“Last Train to Cooperstown”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I did not totally forget to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League outfielder Pete Hill last week, born October 12, 1882 – 84. If you follow me on Twitter, @Lasttraintocoop, you saw my tweet acknowledging it. Please excuse my unintended slight of him on this blog. Hill, a fine fielder and consistent .300 plus hitter, is now considered one of the best outfielders in baseball during the “Deadball Era” (1900 – 1919).
The National Baseball Hall of Fame agreed in 2006 with that assessment of Pete Hill. He along with eleven other players and five executives all from Negro League baseball were inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that year. Hill’s induction gave him overdue recognition as a contemporary of Ty Cobb (1936 Hall of Fame inductee) and Tris Speaker (1937 Hall of Fame inductee), the best Major League outfielders of the early 20th Century.
The following is an excerpt from my book Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, in which I profile Pete Hill and the other 2006 inductees from Negro League baseball.
“In 1901, Hill left Pittsburgh for New York to play for the Cuban X
Giants. Being only 21, he could not break into the starting lineup to
play regularly. But, the young outfielder caught the eye of Sol White,
manager of the X Giants’ main rival, the Philadelphia Giants. White
recruited Hill to play for his team in 1903.
With the Philadelphia Giants, he began to mature as a ballplayer.
In 1904, he was the center fielder for what many say was the best
black team of the early 20th century era. With Hill leading the way,
the Giants were proclaimed winners of the “Colored Championship
of the World” in 1904, 1905, and 1906. This was the title given to
the top black team on the east coast. Charles “Kid” Carter, James
Booker, Charlie Grant, Emmett Bowman, and Dan McClellan were
other good players on the Giants with Hill.
Another teammate of Hill was Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster at
that time was one of the best pitchers in black baseball. He would
later become the “father” of Negro League baseball and a member
of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The friendship with Foster would have
a major influence on the remainder of Pete Hill’s baseball career.
After the 1906 season, Foster left the Philadelphia Giants to
become the manager for the Chicago Leland Giants. He took six of
his Philadelphia Giants teammates with him, including Pete Hill.
Under the leadership of Rube Foster, Hill’s career blossomed
with the Chicago team. He was the team captain and was taught the
ins and outs of managing by his friend. Hill continued to build on
his reputation as a great hitter and the Leland Giants became one of
the most dominant African-American teams in the country’s
To read more about Pete Hill and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
African-American players were not welcome in professional baseball prior to the beginning of the 20th Century due to racial prejudice and discrimination. However, the “invisible color line” that would keep them out of Major League baseball for nearly half the upcoming 20th Century was not completely drawn prior to 1890. Despite the adverse racial attitudes against them, there were eight known African-American players on white teams at the highest levels of organized professional baseball during the 1880’s; John W. “Bud” Fowler, Moses Fleetwood Walker, Weldy Walker, Robert Higgins, Richard Johnson, George Stovey, Sol White, and Ulysses F. (Frank) Grant.
Born on August 1, 1865 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Frank Grant was not only the best of those eight but also one of the best baseball players of that era. At 5’7” and 155 pounds, he was more than just a singles hitter with speed. He stroked doubles, triples, and even home runs during baseball’s “dead ball” era when the ball did not carry far when hit due to its soft center core. An acrobatic fielder with a strong throwing, Grant played mostly second base but when needed also handled third and shortstop.
In 2006 Grant, along with fifteen others from the Negro League baseball era, were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The following is an excerpt of my profile of Frank Grant from my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”:
“In the early years of professional baseball the attitude towards
black and Hispanic players was grounded in racial prejudice. Both
the National League formed in 1876, and the American League
formed in 1901, would not allow them the opportunity to play
baseball. The “color line” was drawn, but there were cracks in it
that allowed Frank Grant and a few other blacks to play on white
Grant began his professional career playing for Meriden,
Connecticut in the Eastern League at a time when the game was
still evolving. Batting averages were high as the batter had four
strikes and a walk counted as a hit. Teams were built on speed, not
power. The Meriden team broke up in July of 1886 and that’s when
Grant joined the Buffalo Bisons who were in the International
Association, one of the top minor leagues. In his first at bat Grant
hit a triple. He hit .340 for the remaining 45 games and a national
sports magazine called him the best all‐around player to wear a
The next year Grant helped lead Buffalo to a second place finish.
Not only was he the team’s leading hitter at .366, but he also hit
with power. Although only 5’7”, 155 lbs., he was the league’s leading
slugger hitting 11 home runs, 27 doubles, 11 triples, and he stole 40
bases. Grant hit for the cycle (home run, triple, double, & single) in
one game and stole home twice in two others. An acrobatic fielder
with a strong throwing arm, he also played shortstop or third base
In spite of his success on the playing field, Grant had trouble due
to the color of his skin. Fans shouted racially insulting comments
from the grandstands at him, including the Bison fateful who never
believed the claim he was from Spain. Grant was a target for
opposing pitchers when he batted as they constantly hit him.
Opposing base runners tried to hurt him on put out plays at second
base. Instead of the previously customary head first slide, they
started sliding feet first to cut Grant’s legs with the metal spikes on
their baseball shoes. When he began wearing wooden leg castings
for protection, the white players sharpened their spikes in order to
split the wood when their feet hit his legs.”
To read more about Frank Grant and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
The following is an excerpt from my book Last Train in Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which contains a profile of the Hall of Fame catcher James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, born 7/27/1897:
“Eagle Pass, Texas is a small town south of Del Rio near the
Mexican border. Here on July 27, 1897 James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey
opened his eyes the first time. This makes him another member of
the Texas fraternity of Negro League ball players from the Lone Star
state; that includes Andy Cooper, Willie Wells, Rube Foster, Louis
Santop, and others. Before becoming a teenager he moved with his
family to Luling which is east of San Antonio on the road to
Houston. The Mackeys were sharecroppers. Biz, along with his
brothers, worked on the farm most of the day and then played
baseball until dark. They used boards as bats and anything they
could find as a ball. By 1916 the black amateur baseball team in
Luling, the Oilers, had three Mackey brothers on its roster; Ray,
Ernest, and Biz.
The San Antonio Aces, a black minor league team, signed Biz in
- Charlie Bellinger, the Aces’ owner, had a friendship with
Indianapolis ABCs’ manager CI Taylor. Bellinger always looked for
good ball players in Texas that would help Taylor’s team. After the
Aces folded in 1919, he sold Mackey and five other players to the
Biz arrived in Indianapolis at the perfect time. The first official
African-American baseball league, the Negro National League
(NNL), formed in 1920 with the ABCs one of the charter teams.
The twenty‐three year old Texan shared the dugout his first year
with Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston and Ben Taylor, along with
“Cannonball” Dick Reading. Used as a utility infielder and outfielder,
Mackey also began to learn the craft of playing the game under the
master teacher, CI Taylor. With his manager’s help, Biz became a
switch hitter and developed into one of the team’s top run
producers. Some records show he hit over .300 each of his three
years in Indianapolis, helping the team finish second in 1921.
CI Taylor died before that year ended, replaced by his brother
Ben as the ABCs’ manager. However, with his mentor CI gone,
Mackey’s ties to the team were loosened. The owners of the newly
formed Eastern Colored League (ECL) in 1923 looked to lure away
NNL players. Accepting an offer from Ed Bolden, owner of the
Hilldale Club, Biz headed east without hesitation.”
Mackey’s Hall of Fame induction solidified him with the white contemporaries his era, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, and Bill Dickey, as one of the best catchers in baseball history.
To read more about “Biz” Mackey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Willard Brown, born 6/26/15, is said to have fit the bill of what is called a “five tool” baseball player. A superb fielding outfielder; Brown ran the bases with blazing speed, had a strong throwing arm, and could hit for a high average with home run power. Many ascribed to him by the nickname “Home Run” Brown. He played for the Kansas City Monarchs mostly throughout his Negro League career (1935 – 1950). He served in the military (1944 – 1945) during World War II and briefly played Major League baseball in 1947 with the St. Louis Browns. On August 13, 1947 Brown became the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League.
In 2006, Willard Brown and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. The following is a brief book exert from my profile of Willard Brown:
“Brown had a tendency to appear bored during games. When
that happened it is said he would take a magazine with him to the
outfield to read between pitches. And sometimes he would walk
instead of running to his outfield position, holding up the start of an
inning. This gave an impression of Brown by some as having a
“prima donna” attitude.
But former teammate and manager Buck O’Neil said, “Willard
was so talented, he did not look as if he was hustling. Everything
looked so easy for him.” Brown’s extreme talent made it appear he
did things effortlessly. While most players ran around the bases, he
seemed to glide. The exhaustion of the game would be evident on
most players, but it appeared Brown hardly broke a sweat. O’Neil
felt that no matter what “Home Run” Brown did, people thought he
could do a little more because of his enormous talent.
But Negro League fans appreciated the play of Willard Brown.
They selected him to participate in six Negro League East‐West All
Star Games. In ten All Star plate appearances Brown had five hits.
As an indication of Negro League baseball’s relative prosperity
after surviving the economic depression of the late 1920s and
1930s, the Negro League World Series was played in 1942. There
had not been one since 1927. The 1942 fall classic saw the two
most recognized Negro League franchises tangle, the Kansas City
Monarchs against the Homestead Grays. Willard Brown was one of
the series’ hitting stars as the Monarchs swept the Grays four
games to none. He batted .412 (7 hits in 17 at bats) with one double,
one triple, and of course one home run.”
To read more about Willard Brown and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
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.
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
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.”
To read more about Cum Posey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
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:
“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”
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
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.
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.”
To read more about “Mule” Suttles and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
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.
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.”
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown