“Three or four Men who looked like Wonders in the Big Leagues Disappeared”

13 Jan

In 1912 The Cincinnati Times- Star‘s Sports Editor William A. Phelon questioned why professional baseball had not become integrated:

“The prejudice against the Negro ballplayer is a strange and a deep-rooted thing in baseball circles, and all through the country, little leagues and big, from Maine to Mexico, the prejudice holds sway.  The African is barred from the places where the Indian is royally welcome and the athlete of negro blood must not presume to mingle in white baseball society.

“Strange to say, the white ball players, even the haughty southerners like (Ty) Cobb and (George) Suggs will gladly play games against Cuban clubs, composed mostly of black men.  They will play exhibition games against Negro teams, treating the black men with the utmost cordiality and fairness, but will not tolerate Negros in their own crowds or in the white clubs of the same circuits.”

Phelon said Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker’s short stay with the Toledo Blue Stockings demonstrated that even the most bigoted of teammates could manage to work with a good player—even if they treated him unreasonably:

 “Formerly there were a few clever Negro ball players in the big leagues, one of the best being Walker, a black catcher who was as good behind the bat as any white man of his time.  It was said of Walker that when he was catching Tony Mullane, the latter refused to stand for a Negro giving him battery signs.  Walker then agreed to work without a battery sign of any kind, and the battery of Mullane and Walker proved one of the most successful of the season.”

Walker and James “Deacon” McGuire were the team’s two primary catchers, each playing 41 games behind the plate.  Mullane was 36-26 in 67 games (the team was 10-32 in games Mullane did not figure in the decision).

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Thirty-five years later Mullane told The New York Age that Walker was the “best catcher I ever worked with.” He said:

“I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.  One day he signaled me for a curve and I shot a fast ball at him.  He caught it and walked down to me.

“’Mr. Mullane,’ he said, ‘I’ll catch you without signals, but I won’t catch you if you are going to cross me when I give you signal.’

“And all the rest of that season he caught me and caught anything I pitched without knowing what was coming.”

tonymullane

Tony Mullane

Phelon also suggested that more than one player since Walker had managed to pass for a short period of time before being found out:

 “Now and then a Negro man has slipped over the bars, passing himself off as a suntanned white man or Indian, but sooner or later he has been unmasked and quietly vanished from the game, doubtless to turn up under some different name, with one of the strong Negro teams that tour the country.

“Three or four men who, for a little while, looked like wonders in the big leagues disappeared in that way and to this day fans marvel why such clever athletes should have quit and left no word behind.  Some of these players were so near white that they fooled the Northern athletes completely, but almost every ball club now contains two or three sons of Dixie, and you can barely deceive them on a Negro.”

Phelon also told the story of a first baseman who “broke into one of the major clubs, and he was a corker.  He could hit and run and field like a demon.”  He claimed that during a game in Washington a Virginia congressman recognized the player as a “black scoundrel” trying to pass as white, thus ending his career.

Unfortunately, Phelon left no clues about the players he claimed briefly “slipped over the bars” and there’s no way to verify whether his claims were legitimate or simply apocrypha indented to make a point.

The idea of players “passing” has intrigued historians.  Claims have been made about several players, including George Treadway and George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  None have been verified.

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3 Responses to ““Three or four Men who looked like Wonders in the Big Leagues Disappeared””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Alternate Realities | Baseball History Daily - February 26, 2014

    […] of his most explosive episodes of his umpiring career involved a run in with Reds pitcher Tony Mullane in Cincinnati. The incident took place at the end of a 7 to 4 loss to the Chicago White Stockings […]

  2. “You are mostly Fakes, and yet I love you all!” | Baseball History Daily - March 19, 2014

    […] regarding drunken pranks Foster was alleged to have played on Cap Anson—became so ubiquitous that William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star  said in […]

  3. Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #11 | Baseball History Daily - September 22, 2014

    […] (Joe) Gerhardt, (Buck) Ewing and (John Montgomery) Ward of the New York Club, $3,000 each.  (Tony) Mullane was to have played for the Cincinnati Club for $4,000 (Mullane was suspended for signing with […]

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