Tag Archives: “Satchel”Paige

Negro League World Series – Part Three

The Houston Astros have been crowned World Series champions bringing to an end the 2017 Major League baseball season.  Now begins the “hot stove league”, the name often referred to the baseball off-season, even though winter does not officially start until December 21.  Baseball fans will be waiting to see what changes will be made by their favorite team for improvement in 2018 season.  Especially those fans of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers; teams that made a good run in 2017 but fell short.  With the Astros being young and loaded, it will be an uphill climb for the other teams.  But this post is not my prediction about the 2018 Major League season.  It is the third segment about baseball history’s forgotten fall classic; the Negro League World Series.

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1943 Homestead Grays

After the United States in 1941 became involved in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the continuing operation of both Major League and Negro League baseball for the purpose of maintaining high morale in the country.  The military took such Major League stars as Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Greenberg while Negro League players Monte Irvin, Willard Brown, Leon Day, Larry Doby, and others served also during the War.  There were; however, Negro League stalwarts considered to old (over 30 years old) or with physical exemptions from military service.  This included players such as “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and others.

The war years became a period of economic prosperity for Negro League baseball.  With an estimated 1.5 million African-Americans by 1944 having jobs in industries producing military weapons, equipment, and supplies; Negro League fans had more disposable income to support their favorite team.  In addition, the fan base widened due to the growing northern migration from southern states of African-Americans seeking the increasing job opportunities.  Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades, experiencing a fifth consecutive year of solid growth in 1945.  With this new economic stability came the rebirth of the Negro League World Series.

In 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL) played the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League (NNL) in the first Negro League World Series held since 1927.  The format of attempting to maximum revenue (ticket sales) by playing most of the games in cities with a large African America population remained as before; only one game of the Series would be in Kansas City while the rest in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington D. C., and Philadelphia.  However, the Series changed to be as the Major League’s; first to win four games would be champion.  In the midst of their nine-year reign (1937 – 1945) of winning the NAL pennant, the Grays were favored to defeat the Monarchs.  The Grays’ batting order included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, Howard Easterling, and Jud Wilson.  But the Monarchs’ pitchers led by “Satchel” Paige, Hilton Smith, and Jack Matchett shut down the powerful Grays’ batters and won the Series four games to none.  Josh Gibson only hit .154 (2 for 14) and Buck Leonard .188 (3 for 16).

Paige and Gibson

“Satchel” Paige (left) and Josh Gibson (right)

In Game Two of this Series, the pitcher-batter confrontation between the Monarchs’ “Satchel” Paige and the Grays’ Josh Gibson that is a part of Negro League folklore took place.  Wanting to demonstrate proof of being the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues at that time, Paige decided to face Gibson; considered the best hitter.  Leading 2 – 0 with two outs and a man on third base, Paige walks Vic Harris and Howard Easterling intentionally so he could face Josh Gibson.  Paige verbally taunted Gibson, telling before each pitch what he would throw.  Gibson struck out on three Paige fastballs, not quick enough to take a swing at any of them.  The confrontation is so baseball legendary, Monarchs’ first baseman Buck O’Neil gives a narration of it in Ken Burn’s 1994 television documentary miniseries “Baseball”.

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John “Buck” O’Neil

Both the 1943 and 1944 Negro League World Series pitted the Grays against the Birmingham Black Barons.  Paced by pitchers Johnny Wright (two shutouts) and Raymond Brown (two wins and a 2.10 ERA) the Grays won the 1943 Series four games to three.   Behind the hitting of Josh Gibson (.500, 8 for 16) and Buck Leonard (.388, 7 for 18), the Grays won the 1944 Series four games to one.

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Buck Leonard

Despite the war years being an economic boom time for Negro League baseball overall, the Negro League World Series struggled.  The 1944 Negro League East West All Star Game in Chicago drew 51,723 in attendance, the largest to see a Negro League game.  Only 29, 589 fans attended Major League Baseball’s All Star Game that summer held in Pittsburgh.  However in his book, “I Was Right on Time” (Simon & Schuster 1997), Buck O’Neil believed there were less than 5,000 people in stadium that saw the Paige vs Gibson event.  But the overall economic stability of both leagues allowed the Negro League World Series to continue.  Stay tuned for the fourth and final segment.

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Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges: The Last Former Negro League Pitcher in a World Series

“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.

Marshall Bridges 1

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

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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.

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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.

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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)

 

 

 

 

The 1935 National Baseball Congress Champions

Dumont Picture

Talk about a coincidence. I travelled to Wichita, Kansas with my wife who had a speaking engagement a week ago this past November 2.  Upon arriving at our hotel the afternoon before, I discovered that in my haste to pack for the trip, I did not bring the current book I was reading; Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line by Tim Dunkel (Atlantic Press, New York, 2013).  The inner self-scolding I was giving myself for leaving the book was interrupted by my wife.  She wanted to determine the travel time to where she was to speak the next morning.

A little more than a block from the hotel on our exploratory search for Wichita’s Exploration Place, we drove passed Lawrence-Dumont Stadium; home field of the annual National Baseball Congress. Coincidentally, Dunkel’s book is about the NBC’s first tournament in 1935 won by a mixed raced team from Bismarck, North Dakota whose star pitcher was Satchel Paige.

Major League baseball’s “invisible color line”, which kept out African American and dark-skinned Latino ball players, was solidly adhered to in 1935. However, there was competition at baseball’s semi-professional level between white and African American teams.  During that time, many Negro League teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs, Homestead Grays, and others travelled in cars and busses throughout the upper Midwest, Eastern seaboard, and the Great Plains to play white teams in rural towns.  The games were a source of entertainment for the small town baseball fans and it generated needed income for the Negro League teams.

But baseball racial integration took another step at the semi-pro level during the early 1930s in rural North Dakota. Negro League players were being recruited to improve the previously all white semi-professional team in many towns.  The city of Bismarck, the North Dakota capital, had six players with Negro League baseball experience on its team in 1935; Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Red Haley, Barney Morris, Quincy Troupe, and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.  It was the best semi-professional team in the state.

Through creating the National Baseball Congress, Wichita sports promoter Raymond Harry “Hap” Dumont wanted to have a tournament for the top semi-professional teams in the country that year. He invited not only teams from rural and metropolitan cities, but also industrial corporation teams that were organized to boost employee morale and build company loyalty.  The tournament fielded a collection of players with varied experiences in the game.  Former Major League players past their prime, former minor league players who never made it to the Major League level, and the “good but not quite good enough for professional baseball” amateur players all participated in that first NBC competition.

But to get more attention for his initial tournament Dumont invited four African American teams, the Memphis Red Sox, Monroe (La.) Monarchs, Austin (Texas) Centennials, and San Angelo (Texas) Sheepherders. He also invited the mixed race team from North Dakota, who added Negro League pitcher Chet Brewer to its tournament roster. Many white teams, especially those from southern cities, complained about having to play against African Americans, but Dumont kept to his plan for that first tournament.

Behind the pitching of Satchel Paige and the overall excellent performances by the other African American players, Bismarck won the double elimination tournament without losing a game. Paige won four games, struck out 66 batters in 39 innings, walking only five, and surrendering only five runs.  But what was more important than Bismarck’s triumph on the field was how the African American and white players coexisted as teammates and in harmony worked together for the team to become tournament champions. One excuse white professional baseball executives used for maintaining “the color line” was that African Americans, dark-skinned Latinos, and whites could not as teammates play together in peace.  The team from North Dakota’s capital in 1935 proved they were wrong.

Bismarck’s success in that first NBC tournament made no dent in the racial policies of professional baseball. The Major Leagues remained “all white” for 12 more years.  Even “Hap” Dumont gave in to complaints from white participants in the tournament and by 1940 the NBC affiliate leagues eliminated African American teams from participation.

African Americans did not return to the NBC tournament until the 1950s and it by then had changed its focus to players of amateur status, primarily college age players. Today the NBC has one of the oldest and biggest amateur baseball tournaments in the country with African American alumni such as Barry Bonds, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, and Joe Carter.

 

Read more about the journey of Negro League baseball in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to www.klmitchell.com or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown

1942 Negro League World Series – Monarchs vs. Grays

Paige and Gibson

As one of the most renowned franchises in Negro League baseball history, the Kansas City Monarchs were Negro League World Series Champions twice. In 1924, the Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) defeated the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania who represented the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the inaugural Negro League fall classic. And it was during this week in 1942, on September 29th, the franchise won its second.

After the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City (ECL) in the 1927, the Negro League fall classic was discontinued. The ECL‘s financial problems became fatal and it went out of business before the next season. Also, the NNL had administrative problems due to the lengthy illness of founder Andrew “Rube” Walker. By the time Foster died in 1930 and the country was in the midst of the worst economic depression in history, Negro League baseball began the new decade having no formal functioning league.

However, by 1942 the state of black baseball had improved to the point that the Negro League World Series was reinstated. The Negro NNL was resurrected in 1933, this time consisting of teams along the eastern seaboard. The Negro American League (NAL) was established in 1937 consisting of teams in the upper midsection and the southern segments of the country. With the beginning of World War II in 1941, the overall economic condition for African Americans in northern and eastern cities of Negro League franchises improved due to the rise of military defense industry jobs. It was the beginning of the best years financially for Negro League teams as game attendance increased.

The stage was set in 1942 for the Kansas City Monarchs of the NAL to battle the Homestead Grays of the NNL for the Negro League World Series championship. Each had consistently dominated their league during recent years. Since the NAL’s beginning in 1937, the Kansas City Monarchs had won five of the first six league pennants only losing it in 1938 to the Memphis Red Sox. The Homestead Grays also had won five NNL pennants since 1937. Although professional baseball was segregated at the time, seven of the players in this Series would eventually be enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York: Satchel Paige, Willard Brown, and Hilton Smith of the Monarchs and Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Raymond Brown, and Jud Wilson of the Grays.

The Monarchs won the Series 4 games to 0. Monarch pitchers Paige, Smith, and Jack Matchett stymied the powerful bats of the Grays. For the Series, Leonard hit .250 and Gibson .206. Willard Brown, Buck O’Neil, and other Monarch hitters hammered the Grays starting pitchers; Ray Brown, Roy Partlow, and Roy Welmaker. They outhit the Grays .345 to .206 and scored 34 runs to the Grays’ 12.

After the Monarchs were ahead three games to none, Grays’ owner Cum Posey took drastic action. For Game Four, his team’s line up included three players from the Newark Eagles; including Hall of Fame pitcher Leon Day, and one from the Philadelphia Stars. With Day pitching for his team, Posey’s Grays won 4 – 1. But, the Monarch’s filed an official protest because the Grays used players from other teams. Posey claimed he had prior approval from the Monarch’s for the roster changes because the sudden loss of players due to injury and the military draft had decimated the Grays. Monarch owner J. L. Wilkinson denied he gave Posey such approval and the protest was upheld; the Grays victory was voided.

After arriving at the ballpark late for Game Four supposedly due to being stopped and given a traffic ticket, Paige was not the Monarch’s starting pitcher. However, he entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Grays winning 5 – 4. He held them scoreless the final five innings and the Monarchs rallied to win the game 9 – 5 and complete the Series sweep.

Read more about the journey of Negro League baseball in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. For more information, go to www.klmitchell.com or http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown

From Negro League baseball to NCAA coach

walt owens

Walter “Coach” Owens played for the Detroit Stars in 1953 -1955 during Negro League baseball’s declining years. Although he never wore a Major League uniform, he used the lessons he learned through his experiences to have a positive influence on young players.

Born on August 19, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio; Owens grew up in Detroit where baseball was segregated at the amateur and semi-professional levels. He played on three high school city baseball champions and received a basketball/track scholarship to Western Michigan University.

During the summer months while in college, he played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro American League (NAL). A pitcher and an outfielder, Owens played under an alias in order to keep his college amateur eligibility. Playing against the House of David one of those summers, he singled and struck out facing “Satchel” Paige. Although Owens was a good ballplayer, but former Negro League star and Detroit resident Turkey Stearnes, advised him to stay in school.

After graduating from college, Owens received an offer to play for the Indianapolis Clowns. He turned it down, began teaching school, and eventually became the baseball coach at Detroit’s Northwestern High School. Owens was a father figure for many of his players. Two of them, Willie Horton and Alex Johnson, went on to have successful Major League careers in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1976, Owens was named head baseball coach at Northern Illinois University (Mid-American Conference) and became one of a very few African Americans to run the baseball program at a majority white NCAA university at that time. NIU won 133 games in Owens’ seven years (1976 – 1982) as coach.

Talent to Fit the Name – Ross “Satchel” Davis

Ross Davis

The story that indicates how Ross Davis, born July 28, 1918 in Greenville, Mississippi, picked up the nickname “Satchel” is a testament to his pitching ability.

By the time he became a teenager; Davis had moved to St. Louis and gained notoriety as a pitcher in the city’s African American semi-professional leagues. He was tall and lean (6’2”, 165 pounds), but had a blazing fastball and sharp breaking curve. The story goes that one day “Satchel” Paige himself saw how hard the talented teenager threw the baseball and loudly began referring to young hurler as “my son”. The nickname, “Satchel”, stuck with Davis his entire short Negro League career.

In 1940 while with the Baltimore Elite Giants and only 22 years old, Ross “Satchel” Davis no-hit the Newark Eagles. His battery mate for that pitching gem was an eighteen year old Roy Campanella, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the Major Leagues. Pitching for the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1943, he defeated “Satchel” Paige in a head to head matchup.

Davis was drafted into military service after the 1943 season and contacted a serious case of hepatitis during World War II.   He was advised to not play baseball again because of the lingering effects of his illness.

But Davis returned to the pitching mound after the war. First, he pitched in the short lived Untied States League and then in 1947 helped the Cleveland Buckeyes win the Negro American League (NAL) pennant. He retired after the season at only 29 years old due to the on-going battle with his illness.

Ross “Satchel” Davis died January 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas.

Who was Davis’ 18 year old battery mate for that 1940 no-hit pitching gem?

“Satchel” Paige’s Major League All Star milestone

Paige

The importance baseball history has in the current popularity of the sport was on display during this year’s Major League Baseball All Star Game played this past Tuesday night in Cincinnati. In conjunction with Major League Baseball, the communication company T-Mobile created the “Greatest Living Players” promotion that gave baseball fans the opportunity to choose the four greatest ballplayers still living. The four selected; Henry Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays were each brought unto the diamond at the Reds’ Great American Ballpark after this year’s All-Star players’ introductions.

Aaron and Mays, both former Negro League ballplayers, waved in response to the thunderous applause of the 43,656 fans in the stadium. They were the two selected by the promotion that were in professional baseball at the time of an All Star milestone in Cincinnati by another former Negro League player; Satchel Paige.

On July 14, 1953 at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Paige became the first African American to pitch in the All Star Game for the American League. He pitched the eighth inning for the AL squad in the National League’s 5 – 1 victory. African American Don Newcombe had pitched for the National League in three All Star Games, 1949, 1950, and 1951. However, the slow pace of integration in baseball since Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947 had been slower in the American League.

Arguably the best and certainly the most well-known pitcher in Negro League baseball, Paige had already achieved one milestone in Major League history. In 1948 while with Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians, he became the first African American to pitch in the World Series. Both Paige and Veeck were no longer with the Indians after the 1949 season. However, they were together again in 1951 when Veeck was the new owner of the St. Louis Browns.

Named to the American League All Star team in 1952, Paige did not pitch in the rain shortened All Star Game won by the National League 3 -2. However, history would be made the next year when New York Yankee manager Casey Stengel summoned Paige to mound to pitch the eighth inning with the American League All-Stars trailing 3-0.

Gil Hodges first lined out against the forty-seven year old Hall of Fame pitcher. Roy Campanella singled and then Eddie Mathews flied out. Despite getting two outs, Paige had trouble finishing the inning. Duke Snider walked, both Enos Slaughter and pitcher Murray Dickson followed with singles. Campanella and Snider scored, but Dickson was thrown out at second base to end the inning. The American League scored one run in the ninth to avert a shutout, the final score being 5 – 1.

Mays, the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year, missed the entire 1953 season due to military service. Aaron in 1953 was battering pitchers while playing with the Braves’ Class A minor league level team in Jacksonville. They both would be on the 1954 National League All Star squad that included seven African American players, another baseball integration milestone at that time.

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