In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: Bill Cash.
Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia; William (Bill) “Ready” Cash played his entire Negro League baseball career (1943 – 1950) with the Philadelphia Stars. A good defensive catcher known for his strong throwing arm, Cash also proved himself as an above average hitter. He played in the 1948 and 1949 East-West All Star Game, hitting two doubles in the latter to help the East squad to a 4 – 0 victory.
He signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1952 when 32 years old and never rose above the Class C level during two years in the teams’minor league system.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
Born February 12, 1923 in Conroe, Texas; Marvin Williams spent his entire Negro League baseball career (1943 – 1950) with the Philadelphia Stars. The power hitting second baseman played in the 1944 East-West All-Star game. Together with Jackie Robinson and Sam Jethroe, Williams participated in a “token” tryout given by the Boston Red Sox for African-American players in 1945. Although exhibiting they were talented baseball players during the workout, neither of the three were signed by the team. Both Robinson and Jethroe made it to the Major Leagues a few years after that tryout (Robinson in 1947, Jethroe in 1950), but not Williams.
He hurt his throwing arm limiting his defensive abilities after returning to the Stars. Williams left Negro League baseball in 1950 and spent the decade showing flashes of his hitting power while integrating minor league teams. In 1954 he hit .360 with 21 home runs playing with Vancouver (Western League). While a teammate of Frank Robinson in 1955 with Columbia (Sally League), Williams hit .328 with 16 home runs. Robinson went on to be named National League Rookie of the Year in 1956 starting his Hall Fame baseball career. Williams stayed in the minor leagues and hit .322, 26 home runs and 111 RBIs that year with Tulsa (Double AA Texas League).
There is no doubt Marvin Williams had the reputation of being a good hitter. However, the initial slow process of integration in white professional baseball during the late 1940s, an arm injury, and his advancing age in the 1950s (30+) kept him out of the Major Leagues.
To read about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown
In his sixteen year baseball career (1921 – 1937) Paul “Country Jake” Stephens; born February 10, 1900 in Pleasureville, Pennsylvania, played with some of the best teams in the Negro League baseball era. The 5’7”, 150 pound light-hitting shortstop had quickness, range, and a strong throwing arm. Although not considered one of the best all-around shortstops, he had the opportunity to be teammates with many Hall of Fame players. Because of his outgoing, always joking attitude; he got the nickname “Country Jake”.
Stephens first played with the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pennsylvania from 1921 – 1929. His teammates included third baseman Judy Johnson, catcher and infielder Biz Mackey, and catcher Louis Santop; all now in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The 1925 Daisies won the Negro League World Series Championship.
From 1929 – 1932, he wore the uniform of the Homestead Grays. Hall of Fame players “Smokey” Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Jud Wilson spent time with the Grays during those years. Wilson became Stephen’s best friend. The 1931 team is considered by many one of the best in Negro League baseball history.
Stephens along with his Hall of Fame Grays’ teammates were signed by Pittsburgh Crawford’s owner Gus Greenlee in 1932. Stephen’s former Hilldale teammate Judy Johnson and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige were also on the Crawford’s that year making it one of the best Negro League teams assembled.
With his friend Jud Wilson and former Hilldale teammate Biz Mackey, Stephens played with the Philadelphia Stars in 1933 – 1935. The 1934 team won the Negro National League championship.
Negro League baseball fans in the 1930s appreciated the talent displayed by Jake Stephens on the baseball field. They voted him as the starting shortstop for the East squad in the 1935 East-West All-Star Game, the annual national showcase for Negro League baseball.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown
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.
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.
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.
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
Although professional baseball’s color line that kept it segregated had been erased by Jackie Robinson in 1947, African American and Hispanic ballplayers still faced difficulties due to racial discrimination that hindered their development in the Major Leagues. The career of Frank Samuel “Pee Wee” Austin, born on May 22, 1917, is an example of the difficulties they faced.
Considered one of the best baseball players born and raised in Panama, Austin began his Negro League career in 1944 with the Philadelphia Stars. An excellent fielding shortstop who hit over .300 his first two seasons, the 5’7” and 168 pound speedster was the starting shortstop for the East squad in the 1945 Negro League All Star Game. Jackie Robinson was the West squad’s starting shortstop that year. Austin also made All Star Game appearances in 1947 and 1948.
After the color line was broken, the skills he displayed on the baseball diamond got the attention of Major League scouts. Austin was signed by the New York Yankees in 1949, but never played with the team due to a racially motivated decision. The Yankees and Cleveland Indians were involved in a contract dispute over two other Negro League players; shortstop Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons and Luis Marquez of the Baltimore Elite Giants. Believing the Indians would get Wilson, the Yankees signed Austin. But, Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler settled the dispute by allowing the Yankees to keep Wilson and gave Marquez to the Indians. This left New York with two African American prospects at shortstop.
With future Hall of Famer (1994) Phil Rizzuto the starting Yankee shortstop at that time, the team did not need two prospects at the position. But instead of choosing between the two, the Yankees sold both players to Pacific Coast League (PCL), Triple AAA minor league teams. Wilson went to the Oakland Oaks and Austin to the Portland Beavers.
In the early years of Major League integration, teams that signed African American players did not want them to room together with white players on road trips. If there were not two or more African Americans on the team, the one roomed alone which made him even more ostracized by the majority of his white teammates. The Yankees took it a step further and unloaded them both. It is a compliment to the fortitude of African American players in the early years of integration that they had success on the field despite these obstacles.
Austin and Marquez, who had been sent to the Beavers by the Indians, became the first black players in the Portland franchise’s history. A fan favorite, “Pee Wee” Austin played seven seasons (1949 – 1955) with the team; including 659 consecutive games. But he never hit over .300 as he had done with the Philadelphia Stars; he never got another chance to play in the Major Leagues before retiring in 1957.