Tag Archives: African American History

Revisiting Dr. King, Baseball, & Jackie Robinson

In honor of  today’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, the repeat of my 1/15/17 blog post, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Baseball, & Jackie Robinson”, follows below.

 

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Today is the national celebration for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what would have been his 89th.  Much will be written giving tributes to his life and the impact his legacy continues to have not only on this country, but also the world.  However, I want to mention what appears to have been Dr. King’s favorite sport, baseball.

When Jackie Robinson crossed the “invisible color line” in 1947 to be the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century, he became the idol of an 18-year-old teenager in Atlanta, Georgia; Martin King Jr.  Like many other African-Americans at that time, whether baseball fans or not, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the young King’s favorite baseball team because of Jackie Robinson.  Many of those African-American Dodger fans, including King, remained loyal to the team after Robinson retired and it relocated to Los Angeles in 1958.  In addressing the 1966 Milwaukee Braves’ move to his hometown of Atlanta, Dr. King indicated it would complicate his personal allegiance that had existed since 1947.  “And so I have been a Dodger fan”, he said, “but I’m gonna get with the Braves now.”*
But Dr. King had been more than a fan of the Dodgers; he understood the significance for African-Americans of what Jackie Robinson had done in 1947.  After becoming a leader in the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King knew where his idol as a teenager’s accomplishments fit overall in reference to that movement.
When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama city bus in December of 1955 triggering the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, Jackie Robinson was nearing the end of his baseball career.  He announced his retirement on January 5, 1957; fifteen days after the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott led by the 26-year-old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1960s, Robinson became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement with Dr. King.  He spoke at Civil Rights rallies in the South for Dr. King, marched in demonstrations with him, and held fund-raisers for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Dr. King and Robinson became co-laborers in the African-American struggle for equality.  He considered Jackie Robinson a friend.

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At a testimonial dinner for Jackie Robinson on July 20, 1962 celebrating his upcoming National Baseball Hall of Fame induction in three days, Dr. King paid tribute to him.  He defended Robinson’s right to speak out about segregation and civil rights.  “He has the right”, King insisted stoutly,  “because back in the days when integration was not fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes from being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways towards the high road of Freedom.  He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.  And that is why we honor him tonight.”**

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have liked other sports.  However; because of Jackie Robinson, baseball appeared to be his favorite.  Since idolizing Robinson while being a teenager in 1947, Dr. King never forgot the significance of the baseball player’s accomplishments in the struggle of African-Americans for equality.

*”At Canaan’s Edge:  America in the King Years 1965 – 1968″, Taylor Branch p. 394

** “Jackie Robinson:  A Biography”, Arnold Rampersad p. 7

 

*”At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968”, Taylor Branch, p.394

 

*”At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968”, Taylor Branch, p.394

**”Jackie Robinson: A Biography”, Arnold Rampersad, p.7

*”At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965 – 1968”, Taylor Branch, p.394

**”Jackie Robinson: A Biography”, Arnold Rampersad, p.7

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Revisiting Earl Battey & the Great Year for African American Catchers – 1963

The following is the repeat of my March 29, 2016 blog post entitled “Earl Battey and the Great Year for African-American Catchers – 1963”.  Earl Battey, born January 5, 1935 in Los Angeles, California, signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1953 and made his Major League debut  on September 10, 1956.  An obscure note about Battey’s career is his being one of the first African-Americans to play in the American League who was not a product of Negro League baseball.  The post describes 1963 as a banner season for Battey and a few other African American catchers.

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Earl Battey

My March 10th post titled, “My public apology to Elston Howard”, ended with the following question; “Who was the African-American catcher that finished eighth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 1963”.  Congratulations to James O’Berry for giving the correct answer, Earl Battey!  1963 turned out to be a good year for African-American catchers.

Hitting .285 with 26 home runs and 84 Runs Batted In (RBIs), Battey  helped the Minnesota Twins to a third place finish in the American League.   But the national sports writers chose Howard (far left in picture below), who hit .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs leading the New York Yankees to the American League pennant, as the American League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).  The first time an African-American player won the award in the American League.  In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the pennant and defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series with an African American behind the plate; John Roseboro (second from left in picture below).  He hit a home run off Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford to help the Dodgers win Game One of the Series.  In addition that year, I (far right in picture below) was the catcher for the championship team in the 9 – 11 little league age group at the Athletic Field in Kansas City, Kansas.  It was a good year for African American catchers!

Elston Howard         John Roseboro         me 1963 (141x200)

In 1963 Battey had the best season of his 13 year Major League career.  He signed with the Chicago White Sox after leaving high school in 1953 and made his Major League debut in 1955.  But he spent the next five years with as a backup to White Sox veteran catcher Sherman Lollar.  Battey got his break after the 1959 season when the team traded him to the Washington Senators, a sub-.500 ball club throughout the 1950s that had begun to rebuild by the end of the decade. He became the Senators # 1 catcher and hit .270 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs in 1960.  But it was after the franchise relocated to Minneapolis the next year, becoming the Minnesota Twins, when Battey’s career took flight.

While in a Twins’ uniform, Battey was a four-time American League All Star catcher (1962, 1963, 1965, and 1966) and a two-time Glove Award winner (1961, 1962).  He became a part of the power laden batting lineup of the early 1960s Minnesota Twins, the favorite team of my friends Mighty Mouse and Gary T.  Along with Battey on the 1963 team, Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew hit 44 home runs, Bob Allison 35, and Jimmie Hall 33.  Battey was the steady hand for the Twins’ pitchers which included All Stars Jim Kaat, Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Camilo Pascual.   With Battey behind the plate, the Twins won their first American League pennant in 1965, but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As an eleven year old little league catcher in 1963, I identified with Earl Battey.  No, I did not show any signs at that age I would have the skills when older to hit 26 homes runs against Major League pitching as Battey did that year.  Nor was there any indication of me potentially having his ability to throw out base stealers.  I did however have Battey’s lack of foot speed and some people felt I had started the journey of evidently developing his 200 pound plus body frame due to my love at that time for food; especially peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Fortunately, I would not complete that journey.  I did play well enough in 1963 for our team, the only all black team in the league to go undefeated and win the championship.

1963 baseball

It was a good year for African-American catchers!

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Do Not Overlook Harry “Suitcase” Simpson

Below is a re-post, of my 2016 birthday tribute to Harry “Suitcase” Simpson (“Why Harry “Suitcase” Simpson Has a Place in My Heart”).  I did acknowledge his birth date (December 3, 1925) two weeks ago on Twitter, but initially decided to not do a blog post.  However, after reading Douglass M. Branson’s book “Greatness in the Shadows:  Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League” (University of Nebraska Press – 2016) last month, I decided to give a birthday acknowledgement to Simpson on my blog again this year.  As my 2016 post indicates, he helped capture my passion for baseball 60 years (Yipes!) ago.  Yes, he does have a place in my heart.  But I also believe his role in the early racial integration of Major League baseball in the American League is overlooked, as it was in Branson’s book.

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The premise of Branson’s writing is that the talent and accomplishments of Larry Doby, the first African-American to play baseball in the American League, is under-appreciated.  The author believes Doby’s career has been overshadowed by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the Major Leagues, who made his debut nearly three months (April 14, 1947) before Doby’s (July 5, 1947).   The National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1947 and Most Valuable Player in 1949, Robinson played on six pennant winners and one World Series champion in his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Doby had a career a little less spectacular.  The 1954 American League leader in home runs and RBI, Doby hit 253 career home runs, drove in a career 969 runs, and played on two pennant winners and one World Series champion with the Cleveland Indians.  He also overcame the same types of racial prejudice and discrimination chronicled in the many books, written articles, and even movies about Robinson; but without given the same admiration.  Branson also stated the American League domination by the New York Yankees from 1947 – 1958 with first Joe DiMaggio and then Mickey Mantle playing centerfield also overshadowed the career of Larry Doby. 

While I overall agree with his book’s premise, Brannon failed in one regard.  In mentioning the few other African-American ball players who were Doby’s teammates or opponents during the early period of racial integration in the American League, the author omitted Harry Simpson.

With Simpson and Larry Doby in the outfield, and Luke Easter at first base, the Cleveland Indians were the only American League team to have African-Americans as part of its everyday lineup in 1951 – 1953.  In 1950, the season before Simpson’s rookie year, only three African-American or dark-skinned Hispanics played in the American League; Doby, Easter, and the Chicago White Sox’s Minnie Minoso.   After leaving the Indians, Simpson went on to play with the Kansas City A’s and the New York Yankees.  How could Brannon discuss Doby and the racial integration of the American League, but not mention Harry Simpson?  His name is not indexed anywhere in Brannon’s book.  Although not as prominent as Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, or Elton Howard, Simpson’s role in adding color to the face of the American League in my opinion is overlooked.  And surely, as my following re-post explains, he helped to hook a five year-old kid to what would become an everlasting love for baseball.  Enjoy my re-post

Harry Simpson was one of the first baseball players that captured my attention as I became a young fan of the nation’s “favorite past time” in the 1950’s.  I learned about great players like Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Mickey Mantle when I was a six year old becoming aware of the game.   But “Suitcase” Simpson, as my brother called him, was one player that really drew my interest.

Born on December 3, 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia; the left-handed batting Harry Leon Simpson was an outfielder/ first baseman who after serving in the military during World War II initially played professionally in Negro League baseball with the Philadelphia Stars.  Signing his first Major League contract with the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Simpson became one of eight former Negro League players who made their Major League debuts in 1951.  The others were Bob Boyd and Sam Hairston (Chicago White Sox), Sam Jones (Cleveland Indians), Luis Angel Marquez (Boston Braves), Willie Mays,  Ray Noble, and Arte Wilson (New York Giants).  A good fielder with a strong throwing arm, Simpson hit with power in the minor leagues (31 home runs in 1949, 33 in 1950).  The Indians had high expectations for him.   With Simpson and Larry Doby in the outfield, and Luke Easter at first base, it was the only American League team to have African-Americans as part of its everyday lineup in 1951 – 1953.

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Following two injury plagued disappointing seasons with the Indians,   Simpson’s contract was purchased in May of 1955 by the Kansas City A’s; my hometown team.  He had his best seasons in the Major Leagues with the A’s (1955 – 1957) and that is when I became familiar with him.  I had never seen anyone with such thick eye brows and pointed ears.   He hit .293 in 1956 with twenty-one home runs and 103 runs batted in and was one of two African-Americans on the American League’s All-Star Game squad; Vic Power his teammate from the A’s was the other.

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Contrary to the assumption that could be made in reviewing Simpson’s baseball career, he got tagged with the nickname “Suitcase” while in Negro League baseball.  It did not come from him being traded or changing teams six times in his eight year Major League career.  Simpson already had the nickname when he came to the A’s in 1956; only his second Major League team.  Because of his size 13 feet, he was nicknamed while with the Philadelphia Stars after the Toonerville Trolley comic strip character “Suitcase Simpson” who had feet the other characters said; “were large as suitcases”.  I remember Simpson’s eye brows and ears, but I do not recall his large feet.

To my sorrow, the A’s traded Simpson to the New York Yankees in June of 1957, but the Yankees traded him back the following summer.  In 1959, he split playing time with three teams; Kansas City A’s, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates.  After being released by the White Sox before the 1960 season, Simpson played in the minor leagues and in the Mexican League before retiring in 1964.

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Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, a part of that early group of African-Americans to integrate professional baseball in the American League during the 1950s, will always have a place in my heart.  Although not a Hall of Fame player, Simpson helped to capture the passion of a six-year-old kid for the game; a passion that has lasted 59 years.

 

Negro League World Series – Part 4

The 2017 Baseball Winter Meetings are scheduled for December 10 – 14 in Orlando, Florida.  Baseball fans will be looking on with anticipation for any trades or free agent signings coming from the meetings that will affect teams in 2018.   Also, Major League Baseball announced the first official exhibition games for Spring Training 2018 will be played February 23.  But this post in not about the upcoming 2018 Major League season.  It is the fourth and final segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.

 

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1944 Homestead Grays

With its fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population during World War 2, Negro League game attendance reached new levels.  It experienced a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945.  Negro League baseball grew to become nearly a three million dollar industry and in most cases the largest business operating in   the African-American communities of the cities with Negro National League (NNL) or Negro American League (NAL) franchises.  Another indication of Negro League baseball’s relative stability during this period was the Negro League World Series.

 

Although the Homestead Grays won the NNL pennant again in 1945, the average age of the team’s nucleus (Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, Jud Wilson, etc.) was well above 30 and their skills had begun to erode.  This became more evident when the Grays were swept four games to none by the younger Cleveland Buckeyes in the 1945 Negro League World Series.   Gibson, playing in his last Series before dying in 1947, hit only .123 (2 for 15) and Leonard .200 (3 for 15).  The Grays, scoring only 3 runs the entire Series, were shutout the last two games.

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With Monte Irvin, Leon Day, and Larry Doby returning from military service, the Newark Eagles ended the nine-year reign of the Homestead Grays and won the NNL pennant in 1946.  They faced the NAL’s Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Series.  Both teams had players who would cross over into Major League baseball:  Newark’s Irvin (1949) and Doby (1947), Kansas City’s “Satchel” Paige (1948), Hank Thompson (1947), Willard Brown (1947), and Connie Johnson (1953).  Led by Irvin’s torrid hitting (3 HRs, 8 RBI, and a .462 BA.), the Eagles won Game Six and Seven to win the Series 4 games to 3.

 

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Monte Irvin (right) and Larry Doby (left)

For almost 30 years Alejandro Pompez had been the “Latin Connection” in Negro League baseball.  He created a pipeline that brought dark-skinned Hispanic players from Cuba and other Caribbean countries to star for his Negro League teams; the Cuban Stars (1916 – 1927) and the New York Cubans (1935 – 1950).  The Cubans won the NNL pennant and faced the Cleveland Buckeyes the NAL   pennant winner in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  The accomplishments of both teams were overshadowed that year by Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century.  Both teams in the Series had players who would later go through the door Robinson opened that year.  New York Cuban players Orestes “Minnie” Minoso (1949), Ray Noble (1951), and Pat Scantlebury (1956) would have careers in the Major Leagues; Minoso being the first dark-skinned Hispanic to play.  The Cleveland Buckeyes’ Sam Jethroe (1950), Sam Jones (1951), Quincy Trouppe (1952), and Al Smith (1953) also would spend time in the Major Leagues; Jethroe being the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year.  The Cubans, with Minoso hitting .426, defeated the Buckeyes four games to one in the Series.

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Orestes “Minnie” Minoso

In 1948, the Homestead Grays were no longer the team it had been since the late 1930s.  The team’s owner Cum Posey died of lung cancer in 1946 and Josh Gibson, considered the greatest home run slugger in Negro League history, died in 1947.  Also gone were team stalwarts Raymond Brown, Roy Partlow, Jerry Benjamin, “Cool Papa’ Bell, and Jud Wilson.  However, Buck Leonard and pitcher Wilmer Fields along with future Major Leaguers Luke Easter (1949) and Bob Thurman (1955) led the Grays to capture the NNL pennant.  The team defeated the Birmingham Black Barons four games to one in the 1948 Negro League World Series.  In Game Three, the only one won by Birmingham, the Grays’ Leonard was thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double by the Black Barons’ 17-year old center fielder; future Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays.  It would be the third time the Grays would win a World Series championship against the Black Barons, also in 1943 and 1944.

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Willie Mays

Although Jackie Robinson erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, racial integration in the Major Leagues went at a slow pace.  However, African-American baseball fans looked at the racial competition in Major League games as social progress and quickly began to lose interest in Negro League baseball.  Game attendance in the Negro Leagues dropped to financially dangerous levels for many teams and the economic stability of Negro League baseball began crumbling; never to recover.   After the 1948 season, the NNL disbanded with the few remaining teams absorbed by the NAL which limped on until the end of Negro League baseball in the early 1960s.

The end of Negro League baseball’s economic stability put a permanent end to the Negro League World Series.  The Homestead Grays, one of the most renowned Negro League franchises, played in four of these fall classics during Negro League baseball’s most profitable years, 1942 – 1945; winning two.  It is only fitting that in 1948 the team won the last Negro League World Series championship.

Negro League World Series – Part Three

The Houston Astros have been crowned World Series champions bringing to an end the 2017 Major League baseball season.  Now begins the “hot stove league”, the name often referred to the baseball off-season, even though winter does not officially start until December 21.  Baseball fans will be waiting to see what changes will be made by their favorite team for improvement in 2018 season.  Especially those fans of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers; teams that made a good run in 2017 but fell short.  With the Astros being young and loaded, it will be an uphill climb for the other teams.  But this post is not my prediction about the 2018 Major League season.  It is the third segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.

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1943 Homestead Grays

After the United States in 1941 became involved in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the continuing operation of both Major League and Negro League baseball for the purpose of maintaining high morale in the country.  The military took such Major League stars as Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Greenberg while Negro League players Monte Irvin, Willard Brown, Leon Day, Larry Doby, and others served also during the War.  There were; however, Negro League stalwarts considered to old (over 30 years old) or with physical exemptions from military service.  This included players such as “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and others.

The war years became a period of economic prosperity for Negro League baseball.  With an estimated 1.5 million African-Americans by 1944 having jobs in industries producing military weapons, equipment, and supplies; Negro League fans had more disposable income to support their favorite team.  In addition, the fan base widened due to the growing northern migration from southern states of African-Americans seeking the increasing job opportunities.  Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades, experiencing a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945.  With this new economic stability came the rebirth of the Negro League World Series.

In 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL) played the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League (NNL) in the first Negro League World Series held since 1927.  The format of attempting to maximum revenue (ticket sales) by playing most of the games in cities with a large African America population remained as before; only one game of the Series would be in Kansas City while the rest in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington D. C., and Philadelphia.  However, the Series changed to be as the Major League’s; first to win four games would be champion.  In the midst of their nine-year reign (1937 – 1945) of winning the NAL pennant, the Grays were favored to defeat the Monarchs.  The Grays’ batting order included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, Howard Easterling, and Jud Wilson.  But the Monarchs’ pitchers led by “Satchel” Paige, Hilton Smith, and Jack Matchett shut down the powerful Grays’ batters and won the Series four games to none.  Josh Gibson only hit .154 (2 for 14) and Buck Leonard .188 (3 for 16).

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“Satchel” Paige (left) and Josh Gibson (right)

In Game Two of this Series, the pitcher-batter confrontation between the Monarchs’ “Satchel” Paige and the Grays’ Josh Gibson that is a part of Negro League folklore took place.  Wanting to demonstrate proof of being the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues at that time, Paige decided to face Gibson; considered the best hitter.  Leading 2 – 0 with two outs and a man on third base, Paige walks Vic Harris and Howard Easterling intentionally so he could face Josh Gibson.  Paige verbally taunted Gibson, telling before each pitch what he would throw.  Gibson struck out on three Paige fastballs, not quick enough to take a swing at any of them.  The confrontation is so baseball legendary, Monarchs’ first baseman Buck O’Neil gives a narration of it in Ken Burn’s 1994 television documentary miniseries “Baseball”.

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John “Buck” O’Neil

Both the 1943 and 1944 Negro League World Series pitted the Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons.  Paced by pitchers Johnny Wright (two shutouts) and Raymond Brown (two wins and a 2.10 ERA) the Grays won the 1943 Series four games to three.   Behind the hitting of Josh Gibson (.500, 8 for 16) and Buck Leonard (.388, 7 for 18), the Grays won the 1944 Series four games to one.

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Buck Leonard

Despite the war years being an economic boom time for Negro League baseball overall, the Negro League World Series struggled.  The 1944 Negro League East West All Star Game in Chicago drew 51,723 in attendance, the largest to see a Negro League game.  Only 29, 589 fans attended Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that summer held in Pittsburgh.  However in his book, “I Was Right on Time” (Simon & Schuster 1997), Buck O’Neil believed there were less than 5,000 people in stadium that saw the Paige vs Gibson event.  But the overall economic stability of both leagues allowed the Negro League World Series to continue.  Stay tuned for the fourth and final segment.

Last Train to Cooperstown

From Bestselling Author 1

To order for your holiday shopping list click here: Last Train to Cooperstown

A Late Birthday Shout for Cristobal Torriente

One of the many topics of discussion by sportscasters during the recently completed 2017 World Series involved Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig.  The club is still hoping he will continue to mature and more consistently display his tremendous baseball playing talent.  Puig, a native of Cuba, is one of the most recent in a pipeline of outfielders from that Caribbean nation to successfully play professional baseball in the United States.  Yoenis Cespedes, currently with the New York Mets is also from Cuba.  Former players from the pipeline include Oakland A’s All-Star Jose Canseco, two-time American League batting champion (1964, 1965) Tony Oliva, the defensive star of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 World Series Game Seven win over the New York Yankees; Sandy Amoros, and two-time Negro League, seven-time Major League All-Star Orestes “Minnie” Minoso.

I forgot to give a birthday mention last week  for one of the first in the stream of outfielders through the pipeline; Cristobal Torriente, born November 16, 1893 in Cienfuegos, Cuba (same as Puig).  He played with a number of teams in Negro League baseball from 1913 to 1932; including the Chicago American Giants (1918 – 1925), Kansas City Monarchs (1926), and Detroit Stars (1927 – 1928).  In an early 1950’s poll of former Negro League baseball players and sports writers, Cristobal Torriente received high consideration as one of the best outfielders in Negro League history.

Torriente picrture

In 2006, Cristobal Torriente 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 excerpt from my profile of Cristobal Torriente:

“At the end of World War I, Chicago was becoming an urban

mecca for African Americans. The lure of the possibility for

economic stability and a better life had fueled the migration of

southern blacks to the city. Rube Foster used the growing aura

Chicago had for African Americans to attract ballplayers to his

Chicago American Giants.  He felt the city gave him an advantage

When  talking to a player about joining his team.  Other owners

accused Foster of using what Chicago was becoming for African

Americans to steal their ballplayers.   Foster’s approach proved

successful with Torriente, who went to play for the American

Giants in 1918.  He had excellent seasons with the Cuban Stars,

however it would be with Foster’s team that Torriente would reach

his peak as a baseball player.

 

Having the most area to cover, centerfield is the most

challenging outfield position. Most managers choose their fastest

outfielder to play it. This was Rube Foster’s thinking in regards to

Cristobal Torriente. Although the Cuban mostly played right field in

his years with the Cuban Stars, his speed and strong arm were a

perfect fit for centerfield in Foster’s mind. With Torriente as the

anchor in centerfield, the American Giants went on to have a

consistently good outfield for many years. Good ballplayers such as

Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston, Jimmy Lyons, Floyd “Jelly” Gardner,

and David Malarcher all shared the American Giants’ outfield at one

time or another with Torriente.

 

When Rube Foster’s vision became a reality in 1920 and the

Negro National League (NNL) was formed, his Chicago American

Giants became its premier team from the start. They won the league

championship the first three years (1920 – 1922).  The lack of

documented league statistics prevents a true picture from being

given of Torriente’s performance on the field during the American

Giants’ years of dominance.  Research indicates he finished those

seasons hitting from .342 to as high as .411.  Clearly, they were his

best seasons in the Negro Leagues.”

 

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To read the entire profile of Torriente and the other 2006 inductees Last Train to Cooperstown

Negro League World Series – Part Two

The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions!!!  After all the adversity the residents of Houston and the surrounding communities have  experienced due to Hurricane Harvey, it is great that the city can now add “home of the World Champion Houston Astros’ to its many names promoting it.  Congratulations to long-time Astros fans like John McDonald who suffered with the franchise through the years of being the Houston Colt 45’s, the JR Richard and Enos Cabell years, the Killer B’s, and the 2005 Astros being swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox.  It is the 55-year-old franchise’s first World Series championship.  For the Dodgers, sorry long-time fan James O”Berry, this adds to the franchise’s World Series history frustration.  Although the Dodgers have won nineteen National League pennants, their six World Series titles fall short of their fans’ expectations.

This blog post is however not a final commentary of this year’s World Series.  It is the second part of last week’s post about the Negro League World Series which is an overlooked part of baseball history.

Negro League baseball held its first World Series in 1924 with the Kansas City Monarchs of Negro National League (NNL) defeating the Hilldale Club of Darby Pennsylvania from the Eastern Colored League (ECL).  Hilldale avenged its lost in the 1925 Series defeating the Monarchs.  In both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (ECL).  When extreme economic times hit African-Americans in the mid-1920’s, Negro League game attendance declined sharply forcing many teams to go out of business.   The ECL disbanded after the 1927 season.  It tried to reorganize in 1929 as the American Negro League, but failed after one season.  The NNL economically limped into the new decade.  With only one official professional Negro baseball league operating and facing the beginning of the greatest economic depression in America’s history, the Negro League World Series went on hiatus.

Negro National League founder Rube Foster died in December of 1930 and his league disbanded at the end of the 1931 season.  Two leagues were started in 1932, but without long-term success.  The East-West League lasted only two months into the season and the Negro Southern League dissolved at the season’s end.

However in 1933 Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburg Crawfords, organized a new  league consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States; and called it the Negro National League (NNL).  From 1933 – 1936, the Crawfords were a dominant force in Negro League baseball.  Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson all played with the Crawfords during those years.  They won the NNL pennant in 1933 and 1935.  In 1936, the NNL’s make-up changed to being teams in the Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.  The next season, Cum Posey’s Homestead Grays won it’s first of nine straight NNL pennants.

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Also in 1937, the Negro American League (NAL) began operations consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Southern United States.  The Kansas City Monarchs emerged as the most dominant team in the league.  Starting in 1938, Buck O’Neil’s second year with the team, the Monarch’s won four straight NAL pennants.

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Kansas City Monarchs 1936

Despite the existence by the late 1930’s of again two Negro professional baseball leagues, the Negro League World Series did not return.  The economics of Negro League baseball worked against the year to year stability of both leagues as African-Americans continued to feel the effects of the economic depression.  However, this changed due to the United States involvement in World War II beginning in 1941. The war led to the improvement of economic conditions for some African Americans over the previous decade because of the country’s desperate need for factory workers.   Due to the labor shortage in industries with federal contracts to produce military weapons, supplies, and equipment; an estimated 1.5 million African Americans had jobs in those industries by 1944. In addition, large numbers of African Americans migrated from the rural South to cities in the Upper Midwest and Northeast seeking employment in those industries.

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Homestead Grays 1939

As a result of the improved economic condition of many African-American baseball fans, Negro League baseball peaked as a business during the 1940s.  With the fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population, Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades.

With the greater stability for Negro League baseball, what about the Negro League World Series?  Stay tuned for Part 3.

For more on the history of Negro League baseball, read Last Train to Cooperstown

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The Negro League Baseball World Series – Part One

The World Series is the most anticipated event and the most exciting time of the season for baseball fans.  The American and National League pennant winners clash in what is traditionally referred to as the “Fall Classic” to determine who will get the crown of World Series Champion.  It is a huge part of baseball history.  This year’s Series, the 113th, began last Tuesday.  The Los Angeles Dodgers, a long time National League franchise which began as the Brooklyn Grays in 1890, is going against the Houston Astros who began as a National League franchise in 1962 (Houston Colt 45s) and were switched to the American League in 2013.  The Dodgers are after their fifth World Series title (Brooklyn Dodgers 1955, Los Angeles Dodgers 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988), while the Astros their first.

But this blog post is not a commentary on the 2017 World Series.  It is to give attention to the other World Series also a part of baseball history.  On October 3, 1924; the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) took on the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania of the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the first game of the initial Negro League Baseball World Series.  Although never the financial success of the Negro League East-West All Star Game (1933 – 1948), the Negro League World Series gave an indication of Negro League baseball’s attempt at relative stability in the face of its economic and racial discrimination barriers.  Held for eleven years, 1924 – 1927 and 1942 – 1948, it is the “forgotten” World Series.

By 1924, the acrimony between the two primary Negro professional baseball leagues had subsided to a level favorable to begin a championship series with the pennant winners of each.  Chicago American Giant owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster had formed the Negro National League (NNL) in 1920 consisting of teams in mid America (Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.).  Organized of teams along the eastern seaboard (New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, etc.), the Eastern Colored League (ECL) began operating in 1923.  Many NNL players broke their contracts to play for more money in the ECL angering Foster.  In addition, he had other financial feuds with some owners of ECL teams.  However, the leagues were able to forgo their differences to pursue the potential benefits from a championship series.

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1924 Negro League World Series

In an attempt to maximize revenue (ticket sales), league officials decided on a best five out of nine series format; same as the Major League’s World Series in 1919 – 1921.  Also, in addition to the cities of the participating teams, some games would be played in cities with a large African-American population.

In the inaugural Negro League World Series in 1924 there were a number of players who now have plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York).  The Kansas City Monarchs had pitchers Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, a 1998 Hall of Fame inductee, and Jose Mendez (2006), who also was the team’s manager.  Third baseman Judy Johnson inducted in 1975, catcher Biz Mackey (2006) and catcher Louis Santop (2006) were on the Hilldale club.  The latter two were involved in one of the key plays in the Series.  In Game Seven with the Series tied three games apiece, the Monarchs trailed 3 -2 in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.  The Monarch’s batter Frank Duncan hit a foul ball behind home plate within the reach of Santop which should have resulted in a Hilldale victory.  But the catcher dropped it, giving Duncan another swing.  On the next pitch Duncan hit a ground ball that got past Biz Mackey who was playing shortstop to give the Monarchs a 4 – 2 win.

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Louis Santop

Hilldale recovered to win Game Eight to tie the Series.  Monarch’s manager Jose Mendez, supposedly past his prime at 37 years old, pitched  a 5 – 0 shutout in Game Nine for Kansas City to be the first Negro League World Series champion.  The teams played the Series in four cities; two games in Philadelphia, one in Baltimore, three in Kansas City, and three in Chicago.

 

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Jose Mendez

They met again in the 1926 Series, but with a different outcome.  accidentally punctured with a needle in the knee by his son, Monarchs pitcher and best hitter “Bullet” Rogan could not play.   Hilldale won the Series four games to one.  Biz Mackey, who had replaced the aging Louis Santop at catcher, hit .360 including three hits in the Series clinching Game Five.

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Biz Mackey

Both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series featured the NNL’s Chicago American Giants against the ECL’s Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.  Due to a debilitating illness to “Rube” Foster, Dave Malarcher took over as manager for Chicago.  Excellent pitching highlighted the Series both years.  In 1926, Atlantic City left-handed pitcher Red Grier hurled a no-hitter in Game Three.  However, Chicago’s Bill Foster, Rube’s brother, was the pitching star for the Series.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 and considered the best left-handed pitcher in Negro League baseball history, Foster won two games as his team took the Series five games to three.  In Game Eight, the Series clincher, he pitched a five hit shutout winning 1 – 0.  In the 1927 Series, Atlantic City beat Foster twice.  However, he still won Game 1 and Game 8 as Chicago won the Series again five games to three.

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Bill Foster

In most written accounts of the “Great Depression”, it does not officially start until the New York Stock Market crashes in 1929.  However, economic hard times had hit African-Americans by the mid-1920s.  Negro League baseball game attendance dramatically declined as fans had no money to support the teams.  As a result many Negro League teams, low on capital from the start, went out of business.  After the 1927 season, the ECL disbanded and the NNL economically limped to the end of the decade.  With only one official league operating and facing extremely difficult economic times, the Negro League World Series disappeared after those four years, 1924 – 1927.   However, this is not the end of its story.  Stay tuned.

To read more about Negro League baseball history Last Train to Cooperstown

 

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