“Did They Send him any Flowers?”

13 Dec

In 1927, W. Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier called Chappie Johnson “one of four men who have been real managers in colored baseball.”  Johnson, he explained, did his own “booking, financing, and directing,” in addition to managing his clubs on the field.

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Chappie Johnson

Johnson, who began playing his playing career with the Page Fence Giants in 1895, was also a former player who didn’t insist that the game must have been better in his youth because that’s how he chose to remember it.  He told Wilson:

“I am an old-timer myself, but the game today would be too fast for the men who started out with me and before me.  These men now are more highly trained and the game has a greater technique.  Things are done now, plays are pulled that would never have been thought of in the nineties.  These days there is smart pitching and scientific batting, and a few years back base-running reached its highest development.  Frank Grant is the only batter of those ancient times who could hold his own now, I’ll venture to say.  George Wilson of the Page Fence Giants was the only pitcher who would have a look-in.  Then they made no study of the game of the players.  Now the boys learn to play while in grade schools and baseball has become a profession.  There were no smart managers then which is evidenced by the fact that none of the old boys is in harness.”

Johnson acknowledged that he was the exception—a player from his era now managed–but said that was because:

“I am also owner of the club.”

Johnson gave much of the credit for the progress the game had made in the previous two decades to John W. Connors, the restaurant owner who formed the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1904 and had died on July 9, 1926 at 51 after suffering a stroke:

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John W. Connors

“The Negro baseball player lost his best friend when John Connors died last summer.  He was really the father of modern Negro baseball and did more for players than anyone else ever did or ever will.”

Johnson, who played for Connors, chided players for not recognizing the debt they owed the former owner (the inability of the press to figure out the correct spelling of Connors’ name is evident in this article as his name is spelled alternately Connor and Connors within the same paragraph—it also often appeared as Conner), :

“He made it possible for them to get a living wage and forced the other owners to meet his prices or lose their stars.  Did they say anything when he passed on?  Did they send him any flowers?  Not yet! Everyone who knew him loved him—save the players, and they should have been willing to give their life’s blood to keep him living.”

Conner’s death had been covered in the black press, but Johnson felt he had not received the credit he deserved:

“He started the Brooklyn Royal Giants as a sandlot team and named them for the Royal Cafe in Brooklyn and then made them a salaried outfit.”

Johnson said when Nat Strong took over ownership of the club in 1913:

“(T)he Royals never knew the glory that was theirs when Connors had them.”

Johnson credited Connors for stating the first Negro League games in the Polo Grounds “and the old Highlanders’ park on Broadway,” as well as being the only owner to provide his players with three uniforms, “including coats and sweaters.”

He said:

“John Connors wanted everyone to look nice and have the best of things to work with.”

Johnson said Connors, who owned a stake in the Bacharach Giants from 1919-1921, had intended to return to Negro League baseball:

“(B)ut death ruled otherwise.  Do you know that in New York he left three sets of uniforms already made up for his new team?”

Then, as was The Courier’s routine when interviewing past players, Wilson asked Johnson to name his all-time team:

“I’ll pick you one and will challenge anyone to name a better outfit. On this team of my choosing there will be nothing but smart men…Here’s your team and note that old-timers are few and far between:

Pitchers: George Wilson, Nip Winters, Phil Cockrell, Rats Henderson, Rube Foster, Joe Williams, Bullet Rogan

Catchers:  Biz Mackey, Bruce Petway, George Dixon

1B:  Ray Wilson

2B: John Henry Lloyd

SS: Dick Lundy

3B: Oliver Marcelle

Utility: John Beckwith

OF: Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Jesse Barber, Cristobal Torriente

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John Henry Lloyd

Of Lloyd’s inclusion at second base rather than shortstop, Johnson said:

“John Henry Lloyd stands out as the greatest second baseman of all time, and he is supreme player at that bag yet.  Of course, he made his greatest reputation as a shortstop, but I always thought second base was here he belonged.”

Johnson invited any of The Courier’s readers to reach him through the paper if they wanted to argue his choices:

“Why, I could clean up the National League, the American League , the Epworth League with that bunch of ball hounds.

“G’bye.  I’ll be seein’ yuh.”

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