The 2017 Baseball Winter Meetings are scheduled for December 10 – 14 in Orlando, Florida. Baseball fans will be looking on with anticipation for any trades or free agent signings coming from the meetings that will affect teams in 2018. Also, Major League Baseball announced the first official exhibition games for Spring Training 2018 will be played February 23. But this post in not about the upcoming 2018 Major League season. It is the fourth and final segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.
With its fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population during World War 2, Negro League game attendance reached new levels. It experienced a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945. Negro League baseball grew to become nearly a three million dollar industry and in most cases the largest business operating in the African-American communities of the cities with Negro National League (NNL) or Negro American League (NAL) franchises. Another indication of Negro League baseball’s relative stability during this period was the Negro League World Series.
Although the Homestead Grays won the NNL pennant again in 1945, the average age of the team’s nucleus (Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, Jud Wilson, etc.) was well above 30 and their skills had begun to erode. This became more evident when the Grays were swept four games to none by the younger Cleveland Buckeyes in the 1945 Negro League World Series. Gibson, playing in his last Series before dying in 1947, hit only .123 (2 for 15) and Leonard .200 (3 for 15). The Grays, scoring only 3 runs the entire Series, were shutout the last two games.
With Monte Irvin, Leon Day, and Larry Doby returning from military service, the Newark Eagles ended the nine-year reign of the Homestead Grays and won the NNL pennant in 1946. They faced the NAL’s Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Series. Both teams had players who would cross over into Major League baseball: Newark’s Irvin (1949) and Doby (1947), Kansas City’s “Satchel” Paige (1948), Hank Thompson (1947), Willard Brown (1947), and Connie Johnson (1953). Led by Irvin’s torrid hitting (3 HRs, 8 RBI, and a .462 BA.), the Eagles won Game Six and Seven to win the Series 4 games to 3.
For almost 30 years Alejandro Pompez had been the “Latin Connection” in Negro League baseball. He created a pipeline that brought dark-skinned Hispanic players from Cuba and other Caribbean countries to star for his Negro League teams; the Cuban Stars (1916 – 1927) and the New York Cubans (1935 – 1950). The Cubans won the NNL pennant and faced the Cleveland Buckeyes the NAL pennant winner in the 1947 Negro League World Series. The accomplishments of both teams were overshadowed that year by Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century. Both teams in the Series had players who would later go through the door Robinson opened that year. New York Cuban players Orestes “Minnie” Minoso (1949), Ray Noble (1951), and Pat Scantlebury (1956) would have careers in the Major Leagues; Minoso being the first dark-skinned Hispanic to play. The Cleveland Buckeyes’ Sam Jethroe (1950), Sam Jones (1951), Quincy Trouppe (1952), and Al Smith (1953) also would spend time in the Major Leagues; Jethroe being the 1950 National League Rookie of the Year. The Cubans, with Minoso hitting .426, defeated the Buckeyes four games to one in the Series.
In 1948, the Homestead Grays were no longer the team it had been since the late 1930s. The team’s owner Cum Posey died of lung cancer in 1946 and Josh Gibson, considered the greatest home run slugger in Negro League history, died in 1947. Also gone were team stalwarts Raymond Brown, Roy Partlow, Jerry Benjamin, “Cool Papa’ Bell, and Jud Wilson. However, Buck Leonard and pitcher Wilmer Fields along with future Major Leaguers Luke Easter (1949) and Bob Thurman (1955) led the Grays to capture the NNL pennant. The team defeated the Birmingham Black Barons four games to one in the 1948 Negro League World Series. In Game Three, the only one won by Birmingham, the Grays’ Leonard was thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double by the Black Barons’ 17-year old center fielder; future Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays. It would be the third time the Grays would win a World Series championship against the Black Barons, also in 1943 and 1944.
Although Jackie Robinson erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, racial integration in the Major Leagues went at a slow pace. However, African-American baseball fans looked at the racial competition in Major League games as social progress and quickly began to lose interest in Negro League baseball. Game attendance in the Negro Leagues dropped to financially dangerous levels for many teams and the economic stability of Negro League baseball began crumbling; never to recover. After the 1948 season, the NNL disbanded with the few remaining teams absorbed by the NAL which limped on until the end of Negro League baseball in the early 1960s.
The end of Negro League baseball’s economic stability put a permanent end to the Negro League World Series. The Homestead Grays, one of the most renowned Negro League franchises, played in four of these fall classics during Negro League baseball’s most profitable years, 1942 – 1945; winning two. It is only fitting that in 1948 the team won the last Negro League World Series championship.
The Houston Astros have been crowned World Series champions bringing to an end the 2017 Major League baseball season. Now begins the “hot stove league”, the name often referred to the baseball off-season, even though winter does not officially start until December 21. Baseball fans will be waiting to see what changes will be made by their favorite team for improvement in 2018 season. Especially those fans of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers; teams that made a good run in 2017 but fell short. With the Astros being young and loaded, it will be an uphill climb for the other teams. But this post is not my prediction about the 2018 Major League season. It is the third segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.
After the United States in 1941 became involved in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the continuing operation of both Major League and Negro League baseball for the purpose of maintaining high morale in the country. The military took such Major League stars as Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Greenberg while Negro League players Monte Irvin, Willard Brown, Leon Day, Larry Doby, and others served also during the War. There were; however, Negro League stalwarts considered to old (over 30 years old) or with physical exemptions from military service. This included players such as “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and others.
The war years became a period of economic prosperity for Negro League baseball. With an estimated 1.5 million African-Americans by 1944 having jobs in industries producing military weapons, equipment, and supplies; Negro League fans had more disposable income to support their favorite team. In addition, the fan base widened due to the growing northern migration from southern states of African-Americans seeking the increasing job opportunities. Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades, experiencing a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945. With this new economic stability came the rebirth of the Negro League World Series.
In 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL) played the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League (NNL) in the first Negro League World Series held since 1927. The format of attempting to maximum revenue (ticket sales) by playing most of the games in cities with a large African America population remained as before; only one game of the Series would be in Kansas City while the rest in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington D. C., and Philadelphia. However, the Series changed to be as the Major League’s; first to win four games would be champion. In the midst of their nine-year reign (1937 – 1945) of winning the NAL pennant, the Grays were favored to defeat the Monarchs. The Grays’ batting order included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, Howard Easterling, and Jud Wilson. But the Monarchs’ pitchers led by “Satchel” Paige, Hilton Smith, and Jack Matchett shut down the powerful Grays’ batters and won the Series four games to none. Josh Gibson only hit .154 (2 for 14) and Buck Leonard .188 (3 for 16).
In Game Two of this Series, the pitcher-batter confrontation between the Monarchs’ “Satchel” Paige and the Grays’ Josh Gibson that is a part of Negro League folklore took place. Wanting to demonstrate proof of being the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues at that time, Paige decided to face Gibson; considered the best hitter. Leading 2 – 0 with two outs and a man on third base, Paige walks Vic Harris and Howard Easterling intentionally so he could face Josh Gibson. Paige verbally taunted Gibson, telling before each pitch what he would throw. Gibson struck out on three Paige fastballs, not quick enough to take a swing at any of them. The confrontation is so baseball legendary, Monarchs’ first baseman Buck O’Neil gives a narration of it in Ken Burn’s 1994 television documentary miniseries “Baseball”.
Both the 1943 and 1944 Negro League World Series pitted the Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons. Paced by pitchers Johnny Wright (two shutouts) and Raymond Brown (two wins and a 2.10 ERA) the Grays won the 1943 Series four games to three. Behind the hitting of Josh Gibson (.500, 8 for 16) and Buck Leonard (.388, 7 for 18), the Grays won the 1944 Series four games to one.
Despite the war years being an economic boom time for Negro League baseball overall, the Negro League World Series struggled. The 1944 Negro League East West All Star Game in Chicago drew 51,723 in attendance, the largest to see a Negro League game. Only 29, 589 fans attended Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that summer held in Pittsburgh. However in his book, “I Was Right on Time” (Simon & Schuster 1997), Buck O’Neil believed there were less than 5,000 people in stadium that saw the Paige vs Gibson event. But the overall economic stability of both leagues allowed the Negro League World Series to continue. Stay tuned for the fourth and final segment.
The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions!!! After all the adversity the residents of Houston and the surrounding communities have experienced due to Hurricane Harvey, it is great that the city can now add “home of the World Champion Houston Astros’ to its many names promoting it. Congratulations to long-time Astros fans like John McDonald who suffered with the franchise through the years of being the Houston Colt 45’s, the JR Richard and Enos Cabell years, the Killer B’s, and the 2005 Astros being swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox. It is the 55-year-old franchise’s first World Series championship. For the Dodgers, sorry long-time fan James O”Berry, this adds to the franchise’s World Series history frustration. Although the Dodgers have won nineteen National League pennants, their six World Series titles fall short of their fans’ expectations.
This blog post is however not a final commentary of this year’s World Series. It is the second part of last week’s post about the Negro League World Series which is an overlooked part of baseball history.
Negro League baseball held its first World Series in 1924 with the Kansas City Monarchs of Negro National League (NNL) defeating the Hilldale Club of Darby Pennsylvania from the Eastern Colored League (ECL). Hilldale avenged its lost in the 1925 Series defeating the Monarchs. In both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (ECL). When extreme economic times hit African-Americans in the mid-1920’s, Negro League game attendance declined sharply forcing many teams to go out of business. The ECL disbanded after the 1927 season. It tried to reorganize in 1929 as the American Negro League, but failed after one season. The NNL economically limped into the new decade. With only one official professional Negro baseball league operating and facing the beginning of the greatest economic depression in America’s history, the Negro League World Series went on hiatus.
Negro National League founder Rube Foster died in December of 1930 and his league disbanded at the end of the 1931 season. Two leagues were started in 1932, but without long-term success. The East-West League lasted only two months into the season and the Negro Southern League dissolved at the season’s end.
However in 1933 Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburg Crawfords, organized a new league consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States; and called it the Negro National League (NNL). From 1933 – 1936, the Crawfords were a dominant force in Negro League baseball. Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson all played with the Crawfords during those years. They won the NNL pennant in 1933 and 1935. In 1936, the NNL’s make-up changed to being teams in the Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard. The next season, Cum Posey’s Homestead Grays won it’s first of nine straight NNL pennants.
Also in 1937, the Negro American League (NAL) began operations consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Southern United States. The Kansas City Monarchs emerged as the most dominant team in the league. Starting in 1938, Buck O’Neil’s second year with the team, the Monarch’s won four straight NAL pennants.
Despite the existence by the late 1930’s of again two Negro professional baseball leagues, the Negro League World Series did not return. The economics of Negro League baseball worked against the year to year stability of both leagues as African-Americans continued to feel the effects of the economic depression. However, this changed due to the United States involvement in World War II beginning in 1941. The war led to the improvement of economic conditions for some African Americans over the previous decade because of the country’s desperate need for factory workers. Due to the labor shortage in industries with federal contracts to produce military weapons, supplies, and equipment; an estimated 1.5 million African Americans had jobs in those industries by 1944. In addition, large numbers of African Americans migrated from the rural South to cities in the Upper Midwest and Northeast seeking employment in those industries.
As a result of the improved economic condition of many African-American baseball fans, Negro League baseball peaked as a business during the 1940s. With the fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population, Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades.
With the greater stability for Negro League baseball, what about the Negro League World Series? Stay tuned for Part 3.
For more on the history of Negro League baseball, read Last Train to Cooperstown
Last Friday I failed to give notice of Edsall Walker’s birthday. Born September 15, 1913 in Catskill, New York, “Big” Walker pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1937 – 1940 and 1943 – 1946. He received the nickname because of his 6’0, 215 pounds physical stature. They nicknamed George Walker, 5’11”, 185 pounds who also pitched for the Grays during that time “Little”.
A left-handed pitcher, “Big” Walker had what opposing hitters called a wickedly sinking fastball that he consistently threw at 100 miles per hour. However, he could not consistently get it in the strike zone. Wild enough with his pitches to caused batters to fear being hit, Walker still threw enough strikes when needed to get them out. That combination made him an effective pitcher. With Hall of Fame left handed pitchers Willie Foster and Andy Cooper past their primes, “Big” Walker was one of the best southpaw pitchers in the Negro Leagues during his time.
Walker came to the Grays in 1937 after playing with a minor league team; the Albany Colored Giants. Slugger Josh Gibson had returned to the Grays that same year in a trade after playing five years with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Starting with that season the Homestead Grays would win nine straight Negro National League pennants (1937 – 1945). With the team known mainly during this stretch for its powerful offense due to Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, and others in the batting order, the pitching staff does not get the credit it deserved. Hall of Fame pitcher Raymond Brown was the team’s ace with “Big” Walker one of the other key starters and its top reliever. The Grays traded “Big” to the Philadelphia Stars in 1941. After the United States became embroiled in World War II, he sat out the 1942 season to work fulltime in the Baltimore shipping yards and then returned to the Grays.
Walker’s only Negro League East-West All Star Game appearance came in 1938 as the starting pitcher for the East squad. In the first three innings, he gave up five runs on four hits, three walks, and was the losing pitcher in the West’s squad 5 – 4 win. It was a performance Walker hesitated discussing later in life because he was a better pitcher than he showed that day.
The winning tradition established by the Homestead Grays has been called “the long gray line”. Although not a Hall of Fame or perennial All Star pitcher, Edsall “Big” Walker for seven years helped keep the line moving.
For more information on 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
Due to my efforts towards organizing the youth baseball team for 10 – 12 year olds I will coach this summer, I failed to timely recognize the birthdate of former Negro League and Major League player Robert (Bob) Burns Thurman, May 14, 1917. This post is a belated “Happy Birthday” recognition of him. The mystery that existed about the age of “Satchel” Paige when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 is a well-known story in both Negro League and baseball history. It is now known Paige made his Major League debut when 42 years old and became an American League All-Star his final season with the St. Louis Browns at age 47. But there is less mystery to Bob Thurman having his best Major League season when 40 years old.
After Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947 and Major League teams began looking to sign African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics, many Negro League players lowered their stated age to be a more attractive prospect. They knew that younger players had the best chance of getting to the Major Leagues. Thurman and other Negro League players felt no hesitancy claiming to be a younger age in order to walk through the now open door of opportunity that had been shut since the end of the 19th Century due to racial discrimination.
The cry grew louder after World War II for an end to racial discrimination in Major League baseball. Former Kentucky U. S. Senator Albert “Happy” Chandler became the new Major League Baseball Commissioner in 1945 following the sudden death the previous year of Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner. Landis had worked with team owners since taking office in 1920 to perpetuate the “invisible color line” that kept African-American or dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball. When asked his opinion about African-Americans playing in the Major Leagues, Chandler surprisingly said, “If they can fight and die in Okinawa and Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, they can play in America”. Although his response went against the existing racial discriminatory policy of Major League baseball, it added to the chorus for change sounding for Bob Thurman and other Negro League players.
Although born in Kellyville, Oklahoma, Thurman grew up in Wichita, Kansas. Drafted into the military while playing in the city’s semi-professional baseball leagues at the start of World War II, he saw combat duty in New Guinea and the Philippines. After leaving military service in 1946, he turned to his only option to play professional baseball in United States, the Negro Leagues. Thurman played with the Homestead Grays during the last years of owner Cum Posey’s “long gray line”. Long time Negro League veterans Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell and others were still with the Grays when Thurman arrived; however, Posey died before the season started. Signed as a left-handed pitcher, Thurman proved to be a better power hitter and became the team’s regular center fielder. With the veteran players approaching the end of their baseball careers, Josh Gibson died in 1947, the Grays mixed in Thurman along with future Major League players Luke Easter and Luis Marquez to help the team remain competitive. In 1948, Thurman hit over .300 as the Grays won the last Negro League World Series Championship defeating the Birmingham Black Barons.
With both the Negro National League and the Homestead Grays disbanding after the 1948 season, Thurman signed with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL). Monarch Manager Buck O’Neil had a team that included future Major League players Elston Howard, Connie Johnson, Gene Baker, Hank Thompson, and Curt Roberts. The Monarchs were looking to sell their best players to Major League teams in order to remain operating profitably. On July 29, 1949 the New York Yankees purchased Thurman’s contract and he became the first African-American signed by the team. He walked through the door of opportunity given him stated as a 26-year-old outfielder, but in reality being 32.
However, the Yankees were not serious about integration. Although Thurman batted .317 and hit with power while with the team’s Triple AAA minor league affiliate (Newark Bears) for the remainder of that season, the team traded him to the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were also slow embracing integration. It would be four years, 1954, before Ernie Banks became the first African-American to play for Chicago’s north side team. After three respectable years in the Cubs minor league system, Thurman was released. The Cubs did not renew his contract.
He spent the next two years playing summer and winter league baseball in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Thurman had several successful seasons in the Caribbean leagues and had become a fan favorite. He is a member of the Puerto Rican League Baseball Hall of Fame and the league’s all-time home run leader. After a tremendous winter league season in 1955, Thurman signed with the Cincinnati Reds mainly as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter with the team believing him to be 32 years old. He made his Major League debut on April 14, 1955; a little more than a month before his actual 38th birthday.
Thurman hit 35 home runs and drove in 106 runs in his five years with the Reds (1955 – 1959). On August 18, 1956, the Reds hit eight home runs in a 13 – 4 victory over the Milwaukee Braves; which tied the Major League record at that time. Three of the Reds’ home runs in that game were hit by Bob Thurman. After hitting a double in the third inning, he hit home runs in the fifth, seventh, and eighth innings. In 1957 at 40 years old, Thurman had his best season in the Major Leagues hitting 18 home runs. While with the Reds he, along with former Negro League player and Reds teammate George Crowe, became mentors for young African-American players coming into the National League in the late 1950s; Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Curt Flood, Bill White, etc.
Bob Thurman had to verbally set back the hands of time in order to get the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. If the New York Yankees in 1949 had known his real age of 32, would they have signed him? Probably not! Surely, the Reds would not have signed Thurman in 1955 had they known his real age of 38! But given the opportunity, he proved his time for hitting a baseball had not passed him by.
To read more about the Negro Baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: James “Cool Papa” Bell.
In February 13, 1974; Negro League outfielder James “Cool Papa” was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many of the stories describing Bell’s speed were exaggerations (“He turned off the light switch and he got in the bed before the lights went off”). But; clocked at 12 seconds circling all the bases, he is considered one of the fastest runners in all baseball history.
Bell started his playing career as a pitcher. His manager called him “Cool Papa” because he kept his composure during pressure situations on the mound. The nickname stayed with Bell even though he hurt his pitching arm and played outfield the rest of his career.
His Negro League baseball career spanned three decades (1922 – 1946).
From 1922 – 1931 he played for the St. Louis Stars. He teamed with fellow members of the Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells and first baseman George “Mules” Suttles to help the team win three National Negro League championships (1928, 1930 – 1931).
While in his 30’s, Bell wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933 – 1938); one of the best teams assembled in Negro League history. Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson were teammates of Bell at times during this period. The Crawfords were National Negro League champions in 1935.
Still playing while in his 40’s, Bell helped the Homestead Grays win Negro League World Series championships in 1943 and 1944.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but ii is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In his sixteen year baseball career (1921 – 1937) Paul “Country Jake” Stephens; born February 10, 1900 in Pleasureville, Pennsylvania, played with some of the best teams in the Negro League baseball era. The 5’7”, 150 pound light-hitting shortstop had quickness, range, and a strong throwing arm. Although not considered one of the best all-around shortstops, he had the opportunity to be teammates with many Hall of Fame players. Because of his outgoing, always joking attitude; he got the nickname “Country Jake”.
Stephens first played with the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pennsylvania from 1921 – 1929. His teammates included third baseman Judy Johnson, catcher and infielder Biz Mackey, and catcher Louis Santop; all now in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The 1925 Daisies won the Negro League World Series Championship.
From 1929 – 1932, he wore the uniform of the Homestead Grays. Hall of Fame players “Smokey” Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Jud Wilson spent time with the Grays during those years. Wilson became Stephen’s best friend. The 1931 team is considered by many one of the best in Negro League baseball history.
Stephens along with his Hall of Fame Grays’ teammates were signed by Pittsburgh Crawford’s owner Gus Greenlee in 1932. Stephen’s former Hilldale teammate Judy Johnson and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige were also on the Crawford’s that year making it one of the best Negro League teams assembled.
With his friend Jud Wilson and former Hilldale teammate Biz Mackey, Stephens played with the Philadelphia Stars in 1933 – 1935. The 1934 team won the Negro National League championship.
Negro League baseball fans in the 1930s appreciated the talent displayed by Jake Stephens on the baseball field. They voted him as the starting shortstop for the East squad in the 1935 East-West All-Star Game, the annual national showcase for Negro League baseball.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Cumberland “Cum” Posey made his mark in sports history as the architect and owner of the Homestead Grays, one of the most renown and successful franchises in Negro League baseball. One of the seventeen individuals from the Negro League baseball era inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York) in 2006, Posey helped to provide the opportunity for African-American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players to exhibit their God-given talent during the time racial discrimination kept them out of the Major Leagues.
However, Cum Posey received another distinction last week by being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. The other inductees with Posey were; former National Basketball Association (NBA) players Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, and Zelmo Beaty; former Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Sheryl Swopes, Michigan State Basketball Coach Tom Izzo, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former NBA referee Darell Garretson, and former NBA and college coach John McLendon. Long before the existence of the NBA or National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Posey received acclaim as one of the best basketball guards in the country when he graduated from high school in 1908.
A super quick point guard (5’ 4” – 5’9”, depending on the source), he went on to become the first African-American student athlete at Penn State (1909 – 1911). After leaving school, Posey and his brother organized a basketball team in his hometown of Homestead across the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh; The Monticello Rifles. Not only the team’s star player, Cum also operated the business and promotional functions for it. The team changed its name to the Loendi Big Five in 1913 and became for years one of the best in what was the black professional basketball circuit.
Posey returned to college in 1916 and under the name Charles Cumbert became the first African-American student athlete at Duquesne. Leading the team in scoring from 1916 – 1919), he wanted to get an additional year of eligibility so he successfully used an assumed name.
After playing baseball in the summer with the Homestead Grays since 1911, Posey bought the team in 1920 and by 1925 baseball became his main focus until he died of lung cancer in 1947.
Cum Posey is the first to be recognized at the Hall of Fame in both Cooperstown and Springfield.
Here is an excerpt from my book, “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era” (Black Rose Writing – 2015), with more information about Cum Posey:
“Homestead was the birthplace of Cumberland Willis Posey, Jr.
on June 20, 1890. However, Posey’s destiny would not be tied to
steel. His parents were educated. His mother a teacher and his
father was an entrepreneur. An engineer that built boats and
operated a coal and ore business, Cum Sr. had the distinction of
being possibly the richest African American in the area. In college
Cum Jr. studied chemistry leaning towards becoming a pharmacist.
But sports had such a hold of his heart he could not ignore it.
A star athlete at Homestead High School, Posey played football,
basketball, and baseball as a teenager. Named Pittsburgh area’s top
high school basketball player in 1909, Posey (5’9”, 140 pounds) also
received national attention as one of the best guards in the country.
He played college basketball at Penn State and Duquesne.
However, baseball was a more popular sport in Posey’s
hometown of Homestead. The black steel workers passionately
played it every weekend from spring through fall. There were many
sandlot baseball teams sponsored by Pittsburgh area steel mills and
companies in the steel industry. These teams would be opponents
for a Homestead black team organized in 1900 called the Blue
Ribbons. The Blue Ribbons also played against local white semiprofessional
teams. By the time Posey began playing for the team
in 1911, its name had been changed to the Murdock Grays. Shortly
afterwards the team became the Homestead Grays.
Posey used the speed he exhibited on the basketball court to
develop into a decent centerfielder in baseball. He still played local
semi‐professional basketball during the winter in his early years
with the Grays. It was during his involvement with basketball that
the skills Posey used when he owned and operated the Grays were
first exhibited. Along with his brother Seward, he organized and
operated a basketball team that was successful for many years in
the black semi‐professional circuit. He continued to operate the
team for 14 years after he began playing with the Grays.
Posey’ status with Grays steadily increased as he was the team
captain in 1916, the field manager in 1917, and in 1918 was also
handling many of the team’ business operations. Finally, Posey
and a local businessman (Charles Walker) bought the Grays in
To learn more about Cum Posey, read “Last Train to Cooperstown”. To order, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.
Like all pitchers in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s, Raymond Brown’s accomplishments on the mound were overshadowed by the talent, charismatic personality, and showmanship of Satchel Paige. However Brown, born on February 23, 1908 in Algiers, Ohio, helped pitch the Homestead Grays to eight Negro National League (NNL) pennants and two Negro League World Series championships.
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:
”Of the five players the sportswriters suggested to the Pirates,
Brown has received the least notoriety in his career. Like other
Negro League hurlers, Raymond Brown’s abilities on the mound
were overshadowed by the great Satchel Paige. The most famous
pitcher in Negro League baseball during the 1930s and 1940s,
Paige’s accomplishments and showmanship antics on the mound
were well known. Articles on him appeared not only in Negro
newspapers, but also in large national ones that seldom carried
anything about black baseball. Because of their refusal to cover the
Negro Leagues, those newspapers missed heralding that no Negro League pitcher won more than Raymond Brown. When Brown
pitched his Homestead Grays knew they had a great chance for
victory. If he had possessed some of Paige’s talent for showmanship
on the mound, Brown would have received more of Satchel’s fame.
A versatile athlete, Brown made his debut into the world in
Algers, Ohio on February 22 or 23, 1908. Located in western Ohio,
the town is half the distance between Toledo and Dayton. He used
his 6’1”, 195 pound frame to become an all‐state basketball center
in high school. But that did not distract him from playing the game
he loved ‐ baseball. Brown could not only pitch, but he swung a
solid bat. Early in his career he played outfield on days he had not
been scheduled to pitch. The switch hitter also frequently pinch hit.”
After leaving Negro League baseball in 1946, Brown pitched first in the Mexican League and then during the early 1950’s in Canadian semi-professional leagues.
To know more of Raymond Brown’s Negro League baseball story, read Last Train to Cooperstown:The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.