Tag Archives: Kansas City A’s

Tribute to Ed Charles: Part Two

This is the second part of my tribute to Ed Charles a baseball player I admired during the 1960s when he played with the Kansas City A’s.  I discovered this summer Charles died earlier this year on March 15.

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Although he did not receive any votes for 1962 American League Rookie of the Year, Ed Charles had a solid initial year in the Major Leagues.  He hit .288 with 17 HRs, 74 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.  Playing for the 9th place Kansas City A’s did not give him much help in the voting despite his statistics.  However, he did make the 1962 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

In Ed Charles’ five full seasons with the A’s (1962 – 1966), the team finished no higher than 7th place.  On average per year for that period, he hit 13 HRs, had 62 RBI, batting .270 with 14 stolen bases.  These offensive statistics were not equal to the best third baseman in the American League during that time, Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, who averaged 20 HRs, 90 RBI, and a .287 batting mark.  However, Charles’ per year offensive averages for the period were compatible with other American League top “hot corner” men:

Pete Ward (Chicago White Sox) 14 HRs, 65 RBIs, hit .260

Rich Rollins (Minnesota Twins) 11 HRs, 59 RBI, hit .273

Clete Boyer (New York Yankees) 14 HRS, 57 RBI, hit .246

Max Alvis (Cleveland Indians) 19 HRs, 59 RBI, hit .257

Frank Malzone (Boston Red Sox) 13 HRS, 63 RBI, hit .269

The way he consistently hit in the minor leagues, it is no surprise when given the opportunity Charles would be a capable Major League hitter.

Defensively, Brooks Robinson won five Gold Gloves at third base from 1962 – 1966.  He averaged 12 errors per year with a .974 fielding percentage.  Charles, during this period, averaged 16 errors per year with a .960 fielding percentage making him statistically above par in terms of defense with the other top American League third basemen who averaged 19 errors and had a .954 fielding percentage.

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But Ed Charles’ running style is what first captured my attention of him.   Most fans called it a glide.  He turned his elbows outward, pumping his arms up and down together in coordination with his stride.  Seeing it more like a prideful strut or pimp, I loved it.  To me, Frank Robinson had the only other distinctive running style at that time.

The way Charles swung his bat also got my attention.  He had a slight hitch in his swing, but used strong wrists and forearms that still allowed him to hit with power.  On July 31, 1964, my neighborhood friends and I went to see an A’s and Baltimore Orioles doubleheader.  After losing the first game, the A’s rallied to tie the nightcap 6 – 6 in the eighth  inning.  In the late innings, the stadium ushers allowed kids from the bleachers to go down to the box seats which would then be empty.  This gave us the opportunity to see and hear Major League players up close.  The O’s brought in pitcher Steve Barber to face the A’s in the ninth and Charles greeted him with a home run to win the game.  I saw Ed Charles up close one other time that summer when he turned the switch on the new lighting for the inner-city baseball field in my neighborhood.

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Charles’ poetry began to get notice during his time with the A’s.  I remember him reciting the one called “An Athlete’s Prayer” on the radio or TV dugout show a number of times.

In 1967, the Kansas City A’s were building the team that would become World Series Champions in 1972, 1973,and 1974 after owner Charlie Finley moved it to Oakland when  that season ended.   But 34 years old Ed Charles did not fit into the team’s plans.  On May 10 the A’s traded him to the last place New York Mets.  I did not totally lose track of Charles’ career after the trade.  In 1968, he proved to still be a suitable Major League hitter for again a bottom rug team, 15 HRs, 53 RBI, and a .276 batting average.  This is what he had done his entire Major League career.

But the baseball fate of Ed Charles made a remarkable turnaround in 1969 when the  New York Mets won the World Series.   He went 2 for 4 in Game 2 with a double in New York’s 2 – 1 win.  A picture of the celebrating Mets after the final out to close out the Series shows a smiling, jubilant Ed Charles.  After toiling nine years in the minor leagues and seven with bottom rug Major League teams, Charles reached the top of pro baseball’s world; a place where some Hall of Fame players never reached.1036268_1969worldseries

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Remembering Ed Charles Part One

This summer I have juggled coaching a baseball team of eight to twelve years old kids while teaching a course on the history of Negro League baseball; “Negro League Baseball:  The Deep Roots of African-Americans in America’s National Pastime”, and visiting grandchildren in Texas.

Included in the summer curriculum of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kansas, the course discussed the deep historical roots African-Americans have in the sport due to the Negro League baseball era.  Although he did not play in the Negro Leagues, I briefly mentioned former Major League player Ed Charles in the introductory section of the course.  I wanted to give the students a brief history of how as a kid I fell in love with baseball.  Edwin Douglas Charles had a part in that history.  In my  research preparing for the course I discovered Charles had died last March 15th in the East Elmhurst section of the New York City borough of Queens. The former third baseman was 84 years old.

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A baby boomer born and raised in the Kansas City area, I became a baseball fan through following the Kansas City A’s in the late 1950s; a team that consistently finished near the bottom of the American League standings.  Much to the chagrin of Kansas City baseball fans, the A’s functioned as a player development team for the New York Yankees at that time.  They would trade their best players to New York; Hector Lopez, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Roger Maris, Bob Cerv, Ralph Terry, and Clete Boyer, in exchange for utility players or those past their prime.  I saw Hank Bauer, Don Larson, Marv Throneberry, Johnny Kucks, Norm Siebern, and other former Yankees dawn an Athletics’ uniform.  The A’s finished the 1960 season in last place and were the only Major League team without an African-American or dark-skinned Latino ballplayer.

In 1961, Charlie Finley purchased the team and the next season racially diversified it adding to the roster John Wyatt, Jose Tartabull, Diego Segui, Orlando Pena, Manny Jimenez, and Ed Charles.  A product of the depression era and post-World War II “Jim Crow” south, born April 29, 1933 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Charles had been obtained in a trade with the Milwaukee Braves.  The team signed him in 1952 while still the Boston Braves, but for 10 seasons he labored in its minor league system.  That included stops at the A to AAA levels in places such as Jacksonville, Louisville, Wichita, and Vancouver.

Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, Charles along with other African-American and dark-skinned Latino players in the 1950s experienced the open racial prejudice that existed in professional baseball’s minor league systems.  Overall he hit .291 in the minor leagues and showed occasional home run power.  But Charles played 3rd base, the position manned during that period for the Braves by 2-time National League home run champion and future Hall of Fame inductee (1978) Eddie Mathews.  Charles had the versatility to play 2nd base, but there is no evidence the Braves thought about a shift despite the inconsistent performances at the position in 1959 and 1960 during Red Schoendienst’s absence due to illness.  The A’s would finally give Charles, at 29 years old, the opportunity to prove himself as a Major League player.

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Given that opportunity, Ed Charles over the next five years became an above average, solid ballplayer on a team that consistently finished near last in the American League. Also; he caught the eye of a ten-years old baseball fan that would keep a love for the game that would not just extend beyond the trading card collection years, but would continue for more than half a century.

Part Two of my tribute to Ed Charles is in my next blog post.  I promise it will not be three months before it appears!

Baseball And Civil Rights 1956: Part 2

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Curt Roberts 1956 Pittsburgh Pirates

This is the second part of my previous blog post on the process of racially integrating professional baseball coinciding with the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.  They were both a part of the massive seismic shift in racial relations occurring after World War II that would forever change the nation.  An example of how they coincided is shown in the story of the scheduled exhibition games in the spring of 1956 between the Kansas City A’s and the Pittsburgh Pirates to be played in Birmingham, Alabama.  As mentioned in Part 1, they were cancelled on February 16, 1956.

With the toxic racial climate that existed in the city during the 1950s, it puzzled me how and why the games were even scheduled.  There had to be information to add clarity to what happened. I would like to thank Jim Baggett of the Birmingham Public Library for providing that additional information to solve the puzzle.

First a short recap.  As part of the “Jim Crow” laws racially segregating the city, Birmingham’s City Commissioners banned interracial athletic competition.   However, the ban clashed with Major League baseball becoming racially integrated in the 1950s.  It had been a tradition for Major League teams at the close of spring training to play exhibition games as they traveled north to begin the season.  The spring “barnstorming circuit” mostly consisted of cities in the southern United States.  As more Major League teams became integrated, the fewer opportunities existed for Birmingham to receive the economic benefits of being on the circuit.   The City Commissioners lifted the ban on January 26, 1954 and that spring the Brooklyn Dodgers played two exhibition games in Birmingham against the Milwaukee Braves.

According to information from the Birmingham News in 1954 sent me by Mr. Baggett, the second game drew 10,474 fans; the largest crowd to see a spring exhibition game in the city since 1947 and the third largest ever.  There were no reports of racial violence or unrest during the games.  Afterwards, since Major League baseball exhibition games evidently were normally handled on a two-year ahead basis, five games for Birmingham were scheduled for 1956; the Braves vs the Dodgers on April 6, the Pittsburgh Pirates vs the Kansas City A’s on March 31 and April 1, and the Boston Red Sox vs Birmingham’s Southern League Double A minor league team (the Barons) on April 7 & 8.

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Johnny Logan, Henry Aaron, Ed Mathews 1956 Milwaukee Braves

However, the racial harmony on the ball field displayed during the games between the 1954 Dodgers and Braves games disturbed the racial hardliners in Birmingham’s city government.  It went against what they called, “the South’s way of life”, and their belief that athletic competition between blacks and whites could not be done peacefully.  They orchestrated a campaign of fear saying the desegregation of sports would lead to desegregation in other aspects of life in Birmingham (schools, department stores, public accommodations, etc.) and forced a voter referendum to reestablish the racial athletic competition ban.  On June 1 the referendum passed City Ordinance 597, called “the checker ordinance”, and the ban again went into place.

As the spring of 1956 approached, the general managers of the Major League teams scheduled to play exhibition games in Birmingham received a copy of the ordinance:

“It shall be unlawful for a negro or white person to play together or in company with each other   any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, football, softball, basketball, or similar games”. City Ordinance 597

The maximum penalty for violation:  $100 fine and/or 180 days in jail.

By 1956, the racial integration of Major League baseball remained slow, but steady.  It had passed the “experiment” label some had put on it. Seven of the eight National League teams and six of the eight teams in the American League had become racially integrated.  Since 1947, former Negro League players had been named National League Rookie of the Year six times.  Three of them, Jackie Robinson (1947), Don Newcombe (1949), and Junior Gilliam (1953) played for the Dodgers who were scheduled in one of the games that spring.  Although African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic players in the Major Leagues still encountered racial discrimination in 1956, their teams were beginning to be less willing to subject them to municipal segregation laws such as in Birmingham.

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Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers

The Birmingham Barons were the sponsor of the games that spring.  On February 14, 1956; Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Buzzie Bavasi and Milwaukee Braves General Manager John Quinn issued the following joint statement to the Barons’ general manager:  “Due to the current conditions in the Birmingham area, all parties concerned have agreed to cancel the game in Birmingham between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves”.  Two days later, February 16, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City A’s cancelled their two games scheduled to be played in Birmingham that spring.

The Boston Red Sox games against Birmingham Barons were played as scheduled.  The last Major League team to integrate, the Red Sox would not have its first African-American player until 1959.

Information for this blog was provided by Jim Baggett of the Birmingham Public Library

 

Baseball and Civil Rights 1956 – Part 1

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Roberto Clemente

Jackie Robinson’s erasing of the color line in 1947 to become the first African-American to play Major League in the 20th Century began the process of racially integrating professional baseball.  A slow and reluctant process, it coincided with the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s.  Overcoming racial discrimination and prejudice in a sport did in no way compare to facing physical harm and even death in fighting for equal rights given under the Constitution of the United States.   However due to baseball’s prominence as the “national pastime”, many saw the integration of Major League baseball symbolically as one of the first steps in social progress for African-Americans.   The racial integration of Major League baseball and the Civil Rights Movement were both a part of the massive seismic shift in racial relations occurring after World War II that would forever change the nation.  How they coincided is shown in the story of the scheduled exhibition games in the spring of 1956 between the Kansas City A’s and the Pittsburgh Pirates to be played in Birmingham, Alabama.  On February 15, 1956; they were cancelled.

 

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Vic Power

It had been a tradition for Major League teams at the close of spring training to play exhibition games as they traveled north to begin the season.  The spring “barnstorming circuit” mostly consisted of cities in the southern United States.  These games were an economic boom for them as baseball fans from the surrounding areas came, for what would be the only opportunity for some, to see Major League players.  When Major League teams began to become racially integrated in the 1950s, this tradition clashed with the “Jim Crow” laws that forbade interracial sports competition.  The municipal government of these cities had to choose between receiving the commercial benefits from the games versus upholding their racial separation law.  Most chose the former.  Despite threats of violence from the Ku Klux Klan, Atlanta officials overrode the laws to allow the Brooklyn Dodgers who had Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson to play the all-white Atlanta Crackers a three game series in the spring of 1949.

 

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Harry Simpson

The city of Birmingham, Alabama initially made a different choice and maintained its ban of interracial athletic competition.  However, after being eliminated from the spring exhibition circuit for years due to the ban, the city commissioners lifted it on January 26, 1954.  That spring, the Brooklyn Dodgers played an exhibition game in Birmingham against the Milwaukee Braves.  But the city racial hardliners used the fear that the desegregation of sports would lead to desegregation in other aspects of life in Birmingham (schools, department stores, public accommodations, etc.) to force a voter referendum to reestablish the ban.  On June 1, the referendum passed stating, “It shall be unlawful for a negro or white person to play together or in company with each other   any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, football, softball, basketball, or similar games”.  It was City Ordinance 597, named the “checker ordinance”.

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Hector Lopez

With the ordinance reinstated banning interracial athletic competition in June 1954, how did the two exhibition games between the Kansas City A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates get scheduled for the spring of 1956?  The A’s at that time had American League All-Star and former Negro League outfielder Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, first baseman Vic Power who was from Puerto Rico, and outfielder Hector Lopez from Panama.  Power’s friend and fellow islander future Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente and former Negro League infielder Curt Roberts both played for the Pirates.  The games would have been a violation of the ordinance.  Were they scheduled while the ban had been lifted in 1954?  Had there been talk of overriding or ignoring the ban to play the game? What if any part did the racial tension caused by the bus boycott by African-Americans in Montgomery, 92 miles down state, going on at that time play in the decision to cancel the games?  Come back for Part Two!

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Curt Roberts

*Information for this blog was provided from the book “Carry Me Home:  Birmingham, Alabama:  The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution” by Diane McWhorter (Simon & Schuster 2001)

Remembering Those Who Played Their Last Inning in 2017 – Part 2

There were three former Major League baseball players who died in 2017 that I would like to mention.  None of them had their beginning in Negro League baseball.  One is the first of many Major League players that would come from San Pedro de Marcois, Dominican Republic.  The other two are Caucasians who were on one of the last Major League franchises that fielded African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic players.

Why mention them?  They played during the time when baseball consumed my life, my youth.  I collected their baseball cards and remembered the events in their careers.  Even though I will always retain good memories of that time, the death of these players still gives me a sense of lost.

 

Manny Jimenez –  December 12, 2017

There had been no players of color on the roster of my hometown team Kansas City Athletics in 1960.  However, Charlie Finley purchased the A’s in 1961 and the next season a group of African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic players were added to the roster:  Ed Charles, John Wyatt, Jose Tartabull, Diego Segui, Orlando Pena, and Manny Jimenez.  A contact left-handed hitting outfielder, Jimenez came from San Pedro de Marcois in the Dominican Republic; the first of many Major League players that would come from that city.  The list of players that would follow includes former Major Leaguers Sammy Sosa, Joaquin Andujar, Rico Carty, Alfonso Soriano, Pedro Guerrero, Tony Fernandez, and George Bell in addition to current active players Johnny Cueto and Robinson Cano.

Jimenez started the 1962 season with a hot bat, hitting .351 by the All-Star break. But Finley believed due to his physical stature, 6’1” and 185 pounds, Jimenez should hit with more home run power.  Saying he did not pay him to hit singles, Finley ordered Jimenez to swing harder to hit more home runs.   Altering his swing, the outfielder experienced a batting slump the remainder of the season.  Although he finished with a .301 batting average, Jimenez never again consistently regained the swing he had earlier that season.  He had three injury-prone more seasons with the A’s and three as a pinch hitter in the National League before retiring in 1969.

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Manny Jimenez

 

Jim Bunning and Frank Lary

Teammates with the Detroit Tigers from 1955 – 1963, Bunning, who died May 26, and Lary, who died on December 13, were both All-Star pitchers.  The Tigers were the next to last franchise to add African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic players; the team’s first being Ozzie Virgil in 1958.  The Boston Red Sox, the last team to integrate, added Elijah “Pumpsie” Green the next year.

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Frank Lary

From 1949 – 1964 the New York Yankees won the American League pennant every year but two; 1954 and 1959.  With me being a young baseball fan in Kansas City, an American League city, you can understand how I became a “Yankee hater”.  I rooted for any team who had the potential to beat the Yankees and surprisingly the Tigers in 1961 came close to doing it.

Detroit finished the 1960 season in 6th place (71 – 83), with the high point acquiring 1959 American League home run co-champion Rocky Colavito from the Cleveland Indians in a trade.  He would be a factor in the team’s dramatic turn around in 1961.  Colavito with 45,   first baseman Norm Cash with 41, and future Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline with 19 combined for 105 home runs.  The Tigers added more color to the line-up that season.  Billy Bruton, a trade acquisition from the Milwaukee Braves, played centerfield.  Starting shortstop Chico Fernandez had come over from the Philadelphia Phillies the previous year.  Jake Wood, the first African-American to work through the Tigers’ farm system and earn a starting position on the team, played second base.

The pitching staff, led by Jim Bunning and Frank Lary, had a huge role in the team’s success in 1961.  At that time, both had been mainstays of the starting rotation for years:  Bunning winning 62 games since 1957 and Lary 94 since 1955.  In the midst of what would be a 28 – 13 lifetime record against New York, Lary had been given the moniker “Yankee Killer” by the sports media.  The number three spot in the Tiger’s pitching rotation went to Don Mossi, a seven-year veteran of American League campaigns.  Combined the three won 53 games that season; Lary 23, Bunning 17, and Mossi 15.

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Jim Bunning

The defending American League champion Yankees had a powerful hitting line-up in 1961 led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.  They pursued the single season home run record of 60 held by Babe Ruth.  Maris broke it with 61, while Mantle finished with 54.  However, on July 24 the Tigers were in first place by one game ahead of the Yankees.  Detroit certainly had my hopes raised high.

On September 1, the Tigers went to Yankee Stadium for a three game weekend series in second place trailing New York by only 1.5 games.  However, Detroit lost all three games and ended the in season in a tailspin.  They lost 14 of their last 29 games, finishing in second place with a 101 – 61, 8 games behind the Yankees.

Never again having his 1961 form due to shoulder problems, Frank Lary won only nine more games the final years (1962 – 65) of his career.  The Tigers traded him to the New York Mets after the 1963 season.

Around the same time, the team traded Jim Bunning to the Philadelphia Phillies.  He won 106 games the final years of his career (1964 – 71) in the National League.  After baseball, he became a six-term US Congressman and two-term US Senator from his home state of Kentucky.  In 1991, Bunning was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies on June 21, 1964, Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets.  His former Detroit Tiger teammate Frank Lary looked on from the Mets’ bullpen that day.  Lary may not have been surprised at the pitching mastery shown by Bunning.  He had seen it numerous times in their nine years together with the Tigers.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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