Tag Archives: Cleveland Indians

Larry Doby’s Major League Baseball Debut

doby 4Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary; July 5, 1947, of former Negro League star and baseball Hall of Fame center fielder Larry Doby’s Major League debut.  Less than three months earlier, April 14, Jackie Robinson had become the first African-American to play Major League baseball.  Robinson started the season playing first base for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers.  As the second African American in Major League baseball, the first to play in the American League, Doby’s status is overshadowed by Robinson.  Although not as well-known or revered, Larry Doby’s accomplishments in baseball are still of historical significance.

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Jackie Robinson (left) and Larry Doby

 

At Comiskey Park against the Chicago White Sox in the top of the seventh inning, Doby pinch hit for Cleveland Indians pitcher Bryan Stephens. He had started the season playing with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (NNL).  Doby joined the Indians three days prior to the game (July 2) when Eagles’ owner Effa Manley sold his contract to Indians’ owner Bill Veeck for $15,000; the first substantial price a Major League team would pay for a Negro League player.  After returning from military service in 1946, Doby played second baseman alongside shortstop Monte Irvin on the Eagles’ 1946 Negro League Baseball World Series Championship team.   When Robinson erased the “invisible color line” that had kept African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics out of Major League baseball for more than 50 years, Manley sold Doby  in a last attempt to keep her team operating.  She sold it after the 1948 season when the NNL disbanded. In his first Major League plate appearance against White Sox pitcher Earl Harrist, Doby struck out.  He played in 29 games and batted .156 the remainder of the season.

doby 3

However, in 1948 Doby became the Indians starting center fielder. In his first full Major League season, he hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 runs batted in to help the Indians win the American League pennant.  He batted .318 in the 1948 World Series and his home run, the first of an African-American in a World Series, was the winning run in Game Four.  The widely publicized  photo taken after that game of  Doby and Indian winning pitcher Steve Gromek was the first of an African-American and white player embracing each other.  The Indians defeated the Boston Braves in the Series four games to two making Doby and his teammate on the 1948 Indians, Satchel Paige, the first African-Americans to play on a Major League World Series champion.  Doby led the American League in home runs with 32 in 1954, helping the Indians again win the American League pennant.  In Doby’s thirteen year career (1947 – 1959), he hit 253 homeruns and played in six All Star Games.

doby 2

Steve Gromek (left) and Larry Doby

After years of being overlooked, Larry Doby’s baseball talent and his importance in the racial integration of Major League baseball received recognition by his 1998 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Although not as outspoken or charismatic as Jackie Robinson, Doby still overcame the same racism to be a successful Major League player.  He, like Robinson, successfully carried on his shoulders the hopes of his race in the face of failure’s dire consequences.

 

Doby 6

“Satchel” Paige (left) and Larry Doby

 

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

The Negro League Baseball Fact For Today – Al Smith

Jackie Robinson crashed through Major League baseball’s closed door for African-American and Hispanic ball players in 1947. In order for baseball’s “great experiment” of integration to fully work, there had to be successful players to build on his accomplishments.  Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Henry Aaron contributed to it working by having Hall of Fame Major League careers. There were other African-American players such as Alphonse Eugene Smith who also contributed.  Although he does not have a plaque in Cooperstown, the former Negro League player helped to permanently put to death the myth African-Americans did not have the talent to play Major League baseball.

asmith

Born February 7, 1928 in Kirkwood, Missouri, Al Smith developed his versatility as a ball player while in the Negro American League with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1946 – 1948. He played third base, shortstop, and outfield as the team won the Negro American League pennant in 1947.

Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Smith made his Major League debut on July 10, 1953; one of eight Negro League players that were Major League rookies that season.  With Al hitting lead off (.281 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs) while playing 131 games at third base or the outfield, the Indians won 111 games in 1954 and captured the American League pennant.

asmith-2

As he approached his 30th birthday, the Indians traded Smith to the Chicago White Sox after the 1957 season. He had five productive years in Chicago and helped the White Sox win the American League pennant in 1959, ending its forty-year absence from appearing in the World Series.  He finished second in the 1960 American League batting title (.315, 12 home runs, 72 RBIs) and hit 28 home runs in 1961.

The White Sox traded the two-time All-Star (1955, 1960) to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963. After splitting time with Cleveland and the Boston Red Sox the next year, Smith retired.  He died January 3, 2002.

asmith-card

On the five Al Smith baseball cards I have in my collection (Topps 1959, 1960, 1964) and Post Cereal (1961 – 1963), there is no mention of him playing Negro League baseball. By omitting that information the cards do not paint a complete picture of his baseball career.  Like other African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players in the late 1940s and 1950s, Al Smith successfully crossed over the dividing river of racial discrimination that had existed in professional baseball for nearly half of the 20th Century.

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

 

Remembering “Sad” Sam Jones

Past feature articles, game summaries, and game box scores of African-American newspapers indicate there were at least 29 no-hitters thrown in Negro League baseball.  Most notably there were two by Satchel Paige and one each by Hilton Smith, Andy Cooper, “Smoky” Joe Williams, and Leon Day; all Hall of Fame pitchers.  The “invisible color line” that kept African–American ballplayers out of the Major Leagues was not erased until 1947 which was too late for these and many other good Negro League hurlers who were by then either dead or passed their prime.  But there were younger Negro League pitchers that got their opportunity in the Major Leagues; “Toothpick” Sam Jones was one of them. He is the only former Negro League pitcher to throw a Major League no-hitter.

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Born 12/14/25 in Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones also spent a portion of his youth in West Virginia. He left for military service before starting the life of a coal mine worker as were many of his family members and friends.  He played with a local black team while stationed in Orlando, Florida in 1947 and caught the eye of Quincy Trouppe, then the manager of the Negro American League (NAL) Cleveland Buckeyes.  Jones signed in time to help the team win the NAL pennant, but they lost to the New York Cubans in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  Jones got his nickname from having a toothpick in his mouth while on the pitching mound.

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With Quincy Trouppe 1952

It would be 1950 when the Cleveland Indians finally noticed the talented right-handed hurler that had been in their own backyard. However, Jones pitched in only 16 games with the Indians in four years before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1954 season. Once in the National League, the talented pitcher proved what he had done in the Negro Leagues was no fluke.   Opponents claimed Jones, a power pitcher standing at 6’4” and weighing 200 pounds, had the best curveball in the National League.  He faced batters with a never-changing, expressionless look on his face which resulted in him also being called “Sad” Sam.  That is the nickname I mostly remember.  But opponents also said Jones had a mean streak exhibited by his pitches; he hit 14 batters in 1955 (league leader).  There was an ongoing intense confrontation whenever Henry Aaron faced Jones that is well documented.  Jones struggled at times with control of his pitches; he led the National League in walks four times.  But he also could be overpowering; being the league leader in strikeouts three years and pitching 17 shutouts in his 12 year Major League career.  He became a two-time National League All-Star, winning 21 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and 18 in 1960.

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But it was on May 12, 1955 as a Chicago Cub that Jones pitched himself into the Major League Baseball record book with a 4-0 no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It was a “Sam Jones” pitched type of game.  He struck out six batters, walked seven, threw a Wild Pitch, and was helped with two double plays.  In the ninth inning, he walked the first three hitters before striking out the final three.

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He retired after pitching with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964, the sixth team played with during his time in the Major Leagues; Cleveland Indians 1951 – 1952,  Chicago Cubs 1955 – 1956, St. Louis Cardinals 1957 – 1958 and 1963, San Francisco Giants 1959 – 1961, and Detroit Tigers 1962.  On November 5, 1971, the 45 years old Jones died of throat cancer.

“Sad “Sam Jones won 102 games in the Major Leagues. He lost 101.  No doubt the inconsistent control of his pitches cost him victories early in his career, but he still had 1,376 career strikeouts.  And no former Negro League pitcher, other than Don Newcombe, had the success in the Major Leagues as Sam Jones.

jones-5

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

 

 

Why I Remember Harry “Suitcase” Simpson

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.

simpson-2                                                                 simpson-indians

Following two injury plagued disappointing seasons with the Indians, Simpson 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.

simpson-1                                                                  simpson-a

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.

simpson-yanks                                          simpson-c

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.

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

 

Why Harry “Suitcase” Simpson Has a Place in My Heart

Harry Simpson was one of the first baseball players that captured my attention as I became a young fan of the nation’s “favorite pastime” 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.

simpson-2                                                       simpson-indians

Following two injury plagued disappointing seasons, 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.

simpson-1                                     simpson-a

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.

suitcase

Tooneville Trolley’s “Suitcase Simpson”

 

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.

simpson-yanks                                     simpson-c

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Negro League Baseball History Fact

Pope Picture

Although born in Talladega, Alabama on June 17, 1921, David Pope grew up in the Homestead Grays barnstorming region of Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh.  Signed by the Grays in 1945, the left handed hitting outfielder shared the dressing room with Negro League immortals Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson.  Pope was used mainly as a utility outfielder and pinch hitter on the Grays in 1948 when the team won the last Negro League World Series.

It was Pope’s potential as a hitter that caught the eye of Major League scouts.  The Cleveland Indians signed him in 1950 and he made his Major League debut on July 1, 1952.  He hit .294 in 12 games, but he was sent back to the minors a victim of his own fielding errors and the unwritten quota system African American players faced in the early years of Major League baseball integration.

He returned to the Cleveland after mid-season in 1954 to help the Indians win the American League pennant.  He hit .294 in 60 games with 30 hits, four home runs and had three pinch hitting appearances in the 1954 World Series which the Indians lost to the New York Giants four games to none.

1955 would be Pope’s best year in the Major Leagues, but it would not be with Cleveland.   After getting off to a good start he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.  He finished the year hitting .264 in 120 games with seven home runs and 52 RBIs.

He was traded back to Cleveland the next year.  He played in 37 games and wound up back in their minor league system as the team promoted younger white prospects such as Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito.  Pope never made it back to the Major Leagues.

Along with Dave Pope, who were the four other members of the 1948 Homestead Grays that went on to play in the Major Leagues?

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