A Letter from the Front, 1918

25 May

James H. “Jimmy” “Captain” Smith played for three early Chicago-based Negro League teams—the Columbia Giants, the Union Giants, and the Leland Giants—in addition to stints with the Cuban X-Giants and St. Paul Gophers.  Already twenty-eight years old, and a Spanish-American War veteran, when he played for the Columbia Giants in 1902, Smith’s career was over by 1909.

In 1918, David Wyatt, a former Union Giants infielder turned sportswriter for The Chicago Defender, said of him:

 “Smith was a player who ranked with the very best of his time, and it is extremely doubtful if any of the present day stars can excel him in efficiency and all-around play.  Besides being a classy actor at the hot corner of the diamond, Smith was a natural leader of men.  He was captain of the Leland Giants of the season of 1905; under his guiding hand that team made a run of forty-seven consecutive wins; a record not surpassed or even equaled in the annuals of history of Colored baseball.”

Smith went to work for the post office after his retirement and rose to the rank of captain in the Eighth Illinois National Guard, a unit composed of black soldiers from the near South Side neighborhood then known as the Black Belt—now Bronzeville.  When the United States entered World War I, the eighth entered active duty as the 370th Infantry.

In April of 1918, the 370th arrived in France.  In August, Smith provided readers of The Defender with an update on the activities of the unit in a letter to Wyatt:

“Friend Davy:  Your letter reached me today, and to say I was glad to receive it, would be putting it mild indeed; it brought with it memories of the past and I could again see the old bunch—the first ‘Leland Giants,’ season in 1905—cavorting around at 79th and Wentworth, and making all the good teams sit up and wonder how it happened—a great bunch to think about (George) Taylor, (Nate) Harris in a class by themselves; peerless (William) Binga, that mighty outfield(Sherman) Barton, (Joe) Green, and (Dell) Mathews.”

[…]

“Then along comes the American Giants, Say, boy, it is great to read about them.  Well, the old 8th had a team while training in Texas and we cleaned up everything in the division; played two games with the (Houston) Black Buffalos and split even; lost the first 5-3, won the second 3-1.  This by the way, was our only losing game.  We have not played any since arriving overseas, as we have been on the go ever since landing.”

The 1905 Leland Giants--Jimmy Smith is 11.  Others mentioned in the letter: 1-Barton, 2-Mathews, 4-Taylor, 5-Harris, 6-Green, and 10-Binga

The 1905 Leland Giants–Jimmy Smith is 11. Others mentioned in the letter: 1-Barton, 2-Mathews, 4-Taylor, 5-Harris, 6-Green, and 10-Binga

Besides Smith, the unit’s team in Texas included at least two other Negro League players:  Harry Bauchman and Lemuel McDougal.

Smith then turned his attention towards the war:

“The censorship is too strict to permit of sending of much news; will save it up for you until I return.  We have been in the front line trenches and the boys stood it well.  We are lulled to sleep at night by the roar of the big guns; have witnessed several big air-fights and see them shooting at machines every day;  it is exciting, wonderful, and quite a thrilling spectacle to behold.  Now and then we sit in our dug-outs underground and try to imagine we are at 35th and State Streets, or the American Giants’ park….This is a very beautiful country, the people are in a class by themselves, that is as far a politeness goes, and many other respects.  It is a shame the way the towns have been bowled over by the Huns—ruins, ruins everywhere you look and then more ruins; it will take years to repair the damage.”

[…]

“All the boys join me in sending regards to all friends, fans, ballplayers and the people at large. Tell them we are over here to do our bit for democracy.  We intend to get results, and will not stop short of the winning goal.”

According to the book, “History of the American Negro in the Great World War,” by William Allison Sweeney:

“(On November 7) Company C, of the 370th, under the command of Captain James H. Smith, a Chicago letter carrier, signally distinguished itself by storming and taking the town of Baume and capturing three pieces of field artillery (and two machine guns).”

As a result of their actions, Company C earned the French Croix de Guerre.

The "Victory Monument" at 35th and King Drive in Chicago honors the service of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard in World War I.

The “Victory Monument” at 35th and King Drive in Chicago honors the service of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard in World War I.

Smith returned to Chicago where he continued to work for the post office, occasionally wrote baseball articles for The Defender, and rose to the rank of Colonel in the Illinois National Guard.  He died on Christmas Eve in 1960 at a veterans hospital near his second home in Michigan.

Lost Advertisements–Pat Moran for Sloan’s Liniment

22 May

patmoran

An advertisement that appeared late in the 1919 season featuring Cincinnati Reds Manager Pat Moran:

“‘When my players get sore, I don’t rub them the wrong way;  I use Sloan’s Liniment–it penetrates.’

“Moran knows how to keep his men fit for the pennant scramble–keeps Sloan’s handy for emergency.  ‘Glass arm,’ ‘Charley horse,’ stiffness, soreness, bruises, rheumatic aches, are quickly and comfortably relieved.  Penetrates without rubbing, keeping the boys ready for the winning game.”

The 1919 World Series was the fourth for Moran.  He played in two with the Chicago Cubs (1906 and ’07) and managed two, (the other was with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1915).

Moran replaced Charles “Red” Dooin as Phillies manager after the team finished in sixth place in 1914.  Under Moran, the team won 10 of their first 11 games and won the National League with a 90-62 record.

In September, Frank Menke of The International New Service, said:

“Moran deserves ranking among the greatest managers the game has ever known.  It is the wonderful leadership of the red-faced, gray-haired Irishman that has put the misfit Phillies where they are today.”

Moran

Moran

Menke said Moran was saddled with a team consisting primarily of “castoffs,’ and “one wonderful pitcher (Grover Cleveland Alexander).”

Moran followed up the 1915 pennant with two second-place finishes, with teams Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune said the manager had little to work with beyond pitcher Alexander:

“(T)hose astounding Phillies, piloted by a leader who has never received anywhere near his due recognition for extraordinary ability to lead a ball club.  need it be said that we refer to Pat Moran?  It needn’t.”

As was his habit, Rice memorialized Moran’s abilities with a poem:

Pat Moran’s no Miracle Man

Nor anything like that;

Nobody ever stands and cheers

The while he tips his hat.

 

Pat doesn’t draw the headline space

Nor yet the picture frames;

Pat Moran’s no Miracle Man–

Buthe’shellatwinninggames”

During his nine-year managerial career in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Moran compiled a 748-586 record, which included a total of four second-place finishes to go with his two pennants.

During spring training of what would have been his sixth season with the Reds, Moran, who had a history of excessive drinking, became ill in Orlando, Florida.

His former Cubs teammate Johnny Evers came to his bedside.  According to The Associated Press, he said:

“‘Hello John, take me out of here.’ He then lost consciousness.”

He died later that day.  The official cause was Bright’s Disease.

The Milwaukee First Base Jinx

20 May

In January of 1911 the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association were in search of a first baseman.

Newspapers across the country began to speculate that getting someone to play the position might be a problem.

They began to talk about the “Milwaukee First Base Jinx.”

Dan McGann, who had been Milwaukee’s first baseman in 1909 and 1910 committed suicide a month earlier at Besler’s Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky (Although McGann’s sisters claimed he was murdered because an expensive ring was missing, there was a history of depression and suicide in the family and other expensive items were found on his body).

Dan McGann

The regular first baseman before McGann, Arthur Brown, as mentioned in an earlier post, was killed in 1911 by an actor whose wife had left him for the first baseman

 The man Brown replaced at first in 1908 was Quait Bateman, who also had a brush with violence.  He had been stabbed by Charlie Dexter.  Initial reports said the stabbing happened as a result of what The Milwaukee News called “A drunken row,” later Bateman said it was an accident and refused to press charges.

Unlike the others, Bateman did not die–although he was said to be close to death twice– and actually returned to Milwaukee for three more seasons.

Quait Bateman

But that fact didn’t get in the way of a good jinx story.

Shortly after the jinx stories appeared, Milwaukee signed 34-year-old former American League first baseman Tom Jones.  As the clubs first baseman for four seasons–and part of a fifth–Jones temporarily put the talk to rest.

Tom Jones

But it was revised again in 1913.

Newspapers brought up the jinx again when another former  Milwaukee first baeman Jiggs Donahue–who played for the club in 1902 and ’03– died in July.  Donahue died in the Ohio State Hospital in Columbus.  It was widely assumed his mental illness the result of advanced syphilis.

Jiggs Donahue

Articles in a number of papers speculated on what fate awaited Jones.  The Day in New London Connecticut said:

“Tom Jones, first baseman at Milwaukee, wonders what’ll become of him.  Murder, suicide, stabbing, shooting and insanity have been the fates former Milwaukee first basemen have met.”

Jones, at least in the short term, dodged the jinx.  His career with the Brewers ended during the 1915 season with no stabbings, shootings or other mayhem.  He died in 1923 at age 46.

The “jinx” was put to rest for good by Milwaukee’s next two first basemen; Clarence Craft and Mal Barry lived to 70 and 68 respectively.  Craft died in 1958, Barry in 1960.

A shorter version of this post appeared on August 20, 1912.

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told Him he was Missing the boat”

18 May

After Heywood Broun’s remarks at the 1933 Baseball Writers Association dinner about integrating the game, The Pittsburgh Courier initiated a campaign to push the issue.  Despite some support inside baseball and from well-known newspapermen, the effort fell flat by opening day.

That summer, after the first East-West Game—won by the West All-Stars 11 to 7—at Comiskey Park, Henry L. Farrell of The Chicago Daily News suggested several “(M)ajor league club owners who are now on their knees might have their prayers answered,” by signing some the Negro League stars.

In the fall, The Chicago Defender briefly picked up the mantle from The Courier.  The paper asked their readers:

“How would you like to see the great baseball players of the Race performing in the major leagues? Wouldn’t you like to see Willie Foster, Satchel Paige and (Sam) Streeter pitch to Babe Ruth?”

If so:

“Sit down and write K.M. Landis commissioner of baseball, 333 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.”

The following week, the paper reported that Landis’ office had refused to comment.  When baseball’s winter meetings commenced in Chicago in December, The Defender promised readers that the letters they had sent:

“(A)re not being passed on lightly as many suggested would be the case.  On the contrary, the club owners are downright concerned and from the inside word leaked out that some action would be taken.”

The optimism was tempered later that week when their reporter was barred from covering a meeting where he was told “vital points were discussed.”  The Defender reporter was told no newspapermen would be admitted, but:

“That sinister moves were being made against your author’s admission became a certainty when a well-known writer from one of the downtown papers came along, gave the high sign and was admitted.”

When 1933 came to a close, integration was no closer to being a reality than it was 11 months earlier as Broun stood to deliver his remarks to the baseball writers.

Four years later, Sam Lacy from The Baltimore Afro-American met with Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith in an attempt to revive the subject:

“I mentioned Satchel and Josh and Cool Papa, I told him he was missing the boat.”

Sam Lacy

Sam Lacy

Griffith, he said, told him the timing was wrong, and that Southern-born players would not accept integration.

The next major effort came in 1939.

Political support had generally been limited to socialist and communist organizations—the Young Communist League spent the summer of ’39 gathering signatures to present to Commissioner Landis.  But, in July of that year, the Illinois House of Representatives adopted a resolution which read in part:

“Resolved, by the House of Representatives of the Sixty-first General Assembly.  That the owners of all professional baseball teams in the United States, both in the major and minor leagues be strongly urged to give baseball players of the colored race the same opportunity of becoming players on their respective teams as is accorded to such players of the white race.”

Another push came from Pittsburgh as well.

Wendell Smith, who was playing baseball at West Virginia State College when Broun made his speech in 1933, was now a reporter for The Courier. In July, he promised readers:

“The most exclusive, startling and revealing expose, of the attitude of the major league players and managers themselves, ever written.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

Over the course of several weeks Smith asked 40 players and eight managers as they passed through Pittsburgh, “Are Negro ballplayers good enough to ‘crash’ the majors?”

The Courier’s Chester Washington said in a column to introduce the series of articles:

“One of the major reasons why Mr. Smith’s discovery is so revolutionary is that the club owners, in trying to pass the buck, have blamed the ban on the players themselves.  They claimed that the injection of colored stars into the clubs would bring about friction and dissention… (Smith) practically disproves this contention.

“Fearlessly buttonholing the managers and outstanding players of all the National League clubs, Mr. Smith received scores of testimonials which should be a revelation to the owners.”

A sampling of the statements collected by Smith:

Ernie Lombardi, Cincinnati Reds:  “(Satchel) Paige is as good as (Dizzy) Dean.”

Johnny Vander Meer, Cincinnati Reds:  “I wouldn’t object.”

James “Doc” Prothro, Philadelphia Phillies: “If given permission I would jump at the opportunity to sign up a good Negro ballplayer.”

Leo Durocher, Brooklyn Dodgers:  “(Satchel) Paige, (Bill “Cy”) Perkins, (Mule) Suttles and (Josh) Gibson are good enough to be in the majors right now…I certainly would use a Negro ballplayer if the bosses said it was all right.”

Gabby Hartnett, Chicago Cubs:  “I am sure that if we were given permission to use them, there would be a mad scramble between managers to sign them.”

Gabby Hartnett

Gabby Hartnett

Dizzy Dean, Chicago Cubs: “If some of the colored players I’ve played against were given a chance to play in the majors they’d be stars as soon as they joined up.”

Pepper Martin, St. Louis Cardinals: “Some of the big league players would object, but on the whole I think they would be accepted.”

Pie Traynor, Pittsburgh Pirates: “believe me when I say I have seen countless numbers of Negro ball players who could have made the grade in the majors.  Only their color kept them out.  If given permission, I would certainly use a Negro player who had the ability.”

Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates:  “Yes, down through the years I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

Over the next five years, Smith would interview more than 150 additional major leaguers, who would echo the sentiments of his original 40, keeping the pressure on professional baseball to desegregate.

“Shows Big Leaguers how to Catch Flies”

15 May

During the summer of 1921, The Washington Times told their readers about a new figure seen working out with the Senators at Griffith Stadium. who “caused no little comment among fans.”

Under the headline: “Shows Big Leaguers how to Catch Flies.” The Times said:

“Big things as a ballplayer are predicted for Walter Morris, twelve years old…Walter is pronounced by members of the Washington team a natural-born ball player.  With the crack of the bat, he starts skinning in the general direction of the sphere’s destination and seems to get there just in time, without apparent effort to remove the old apple from the atmosphere.”

Walter Morris, the Senators 12-year-old phenom

Walter Morris, the Senators 12-year-old phenom

Outfielder Bing Miller told the paper:

“That kid shows a lot of talent.”

[…]

“Bing lives in Walter’s neighborhood and takes an interest in him.  His attention was attracted by the lad’s performances on the neighborhood sand lots.  Groundskeeper (Reddy) O’Day also is a neighbor and Walter Johnson lives not far away, all of which accounts largely for young Morris’ privileges at the ballpark.  Sometimes Johnson drives the kid to the game in his auto.”

Morris' ride, Walter Johnson

Morris’ ride, Walter Johnson

Despite the high expectations for the 12-year-old, Walter Morris would never play for the Senators or anyone else.

He traded baseball for academics;  Morris was a professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore from 1949 until 1971.  He died in Maryland in 1991.

Walter Morris--post baseball at Goucher College.

Walter Morris–post-baseball, teaching at Goucher College.

“Babe Ruth has a Locker full of Charms”

13 May

Eddie Collins had spent 25 years in the major leagues as a player, coach and manager by 1930 when he spoke to a writer for “Every Week Magazine” about superstitions.

Eddie Collins

Eddie Collins

The article noted:

“Collins, by the way, has been credited with being one of the most superstitious players in the national game.  His habit of sticking a piece of chewing gum on the button of his cap has almost become a tradition.  If the pitcher had two strikes on him, Eddie would jerk off the cap, yank the gum from the bottom, stick it in his mouth and chew violently.”

But, Collins, a graduate of Columbia University, didn’t consider himself superstitious and told the magazine:

 “The average man playing professional baseball today is too well-educated actually to believe you can make home runs by picking up hairpins or adopting any of the other numerous superstitions which have come to be so much part of the game. “

As for the obvious superstitions he and many other players, educated or not, subscribed to, Collins said they were merely “eccentricities,” and that “Having them gives confidence.”

That said:

“The late George Stallings was one of the most sensible men baseball has produced.  He was the personification of common sense and one of the last persons in the world you would credit with being superstitious.  Nevertheless, a single scrap of paper tossed on the ground in front of the dugout meant all sorts of bad things to George. It upset him completely and his managerial skill seemed to fade.”

George Stallings

George Stallings

Joe Sewell of the Cleveland Indians was another “college man,” someone who “generally loses any belief in omens.”  But, Sewell “after his last crack at the bat during practice” insisted on running towards third and touching the bag before anyone else did.  One day in Cleveland, the too educated to be superstitious Sewell started towards third, only to see Collins, also too educated to believe in superstitions, had:

“(D)ashed out of the Athletics’ dugout and touched the sack ahead of Joe and Joe didn’t get a hit during the afternoon.”

Joe Sewell

Joe Sewell

Next was Urban Shocker, who insisted no one touched his glove during a game.  Despite being “too wise a man to believe” such a thing, Collins told how during a game against the Athletics, “Eddie Rommel spotted the glove and knowing Shocker’s eccentric regard for it, walked over and picked it up, examined it and then tossed it back on the turf.”  The “too wise” Shocker:

“(S)aw red.  He became visibly unsettled.  He blew up the next inning.”

As for the game’s biggest star:

Babe Ruth has a locker full of charms, fetishes and tokens; fastened to the door is a wooden horseshoe with a four-leaf clover carved on it, and on top stands a totem pole and other curious objects guaranteed by enthusiastic donors to bring luck.”

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

Collins said the previous season when the Athletics were on their way to Chicago for game 3 of the World Series with the Cubs:

“(T)here was a fan on the train with us  who had a great fondness for canned pineapple.  He insisted the players eat some the morning of the game predicting we’d win if we did.  Well, we did, and we won.”

Collins said he, and the rest of the Athletics, too smart for superstition:

“Had pineapple every morning the rest of the series.”

The Definitive Cobb Biography

11 May

Myths.  Baseball books are full of them.

Perhaps the most enduring myths are about Ty Cobb.  A prototype of a villain in spikes from central casting:  Dirty player– check, virulent racist—check, miserly and bitter in old age—check.

That is the Ty Cobb cemented into our consciousness.

So much so in fact, it is difficult to find a discussion on the internet regarding the merits of Pete Rose’s case for the Hall of Fame without a member of the pro-Rose faction, at some point, making the “Yeah, but Ty Cobb did (fill in the blank)” argument.

Or, as Charles Leerhsen puts it, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” (which will be released tomorrow), “This Cobb was someone (fans) could shake their heads at, denounce, and feel superior to.”

cobb

 

The clues were there that Cobb might just be more than the sum of the single-dimensional parts previous biographies claimed to reveal.

Not long ago, I wrote about Cobb’s embrace of fellow Royston, Georgia native, and former Negro League player and newspaperman Fred Downer at Wrigley Field in 1953—the same day Cobb spoke glowingly to reporters about Dodgers’ catcher Roy Campanella.

No less an authority than Wendell Smith—the legendary reporter from The Pittsburgh Courier who by then had joined The Chicago Herald-American as the first black sportswriter at a white-owned paper—said after that day at Wrigley that reports of Cobb’s racism were always “merely a matter of hearsay,” and “He gives no indication today of intolerance.”

Yet, the hearsay has always outpaced the reality; until now.

Through exhaustive research and a compelling narrative, Leerhsen demonstrates that the one-dimensional Cobb of lore is, at best, a caricature.   The stories that have been told and retold for years about racially motivated physical attacks were poorly sourced and greatly exaggerated.  Statements like the one about Campanella and several that Leerhsen has compiled were ignored.

The author even manages to add context to the often told stories of the death of Cobb’s father and Cobb’s relationship with mascot Ulysses Harrison (bonus points here because unlike many of the versions of this story elsewhere he gets Harrison’s name correct).

Leehrsen’s three-dimensional Cobb is more interesting than the one presented previously.  This Cobb was quick to anger, perhaps overly sensitive, certainly no less flawed than many of his contemporaries, but more complex, more introspective and much more difficult to shake our heads at.

An excellent read, well worth your time.

“The Game is Stricter and Better now”

8 May

Honus Wagner was an exception.  Unlike most of his contemporaries, he didn’t spend his later years complaining that the game was just not the same and that current players would not be able to compete with the stars of his era.

Financially strapped as a result of the Depression, Wagner was offered a job by the Pittsburgh Pirates to join Manager George Gibson’s staff.   While in California with the team for spring training he spoke to Russell Newland of The Associated Press.   Wagner said:

“We’ve got more good players than we ever had.  That’s because there are more strong leagues.  The game is stricter and better now.  You can’t bully the umpire any more.  The boys used to be a rough and ready lot.  Now the umpire is a real authority and it’s all for the best.”

Wagner

Pirates Coach Honus Wagner

Wagner also felt that pitchers had to work harder than they did when he played:

“Our pitchers had the advantage of a dead ball and used the spitter, the shine ball and the emery ball.  They worked the old bean ball overtime.  All that’s out now.  Nowadays a pitcher has to throw a lot more balls.  He has to work the corners because that lively ball sure sails when the boys get one in the groove.  Actually he pitches a couple of games in nine innings, compared to the chuckers of my day.”

Wagner had no complaints about the comparatively large money stars like Babe Ruth were paid either:

“That $50,000 they’re offering the Babe reads like a lot of money to me, but if he can get them to raise it, I say ‘more power to him.’”

Wagner was also optimistic about baseball’s future:

“’Baseball is O.K.,’ he said as he crossed the most famous pair of bow legs in the history of the pastimes.  ‘They’ll be playing it a long time from now.”

Fullerton on Drinking

6 May

At the beginning of the 1914 season, The Chicago Examiner’s Hugh Fullerton attempted to determine the impact of drinking on performance on the diamond.

“Boys, here is another temperance lecture in baseball averages.  It isn’t an argument or a statement of principles. Of course, we all know that a bottle of beer once in a while ‘ain’t never going to do no one no harm.’  I think during the last twenty years four or five hundred ballplayers have confided that information to me.  So it ought to be true.”

Hugh Fullerton

Hugh Fullerton

Fullerton said he had compiled a list of players who were drinkers.

 “I took an even twenty of these fellows. Then I took 14 players who to my certain knowledge do not drink at all.  I jotted down the batting and fielding averages of these men using no pitchers or catchers, for six years (1907-1913), and made a composite average.  Here are the figures:
drinkersnondrinkers

“Then it occurred to me perhaps there may be some dope to show how drink acts upon pitchers.  Here are the composite averages of then men, their percentage of victories for five years:

drinkersnondrinkerspitchers

“Possibly I have picked some pitchers lucky enough to be with winning clubs; and some drinkers unlucky enough to be with losers.  As a matter of fact, one fellow on the drink side has been with a winning team and he boosts the averages of his fellows.”

A photo of baseball's premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton's story.

A photo of baseball’s premier teetotaler Eddie Collins appeared with Fullerton’s story.

His conclusion:

“Maybe these figures prove that a bottle of beer once in awhile ‘ain’t goin’ to hurt no one.” Anyhow, there are the figures.  Either the wets or the drys may use them.”

“If Baseball is really the National Game let the Club Owners go out and prove it”

4 May

Haywood Broun, columnist for The New York World-Telegram, shook up the annual Baseball Writers Association dinner in February of 1933.  The Pittsburgh Courier said Broun “struck out boldly in advocacy of admitting Negroes to the charmed circle of big leagues.”

Heywood Campbell Broun

Heywood Broun

Broun said (and later wrote in The World-Telegram):

“I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.

“Why in the name of fair play and gate receipts should professional baseball be so exclusive?”

[…]

“The introduction of a few star Negro ball players would do a great deal to revivify interest in the big leagues.  It would attract a number of colored rooters. And it would be a fair and square thing.  If baseball is really the national game let the club owners go out and prove it.”

Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News said he polled the dinner guests after Broun’s remarks:

“I made an informal tour around the tables asking club owners and players their reactions to Broun’s little talk.  I was amazed at the sentiment in favor of the idea.”

Powers claimed that Yankees owner Jacob Rupert, St. Louis Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey, and Babe Ruth were all in support of Broun’s statement.   John McGraw the dinner’s guest of honor—he had resigned as manager of the New Giants the previous summer due to his failing health—was, according to Powers, “The only prominent man present vetoing” the idea.

John McGraw

John McGraw vetoed the idea

 

Salem Tutt Whitney, a prominent star of the black vaudeville circuit, commented on McGraw in the pages of The Chicago Defender:

“John McGraw and his Giants have been the idols of the Colored baseball fans.  Whenever and wherever there had been talk about the color line in major league baseball, the Colored fans were a unit that declared that if John McGraw could have his way there would be no color line.  ‘Didn’t he play (Charlie) Grant at second base on the Giants!’  ‘Look how long he employed a Colored trainer (Ed Mackall)!’”

[…]

 “It is my opinion that if the Colored baseball fans of Harlem are not convinced that Mr. McGraw has nothing more to do with the Giants, there will be a lack of personal color in bleachers and stands at the Giants’ stadium this summer.”

Salem Tutt Whitney

Salem Tutt Whitney

Not content to simply report on Broun’s pitch for integration, Powers made his own:

“I would like to make a case for the colored baseball player.  In football, Duke Slater, Fritz Pollard and Paul Robeson and stars of similar complexion played with and against the cream of Nordic colleges.  Eddie Tolan, Ralph Metcalfe and Phil Edwards have conducted themselves in a gentlemanly—not to mention championship—fashion.  Boxing has known Joe Gans, Sam Langford, Joe Walcott and Tiger Flowers.  There are only three popular sports in which the dark-skinned athletes are snubbed—tennis, golf and baseball.”

The New York Age approved:

“Here’s hoping all the other big white sportswriters have the courage of Jimmy Powers.”

Chester Washington, a sports writer at The Pittsburgh Courier announced that the paper was launching “A symposium of opinion, coming from outstanding figures in baseball circles,” designed to demonstrate a broad coalition of support for integration.

The Courier reported “The first of these statements,” in response to Washington’s outreach the following week—and it was a rather incredible one from John Heydler, president of the National League, who said:

“Beyond the fundamental requirement that a major league player must have unique ability and good character and habits, I do not recall one instance where baseball has allowed either race, creed or color enter into the selection of its players.”

Gerald Nugent “aggressive young owner of the Phillies,” was next to respond to The Courier:

“Nugent calls attention to the fact that no ‘color line’ is drawn on the dollars which are spent by colored and white fans for admissions in the various big-league parks…He further declares that the average colored semi-pro league player is better than his white brother in the same category.”

Support continued to come.  Chicago White Sox President J. Louis Comiskey:

“You can bet your last dime that I’ll never refuse to hire a great athlete simply because he isn’t the same color of some other player on my team if the alleged bar is lifted.”

While Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis did not respond to The Courier, his right-hand man, Leslie O’Connor said “(T)here isn’t any rule which keeps colored players out.”  But, like Heydler, he made the incredible claim that “the subject of Negro ball players had never been brought up,” among the Major League Advisory Council.

Based on the initial responses, William Goldwyn Nunn, The Courier’s managing editor, expressed great, if premature, optimism:

“And the color will be black!

“As sure as the Ides of March are approaching, there’s going to be some added color in the Major Leagues.  AND, THAT COLOR WILL BE BLACK!”

Meanwhile Jimmy Powers quoted Lou Gehrig and Herb Pennock of the Yankees and Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals in The Daily News, all said they were “open-minded,” about the possibility integration.

pennock

Pennock “Open-minded”

 

Two more prominent sportswriters came out in support:  Dan Parker of The New York Daily Mirror, and Gordon Mackay, who had been sports editor of three Philadelphia papers—The Enquirer, The Press and The Public Ledger.

And then, as abruptly as it began, the movement died.

Despite the brief groundswell of support, by the time the major league season opened Alvin J. Moses, another writer for The Courier admonished the papers readers:

“Aren’t you somewhat ashamed of yourselves that you haven’t seen fit to spare the time to flood (the paper) with letters that cry out against these NEGROPHOBES who for more than half a century have kept Negro ballplayers out of league competition?

“The cry of ‘Play Ball, Play Ball, Play Ball?’ is heard today in hundreds of parks the county over, and baseball statisticians have figured to show more than 40,000,000 fans walk past the turnstiles.  But what does that cry mean to you, and you, and you? Well, I’ll tell you—absolutely nothing.”

 

 

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