A major mews media story line about the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series is the team’s ending of a 95 year drought of no World Series championship for Washington D. C. baseball fans. However, as I discussed in my previous blog post, the 1924 Washington Senators were not the last professional baseball team in Washington, D. C. to win a World Series. The last professional baseball champions from Washington D. C. were the 1948 Homestead Grays.
The 1948 Negro League World Series pitted the Homestead Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League, a third Series re-match. The Grays had defeated the Black Barons in the 1943 and 1944 Series.
The teams played the 1948 Series as aftershocks from the racial integration of Major League baseball were just beginning. Jackie Robinson’s 1947 successful season erased the “invisible color line” opening the door for the initially slow but eventual flow of African American and dark-skinned Hispanics into the Major Leagues. The erasing of the color line had come too late for 40 years old Homestead Grays first baseman Buck Leonard and the Grays’ power-hitting catcher Josh Gibson who had died in early 1947. However, 1948 Grays’ players first baseman Luke Easter, pitcher/outfielder Bob Thurman, pitcher Bob Trice, and outfielder Luis Marquez, all went on to play in the Major Leagues. For the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons infielder Artie Wilson, pitchers Bill Greason and Jehosie Heard would briefly play in the Major Leagues. But the Black Barons’ 17 years old center fielder, Willie Mays, would have a Hall of Fame Major League career.
Having to rent playing facilities for their games, Negro League teams had to adjust game schedules to field rental availability. Griffith Stadium had been booked for Washington Redskins football games, so the Grays did not play any home games in the Series. Three of the games had to be played at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, home of the Birmingham Barons Southern League team.
Not all the Negro League World Series games were played in the cities of the participating teams. World Series games were played also in other cities with a large population of African Americans. Negro League officials saw playing the Series in multiple cities would afford more African American baseball fans the opportunity to see the games and hopefully maximize ticket sales. For the 1948 Series in addition to the games played in Birmingham, Kansas City and New Orleans also hosted games.
The Grays won the first two games of the Series, 4 – 3 and 5 – 3. The Black Barons rebounded to win Game Three. The Grays outscored the Black Barons 25 – 7 to win the final two games of the Series.
The shift in the interest of African American baseball fans clearly revealed itself during the 1948 Series. The fans were more interested in following the few African American players in the Major Leagues. They saw the integrated Major League games as racial and social progress. African American baseball fans were focused on the 1948 Major League World Series contest between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves. Former Negro League players Larry Doby and Leroy “Satchel” Paige played for the Indians.
The October 16, 1948 issue of the Baltimore Afro American, one of the leading national black newspapers at that time, is an example of the fan interest shift. The weekly paper’s front page headline that day: “DOBY SERIES HERO, Young Fielder Is Brilliant. Single in Sixth Game Beats Boston. Slams First Homer Over CenterField.” The adjoining front page article highlights Larry Doby’s contributions, his leading .318 Series Batting Average with 1 home run, in the Cleveland Indians’ four games to two games victory over the Boston Braves. Also on the front page, the photo of teammates Doby and Cleveland pitcher Steve Gromek in a smiling embrace after the Indians’ 2 – 1 win in Game 5. The photo of Doby whose third inning homer broke a 1-1 tie and Gromek the winning pitcher sent a new visual message across the country of racial harmony in Major League Baseball. On the front page also, an article questioning “Satchel” Paige’s role with the Indians for 1949. He had only pitched two-thirds of an inning in the Series.
On the Sports Page, buried under additional headlines, articles, and pictures about Doby, and Paige, the paper had a brief article about the Homestead Grays’ 11 – 6 win over the Birmingham Black Barons in Game Five to be the 1948 Negro League World Series champion.
The Negro League World Series ended after 1948. The Negro National League disbanded before the next season began. The Homestead Grays stopped functioning as a professional baseball team. Negro League baseball limped through the 1950s selling their best players to the Major Leagues before fading away in the early 1960s.
In 2009 the Washington Nationals paid tribute to the Homestead Grays by placing a statue of Grays’ Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson in the Center Field Plaza at Nationals’ Park. Negro League baseball operated in the shadow of the Major Leagues for nearly half of the 20th Century. However, the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series triumph shined a larger spotlight on the Homestead Grays. The Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship brought the Homestead Grays from behind that shadow to show the teams’ place in Washington D. C. professional baseball history.
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals, the 2019 Major League Baseball World Series Champions! With their 6 – 2 win in Game Seven over the Houston Astros, the Nationals become the seventh team qualifying for the playoffs as the “Wild Card” to win the World Series; the last being the 2014 San Francisco Giants.
Also, as one of the 2019 Fall Classic’s story lines, with their victory the Washington Nationals ended a 95 year drought of having a World Series championship for Washington D. C. baseball fans. Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck mentioned this as the Nationals took command of Game Seven Wednesday night. The 1924 Washington Senators were World Series champions after defeating the New York Giants 4 games to 3. Hall of Fame pitcher Walter “Big Train” Johnson (23 – 7 with a 2.72 ERA) and Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin (12 HRs, a league leading 129 RBIs, .344 BA.) lead that Senators’ championship team. However, the 1924 Washington Senators were not the last professional baseball team in Washington, D. C. to win a World Series before the Nationals won this year. That distinction had belonged to the Homestead Grays, one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League professional baseball. The Grays were Negro League World Series champions in 1943, 1944, and 1948.
After losing the 1933 World Series to the New York Giants, the Washington Senators finished .500 or above only once more in the 1930s, twice in the 1940s, and twice in the early 1950s. Despite showing signs of improvement in 1960, the team finished below .500 for the seventh straight year. The franchise then moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins.
In 1961 the American League placed a new Washington Senators franchise in D.C., an expansion club, but it finished near or at the bottom in the league’s standings from 1961 – 1968. Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams became manager in 1969 and led the Senators to an 87 – 75 record. However, after finishing below .500 for the 1971 season the Senators’ owner moved the franchise to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the team became the Texas Rangers. Major League Baseball would not return to Washington, D. C. until 2005 when the Montreal Expos National League franchise moved to the nation’s capital and became the Washington Nationals.
For nearly the first half of the 20th Century, the “invisible color line” in white organized professional baseball kept African Americans and dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball. In the face of this racial prejudice, Homestead Grays owner Cumberland Posey created a winning tradition in Negro League professional baseball. At one time or another ten Negro League players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame wore the uniform of the Homestead Grays, including long time Grays’ first baseman Buck Leonard and catcher Josh Gibson. Beginning in 1937, the Grays won eight consecutive Negro National League pennants. The Grays originated out of Homestead, Pennsylvania across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. However, in 1940 it began playing half of its home games in Washington, D. C. to tap into the increasing African American population in the city. The city previously had been the home of two other Negro League teams; the Washington Pilots briefly in 1932 and the Washington Elite Giants in 1936 – 1937. The Grays leased the Senators’ home ballpark, Griffith Stadium, for their home games. In 1943, Washington became the home base for the Homestead Grays. As the Senators continued to struggle on the field, many considered the Grays the best professional baseball team in the nation’s capital from 1940 – 1948. Despite being mainly a second division team during this period, the Senators remained profitable due to the fees charged to the Grays for leasing Griffith Stadium.
The Washington Nationals being in this year’s World Series helps to shine the spotlight on the Homestead Grays, who played in the shadow of the Washington Senators. Part two of this post will tell more of the 1948 Homestead Grays, the playing of the last Negro League World Series, and the beginning of the end for the Negro League baseball era. Stay tuned!
Following are the remaining 10 of my Twitter posts, Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I began this past spring on Negro League baseball managers. Three were catchers when they played, two pitchers, and one played both positions. Three played on Negro League Baseball World Series champions, two managed their teams to World Series championships, and four were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They all made outstanding contributions in building the legacy of Negro League baseball, a forgotten sports institution.
Negro League Baseball Managers: Frank Duncan, C, playing career included Kansas City Monarchs 1922 – 1934, 1937, catcher on Monarchs’1924 WS champs, player/mgr. Monarchs 1941 – 1947, won 2 NAL pennants 1942 & 1946, WS champs 1942.
Negro League Baseball Managers: Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, catcher, playing career 1920 – 47, player/mgr. Newark Eagles 1941, 1945 – 47, Negro League World Series Champions 1946 (team included Monte Irvin & Larry Doby), elected HOF 2006.
Quincy Trouppe, career 1930 – 48, player/mgr. Cleveland Buckeyes 1945 – 47, World Series champs 1945, Chicago American Giants 1948, signed Cleveland Indians 1952, MLB debut 6/3/50, played 6 games
Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, catcher & pitcher, career 1928 – 1946, player/manager Cincinnati Tigers 1937, Memphis Red Sox 1938 – 1941, Chicago American Giants 1943
Sol White, born 6/12/1868, Bellaire, OH., inf, white organized baseball before solid color line & teams early beginnings Negro Leagues 1880 – 1900 Cuban Giants, Cuban X Giants, etc, player/mgr Philadelphia Giants 1902 – 07, HOF 2016
Negro League Baseball Managers: Andy Cooper, 2006 Hall of Fame LHP, Manager Kansas City Monarchs 1937 – 1940, won 3 Negro American League pennants, 2-time manager of Negro League All-Star game west squad
Negro League Baseball Managers: Felton Snow, 2-time Negro League All-Star 3B, player/manager Baltimore Elite Giants 1939 – 1947, manager East squad 1940 East-West All-Star Game
Negro League Baseball Managers: Grant “Home Run” Johnson, 1897 – 1912, mainly Cuban X Giants 1903 – 1905, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1906 – 1909, 1912, Philadelphia Giants 1911
Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, born 7/3/17, Piper, AL., 4-time Negro League All-Star INF., Birmingham Black Barons 1942 – 1949, player/mgr. Black Baron’s 1948 Negro American League pennant winner, played in minor leagues of 4 MLB teams
Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, born 7/28/1893, Oklahoma City, OK., P/OF, Kansas City Monarchs 1920 – 1938, no wind-up motion, hard thrower, 1924 World Series champs, 2-1 with 2.57 ERA & .325 BA, Monarchs’ player/mgr. 1928 – 34, HOF 1998
Again, you can find me on Twitter at Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
This past spring on Twitter, follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I began posting a series of tweets about Negro League baseball managers.
Starting their careers first as players themselves, then player/managers, and then just managers after their playing days; they each developed an insight into baseball from their many years of involvement in the game. Not included in my series of tweets, former pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster, the most well-known Negro League owner/manager. The 1981 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee managed his Chicago American Giants from the 1910s through 1920s into one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League baseball history.
Of the managers in my tweets, some are more famous than others. There were also many others not in my series such as Jose Mendez, Ben Taylor, John “Pop” Lloyd, Willie Wells, and John “Buck” O’Neil. Negro League managers made outstanding contributions in building the legacy of Negro League baseball as a forgotten sports institution.
Following are 10 of my Twitter posts on Negro league baseball managers:
Frank Warfield, Hilldale Club 1923 – 1927, Eastern Colored League pennant 1924 & 1925, 1925 World Series champs, Baltimore Black Sox 1929 – 1931, American Negro League pennant, Washington Pilots 1932
William “Dizzy” Dizmukes, went to Talladega College, managed various Negro League teams including Indianapolis ABCs 1923 – 1924, Memphis Red Sox 1925, St. Louis Stars 1937, Birmingham Black Barons 1938
Charles Isham (CI) Taylor, Birmingham Black Barons 1904 – 09, West Baden Sprudels 1910 – 13, Indianapolis ABCs 1914 – 21, mgr. contemporary to Andrew “Rube” Foster, VP Negro National League 1920
Dick Lundy, best SS Negro Leagues 1920s, SS/mgr. Bacharach Giants 1926 – 28, ECL pennants 1926 & 1927, Philly Stars 1933 & Newark Dodgers 1934, All-Star 1933 – 34, mgr. 1934 East All Stars, mgr. Newark Eagles 1938 – 40
“Candy” Jim Taylor, managed in NL 3 decades including St. Louis Stars 1923 – 28, Chicago American Giants 1937 – 39, 1941 – 42, 1945 – 47, Homestead Grays 1943 – 44, started as 3B Birmingham Black Barons 1904 – 08 bro. CI Taylor mgr
Vic Harris, 7-time Negro League All-Star OF, player/mgr. Homestead Grays 1937 – 1942, 1946 – 1948, won NNL pennant 1937 – 42, Negro League World Series champs 1948, 6-times named All-Star Game mgr.,
Jose Maria Fernandez, C/1B, 30+ years Negro League with Cuban teams beginning 1916, except 1930 Chicago American Giants, player/mgr. New York Cubans 1939 – 48, 1947 Negro League World Series champs
Oscar Charleston, OF/1B, one of best players baseball, 1915 – 41, teams he was manager Pitts. Crawfords 1932 – 38, Philly Stars 1941 – 44, 1946 – 50, Bklyn Brown Dodgers 1945, Indy Clowns 1954, HOF 1976
Negro League Baseball Managers: Winfield Welch, Birmingham Black Barons 1942 – 1945, Negro American League pennant winner 1943 & 1944, 4-time manager West squad Negro League All-Star Game, mgr. Chicago American Giants 1949
Negro League Baseball Managers: Fred “Tex” Burnett, C/1B, playing career 1922 – 1941 including New York Black Yankees 1931 – 1932, 1941, Homestead Grays, 1934, Newark Eagles 1937, manager Newark Eagles 1937, NY Black Yankees 1940 – 1943
Again, you can find me on Twitter at Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
Last fall I had a series of Twitter posts, Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop, listing Negro League Second Basemen. In last week’s blog I listed ten of those posts. Following are ten more.
Two of them listed were multiple time Negro League All-Stars, three were on Negro League World Series championship teams, and one broke through the color barrier of a Major League team. Each of them exemplified the high quality of talent that played the position during the Negro League baseball era:
Curt Roberts, Kansas City Monarchs 1947 – 50, 1st African American to play Pittsburgh Pirates, signed 1953, Pirates 1954 – 56, MLB debut 4/13/54, 1954 hit .232 in 134 games, 1957 – 63 in AAA minor league
Elwood “Bingo” DeMoss, considered 1 of best defensive 2nd baseman in Negro Leagues 1910s and early 1920s, mainly Chicago American Giants 1917 – 1925
McKinley “Bunny” Downs, teams include Hilldale 1917 – 22, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1923 – 24, Harrisburg Giants 1925, as exec Indianapolis Clowns signed high school prospect Henry Aaron early 1950s
Barney Serrell, Chicago American Giants 1941, Kansas City Monarchs 1942 – 1945, 10 hits vs Homestead Grays 1942 Negro League World Series won by Monarchs, late 1940s & 1950s in Mexican League
John Henry Russell, known for his defense, Memphis Red Sox 1923 – 1925, St. Louis Stars 1926 – 1930, DP combo with HOF SS Willie Wells and HOF 1B Mule Suttles, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931 – 1933
Sammy T. Hughes, 5-time Negro League All-Star, good fielder, consistently solid #2 hitter , speedy base runner, Nashville/Columbus/Washington/Baltimore Elite Giants 1933 – 1940, 1942, 1946
Johnnie Cowan, Birmingham Black Barons 1940, Cleveland Buckeyes 1942 – 1947, starting second baseman for Buckeyes’ 1945 Negro League World Series championship team, Memphis Red Sox 1948
Pat Patterson, 4-time Negro League All-Star, played on various teams, member 1935 Negro National League champion Pittsburgh Crawfords , KC Monarchs 1936, Philadelphia Stars 1938 – 39, 1941 – 42
Frank “Weasel” Warfield, Negro League career 1914 – 1932, including Hilldale of Darby, Pennsylvania 1923 – 1928, on Hilldale’s 1925 Negro League World Series Championship team
Wilson Connie Day, Indianapolis ABCs 1921 – 1923, Baltimore Black Sox 1924 – 1926, Harrisburg Giants 1927
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
Last fall on Twitter, follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @Lasttraintocoop, I posted a series of tweets about Negro League baseball second basemen.
Frank Grant, inducted in 2006, is the only former Negro League baseball second baseman with a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, that does not indicate a lack of talent existed at the position in Negro League baseball. Listed below are Twitter posts for 10 Negro League second basemen. At a point in their careers, seven were chosen by fans as to be a Negro League All-Star. One had a successful AAA minor league career after the integration of white professional. One has a plaque in the Hall of Fame as an outfielder after changing positions when playing Major League baseball.
Dick Jackson, Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1921, New York Bacharach Giants 1922, Brooklyn Royal Giants 1923, Harrisburg Giants 1924 – 25, Baltimore Black Sox 1926 – 28, Hilldale 1930, good hitter, hot-tempered
Herberto Blanco, New York Cubans 1941 & 1942, Negro League All-Star 1942, also played in the Mexican League, Canadian Provincial League, and US minor leagues, brother Carlos played 1B for Cubans in 1941
William “Billy” Horne, 2B/SS, Chicago American Giants 1938 – 1941, Negro League All-Star 2B 1939 & 1941, Cleveland Buckeyes 1942 – 1944, 1946, military service 1945, good defense, base-stealing speed
Chester Williams, 2B/SS, multiple teams, 1931 – 1942, Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931 – 1938, Philadelphia Stars 1939 – 1940, Homestead Grays 1941 – 1942, Negro League All-Star 1934 – 1937, solid defense, aggressively competitive attitude
Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Negro League All-Star multiple times, Birmingham Black Barons 1943 – 49, Boston Red Sox minor league system 1950, integrated Triple AAA minor leagues (PCL) 1951 – 57
Dick Seay, 2-time Negro League All-Star 2b, career 1926 – 47, mainly Newark Eagles 1937 – 40, part of 1938 Eagles’ “million dollar infield”, New York Black Yankees 1940 – 42, 1945 – 47, good defense, light hitter
Walter Cannady, 1921 – 45 Negro League career, INF/OF but 2B best position, played with various teams including New York Black Yankees 1933 – 39, 1-time Negro League All-Star 1938
Jimmy Ford, various Negro League teams 1933 – 1945, including Memphis Red Sox 1937, 1944 – 1945, 1941 Negro League All-Star while with St. Louis/New Orleans Stars
Larry Doby, Newark Eagles 1942 – 44, 1946, Negro League All-Star 1946, Negro League World Series champs 1946, signed Cleveland Indians 1947, switched to OF, 7-time MLB All-Star, elected HOF 1998
Jesse Warren Douglass, Chicago American Giants, 1937, 1944 – 45, Kansas City Monarchs 1940, Birmingham Black Barons 1941, also played shortstop and outfield, independent minor leagues & Mexican League 1950s
BUT WAIT! I will have a list of others who played the position in Negro League baseball next post. STAY TUNED!
All photos for this post the courtesy of numerous internet sites via Google Images
This is the second part of my tribute to Frank Robinson, my personal favorite baseball player who died of bone cancer this past February 7th. In remembering him, I will always think about 1966. That year, I got the opportunity to see him play in person. And more importantly, after being defined as “past his prime” and traded, Frank Robinson had the best year of his career.
The Baltimore Orioles did not have a strong history with African-American players since coming into the American League in 1954 when a group of Baltimore investors bought the failing St. Louis Browns franchise and moved it to the city by Chesapeake Bay. The team followed the American League’s slow pace of racial integration in the 1950s. Despite building a strong minor league system, the Orioles’ had not developed an African-American star player. Joe Durham and Jehosie Heard, in 1954, were the first African-Americans to play for the Orioles; both having only brief non-impactful careers. Two former Negro League players had solid seasons with the Orioles in the late 1950s. Pitcher Connie Johnson won 14 games in 1957 and first baseman Bob Boyd hit .300 three consecutive seasons (1956 – 1958). In the early 1960s outfielder Sam Bowens had one good season, 1964, hitting 22 home runs in 139 games. But despite that history, after finishing 3rd the previous two seasons, Baltimore Orioles’ management believed acquiring Frank Robinson could put them over the top in 1966. He hit a double his first At Bat in spring training starting a magical season that would prove them correct.
On May 27th that year, while sitting in the upper deck bleachers far down the right field line at the Kansas City Athletics’ Municipal Stadium, I cheerfully saw Frank Robinson take his right field position; I saw the strut. In his first At Bat, he crowded the plate just as I had seen him do on TV; challenging the pitcher. In the 4th inning he got hit by the pitch, one of the 198 times of his career. The next game I attended when the Orioles came to town Robinson went hitless, but the talk of him winning the Triple Crown had begun. Each day I looked at the newspaper baseball box scores to check his progress. Robinson finished ahead of 4-time American League home run champion Harmon Killebrew 49 to 39. He finished ahead of Tony Oliva, who had won the American League batting title the last two seasons, .316 to .307. With also leading the League with 122 RBI, Robinson won the Triple Crown.
My high school drafting teacher brought a TV to watch the World Series. From my front row drafting desk I saw Frank Robinson’s 1st inning two run home run off Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale that set the tone for the Orioles’ four games sweeping of the Series. He hit another home run off Drysdale to win Game Four. Named American League Most Valuable Player in 1966, Robinson is the only one to receive MVP honors in both leagues, winning it while with Cincinnati in 1961. During Robinson’s time in Baltimore, the Orioles also won American League pennants in 1969 – 71 and were World Series champions in 1970.
Frank Robinson’s autobiography is called “My Life is Baseball” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 1975). That title reflects a true picture of his relationship with the game. Near the end of his playing career in 1974, he became the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians were the first of four teams in Robinson’s 16 year career as a manager, 1,065 wins and 1,176 losses. He had the reputation as having a “hard-nosed”, “old school” approach at managing, although he did mellow in the in the way he handled players as he got older. I remember Robinson’s competitive spirit on display when seeing the Indians play the Kansas City Royals in 1975. Throughout the National Anthem, Robinson jawed back and forth with the home plate umpire while they both looked up at the flag. He had his critics, but also gained the highest respect and esteem in the Major League Baseball community for his overall accomplishments in the sport. During his career, Frank Robinson served as a batting coach, an outfield coach, a consultant for club owners, and held positions in the Office of Major League Baseball.
I will miss my favorite baseball player. Playing on my high school’s first baseball team the spring of 1967 and throughout the amateur summer leagues, I chose # 20 as my uniform number. I still have his 1959, 1960, 1964 Topps baseball cards (lost 1965s) and also the Post Cereal Frank Robinson cards for 1961 – 63. I still have memories of that 1966 season. Also, I still have that vision of my first seeing of him circling the bases after that home run in the 1959 All-Star Game. Frank Robinson had the run, that strut, I will never forget.
From 1959 – 1962 there were two Major League All-Star Games played with most of the revenue from the second going for players’ pension fund. During the telecast of the second All-Star Game in 1959, played on August 3 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, I saw Frank Robinson for the first time. I had only heard about him when my father and older brothers talked about African-American baseball players. However; three days before my 8th birthday, I got my first real look at #20 that afternoon on our RCA black & white TV screen. The 83 years old former outfielder and manager died this past February 7th. I know this post will get lost in the thousands of verbal and written tributes to him and his accomplishments in baseball. But I have to write it. I took the death of Frank Robinson, my favorite all-time baseball player, # 20, personally. In remembering him, the following thoughts come to my mind.
First, I will remember Frank Robinson as the first African-American star Major League baseball player that did not get his start in Negro League baseball. Signed out of McClymonds High School in Oakland, California by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1953, he faced the existing racial discrimination in professional baseball in the 1950s; in the minor leagues (SALLY League 1955) and in spring training (Tampa, Florida). Before national sportswriters voted Robinson National League Rookie of the Year in 1956 when he hit .293 with 38 home runs, the previous African-American winners were all former Negro League players: Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), Sam Jethroe (1950), Willie Mays (1951), Joe Black (1952), and Jim Gilliam (1953). In 1961 Frank Robinson won National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors (.323 BA, 37 HRs, 124 RBI, 22 SB) leading Cincinnati to win the National League pennant. The African- American MVP Award winners up until that time were all former Negro League players: Jackie Robinson (1949), Roy Campanella (1951, 1953, 1955), Willie Mays (1954), Henry Aaron (1957), and Ernie Banks (1958, 1959). Frank Robinson followed the path in the 1950s set by Jackie Robinson and other former Negro League players to have a Hall of Fame (1982 inductee) baseball career.
Secondly, I will always remember how Frank Robinson ran. During that second 1959 Major League All-Star Game, Robinson hit a 5th inning home run off Early Wynn. The way he circled the bases in his sleeveless Cincinnati Redlegs (they were not called the Reds back in 1959) uniform wearing a red short-sleeved jersey underneath, got my attention. To me, Robinson had a distinctive running style; straight-backed, stiff-legged, pumping his arms up and down at his hips. It seemed like a confident strut or pimp, a reflection of his highly competitive aggressive approach to playing baseball, and it stuck in my mind about him. I still have an image of other stars from that era; Mickey Mantle swinging his bat with all his body’s physical strength, Willie Mays running from under his cap, Henry Aaron playing with such ease and grace he hardly seem to break a sweat, and Ernie Banks’ smiling “let’s play two” joy about the game. But Frank Robinson, to me, had the run; the strut.
Then I will always remember Frank Robinson’s best season, 1966. Cincinnati’s trade of him to the Baltimore Orioles on December 9, 1965 turned the American League on its head. The team rosters of that 1959 All-Star Game when I first saw him reflected the slower pace of racial diversity in the junior circuit at that time. The American League All-Star team had three African-American or dark-skinned Latino ball players as compared to nine for the National League. It had been twelve years since Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947, but two American League clubs had just become integrated; the Detroit Tigers with Ozzie Virgil in 1958 and the Boston Red Sox with Pumpsie Green in 1959. In 1963, Elston Howard of the New York Yankees, a product of Negro League baseball, became the first African-American to receive MVP honors in the American League. In ten years with Cincinnati, Robinson hit 324 home runs while averaging 100 RBIs and a .301 batting average. However General Manager Bill Dewitt, believing him past his prime and calling him “an old 30 years of age with an old body”, in what would turn out to be one of the worst trades in baseball history sent Frank Robinson to the American League.
My tribute to the late Frank Robinson will continue in my next blog post. Stay tuned!
All images used for this post were taken from internet web sites
A BELATED HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Before getting further into 2019, I need to briefly mention the Negro League players who took the field for the last inning of life’s game in 2018. Of the five listed, one briefly played Major League baseball and another in the minor leagues after Jackie Robinson erased the “invisible color line” in 1947. The others played during the rapid decline of the Negro Leagues in the 1950’s or on teams in the Negro minor leagues. Neither of the ex-players in the post is considered a “famous name”, but the lives of each are a chapter in the Negro League baseball story.
I may not have been aware of the death in 2018 of others from the Negro League baseball era, so the list could be incomplete.
Roosevelt Jackson – May 5, 2018
Born 12/20/17 in Gay, Georgia; Jackson became known at events honoring Negro League baseball during the last years of his life as the “oldest player from the Negro League era”. He played both infield (2B) and outfield during the 1930’s and 1940’s with Negro minor leagues teams in Florida; Miami Globetrotters, Hollywood (Fla.) Redbirds, Miami Red Sox, Belle Glade Redwings. These teams were on the Florida spring barnstorming circuit of the major Negro League clubs. After integration, Jackson did scouting for the Philadelphia Phillies.
William “Youngblood” McCrary – July 21, 2018
While attending high school in Beloit, Wisconsin; McCrary drew interest from the St. Louis Cardinals. However, with African-Americans still barred from organized white baseball, the team referred him to the Kansas City Monarchs. Beginning as a 17 years old reserve shortstop, McCrary played for the Monarchs from 1946 – 1948. Because of his young age, “Satchel” Paige called him “Youngblood”. McCrary signed with the New York Yankees in 1949 and spent two years in its minor league system.
Jose Santiago – October 9, 2018
Born September 4, 1928 in Coamo, Puerto Rico, Santiago pitched for the 1947 Negro League World Series champion New York Cubans. Before the next season, Cubans’ owner Alex Pompez sold a number of his players to Major League franchises for money to keep his team operating. Santiago went to the Cleveland Indians. He stayed in the team’s minor league system for six years before making his Major League debut on April 17, 1954. He became the second player from Puerto Rico to be in the American League. After he had a 2 – 0 record in 1955, the Indians traded Santiago to the Kansas City A’s who released him halfway through the 1956 season. He never again pitched for another Major League team.
Edward Burton – October 18, 2018
The Harrisburg Giants were a strong team in the Eastern Colored League (ECL) from 1925 – 1927. Famous Negro League players such as Oscar Charleston, Rap Dixon, Clarence “Fat” Jenkins, and John Beckwith played with the team at one time during the period. The ECL disbanded in 1928 and by the time Edward Burton joined the Giants in 1947, it had become a low-level, Negro minor league team. A second baseman, Burton played against Negro American League teams barnstorming though Harrisburg until 1955. For the last few years he had participated in activities honoring Negro League baseball in Charlotte, NC; where he died.
Frank “Bubba” King – December 8, 2018
Born 6/23/23 in East Point, GA., King played professional/semi-professional baseball from 1936 – 1958 with local black teams in the Atlanta area; East Point Bears, Atlanta Cards, College Park Indians. These teams kept black baseball alive in Atlanta down through the Negro League era. In the 1940’s King, an outfielder, played with the Atlanta Black Crackers of the Negro Southern League (NSL); a Negro minor league team.
I need to mention five former players not from the Negro League baseball era who died in 2018. For each I have my own personal reflection which will be in my next post. Stay tuned!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, many times I have been the fan of the team that lost the World Series. I called those painfully disappointing losses my World Series nightmares. One of those nightmares involved Hall of Fame slugger Willie McCovey who died this past October 31.
The 1962 World Series would be the seventh “Yankees vs Giants”, but with a huge difference. After being a New York franchise since 1883, first the Gothams then in 1885 the Giants, the New York Giants moved to the west coast after the 1957 season to become the San Francisco Giants. By 1962, center fielder Willie Mays and manager Alvin Dark were the only Giants who had played with the team in New York. They were on the Giants’ team that lost the 1951 World Series to the New York Yankees.
Before the boom in television coverage of sporting events, all World Series games were played in the afternoon. In grade school, I could only watch the first innings during my lunch break. The games were over by the time school ended. I would have to wait until the weekends to see a complete game.
In Game One at Candlestick Park the Giants’ stopped pitcher Whitey Ford’s World Series scoreless streak at 33 2/3 innings, but still lost to the Yankees 6-2. With Ford being a left-handed pitcher, left-handed hitting Willie McCovey did not play.
The Giants’ continued the World Series miseries of Yankees’ pitcher Ralph Terry in Game Two, winning 2 – 0. Willie McCovey hit a seventh inning home run. Terry, who won 23 games during the 1962 regular season, had been the goat of the 1960 World Series surrendering the walk-off Seventh Game winning home run to Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the 1961 World Series Terry dropped Game Two; New York’s only loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Series switched to Yankee Stadium for Game Three that Sunday and I got to watch it all on TV. However, New York won 3 – 2. McCovey played right field, zero for three at the plate.
When I came home for lunch during Game Four the next day, the Giants were ahead 2 – 0. Juan Marichal had held the Yankees scoreless the first four innings, but left the game with a sore hand. After my lunch break, the Yankees tied the score. But later, from a friend who missed school due to a stomach ache, I learned the Giants scored five runs the last three innings to win 7 – 3. Claiming to have the same type of stomach ache the next morning, I stayed home to watch Game Five. However, it rained in New York forcing the game to be cancelled! My mother told me though the expression on her face, “You got what you deserved for your stunt”. Returning home from school the next day, I had no more “sick day” options, I painfully learned the Yankees had won Game Five behind Ralph Terry’s sound pitching 5 – 3. McCovey, playing first base, got one hit.
A Northern California rain storm cancelled Game Six a Series’ record three times, including during the weekend when I would have been able to watch. When play resumed, the Giants won 5 – 2 tying the Series at three games apiece.
My school’s janitor had a bet with my teacher that New York would win the World Series. After listening to Game Seven on his transistor radio, he came into my classroom to collect on his bet. I learned the details on the game after school. With Ralph Terry pitching, the Yankees led 1 – 0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Matty Alou singled to lead-off for the Giants. With two outs, Willie Mays doubled. Willie McCovey, who had tripled in the seventh inning, then hit a line drive to second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the Series.
The 1962 World Series brought triumphant vindication to Ralph Terry, but disappointment to Willie McCovey. For the remainder of his great career, McCovey did not get another opportunity for World Series success. For me, due to the rainouts, I only saw one entire game and my stunt to see another failed. Also, in the words spoken by Charlie Brown in the newspaper comic strip Peanuts on 11/22/62; “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just 3 feet higher?” It probably needed to be more than three feet, but that tells how painfully I still think about it now. What a nightmare!