Tag Archives: Negro League Baseball

Negro League World Series – Part Two

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.

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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.

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Kansas City Monarchs 1936

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.

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Homestead Grays 1939

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

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Pete Hill: One of the Best Outfielders of “Deadball” Baseball Era

I did not totally forget to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League outfielder Pete Hill last week, born October 12, 1882 – 84.  If you follow me on Twitter, @Lasttraintocoop, you saw my tweet acknowledging it.  Please excuse my unintended slight of him on this blog.  Hill, a fine fielder and consistent .300 plus hitter, is now considered one of the best outfielders in baseball during the “Deadball Era” (1900 – 1919).

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame agreed in 2006 with that assessment of Pete Hill.   He along with eleven other players and five executives all from Negro League baseball were inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that year.  Hill’s induction gave him overdue recognition as a contemporary of Ty Cobb (1936 Hall of Fame inductee) and Tris Speaker (1937 Hall of Fame inductee), the best Major League outfielders of the early 20th Century.

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, in which I profile Pete Hill and the other 2006 inductees from Negro League baseball.

“In 1901, Hill left Pittsburgh for New York to play for the Cuban X

Giants.  Being only 21, he could not break into the starting lineup to

play regularly.  But, the young outfielder caught the eye of Sol White,

manager of the X Giants’ main rival, the Philadelphia Giants.  White

recruited Hill to play for his team in 1903.

 

With the Philadelphia Giants, he began to mature as a ballplayer.

In 1904, he was the center fielder for what many say was the best

black team of the early 20th century era.  With Hill leading the way,

the Giants were proclaimed winners of the “Colored Championship

of the World” in 1904, 1905, and 1906.  This was the title given to

the top black team on the east coast.  Charles “Kid” Carter, James

Booker, Charlie Grant, Emmett Bowman, and Dan McClellan were

other good players on the Giants with Hill.

 

Another teammate of Hill was Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster at

that time was one of the best pitchers in black baseball.  He would

later become the “father” of Negro League baseball and a member

of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The friendship with Foster would have

a major influence on the remainder of Pete Hill’s baseball career.

After the 1906 season, Foster left the Philadelphia Giants to

become the manager for the Chicago Leland Giants.  He took six of

his Philadelphia Giants teammates with him, including Pete Hill.

 

Under the leadership of Rube Foster, Hill’s career blossomed

with the Chicago team.  He was the team captain and was taught the

ins and outs of managing by his friend.  Hill continued to build on

his reputation as a great hitter and the Leland Giants became one of

the most dominant African-American teams in the country’s

heartland.”

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

John I. Kennedy: First African American Philadelphia Philly

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).

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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.

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John Kennedy (far right) with Philly teammates 1957

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.

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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.

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For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

 

Edsall Walker: Part of “the Long Gray Line”

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s Quebec Provincial League

This past Monday I acknowledged on Twitter the birthdate of former Negro League pitcher Bob Trice, born 8/28/26 in Newton, Georgia.  Bob Trice has a place in baseball history as the first African-American to play in a Major League game for the then Philadelphia A’s, September 13, 1953.   He was one of a group of former Negro League players that found success in Canada’s Provincial League during the slow beginning of racial integration in the Major Leagues and the steady demise of Negro League baseball.  They were scouted while playing in Canada and signed by Major League teams.

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Bob Trice

Organized in 1922, the Canadian (Quebec) Provincial League consisted of teams located in Canada’s Quebec Province. Operating independently of any professional baseball governing organization, the league began allowing African-Americans to play in the late 1930s.  In 1935 pitcher Alfred Wilson became the first African-American to be in the league, but I could not find information about him or others who played there during that period.  When the Provincial League became more recognized by organized professional baseball in the United States, the welcome mat for African American players disappeared.  However; when the process of racial integration of Major League baseball began in 1946 and Negro League baseball began to decline, the league in Canada attracted many former Negro League players.

In 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson had erased the “invisible color line” that had kept African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanic players out of Major League baseball for over 60 years, racial integration in professional baseball had slowly progressed. Along with Robinson (Brooklyn Dodgers), there were eight other African-Americans or dark-skinned Hispanics who had appeared in Major League games that year:  Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella (Dodgers), Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin (New York Giants), and Larry Doby, “Satchel” Paige, Luke Easter, and Minnie Minoso (Cleveland Indians).  However, the future declining fate of the Negro Leagues had begun.  Negro League game attendance dropped dramatically as blackball fans enthusiastically flocked to see African-Americans compete in the Major Leagues.  Seen as more than an athletic contest, the games to African-American baseball fans were demonstrations of social progress.  As the 1940s concluded, the Negro National League (NNL) disbanded leaving only the Negro American League (NAL) to navigate the troubled water.  It was during this time that many Negro League players found refuge in Canada’s Quebec Provincial League.

In 1948, James “Buzz” Clarkson (Pittsburgh Crawfords, Newark Eagles, and Philadelphia Stars) led the Provincial League in home runs with 29 while playing for the St. Jean (Quebec) Braves. He signed with the Boston Braves in 1950.  Dave Pope, (Homestead Grays), played for the Provincial League’s Farnham (Quebec) Pirates in 1948, briefly serving as the team’s player/manager.  After one more season with Farnham, he signed with the Cleveland Indians.

After a stint in the Navy during World War II, Bob Trice pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1948 – 1950.  When the Grays disbanded, he pitched in 1951 with the Provincial League’s Farnham Pirates managed by former Negro League player Sam Bankhead.  The team consisted of many former Negro League players such as Joe Scott (Birmingham Black Barons and Kansas City Monarchs), Joe Taylor (Chicago American Giants), Archie Ware (Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, and Cleveland Buckeyes), and Josh Gibson, Jr. (Homestead Grays).  After playing with Farnham in 1950, Taylor had signed with the Philadelphia A’s who sent him back to the Provincial League.  The A’s signed Trice after the 1951 season and then assigned both he and Taylor to play for St. Hyacinthe (Quebec) Saints in the Provincial League the next season.

Hall of Fame (2006) pitcher Raymond Brown whose Negro League career was with the Homestead Grays (1932 – 1945) helped the Sherbrooke (Quebec) Athletics win the Provincial League champion in 1951.

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Raymond Brown

Teammates with the Grays former ace that year included former Negro League players Claro Duany (New York Cubans) and Silvio Garcia (New York Cubans).

Also in 1951, former Kansas City Monarch Connie Johnson led the Provincial League in strikeouts pitching for St. Hyacinthe. After the season, Johnson signed with the Chicago White Sox.

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Connie Johnson

In the late 1940s, Major League scouts considered the Provincial League as a “Class C” level minor league. Many saw it a haven for Negro League players not considered Major League prospects because they were too old or lacked the necessary talent.  However, the league performance of a few players could not go unnoticed.  They used the Provincial League to get their opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.

After signing with the Boston Braves when 35 years old, “Buzz” Clarkson had two solid years with the team’s Class AAA affiliate. But he was given only 25 plate appearances in 1952 to prove himself in the Major Leagues.  Not getting the quick bang from Clarkson they wanted, he hit only five singles, the Braves sent him back to the minor leagues where he played the remainder of his professional career.

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Buzz Clarkson

Dave Pope had a four-year Major League career (1952, 1954 – 56) as a utility player including an appearance in the 1954 World Series with the Cleveland Indians.

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Dave Pope

Joe Taylor had a four-year Major League career (1954, 1957 – 59) as a utility player with four different teams: Philadelphia A’s (1954), Cincinnati Reds (1957), St. Louis Cardinals (1958), and Baltimore Orioles (1958 – 59).

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The first African-American to play for the A’s, Bob Trice labored for three seasons (1953 – 55) finishing with a career 9 – 9 record with one win being a 1 – 0 shutout of the New York Yankees in 1954.  After making his Major League debut when 31 years old, Connie Johnson pitched for the White Sox from 1953 – 56 and then the Baltimore Orioles from 1956 – 58.  He had a Major League career ERA of 3.44.  He struck out 136 batters in 1956 and 177 in 1957 the year he won 14 games with the Orioles.

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The Provincial League disbanded after the 1955 season. It resurfaced again from 1958 – 1971 as an independent league.  Used as a path for some Negro League players to the Major Leagues, it has a place in Major League baseball’s racial integration history.  The players who took that path were baseball pioneers who prevailed against the racial discrimination and prejudice that existed in the Major Leagues during the early years of integration.

For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

 

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Happy Birthday “Biz” Mackey

 

 

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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, which contains a profile of the Hall of Fame catcher James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, born 7/27/1897:

Eagle Pass, Texas is a small town south of Del Rio near the

Mexican border. Here on July 27, 1897 James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey

opened his eyes the first time. This makes him another member of

the Texas fraternity of Negro League ball players from the Lone Star

state; that includes Andy Cooper, Willie Wells, Rube Foster, Louis

Santop, and others. Before becoming a teenager he moved with his

family to Luling which is east of San Antonio on the road to

Houston. The Mackeys were sharecroppers. Biz, along with his

brothers, worked on the farm most of the day and then played

baseball until dark. They used boards as bats and anything they

could find as a ball. By 1916 the black amateur baseball team in

Luling, the Oilers, had three Mackey brothers on its roster; Ray,

Ernest, and Biz.

 

The San Antonio Aces, a black minor league team, signed Biz in

  1. Charlie Bellinger, the Aces’ owner, had a friendship with

Indianapolis ABCs’ manager CI Taylor. Bellinger always looked for

good ball players in Texas that would help Taylor’s team. After the

Aces folded in 1919, he sold Mackey and five other players to the

ABCs.

 

Biz arrived in Indianapolis at the perfect time. The first official

African-American baseball league, the Negro National League

(NNL), formed in 1920 with the ABCs one of the charter teams.

The twenty‐three year old Texan shared the dugout his first year

with Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston and Ben Taylor, along with

“Cannonball” Dick Reading. Used as a utility infielder and outfielder,

Mackey also began to learn the craft of playing the game under the

master teacher, CI Taylor. With his manager’s help, Biz became a

switch hitter and developed into one of the team’s top run

producers. Some records show he hit over .300 each of his three

years in Indianapolis, helping the team finish second in 1921.

CI Taylor died before that year ended, replaced by his brother

Ben as the ABCs’ manager. However, with his mentor CI gone,

Mackey’s ties to the team were loosened. The owners of the newly

formed Eastern Colored League (ECL) in 1923 looked to lure away

NNL players. Accepting an offer from Ed Bolden, owner of the

Hilldale Club, Biz headed east without hesitation.”

Mackey’s Hall of Fame induction solidified him with the white contemporaries his era, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, and Bill Dickey, as one of the best catchers in baseball history.

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To read more about “Biz” Mackey and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown  

Larry Doby’s Major League Baseball Debut

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

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Jackie Robinson (left) and Larry Doby

 

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

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

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Steve Gromek (left) and Larry Doby

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

 

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“Satchel” Paige (left) and Larry Doby

 

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

A Snapshot of Negro League Baseball’s Sol White

King Solomon “Sol” White wrote about the plight of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century African-American professional baseball player, of which he himself experienced.  Born June 12, 1868 in Bellaire, Ohio, White played with teams in the minor league system of white professional baseball in the 1880s.  In the 1890s when the color line became solidified banning African-American and dark-skinned Hispanics, he then played with a number of the best Negro baseball teams and later the co-owner/manager of the Philadelphia Giants, one of the best black teams of the early 1900s.  His book written in 1907, “History of Colored Baseball”, gives a picture of obstacles he and other African-American professional baseball players faced as the game began its journey to become “the National Pastime”.

In 2006, Sol White 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 book exert from my profile of Sol White:

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“In 1890 Sol White played for the Monarchs of York,

Pennsylvania. The team’s owner, J. Monroe Kreiter, had also

attracted many of the players from the previous year’s Cuban

Giants. Failing in their attempt to get higher salaries from the

Giants’ owner, John M. Bright, the players were easily lured away by

the money that Kreiter offered. The Monarchs represented the city

of York in the Eastern Interstate League. It would be one of the last

breaks in the color line.

White played briefly in 1895 with Fort Wayne, Indiana of the

Western Interstate League. It would be the last time he played on an

integrated team. As the 1890s came to a close there were no black

players in organized white baseball. The ‘invisible color line” had

been set and would stay intact for over 40 years.

With the door to Major League professional baseball closed for

African-American players, Sol White continued his career in the

1890s with teams that were a part of Negro League baseball’s

early beginnings. They were African-American teams that played

small town white semi‐pro teams, other black teams, and anyone

that wanted to play them. No official Negro League existed at that

time. He played for the Cuban Giants in 1893 –1894, the Page

Fence Giants in 1895, the Cuban X Giants in 1896 –1899, and the

Chicago Columbia Giants in 1900. All of which were top African

American professional teams of that period.

In 1902 White joined forces with white sportswriter H. Walter

Schlichter to start a new black team, the Philadelphia Giants. As co-owner,

team manager, and one of the team’ top players, White

built what some called one of the best black teams of the new

century’ first ten years. Some of the best black players of that time

such as Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Charlie Grant, Grant “Home Run Johnson”

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Philadelphia Giants (Sol White fifth from left on back row)

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

 

Belated Happy Birthday Bob Thurman!

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.

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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.

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(left to right) Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Buzz Clarkson, Bob Thurman, George Crowe

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.

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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

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