In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact: John Henry Russell.
Although primarily a second baseman, John Henry Russell’s versatility gave him the ability to also play first base, third base, or shortstop during his 12 year Negro League baseball career (1923 – 1934). Born February 24, 1898 in Dolcito, Alabama, he gained the reputation of being excellent on defense by using quick hands and feet combined with a strong throwing arm. He did not consistently have a high batting average, but his speed made him a better than average baserunner.
After starting his career with the Memphis Red Sox, Russell played with the St. Louis Stars (1926 – 1930). He paired with Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells for the Stars to have one of the best double play combinations in the Negro Leagues during that time. St. Louis, who also had Hall of Fame center fielder James “Cool Papa” Bell and Hall of Fame first baseman George “Mule” Suttles, won the Negro National League championship in 1928 and 1930.
While with the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931 – 1933), Russell received honor from Negro League fans by being selected to play in the inaugural East-West All Star Game. On that September 10th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Russell shared the field with such Negro League greats as Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, and others.
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
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
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?
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?