“Whose American Giants?”

27 May

Robert “Judy” Gans played for Negro League teams  from 1908 through the mid-1920s, and was later a manager and umpire; he is probably most famous for being the source of Judy Johnson’s nickname, the Hall of Famer said the two were teammates on a semi-pro team in 1920 and picked up the sobriquet because of his resemblance to the older player.

Gans liked to tell a story about about playing for Rube Foster with the Chicago American Giants in 1914.

gans

Gans

The story, first told to Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier in 1929 and later to Lewis Dials from The New York Age in 1936, was substantially the same–although he added some embellishments after six years. Lewis wrote in 1936:

“Gans had been starring down East when Rube sent for him to come to Chicago and play for him. In a game with a group of white league stars, the Giants were trailing 1-0 with a man on second and a sloppy field, the late Rube instructed Judy to bunt and get the runner on third. The opposing pitcher lobbed one up and Gans hit it for a home run, winning the game 2 to 1. Rabid fans tossed money of all descriptions on the field to Judy, who collected it and counted $136.”

In the 1929 version, Gans added a few details–the game took place while the American Giants were barnstorming the West Coast, Bruce Petway was the runner at second, and Portland Beavers pitcher Irv Higginbottom was on the mound.

The amount collected from the fans also changed–in 1929, he said it was $87.50, with an additional “fifty dollar bill” handed to him by George Moore; Moore was an African-American hotel owner in Portland who became a prominent boxing promoter and manager–he was most famous for managing Henry Armstrong at the end of his career.

Gans was told after the game that he would be riding back to the hotel in Foster’s car—in the 1929 version Foster told him in the dugout to ride back to the hotel with him.

“Judy said his chest poked out as he had made a big hit with his new boss. Seated in the car with Rube made Gans feel big until Foster broke the silence with a query, ‘Where did you play ball?’ To which Just proudly replied, ‘Down East with all the good clubs.’”

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Foster

In the 1929 version, Gans said Foster asked him about playing for the Lincoln Giants, “How did you like working for Sol White down East? Any discipline down there?”

Gans answered that discipline was “so-so” under White.

“Rube then asked, ‘What team are you playing for now?’ And Judy replied, ‘The American Giants.’ Rube said, “Whose American Giants?’ And Judy replied, ‘Rube Foster’s’. ‘That’s what I thought, how much did you get for hitting that home run?’ Gans told him the sum and Rube said it was some hit alright but add fifty dollars to that $136 you got and it will pay your fine. Judy asked what fine. Rube said it was failure to carry out instructions.”

Foster told Gans:

“’Men on my club play ball like Rube Foster tells them, or it would not be Rube Foster’s American Giants.’

“Judy played as he was told after that, and at the end of the season Rube refunded the money.”

In the 1929 version, Gans did not get the money back and was told by Foster:

“’Well, boy, let papa tell you something. If the Giants had lost the game today, the papers would have been full of what happened to Rube Foster’s team. I am the manager of the club. I told you to lay down and you hit a home run…now the next time I tell you to bunt, you’ll remember that won’t you?’”

Whether he received the money back or not, Gans, according to Dial “pins the medal of a great leader” on Foster.

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