Tag Archives: African American History

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

 

Belated Happy Birthday Bob Thurman!

Due to my efforts towards organizing the youth baseball team for 10 – 12 year olds I will coach this summer, I failed to timely recognize the birthdate of former Negro League and Major League player Robert (Bob) Burns Thurman, May 14, 1917. This post is a belated “Happy Birthday” recognition of him.  The mystery that existed about the age of “Satchel” Paige when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 is a well-known story in both Negro League and baseball history.  It is now known Paige made his Major League debut when 42 years old and became an American League All-Star his final season with the St. Louis Browns at age 47.  But there is less mystery to Bob Thurman having his best Major League season when 40 years old.

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After Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947 and Major League teams began looking to sign African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics, many Negro League players lowered their stated age to be a more attractive prospect. They knew that younger players had the best chance of getting to the Major Leagues. Thurman and other Negro League players felt no hesitancy claiming to be a younger age in order to walk through the now open door of opportunity that had been shut since the end of the 19th Century due to racial discrimination.

The cry grew louder after World War II for an end to racial discrimination in Major League baseball. Former Kentucky U. S. Senator Albert “Happy” Chandler became the new Major League Baseball Commissioner in 1945 following the sudden death the previous year of Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner.   Landis had worked with team owners since taking office in 1920 to perpetuate the “invisible color line” that kept African-American or dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball.  When asked his opinion about African-Americans playing in the Major Leagues, Chandler surprisingly said, “If they can fight and die in Okinawa and Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, they can play in America”.  Although his response went against the existing racial discriminatory policy of Major League baseball, it added to the chorus for change sounding for Bob Thurman and other Negro League players.

Although born in Kellyville, Oklahoma, Thurman grew up in Wichita, Kansas. Drafted into the military while playing in the city’s semi-professional baseball leagues at the start of World War II, he saw combat duty in New Guinea and the Philippines.  After leaving military service in 1946, he turned to his only option to play professional baseball in United States, the Negro Leagues. Thurman played with the Homestead Grays during the last years of owner Cum Posey’s “long gray line”.  Long time Negro League veterans Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell and others were still with the Grays when Thurman arrived; however, Posey died before the season started.  Signed as a left-handed pitcher, Thurman proved to be a better power hitter and became the team’s regular center fielder.  With the veteran players approaching the end of their baseball careers, Josh Gibson died in 1947, the Grays mixed in Thurman along with future Major League players Luke Easter and Luis Marquez to help the team remain competitive.  In 1948, Thurman hit over .300 as the Grays won the last Negro League World Series Championship defeating the Birmingham Black Barons.

With both the Negro National League and the Homestead Grays disbanding after the 1948 season, Thurman signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL). Monarch Manager Buck O’Neil had a team that included future Major League players Elston Howard, Connie Johnson, Gene Baker, Hank Thompson, and Curt Roberts.  The Monarchs were looking to sell their best players to Major League teams in order to remain operating profitably.  On July 29, 1949 the New York Yankees purchased Thurman’s contract and he became the first African-American signed by the team.  He walked through the door of opportunity given him stated as a 26-year-old outfielder, but in reality being 32.

However, the Yankees were not serious about integration. Although Thurman batted .317 and hit with power while with the team’s Triple AAA minor league affiliate (Newark Bears) for the remainder of that season, the team traded him to the Chicago Cubs.  The Cubs were also slow embracing integration.  It would be four years, 1954, before Ernie Banks became the first African-American to play for   Chicago’s north side team.  After three respectable years in the Cubs minor league system, Thurman was released.  The Cubs did not renew his contract.

 

He spent the next two years playing summer and winter league baseball in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Thurman had several successful seasons in the Caribbean leagues and had become a fan favorite. He is a member of the Puerto Rican League Baseball Hall of Fame and the league’s all-time home run leader.   After a tremendous winter league season in 1955, Thurman signed with the Cincinnati Reds mainly as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter with the team believing him to be 32 years old.  He made his Major League debut on April 14, 1955; a little more than a month before his actual 38th birthday.

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(left to right) Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Buzz Clarkson, Bob Thurman, George Crowe

Thurman hit 35 home runs and drove in 106 runs in his five years with the Reds (1955 – 1959). On August 18, 1956, the Reds hit eight home runs in a 13 – 4 victory over the Milwaukee Braves; which tied the Major League record at that time. Three of the Reds’ home runs in that game were hit by Bob Thurman.  After hitting a double in the third inning, he hit home runs in the fifth, seventh, and eighth innings.  In 1957 at 40 years old, Thurman had his best season in the Major Leagues hitting 18 home runs. While with the Reds he, along with former Negro League player and Reds teammate George Crowe, became mentors for young African-American players coming into the National League in the late 1950s; Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, Bill White, etc.

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Bob Thurman had to verbally set back the hands of time in order to get the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. If the New York Yankees in 1949 had known his real age of 32, would they have signed him?  Probably not!  Surely, the Reds would not have signed Thurman in 1955 had they known his real age of 38!  But given the opportunity, he proved his time for hitting a baseball had not passed him by.

To read more about the Negro Baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

A Tribute to John L. Gray & Haley Young, Jr.

John L. Gray and Haley Young, Jr. both played baseball one season with the Indianapolis Clowns during the final years of the Negro League baseball era.   Last month on April 7, I was the main speaker (“Negro League Baseball: The Deep Roots of African-Americans in America’s Great Game”) at a tribute given to both players at the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (See pictures under the “Events” tab above)

The museum is located in the building that housed the first school for African-Americans students in Fort Lauderdale, named “The Colored School” and later Dillard High School. An important educational and cultural center for African-Americans in Fort Lauderdale, the Old Dillard Museum serves as a constant reminder of the community’s proud and rich heritage.

Both Gray (1955) and Young (1957) were graduates of Dillard High School,  As part of their tribute that evening, they became the first baseball players added to the museum’s Sports Wall of Fame which is for alumni of the school.

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John L. Gray

 

Gray attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio and then signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1956 as a catcher and outfielder. Jackie Robinson had erased the “invisible color line” to begin the racial integration of Major League baseball nine years earlier in 1947, but attitudes of prejudice and discrimination still existed.  The Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies still had no African-American or dark-skinned Hispanic players on their Major League rosters the year Gray signed.  He played that first year with the Indians’ Class D minor league affiliate the Daytona Beach Islanders (Florida State League).  In 1958 after some dissatisfaction with the Indian’s minor league system, Gray signed with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League (NAL).  By then, Negro League baseball had declined since its peak in the 1940s due to losing its best players and fan base due to the racial integration of the Major Leagues.  While with the Clowns, Gray hit a home run at Yankee Stadium which he frequently mentioned to his children and grandchildren in his golden years.  In 1959, he went back into the Major League system signing with the Chicago Cubs.  He played with the team’s Class D affiliate, the Paris (Illinois) Lakers, in the Midwest League.  The next season Gray signed with the Chicago White Sox and played with its Class C minor league affiliate the Idaho Falls Russets in the Pioneer League.  Reaching his frustration limit with the unfair treatment and broken agreements he encountered with Major League teams, Gray did not return to professional the next season.

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Haley Young, Jr.

 

After graduating from high school, Haley Young, Jr. signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Being only 16 years old, he played shortstop and outfield in the Class D Appalachian League for the team’s Johnson City, Tennessee affiliate.  In 1958, he seriously damaged his knee and did not fully recover until 1961 when he signed with the Indianapolis Clowns.  The Chicago White Sox signed Young in 1962, but he got no further than the team’s Class A minor league level.  He led his Clinton, Iowa (Class A – Midwest League) team in home runs (16) and RBI (51) while batting .254 in 1965, but it got him no closer to getting on the White Sox’s Major League roster even though the team needed power hitters.  From the 1965 through 1967 seasons, only four White Sox players hit more than the 16 home runs Young smashed in 1965.  The White Sox were in the American League where the promotion of African-American players had been less aggressive than in the National League since the days of Jackie Robinson.  After the 1966 and 1967 seasons with the White Sox’s Class A minor league affiliate in Lynchburg (VA.), Young played in Canada’s independent league in 1968 and retired from baseball in 1970.

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I want to thank More Than a Game, Inc. (Danny Phillips) and the Old Dillard Museum (Derrick Davis) for inviting me to be a part of the memorable event for Haley Young, Jr. and John L. Gray. The honorees were not there to receive their accolades; Haley Young died in 2015 and John L. Gray too sick to attend.  Sadly, last week he too passed away.  However, their achievements in baseball are honored on the Old Dillard Museum’s Wall of Fame. They were in the group of unsung African-American pioneers that stood up against racism and prejudice to integrate minor league professional baseball during the Civil Rights era.

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

 

 

Belated Happy Birthday Andy Cooper, Negro League HOF Pitcher

Due to being shut down the last few days by a bad cold, I failed yesterday to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League left-handed pitcher Andy Cooper.  Born April 24, 1898 in Waco, Texas; Cooper is considered one of the best southpaw pitchers in Negro League baseball history; Willie Foster the only one deemed better.  At 6’2″, 220 pounds, he had the physical stature of a power pitcher.  But Andy Cooper did not overpower hitters.  Nicknamed “Lefty”, he used a variety of pitches at different speeds to keep hitters off-balance to get them out.  He pitched for the Detroit Stars (1920 – 1927) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1928 – 1937).  Also, with Cooper as manager, the Monarchs won the Negro American League pennant in 1939 and 1940.

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The following is an exert from my book “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era” in which I profile Andy Cooper;

“In his prime, Hall of Famer Satchel Paige’s fastball was described by batters as

being the size of a half-dollar or a pea. By the nickname given other

pitchers, the batters knew what to expect when facing them.

“Smokey” Joe Williams, “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Wilber “Bullet”

Rogan, and “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor were just a few whose name

preceded their pitches. Using radar technology to gauge the speed

of pitches was not introduced into baseball until the 1970s.

However, if it had been used to clock the pitches of the great Negro

League baseball hurlers, it would have registered at ninety‐plus

miles per hour many times.

But Andrew Lewis Cooper was a different kind of pitcher. He

did not overpower batters. “Lefty” as he was nicknamed, used a

variety of pitches at different speeds to get batters out.

In order to hit the ball solidly, a batter must have balanced

coordination and timing between his legs, waist, shoulders, and

hands. If a pitcher can disrupt that coordination and timing, getting

the hitter swinging too early or too late; it usually leads to a fly out,

ground out or strike out. Andy Cooper was a master of keeping

hitters off-balance. Not having the blazing fastball like other great

Negro League pitchers, he had the ability to get batters out by

disrupting their coordination and timing. “Lefty” had a successful

career by frustrating and fooling them with his arsenal of pitches.”

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

Remembering Jackie Robinson

Despite the current lukewarm attitude about baseball of African-Americans, April 15 is still an important date in not only baseball history, but also African-American history.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American since before the turn of the century to play Major League baseball. Wearing Number 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson played first base and batted second in the team’s home opener at Ebbet’s Field against the Boston Braves. In three at bats, he reached base on an error and scored a run in the Dodgers’ 5 – 3 win.

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To celebrate the day of Robinson’s debut, April 15 is designated by Major League Baseball; “Jackie Robinson Day”. All Major League players will wear number “42”, Jackie’s number, on their uniforms during games today and other activities will also be held at Major League ballparks to honor him.

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Growing up in a home where my father and two older brothers were baseball fans, I was made aware at an early age of Jackie Robinson. However; his mark in history, both African-American and Twentieth Century American, continues to grow in significance sixty-nine years after that Brooklyn spring day in 1947.  A mark that he made through his excellence on the baseball diamond whose impact goes well beyond the sport itself.

Robinson hit .297 in 1947 and led the National League in stolen bases. Although many sportswriters doubted he would be successful, the National Sportswriters Association named him 1947 National League Rookie of the Year.  In 1949, he led the National League in hitting (.342), stolen bases, and drove in 124 runs.  For his efforts Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.  He hit over .300 six in his 10 Major League seasons, and over .290 two others.  A six-time National League All-Star, Robinson helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants (finishing second four times) and one World Series championship (1955).

But I missed his playing career!   When I made my entrance into the world in August 1951, Robinson and the Dodgers were in the process of blowing a 14 1/2 lead against the second place New York Giants to lose the National League pennant.  There was no ESPN, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, or MLB Network in the 1950s.  I am sure Jackie would have made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day highlights numerous times.  He retired after the 1956 season as I was in the kindergarten class of Miss Williams at Kealing Elementary.  That is why I love seeing the black and white films showing him in action like in the documentary showed last week on PBS; “Jackie Robinson:  A Film by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMaHon”.  The daring way he ran the bases, especially stealing home, is still exciting today.

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Truthfully Jackie Robinson was not the best player in Negro League baseball when Dodger Vice-President and General Manager Branch Rickey signed him in 1945. But he was named the 1946 International League’s Most Valuable Player while with the Dodgers top minor league team in Montreal.   Bob Feller, the star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians said Robinson would never be good enough as a hitter to make it in the Major Leagues.  How ironic was it that they were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame together in 1962.  Jackie Robinson accepted the hopes and expectations for success of his race as he faced the expectations and predictions of his failure from those opposed to him.  Despite this pressure from all sides, he proved his skeptics wrong and opened the door for other African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players to play Major League baseball.  Jackie Robinson was an extra-ordinary man God equipped for a super extra-ordinary task!

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

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

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