After an injury cut short his time on the fields of Negro League baseball, William “Bill” Blair became a newspaper publisher and prominent community activist in his hometown of Dallas, Texas.
Born on October 17, 1921, Blair left Prairie View College to join the military and became the youngest black first sergeant in the United States Army during World War II. After the war in 1946, he began his Negro League baseball career pitching first for the Cincinnati Crescents and then the Indianapolis Clowns. He retired from baseball after the 1951 season due to an injured pitching arm.
Blair’s Elite News, first published in 1951, is now the longest existing African American newspaper in North Texas. It covers issues of political, social, economic, and religious importance for African Americans in the North Texas area. In 1985, Blair was instrumental in organizing Dallas’ first Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade which is today one of the largest such tribute to Dr. King attracting thousands each year.
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)
Today is the birth date of Negro League baseball player John Preston “Pete” Hill; born on October 12, around 1882 or 1884 in Virginia (Culpeper County).
The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, which profiles the Hall of Fame outfielder:
“A star in Negro League baseball during the first quarter of the 20thCentury, Pete Hill was called the black Ty Cobb. Major League owners and executives futilely denied that it was not racism that kept African-Americans like Hill and others out of white organized baseball during that time. This implied that black players did not have the skills and abilities for big league baseball, which was not true and why the “color line” that kept black players out was invisible. If it were true, Negro League players would not have been compared to the Major League ones as they commonly were before the “color line” was erased. John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, one of the best pre‐1920 players in Negro League baseball, was referred to as the “black” Honus Wagner; his contemporary at shortstop that played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1900 –1917)and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. Pete Hill’ accomplishments on the field were compared to Ty Cobb; who in his Major League career (1905 ‐ 1928) hit over .400 three times, finished with a .366 career batting average, and was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. It is a comparison painted by racism, but it gives an indication of Hill’ talents as a ballplayer. As Cobb was making life miserable for opposing American League pitchers, Pete Hill was the hitting superstar on three pre‐1920 era premier African American teams.”
“At 6” 1”, 215 lbs., Hill was a left-handed line drive hitter that was hard to defend because he hit the ball to all fields. A contact hitter that seldom swung and missed, he was a “tough out” for right handed and left-handed pitchers. Cum Posey, the long‐time owner of Negro League baseball’ Homestead Grays called Pete Hill, “he most consistent hitter of his time.” Negro League first baseman Ben Taylor who played on teams that were opponents of Hill called him “one of the most dangerous hitters a pitcher could ever face in a tough situation.” A 1910 article in the African-American Chicago Defender newspaper stated, “ete Hill would be a star in the Major Leagues if he were white. He can do anything a white player can do. He can hit, run, throw, and is what can be termed a wise, heady ballplayer.”
To learn more about Pete Hill who was one of best hitters in baseball history, read Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown.
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
“Smokey” Joe Williams, Leon Day, Hilton Smith, and other fantastic pitchers who toiled their entire careers in the Negro Leagues never received the opportunity to appear on professional baseball’s main stage; the World Series. When Jackie Robinson erased Major League Baseball’s “invisible color line in 1947 opening the door for African American and dark-skinned Latinos to play, many of the better Negro League pitchers were past their prime. However, there were four former Negro Leaguers who did get the opportunity to take the mound in a World Series game. Three are familiar names in Negro League baseball history. The fourth and last one, Marshall Bridges who was born June 2, 1931 in Jackson, Mississippi, reflects how slow the progress of integration took in the Major Leagues during the 1950s.
On October 10, 1948 Satchel Paige became the first African American to pitch in a Major League World Series game. He pitched 2/3 of an inning in Game 5 for the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 World Series giving up no runs or hits. The Indians lost the game to the Boston Braves 11 – 5, but won the World Series 4 games to 2.
Don Newcombe pitched in the 1949, 1955, and 1956 Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The team’s leading hurler and innings workhorse during the regular season, Newcombe seemed to run out of gas in the World Series against the Dodgers’ main nemesis each of those years; the New York Yankees. In five World Series’ starts, he lost four with an ERA of 8.59.
On October 1, 1952 Joe Black of the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees 4 – 2 to become the first African American pitcher to win a World Series game. He pitched a complete game giving up only six hits in the first contest of that year’s Series. Black, however, lost Game Four and the deciding Game Seven by the identical score of his victory, 4 – 2.
Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges began his professional baseball career as a pitcher and first baseman for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Signed by the New York Giants in 1953, the hard throwing left hander spent five seasons pitching in the minor leagues. When he turned 28 years old, Bridges finally made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959 winning 6 games while losing 3. He finished second in strikeouts among Cardinal relief hurlers with 76 in 76 innings pitched
The Cardinals released Bridges in August of 1960 and he finished the season with the Cincinnati Reds. The next season, Bridges did not make a mound appearance when Cincinnati lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series four games to one. However, due to a surprising shift of fortune it would be different for him the next year.
A little more than 2 months after the Series, the Reds traded Bridges to New York and he went on to become the top relief pitcher for the 1962 Yankees. In 52 relief appearances, Bridges had his best Major League season winning eight games while saving 18 others and helping the Yankees capture the American League pennant.
The “Sheriff” made two appearances in the World Series pitching a total of three and two- third innings as the Yankees defeated the San Francisco Giants to win the World Championship. However; he made a place in baseball history by surrendering the first World Series grand slam home run hit by a National League player, Giants’ second baseman Chuck Hiller, in the Yankee’s 7 – 3 Game 4 lost.
After being shot by a 21 year old married woman (Carrie Lee Raysor) in a bar during spring training the next season, Bridges fell out of favor with the Yankees. Although there had been off the field incidents involving Yankee star players Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, Bridges had crossed the Yankees’ behavior double standard line that his fellow African American teammate Elston Howard had for seven years been able to toe. Bridges recovered from the gunshot wound in his leg, but made only 23 relief appearances for the 1963 Yankees. After the season, the team traded him to the Washington Senators.
For more on Negro League Baseball history, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown)
Alfred Allen “Buddy” Armour played with four teams in his 13 year (1936 – 1948) Negro League baseball career. Born in Jackson, Mississippi on April 27, 1927, the left handed hitting outfielder was a three time All Star and a member of a Negro League World Series winning team.
As a shortstop with the St. Louis Stars, Armour made his first Negro League East West All Star Game appearance in 1941. Chosen as an All Star again in 1944 after becoming an outfielder and playing with the Cleveland Buckeyes, he got two hits in the West squad’s 7 – 4 victory. While with the Chicago American Giants in 1947, Armour was chosen again an All Star by the votes of Negro League fans. In the first of the two All Star Games played that year, he hit two doubles to help the West squad win 5 – 2.
Armour hit .307 in the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes’ four game sweep of the Homestead Grays for the Negro League World Series Championship.
By the time professional baseball became integrated in 1947, Armour was 32 years old and was never signed by a Major League club. He played in the Canadian minor leagues from 1949 – 1951 before retiring.
Which of Armour’s teammates on the Cleveland Buckeyes would go on to win “Rookie of the Year” honors in the Major Leagues?