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
In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: James “Cool Papa” Bell.
In February 13, 1974; Negro League outfielder James “Cool Papa” was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many of the stories describing Bell’s speed were exaggerations (“He turned off the light switch and he got in the bed before the lights went off”). But; clocked at 12 seconds circling all the bases, he is considered one of the fastest runners in all baseball history.
Bell started his playing career as a pitcher. His manager called him “Cool Papa” because he kept his composure during pressure situations on the mound. The nickname stayed with Bell even though he hurt his pitching arm and played outfield the rest of his career.
His Negro League baseball career spanned three decades (1922 – 1946).
From 1922 – 1931 he played for the St. Louis Stars. He teamed with fellow members of the Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells and first baseman George “Mules” Suttles to help the team win three National Negro League championships (1928, 1930 – 1931).
While in his 30’s, Bell wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933 – 1938); one of the best teams assembled in Negro League history. Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson were teammates of Bell at times during this period. The Crawfords were National Negro League champions in 1935.
Still playing while in his 40’s, Bell helped the Homestead Grays win Negro League World Series championships in 1943 and 1944.
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African-American history, but ii is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more 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
After seeing Theodore Roosevelt Radcliffe pitch the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium and then get behind the plate to catch the second game, New York journalist/writer Damon Runyon was so impressed he wrote about the black ballplayer in his newspaper column. Runyon gave Radcliffe the nickname “Double Duty”. Born on July 7, 1902 in Mobile, Alabama, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe had a nomadic 32 year journey through Negro League baseball that covered four decades (1928 – 1950).
He played with and against many of the Negro League greats. Along with Hall of Fame players Willie Wells, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Mules Suttles, Radcliffe won a Negro National League (NNL) pennant for the St, Louis Stars in 1930. He was on the 1931 Homestead Grays team that included Hall of Fame players Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Smokey” Joe Williams, and Jud “Boojum” Wilson. He played the next year for a new team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, that had six future Hall of Famers including fellow Mobile native Satchel Paige whose birthday is also July 7 (7/7/06). He was also on the Birmingham Black Barons’ 1944 Negro American League (NAL) inning team.
Wearing the uniform of over ten Negro League teams, Radcliffe also played in the Mexican League and the Cuban Winter leagues. His career was the extreme example of an African American ballplayer’s life before the integration of Major League baseball. He experienced all the good and the bad of Negro League baseball first hand.
The 5’10”, 190 pound right hand thrower was a reliable pitcher that, according to available statistics, won 19 games in 1932. He was a good defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm that hit over .300 that same year. A fan favorite, “Double Duty” was elected to play in six Negro League Baseball East-West All Star Games; three times as a pitcher and three as a catcher. His three run home run in the 1944 game help lead the West squad to a 7 – 4 victory.
“Double Duty” Radcliffe was also the player/manager for which teams during his Negro League baseball career?