“King of the Sandlots”

13 Aug

Not every baseball legend had a long professional career.

“King of the Sandlots” and “Pittsburgh’s Satchel Paige” is what they called Ralph “Felix” Mellix when the former Negro League and barnstorming pitcher announced his retirement from the Semi-pro 18th Ward Team in Pittsburgh’s South Hills League.  Mellix retired every year for a decade only to return again the next season until he was 60.

Ralph “Felix” Mellix

 Almost all of the statistics compiled by Mellix are lost to history, “officially” Mellix appeared in two professional games in his late 30s, one for the Newark Dodgers in 1934 and another the following season for the Homestead Grays, posting an undistinguished ERA of 12.54. Mellix was said to have spent short stints with the Chicago American Giants in 1915 and the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the early 30s, where he was said to be Paige’s roommate, but no records exist of his time with either team.  He pitched for the Crawfords a few times in the 40s in exhibition games, including one against the Chicago Brown Bombers in Milwaukee in 1944.

Like many African American players who began their careers during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Mellix barnstormed and played semi-pro ball for most of his career.  Mellix toured with Jesse Owens when the Olympic Heroes’ was barnstorming with his Toledo Crawfords in 1939.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1896, Mellix began playing for his father’s Mellix A.C. Stars semi-pro team at 12 years old.  Mellix began his career as a pitcher in 1915 and spent the next 40 years pitching in an estimated 1500 games, winning more than 600 according to James A. Riley in his book The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro League Baseball Leagues.

Mellix starred for the powerful Brown’s Colored Stars team in Youngstown Ohio during the mid-20s, sharing mound duties with George Brannigan and Admiral Walker, who also had short professional careers in Negro League baseball.

Brown’s Colored Stars 1924

At the close of his semi-pro career in Pittsburgh, Mellix continued to barnstorm, billing himself as “Baseball’s Oldest Pitcher,” including an appearance with Paige at Forbes Field in 1965 when Paige was traveling with the New York Stars.

Mellix will never haves a bust in Cooperstown, but the Hall of Fame does include his papers and mementos, including a 1946 contract offer from the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, Joe Hall’s Hillsdale Club transplanted to Brooklyn at the behest of Branch Rickey.  Mellix, employed by the city of Pittsburgh, said he didn’t want to jeopardize his pension to play pro ball at 49 years of age.

Mellix remained a legend in Pittsburgh until his death on March 23, 1985.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s