By 1908, Andrew “Rube” Foster was probably the best known African-American pitcher in the country. The previous season, he and Pete Hill had jumped Sol White’s Philadelphia Giants to join the Leland Giants of Chicago, turning the Leland’s into a powerhouse.
As was the custom, the Leland Giants would play a number of games against small town teams when traveling to and from games against other professional teams and their 21 games against other National Independent Clubs teams.
In August of 1908, The Freeman related a story (apocryphal perhaps, but a good story nonetheless) about one of those small town games.
“On their way back from Cleveland, where they had been playing an engagement, they had an agreement to play a little ‘woods town’ team called ‘The Cow Boys,’ The contract called for the great Rube Foster to pitch.”
The story goes on to say that Foster noticed upon arriving that the locals knew him on sight. Scheduled to pitch against a better team the following day, Foster instructed his team to begin calling the team’s catcher, James “Pete” Booker (who also jumped to the Leland’s from Philadelphia), “Foster.”
The story continues:
“Booker went in to pitch and Foster did the catching. It worked fine, score 23-0. The Cow Boys were more than delighted, as they had gotten five hits during the game…Everything went well until a commercial traveler who knows each player on the Leland Giants very well remarked ‘My friends, had Foster pitched that game he would have struck out every man.’ The whole town was in a rage in a little while, and it was a good thing the Lelands (sic) didn’t stop for supper, for those country people would have broke that team up.”
Hall of Famers Foster and Hill have been written about extensively and their prominent place in Dead Ball era Negro League Baseball is firmly established. Less has been written about Booker, overshadowed by Hall of Famer Louis Santop and Bruce Petway (arguably the best defensive catcher ever, whose presence with the Leland’s in 1910 pushed Booker to first base), he was an excellent hitter and solid defensively behind the plate and at first.