” hit at Havana’s Tropical Park while playing in the Cuban Winter League. The ball carried out of the stadium and over the heads of the Cuban soldiers on horseback doing crowd control duty behind the fence. Afterwards, a marker was supposedly placed at the spot the ball landed commemorating “Mule’s” blast. Another version of that home run has it landing in the ocean.

 Chico Renfro, former Kansas City Monarch’s infielder and longtime sports editor recalled, “Suttles had the rawest power of any player I’ve ever seen.” Since the major white newspapers mainly ignored Negro League baseball, “Mule” was not included when the Major League power hitters of that time ‐ Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, and others, were given national media recognition. However, “Mule” was popular among Negro League baseball fans because they knew the stories about his home run power.”

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To read more about “Mule” Suttles and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

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Effa Manley: The Only Woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Effa Manley, born March 27, 1897, is the only woman elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Inducted in 2006, Mrs. Manley and her husband Abe were the owners of the Newark Eagles; one of the most renowned Negro League baseball teams (1936 – 1949).  A Caucasian thought to be black because she was raised in an African-American family, Mrs. Manley ran the day-to-day operations of the team.  Very outspoken and opinionated, she had to fight not only racism but also the male chauvinist attitudes of the other Negro League baseball owners to be successful.  Her team won the 1946 Negro League World Series Championship.

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Abe and Effa Manley

The following about Mrs. Manley is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era:

“While attending the 1932 World Series she met her husband,

Abraham Manley, who was also an avid baseball fan and at least 12

‐ 15 years her senior. Manley was a real estate investor and also

supposedly ran one of the biggest illegal “numbers” game

operations in Newark. The success of his endeavors would provide

the funds for him and his wife’s entry into Negro League baseball.

They married in 1935. He was the second of four husbands Effa

would have in her lifetime.

In that same year they formed a Negro League team in

Brooklyn called the “Eagles”. Mrs. Manley said the name came from

her husband’s hopes that “they would fly high.” From the very

beginning as baseball team owners, the Manleys had a clearly

defined partnership, one she described as perfect. Abe provided

the money and despite having no prior financial experience, Effa

took an active role as co‐owner by handling the day-to-day

operations of the team. Mrs. Manley had what proved to be natural

business instincts and ownership skills. She did it all: arranged

playing schedules, planned team travel, handled payroll, bought

equipment, negotiated player contracts, and handled publicity. The

team played their home games at Ebbets Field, home of Brooklyn’s

Major League team, the Dodgers.”

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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: George “Big Daddy” Crowe

Born March 22, 1921 in Whiteland, Indiana, George Daniel Crowe always declared basketball as his favorite sport.  Named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” his senior year in high school (1939), Crowe went on to play basketball and baseball at Indiana Central College.  After serving in the military, Crowe first played semi-professional basketball (Harlem Rens) in 1946.  However; seeing the money potential for him in professional baseball, he also signed with the New York Black Yankees in 1947 and began his short Negro League baseball career.  In 1949, he went uptown to play with the New York Cubans.

When the Negro National League (NNL) disbanded after the 1949 season, Newark Eagle co-owner Effa Manley recommended Crowe to the Boston Braves who signed him as a first baseman.  He made his Major League debut on April 16, 1952; hitting .258 in 73 games with four home runs his rookie season.

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Crowe played for nine years (1952 – 1961) in the Major Leagues on three different teams:  Boston/Milwaukee Braves (1952 – 1955), Cincinnati Reds (1956 – 1958), and St. Louis Cardinals (1959 – 1961).  The former Negro League ballplayer became a premier pinch hitter once holding the Major League record for career pinch hit home runs (14).  Crowe hit 31 home runs for the Reds in 1957 and was a National League All Star in 1958.

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Known as “Big Daddy” (6’2”, 210 lbs.), Crowe also became a mentor for young African-American Major League ball players in the 1950s (Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Henry Aaron, etc.).  He helped them navigate through the racial prejudice and discrimination that existed in Major League baseball during that period.

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

Jackie Robinson’s 1942 Mystery Tryout

On March 18 or 19, 1942 two African-Americans appeared at the Chicago White Sox training camp in Pasadena, California requesting an opportunity to win a spot on the team’s roster.  The White Sox had a 77 – 77 record in 1941, finishing in 3rd place, 31 games behind the pennant winning New York Yankees.   At that time, Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” existed; there were no African-American or dark-skinned Latino players on any Major League club.  However, Jackie Robinson and Nate Moreland approached White Sox Manager Jimmy Dykes on that day asking for a tryout.

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Jackie Robinson

Robinson and Moreland were from the same neighborhood in Pasadena, they played baseball together on their high school team.  They both attended Pasadena Junior College and played on the same semi-pro baseball team.  Robinson had returned from playing semi-professional football in Hawaii in December of 1941.  Moreland, a left-handed pitcher, had played with the Baltimore Elite Giants (1940) and in the Mexican League.

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Nate Moreland

Dykes gave them a workout that day, but nothing came of it.  Although the manager expressed he saw their potential, especially Robinson’s, he indicated his hands were tied.  The Major League team owners and Baseball Commissioner Landis were the ones to make the decision to allow them to play.  Shortly after the tryout, Jackie Robinson received his draft notice and went into the military.  Five years later, April 15, 1947; he broke through the color line and became the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Moreland continued in baseball pitching for the Elite Giants (1946), the Mexican League, and the lower minor leagues in the southwest (California, Arizona) until retiring after the 1957 season.

There were questions as to whether this tryout occurred, a cloud of mystery around it.  Jackie Robinson did not mention it, nor is it in his early biographies.  There were no mentions of it in mainstream media outlets or the black newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier or Chicago Defender.   The only newspaper to have a story about it was the Daily Worker, the newspaper of the American Communist Party.

However, in recent years the tryout has been confirmed.  It is in Jackie Robinson:  A Biography by Arnold Rampersad, the latest Jackie Robinson biography.  Also, relatives of Nate Moreland indicate his mentioning of it.  There was a rumor Robinson and Moreland were sent to approach the White Sox for the tryout by The Daily Worker; the only newspaper to have a reporter to cover it and one that aggressively criticized Major League baseball’s racial discrimination.  However, there is no proof of its involvement other than covering the tryout.  Jimmy Dykes’ actions were another example of a Major League manager during that time helping to maintain baseball’s color line ahead of trying to make the needed improvements to his team.

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

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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