Many of my blog posts celebrate the birthdays of African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players of the past; mainly those of the Negro League baseball era and of the game’s “Golden Age” (1950s and 1960s). However as 2016 comes to an end, I would like to briefly mention those who died this year. If there are some not listed it is because I was not aware of their deaths. Of the eight named in this blog post, some had more productive careers statistically than others. However, they all helped to grow the deep, unshakable roots African-Americans have in the great game of baseball
Monte Irvin – January 11, 2016
The Hall of Fame outfielder, inducted in 1973, spent the prime years of his career in Negro League baseball with the Newark Eagles. Considered the best player in the Negro Leagues by many in 1941 before going into military service, Irvin returned in 1946 to help the Eagles win the Negro League World Series Championship. In 1949 he became the first African-American to play for the New York Giants. He helped them win two National League pennants and the 1954 World Series Championship.
Walt Williams – January 23, 2016
I remember Walt Williams as a hustling, energetic outfielder with the Chicago White Sox (1967 – 1972) who had the nickname “No Neck” because of his short and stocky physique. A contact hitter without much power, he had an outwardly enthusiastic approach to playing baseball. Williams also spent time with the Houston Colt 45s (1964), Cleveland Indians (1973), and New York Yankees (1974-1975).
Ted Toles, Jr. – April 5, 2016
Ted Toles played Negro League baseball from 1943 – 1947 and then in 1949. A pitcher and outfielder, he played for the Newark Eagles, Cleveland Buckeyes, and Jacksonville Eagles. He spent time in the minor leagues in the early 1950s.
Joe Durham – April 20, 2016
After playing in Negro League baseball with the Chicago American Giants, Durham signed with the St. Louis Browns in the fall of 1952. The Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 and called Durham up from the minor leagues the last month of the season. He made his Major League debut on September 10 and two days later became the first African-American player to hit a home run in an Orioles’ uniform.
Charley Beamon – May 3, 2016
Arm trouble cut short the career of Beamon, a right-handed power pitcher with a good curveball. A high school classmate of basketball great Bill Russell and Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson (McClymonds in Oakland, CA.), Beamon made his Major League debut on September 26, 1956. He outmatched Whitey Ford in beating the New York Yankees 1 – 0 giving up only 4 hits. But he missed most of 1957 due to arm soreness and was 1 -3 with the Orioles in 1958, his last Major League season.
Jim Ray Hart – May 19, 2016
A power hitting third baseman for the San Francisco Giants 1963 – 1973, Hart smashed 31 home runs in 1964 and 33 in 1966. He finished second in the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year voting next to winner Dick Allen. Hart averaged 92 RBIs a year for the 1964 – 1967 seasons. He finished his career playing with New York Yankees in 1974.
Chico Fernandez – June 11, 2016
Fernandez signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 as a shortstop. With future Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese still in his prime, Fernandez spent five years in the team’s minor league system. But the Dodgers traded Chico to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957 and he became the first dark-skinned Latino to play for the team. He had two productive seasons (1957-1958) with the Phillies. In 1960, the team traded Fernandez to the Detroit Tigers where he became their number one shortstop for three years (1960 – 1962).
“Choo Choo” Coleman – August 15, 2016
Coleman had a unique career in baseball. He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise. Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators, but after going nowhere in the their minor league organization he signed with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans. However, there were Major League teams still interested in Coleman as he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Choo-Choo would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason the next season as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets who were 40 – 112 and are known in historical baseball lore as the “hapless 1962 Mets”.
To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com
The on field statistics of Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman; born August 25, 1937 in Orlando, Florida, do not make his baseball career anything special. But it is the timing of when he played and the teams in which he was on that draws interest when his name is mentioned. He experienced the sunset of Negro League baseball and the dawning of a new Major League franchise.
Coleman was first signed in 1955 by the Washington Senators who had their Class D minor league team in Orlando. The Senators were in the American League which as a whole by 1955 as compared to the National League was slower in signing African American and dark skinned Latino ballplayers. The “invisible color line” which kept Major League baseball segregated for nearly half the 20th Century had been erased in 1947, but there were still two American League teams without Black or Latino players the year Coleman was signed; the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.
Going nowhere in the Senators’ minor league organization, Coleman signed with the Indianapolis Clowns midway through the 1956 season. By the mid-1950s, integration had killed Negro League baseball by draining it of the best players and stealing the interest of black baseball fans. The Clowns had become the “Harlem Globetrotters” of baseball when Coleman joined them. The former Negro American League (NAL) team hectically travelled from city to city to compete against semi-professional and amateur squads while performing on field antics designed to generate laughs for fan entertainment.
By 1960, however, there were Major League teams still interested in him. The 5’9”, 165 pounds undersized catcher was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers that year and was then drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Coleman made it to the Major Leagues in time to be on the worst team in baseball that season. The Phillies lost 107 games. Making his debut on April 16, 1961, Coleman hit .128 playing in 34 games
The next season Choo-Choo would become a part of baseball history for the wrong reason as he was chosen by the National League expansion team New York Mets. The team was 40 – 120 its first season. And although Coleman had his best year statistically; batting .250 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 55 games, he became a part of the popular baseball lore about the hapless 1962 Mets. His nickname “Choo-Choo”, that Coleman says he got being a fast runner as a child, made him a fan favorite.
He was demoted to the minor leagues after he hit .178 in 1963; 3 home runs, 9 RBIs in 106 games. Coleman returned to play briefly for the team in 1966, which would be his last season in the Major Leagues.