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
The purpose of the postings on my blog and website is to promote the unshakable historical connection of African-Americans to the sport of baseball. Although I earnestly try to verify information I use on the posts through multiple sources, there are at times errors in the content I write. Dates may be incorrect, outdated or undocumented information may appear, or important facts not included. In those occasional instances, the post needs to be updated with the necessary corrections. My post on November 24, 2015, John Kennedy: First African-American to Play for the Philadelphia Phillies fits into this category; it needs updating for corrections. Kennedy is an unsung pioneer who has a place in baseball history as the first African-American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies (April 22, 1957).
Based on a number of internet sources, I indicated in the original post that Kennedy attended Edward Waters College in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. This is not correct; he attended Edward Waters High School. Former Negro League player John “Buck” O’Neil indicates in his book, “I Was Right on Time” that during the times of racial segregation in the south there were only four white high schools in Florida that would allow African-Americans to attend. With none of them being in his hometown of Sarasota, O’Neil said he went to the high school at Edward Waters College. In learning John Kennedy attended Edward Waters; researchers mistakenly assumed college not knowing it had a high school branch/division also.
In the original post, I referenced Kennedy’s time in Negro League baseball with the Birmingham Black Barons and Kansas City Monarchs. However, I have discovered he also had a stint with the Indianapolis Clowns. His All-Star season with the Monarchs got the attention of both the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals. Kennedy signed with Philadelphia on October 4, 1956.
Also missing from the first post; a description about the “buzz” Kennedy created during spring training for the Phillies in 1957. “Philadelphia Bulletin” sports writer Ray Kelly reported Phillies’ Manager Mayo Smith referring to Kennedy as, “the most exciting newcomer in the Southland”, that spring. Smith praised him for having confidence in his ability and showing poise. He also complimented Kennedy’s hitting and excellent reflexes. “Pittsburg Courier” sports writer Al Dunmore said Kennedy was considered one of the “four top Negro rookies” discussed that spring training in Florida. Brooks Lawrence, African-American pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, described Kennedy to Dunmore as “a man verby tough to get out”. Although they had considered Kennedy a good player prior to that spring, the African-American Major League players who had battled against him in past fall barnstorming seasons could see his improvement. His backhanded fielding of a hard hit ground ball off the bat of Cincinnati Reds’ slugger Frank Robinson many considered the best defensive play seen in all the training camps that spring. To go along with his strong defensive performances, Kennedy batted .385 and for the first time the Philadelphia Phillies had an African-American on the regular season roster.
After Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947, the process of integrating Major League baseball went at a slow pace. Major League teams used age as one excuse to not sign or advance in their minor league systems former Negro League players. To improve their chances, some African-American and dark-skinned Hispanic baseball players said they were younger than their actual age when signed by a Major League team. Their actions did not denigrate or taint their Major League careers. It is what they believed had to be done in fighting the racial discrimination that still existed in professional baseball. Erroneously in my 2015 blog post about John I. Kennedy, I implied his Major League career fit into that category. That is not true! There is no documented evidence or proof that John Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age. There is nothing to indicate that the team did not know 30-year-old John Kennedy came to spring training in 1957.
There was some confusion about Kennedy’s age. In my earlier blog I indicate Kennedy’s birthdate as November 12, 1926 which is the one given of him by most sources and the accurate one. However, I also state another birthdate of November 11, 1934 for Kennedy from the book, “Crossing the Line: Black Major Leaguers 1947 – 1959” (University of Nebraska Press – 2006). Also, below is an excerpt from his profile in the 2000 Florida Times Union “Athletes of the Century” on-line article where Kennedy is listed as the 85th greatest athlete from the Jacksonville area:
On Kennedy: “John was a beautiful fielder with a good arm. I don’t think the Phillies intended to bring him up until he did so well in spring training. I don’t know this for fact, but I believe they released him quickly because they found out he lied about his age. He was 30, but he told them he was 21.” — Eugene “Stank” White, Kennedy’s teammate on several Negro League teams.
Despite this contrary information that has led to different a conclusion with some sources, there is no documented evidence Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age. In spite of Kennedy’s fantastic performances during spring training, the Phillies traded with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 5 for Chico Fernandez. Five years younger and with more Major League experience than Kennedy, Fernandez began the regular season as the #1 shortstop. Kennedy had played third base and second base in Negro League baseball, but the Phillies made no effort to use him at either position; even though the team’s 30-year-old 2nd baseman Granny Hamner (.227) and 31-year-old 3rd baseman Willie Jones (.218) were having a sub-par season.
The Phillies also that season traded for Chuck Harmon, an African-American outfielder, who had been in the Major Leagues three years. With Harmon, the team appeared to have gone over its quota for African American and/or dark-skinned Hispanic players (no more than two) which the majority of Major League teams set in the 1950s. The owners were afraid having too many players of color would drive away white baseball fans. This made Kennedy, who according to some sources also had a sore shoulder and a seriously ill mother, the odd minority out. Gone from the Phillies before mid-season, Kennedy played in only five games and had only two AT-BATS. He spent three more full years in the Phillies minor league system (1958 – 1960) before retiring from professional baseball. The team did not give him another opportunity to make its Major League roster.
If my original post about John Irvin Kennedy implied he misled the Phillies organization about his true age, I stand corrected. A talented African-American baseball player whose career was stymied by discrimination that existed during the slow process of Major League baseball racial integration in the 1950s, John Irvin Kennedy has an untainted place in baseball history.
For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Willard Brown, born 6/26/15, is said to have fit the bill of what is called a “five tool” baseball player. A superb fielding outfielder; Brown ran the bases with blazing speed, had a strong throwing arm, and could hit for a high average with home run power. Many ascribed to him by the nickname “Home Run” Brown. He played for the Kansas City Monarchs mostly throughout his Negro League career (1935 – 1950). He served in the military (1944 – 1945) during World War II and briefly played Major League baseball in 1947 with the St. Louis Browns. On August 13, 1947 Brown became the first African-American to hit a home run in the American League.
In 2006, Willard Brown 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 a brief book exert from my profile of Willard Brown:
“Brown had a tendency to appear bored during games. When
that happened it is said he would take a magazine with him to the
outfield to read between pitches. And sometimes he would walk
instead of running to his outfield position, holding up the start of an
inning. This gave an impression of Brown by some as having a
“prima donna” attitude.
But former teammate and manager Buck O’Neil said, “Willard
was so talented, he did not look as if he was hustling. Everything
looked so easy for him.” Brown’s extreme talent made it appear he
did things effortlessly. While most players ran around the bases, he
seemed to glide. The exhaustion of the game would be evident on
most players, but it appeared Brown hardly broke a sweat. O’Neil
felt that no matter what “Home Run” Brown did, people thought he
could do a little more because of his enormous talent.
But Negro League fans appreciated the play of Willard Brown.
They selected him to participate in six Negro League East‐West All
Star Games. In ten All Star plate appearances Brown had five hits.
As an indication of Negro League baseball’s relative prosperity
after surviving the economic depression of the late 1920s and
1930s, the Negro League World Series was played in 1942. There
had not been one since 1927. The 1942 fall classic saw the two
most recognized Negro League franchises tangle, the Kansas City
Monarchs against the Homestead Grays. Willard Brown was one of
the series’ hitting stars as the Monarchs swept the Grays four
games to none. He batted .412 (7 hits in 17 at bats) with one double,
one triple, and of course one home run.”
To read more about Willard Brown and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
Due to being shut down the last few days by a bad cold, I failed yesterday to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League left-handed pitcher Andy Cooper. Born April 24, 1898 in Waco, Texas; Cooper is considered one of the best southpaw pitchers in Negro League baseball history; Willie Foster the only one deemed better. At 6’2″, 220 pounds, he had the physical stature of a power pitcher. But Andy Cooper did not overpower hitters. Nicknamed “Lefty”, he used a variety of pitches at different speeds to keep hitters off-balance to get them out. He pitched for the Detroit Stars (1920 – 1927) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1928 – 1937). Also, with Cooper as manager, the Monarchs won the Negro American League pennant in 1939 and 1940.
The following is an exert from my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era” in which I profile Andy Cooper;
“In his prime, Hall of Famer Satchel Paige’s fastball was described by batters as
being the size of a half-dollar or a pea. By the nickname given other
pitchers, the batters knew what to expect when facing them.
“Smokey” Joe Williams, “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Wilber “Bullet”
Rogan, and “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor were just a few whose name
preceded their pitches. Using radar technology to gauge the speed
of pitches was not introduced into baseball until the 1970s.
However, if it had been used to clock the pitches of the great Negro
League baseball hurlers, it would have registered at ninety‐plus
miles per hour many times.
But Andrew Lewis Cooper was a different kind of pitcher. He
did not overpower batters. “Lefty” as he was nicknamed, used a
variety of pitches at different speeds to get batters out.
In order to hit the ball solidly, a batter must have balanced
coordination and timing between his legs, waist, shoulders, and
hands. If a pitcher can disrupt that coordination and timing, getting
the hitter swinging too early or too late; it usually leads to a fly out,
ground out or strike out. Andy Cooper was a master of keeping
hitters off-balance. Not having the blazing fastball like other great
Negro League pitchers, he had the ability to get batters out by
disrupting their coordination and timing. “Lefty” had a successful
career by frustrating and fooling them with his arsenal of pitches.”
To read more about Andy Cooper and the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Eddie Dwight.
Born in Dalton, Georgia on February 25, 1905, Eddie Dwight played for the Kansas City Monarchs for two periods of time; 1928 – 1929 and 1933 – 1937. He made his home in Kansas City, Kansas, my hometown on the west end of Kansas City’s Intercity Viaduct. The Dwight’s lived on the northeast side of KCK, his children went to school with members of my family.
Although a good outfielder with speed and range, Dwight could not break into the Monarchs’ starting line up during his first stint with the team. However, he returned in 1933 to become the No. 1 centerfielder. A good contact hitter and bunter with base stealing speed, Dwight primarily led the Monarchs offensive attack batting first. Negro League fans selected him to play in the 1936 East-West All Star Game.
After retiring, Dwight owned a retail store in the 1950s. In 1962, his son Eddie Dwight, Jr. became the first African-American chosen by NASA for astronaut training.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history
In celebration of Black History Month, here is today’s Negro League baseball history fact for today: Leroy Breedlove.
A well-respected educator and coach (football, track and field) in the Orange, Texas school system, Breedlove died earlier this month. Loved by parents and former students in the community, he was honored on last September 23 when the West Orange-Stark High School football field became the Leroy D. Breedlove Field. More on the life of Breedlove can be read using the link to an article from the Orange Leader at the end of this post. As mentioned in the article, before his career as an educator, Breedlove played with the Kansas City Monarchs.
Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Breedlove moved to my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas while in grade school. Like most of the African-American kids on the city’s northeast side, including me, he attended Sumner High School participating in all sports. Breedlove graduated in 1949, a classmate of my uncle and aunt. I went to high school with his nephews. After graduating, Breedlove received an athletic scholarship to Texas Southern, named Texas State University for Negros at that time. He played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track.
It would be after his freshman year when Breedlove, a pitcher, played with the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1950, African-American professional baseball players faced a time of both slow change and faster decline. The racial integration of Major League had started its initial slow process that would increase by mid-decade. However, Negro League baseball had begun a faster demise its eventual end in the early 1960s. Pitcher Satchel Paige and shortstop Ernie Banks, both in the Baseball Hall of Fame, played with the Monarchs in 1950. Pitcher Connie Johnson and infielder Curt Roberts, who would both play on Major League teams in the 1950s, were also Monarch teammates of Breedlove.
After that one season, Breedlove returned to Texas Southern and upon graduation in 1954 began his teaching/coaching career.
To read more about the life of Leroy Breedlove Leroy Breedlove
To learn more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Frank Duncan
Frank Duncan spent 20 of his 28 years (1920 – 1948) in Negro League baseball with his hometown Kansas City Monarchs. Born February 14, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri, he played on both Monarch teams that were Negro League World Series Champions; although almost two decades apart.
Known mostly for his defense as a catcher, Duncan’s strong throwing arm helped Monarch pitchers hold opposing baserunners close to first or second base. A smart catcher, he worked with Hall of Fame pitchers Jose Mendez, Bullet Rogan, Satchel Paige, and Hilton Smith during his years with the Kansas City team.
He first played with the Monarchs from 1921 -1934. During that time the team won four Negro National League (NNL) pennants (1923 – 1925, 1929). They defeated the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania in the first Negro League World Series (1924). Duncan got the key hit to drive in two runs and help the Monarchs win Game Seven of the best five out of nine series.
Although the Monarchs continued to operate when the NNL went out of business after the 1931 season, Duncan left to play for teams in New York and Pittsburgh. He returned to the Monarchs in 1937, the first year of the Negro American League (NAL). The next season he played with the Chicago American Giants, but returned to the Monarch’s in 1940 and became the team’s player/manager.
In 1942, the Monarchs won the NAL pennant and defeated the Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series; the team’s second World Series championship. Duncan led the team to another NAL pennant in 1946, but it lost a closely contested Negro League World Series to the Newark Eagles.
Duncan and his son Frank, a pitcher, were the first Negro League father-son battery in 1941.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but it is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
.To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In my opinion, Hank Thompson does not get the notice he deserves in the integration of Major League baseball. Playing with the St. Louis Browns in the summer of 1947, he followed closely on the coat tails of Jackie Robinson (after two months and two days) and Larry Doby (after two days) to break through the “invisible color line” that had kept African-American and dark-skinned Latinos out of Major League baseball. Although the Browns released him that summer, Thompson’s talent could not be denied and he went on to have a productive eight year Major League career with the New York Giants. Born on December 8, 1925 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the left-handed hitting Henry Curtis Thompson played a part in the historic changing of baseball’s face.
Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League on April 15, 1947 to become the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th Century. At that time, Hank Thompson was in his second season with the Kansas City Monarchs since returning from the military after World War II. He had begun playing Negro League baseball in 1943 as a teenaged outfielder with the Monarchs before the military draft. The potential as a ball player he exhibited before military service was coming to fruition. On July 5, 1947 Larry Doby played his first game with the Cleveland Indians to become the first African-American to play in the American League.
Seeing the large crowds Jackie Robinson attracted to ballparks, the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Hank Thompson and his teammate Willard Brown from the Monarch. The Browns were the worst team in the American League with attendance below 1,000 fans during many home games. The team’s management hoped having the black players would generate fan interest. Thompson played his first Major League game on July 17. On July 20, he and Brown made history as St. Louis became the first team to field two African-American players. Their teammates refused to accept them and Browns’ manager Muddy Ruel only used the black players sparingly. The integration experiment did not attract the crowds as desired. With no intention of helping to nurture their baseball talents as the Dodgers did for Robinson and the Indians would do for Doby, the Browns released both Thompson and Brown on August 23. Although he did not get a fair opportunity with the Browns, Thompson showed promise hitting .256 in 27 games playing mainly second base. At only 21 years old, he would get another opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, being 32 years old, Willard Brown did not.
Thompson returned to the Kansas City Monarchs for the 1948 season and received his second chance the next year when signed by the New York Giants. He along with Monte Irvin made their Major League debuts on July 8, 1949 to become the first African-Americans to play for the Giants. In 1950, his first full year with the team, Thompson hit .289 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs while playing 148 games mainly at third base and was considered one of the best in league at that position. But he also played in the outfield as he did with the Monarchs. In 1951, the Giants won the National League pennant and played in the World Series against the New York Yankees. Thompson played alongside Monte Irvin and rookie Willie Mays as the Giants become the first team in World Series history to field an all African-American starting outfield.
When Mays left for military service, Thompson hit 17 home runs in 1952 and 24 home runs batting .302 in 1953. When Mays returned in 1954, Thompson hit .263 with 26 home runs and 86 RBIs to help the Giants win the National League pennant. In the team’s World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians, he hit .364 with seven walks (a four game Series record) and made a spectacular fielding play at third base in Game Three.
Throughout his playing career Thompson battled with alcoholism. By 1956 it dramatically took its toll on him. He became so unproductive the Giants sent him to the minor leagues late in the 1956 season and he retired from baseball in 1957. He died on September 3, 1969, only 43 years old.
Hank Thompson does not have a plaque in Cooperstown as does his former teammates on the New York Giants; Willie Mays and Monte Irvin. However, he should be remembered as one of the Negro League players who proved that once given the opportunity, he belonged in the Major Leagues. His success kept the door open for others to follow.
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
After viewing my previous post on Negro League baseball’s ambidextrous pitcher Larry Kimbrough, Wanda Weatherspoon wanted information shared about her relative who played with the Kansas City Monarchs; Eugene “Gene” Collins. If you have consistently read my blog posts, you know how strongly I believe Negro League baseball is forever woven into the fabric of 20th Century American History. Wanda is proud her relative is a part of the Negro League story.
Born January 7, 1925 in Kansas City, Gene Collins came to the Monarchs in 1947 when the face of Major League baseball began to change and the Negro Leagues’ swan song started its tune. That year Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play in the Major Leagues. A 5’8”, 168 pound left-handed pitcher, Collins joined a pitching staff that included Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith, both now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A good hitter, Collins also spent time playing with Hall of Fame outfielder Willard Brown who along with Monarch teammate Hank Thompson would briefly play for the St. Louis Brown in 1947. By mid-summer of the next year, Paige would be pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Buck O’Neil, Ted Strong, Joe Greene, and Manager Frank Duncan were all Monarch veterans that help break in Gene Collins to the life of Negro League baseball.
For seven innings on May 22, 1949 Collins gave up no hits to the Houston (formerly Newark) Eagles. With Kansas City leading 14 – 0, the game ended after the seventh inning and some credit Collins with pitching the last no-hitter in Negro League baseball. Some research indicates without detail he had pitched a no-hitter earlier while with the Monarchs.
Five of Gene Collins’ young Monarch teammates during his 1947 – 1949 time with the club went on to play in the Major Leagues as racial integration continued in professional baseball; Gene Baker, Elston Howard, Hank Thompson, Curt Roberts, and Connie Johnson. Collins himself began his minor league career with the Chicago White Sox in 1951. Similar to other teams in the American League, the White Sox took a slow approach to racial integration. Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, there were still racial barriers that African-American and dark-skinned Latino ball players had to face (quota for number on a team, utility player roster spots for white players only) that hindered many of their careers. The only African American pitchers in the American League until the late 1950s were two of Collins’ former Monarch teammates: Satchel Paige who pitched for the Indians (1948 -1949) and the St. Louis Browns (1951 – 1953) and Connie Johnson (White Sox 1953 – 1955 and Baltimore 1955 – 1958). After spending two years in the lower minor league levels of the White Sox organization, Collins played the remainder of his career in Mexican and Caribbean leagues. He never played a game in Major League baseball.
The second book I am currently writing deals with the plight of former Negro League players like Gene Collins. With the Civil Rights Movement’s initial beginnings as its backdrop, the book tells of the final demise of Negro League teams as the integration of Major League baseball gained unstoppable momentum in the 1950s.
I invite Wanda and anyone else who knew Gene Collins and would want to add more about his life to provide me your information and I will do another post about him.
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
Based on the historical information I have read, many times on this blog I have stated it appears the slow progress of integration in Major League baseball during the 1950s hindered the careers of many good African-American players. A prime example of this is Gene Baker. After two seasons in Negro League baseball, Baker became the first African American player signed by the Chicago Cubs. However, it would be three years before he took the field in a Cubs’ uniform.
Born on June 15, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa, Eugene Walter Baker in 1948 and 1949 played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs; who were managed by John “Buck” O’Neill. After signing with the Cubs before the 1950 season when 25 years old, Baker stayed in the team’s minor league system for four years. The top shortstop in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) for the Cubs’ Los Angeles Angels Triple AAA affiliate, he averaged 12 home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .284 batting average during those years. At that time the Cubs were getting less than mediocre play from their shortstops, but the team dragged its feet promoting Baker. Even the Cubs owner, P. K. Wrigley, began to question how Baker could still be in the minor leagues.
On September 20, 1953, Baker made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter. Ernie Banks, who the Cubs had signed from the Kansas City Monarchs on September 3, played shortstop that day and hit his first Major League home run. After Baker had left the Monarchs in 1950 to sign with the Cubs, Banks followed as “Buck” O’Neill’s new shortstop. He had made his Major League debut on September 17 and beat Baker by three days to be the first African-American to play a Major League game for the Cubs.
The Cubs moved Baker to second base the next season making he and Banks the first African-American double play combination in the Major Leagues. Baker is credited with helping Banks develop into an All Star fielding shortstop; while he was himself selected to play in the 1955 All Star Game.
After the 1957 season began the Cubs believed they needed more power in their line up. They also had a 22-year-old second baseman, Tony Taylor, ready for the Major Leagues. A month and a half before his 32nd birthday, the team traded Baker to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Dale Long and Lee Walls who combined to hit 44 home runs for them the following year. The Pirates were a young upcoming team who had only four players 30 or older. Baker became a utility infielder backing up 20-year-old second baseman Bill Mazeroski, 26-year-old shortstop Dick Groat, and 23-year-old third baseman Gene Freese. After missing most of the 1958 season due to severely injured knee, the team released him after the season and he ended up out of the Major Leagues in 1959.
However, needing a reliable utility infielder and pinch hitter, the Pirates signed Baker at the beginning of the 1960 season. The team won the National League pennant and defeated the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. Baker got the opportunity to be on a championship team, something his former double play partner Ernie Banks never experienced.
Gene Baker gained the reputation of being a “smart ballplayer”. In 1961, the Pirates named him manager of their Class D minor league team.