“Three of the Greatest Pitchers the Game ever has Produced”

15 Jul

In 1915, Frank G. Menke, who wrote for the Heart Newspaper’s International News Service told readers:

“The color line drawn so tightly around major league baseball has barred from major league fields three of the greatest pitchers the game ever has produced.”

The three were John Donaldson, Frank Wickware, and Jose Mendez.

In May, Donaldson, who pitched for the All Nations, had thrown 30 consecutive no-hit innings against Kansas City based semi-pro clubs.

Sketchy contemporary accounts with some transposed numbers in newspaper articles seem to have led to confusion about Donaldson’s feat in later years: some sources claim the streak was over two games—a regulation contest and a 21-inning game , but it appears from the earliest reports in The Kansas City Times and The Indianapolis Freeman that he pitched a nine-inning and 12-inning no-hitter against the Schmelzers, a powerful semi-pro club sponsored by the Schmelzer Arms Sporting Goods Company in Kansas City and another no-hitter against a team called the KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) All-Stars.  (Later in the summer of 1915, Schmelzers became the sponsor of the All Nations after the club lost their original sponsor, Hopkins Brothers Sporting Goods).

John Donaldson

John Donaldson

Menke quoted New York Giants Manager John McGraw’s assessment of the All Nations’ star after having watched him pitch in Cuba:

“If Donaldson were a white man, or if the unwritten law of baseball didn’t bar Negroes from the major leagues, I would give $50,000 for him—and think I was getting a bargain.”

Menke said of Wickware of the Chicago American Giants:

“(He) is another Negro pitcher who would rank with the Walter Johnsons, Joe Woods and Grover Alexanders if he were a white man…Wickware has marvelous speed, a weird set of curves and wonderful control.  And he has a trick that has made him feared among batters.  He throws what seems like a ‘bean ball,’ but his control is so perfect that he never yet has hit a batter in the head.  But when the batters see the ball, propelled with mighty force, come for their heads, they jump away, and the ball, taking its proper and well-timed curve, arches over the plate for a strike.”

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The final pitcher on Menke’s list was Mendez,  another member of the All Nations:

“He’s known as “The Black Matty” and his work has been almost as brilliant as that of “The Big Six” of the Giants.  Mendez is only of medium height (5′ 9”), but he has terrific power in his arm.

“The Cuban Negro has a canny brain and he always has used it.  He has mixed his fastball with his slow one, has an assortment of beautiful curves and perfect control…Like Mathewson, he never pitches air-tight ball unless he has to.  He conserves his strength.  But when he needs to pitch hitless ball he does it.  When he needs to strike out a man he usually succeeds.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Incredibly, a story about three pitchers who deserved notice by the major leagues written by an influential white sportswriter received barely a notice in the black press.

The Indianapolis Freeman ran the story with no further comment, and no mention of who wrote the original story, simply attributing it to The Indiana Daily Times which had run Menke’s piece.

The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier ignored the story entirely.  The New York Age didn’t mention Menke’s story, but the same week did make a pitch for black players—not with the positive portrayal of three great pitchers as Menke had done, but by highlighting the bad behavior of some major leaguers.

Lester Aglar Walton, who wrote about baseball and theater for The Age and later became the United States Ambassador to Liberia, said:

“(I)f baseball magnates are not color prejudiced can it be that they have misgivings as to how Negro players would conduct themselves on and off the field if permitted to play in the big leagues?  However, if this is their chief cause of concern and the stumbling block in the way of crack Negro players, big league managers should be reminded of the Ty Cobbs, Larry McLeans and others who have distinguished themselves by acts of ruffianism on and off the diamond.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

Walton related the story of McLean’s recent fight with Giants Manager John McGraw and coach “Sinister” Dick Kinsella in the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis.

“(H)ad McLean been a colored player the incident in St. Louis would have brought about the disbarment of all Negroes from hotels in St. Louis—had a policy of accommodating Negroes existed.”

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

Walton also noted that when white teams met black teams on the field after the regular season, “The mixing of the races does not provoke racial conflicts and the best of feelings exist” among the players.

Then, he asked the men who owned major league clubs:

“The question is therefore put up to big league magnates that if the Indian with his dark skin and the Cuban are permitted to play in the big leagues, and if there is not the least possibility of the record for ruffianism established by the Ty Cobbs and Larry McLeans being eclipsed, why not give the Negro player a chance?”

As would be the case for three more decades, there was no reply.

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4 Responses to ““Three of the Greatest Pitchers the Game ever has Produced””

  1. prspyhal July 15, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    Reblogged this on southernminnybaseball and commented:
    Jose Mendez and John Donaldson appeared numerous times throughout Southern Minnesota, playing in Austin in 1913 and 1914 including one more of Donaldson’s no hitters.

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