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Segregation and Spring Training, 1961

11 Apr

Will Grimsley was a New York based sportswriter for The Associated Press for nearly forty years; he covered 35 World Series and at least that many spring training’s.

Before teams opened their camps in 1961, he reported on segregated living arrangement.

Grimsley introduced readers to the woman who housed the Milwaukee Braves

“Mrs. K. W. Gibson’s boarding house at 211 Ninth Avenue is a modest, spotlessly clean two-story dwelling which stands out in the dilapidated Negro section of Bradenton.

“Mrs. Gibson prides herself on “setting the best table in town.”

“The tiny, gray-haired matron for years has been house mother for Negro members of the Milwaukee Braves baseball team.  ‘I’ve treated them like my own sons,’ she said.

“At Mrs. Gibson’s place, the Negro players have basic comfort and ‘eat high on the hog’ as the saying goes.  Yet, they sleep two to a room; queue up for use of the two bathrooms and sometime bicker over the choice of a television program on the single set in the living room.”

Hank Aaron said:

“Sometimes the place is so crowded they have two guys sleeping in the hall.  You wake up in the morning and rush for the bathroom and if you’re the last one all the hot water is gone.”

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Mr. and Mrs. K.W. Gibson in their Bradenton home.

Grimsley said of their teammates’ accommodations:

“The white members of the team meanwhile have headquartered in a Bradenton motel. This year they move into a new motel in the center of town—glistening glass and stone, wall-to-wall carpeting, private baths, television sets and a modern central dining area”

“Aaron, Wes Covington and Andre Rodgers have been most outspoken in criticism of Jim Crow treatment.”

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Aaron and Covington

Duffy Lewis, traveling secretary of the Braves, expressed shock that Aaron and some of his teammates were not thrilled with the situation:

“Why, we thought they had an ideal setup and we’ve never heard a fuss.  That Mrs. Gibson sets the best table I’ve ever seen.  I’ve eaten there myself.”

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Braves in Bradenton

Grimsley conducted “A reporter’s survey” of each team’s spring training quarters with details provided by the teams and/or their spring training hotels. He said hotel managers were, “generally jumpy and gun-shy on the issue but many (were) ready to acknowledge that the problem soon must be met head on—maybe next year.”

Some highlights:

Yankees:  “Have trained at St. Petersburg for years.  The Soreno, a resort hotel, has politely said ‘no’ to Yankee owner Dan Topping’s request that all players…be housed ‘under one roof.”

Tigers: “Local ordinance in Lakeland, FL forbids four Negro players to stay at club headquarters, New Florida Hotel.

Athletics:  General Manager Frank Lane told Grimsley “We are not spearheading any political movements,” when asked why Bob Boyd, the only African-American with the club would not be staying with the rest of the team at the George Washington Hotel in West Palm Beach, FL.

Reds:  “Eight Negros on roster to be housed and fed in private homes, not at team headquarters at Floridian Hotel, Tampa.  Both club and hotel said they never had difficulty and not rocking the boat.”

Pirates:  “Headquarters at Bradford Hotel, Fort Myers, FL.  ‘We don’t anticipate any trouble,’ said the hotel’s resident manager, Howard Green.  ‘The colored players will get excellent accommodations in private homes.”

Phillies:  “Again will stay at Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.  General Manager John Quinn wants all players in same hotel, but no immediate prospect.”

Twins:  “Five Negro players to be housed in new motel, while headquarters will be Cheery Plaza in Orlando, FL”

Senators:  “(T)o train at Pompano Beach, FL. The chamber of commerce is working on housing which will be segregated.”

White Sox: “Bill Veeck, president, is negotiating with Sarasota, FL., civic leaders to have six Negro players…stay with rest of team at Sarasota Terrace.  Negroes likely will wind up at motel.”

Orioles: “McAlister Hotel in Miami…says there has been no correspondence on the matter.”

According to Grimsley, the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Indians, Angels, and Red Sox all had integrated accommodations—the Dodgers—who housed all players “together at old air base in Vero Beach,” were the only team in Florida with such an arrangement.  The other five trained in Arizona and California.

Grimsley concluded:

“Next year or the year later perhaps, but not now—the baseball clubs must abide by the traditions of the people whose land they have invaded for a couple of months of each year.”

Bill Nunn Jr., sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, interviewed Aaron a week after the original story:

“’I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating that I don’t like the situation the way it now stands,’ Aaron disclosed here.  ‘I think it’s wrong for us to have to live apart from the rest of the team.’

“At the same time Aaron went out of his way to emphasize that he didn’t want the numerous Negro friends he has made in Bradenton to be offended by his stand on this matter.

“Aaron was speaking specifically of Mr. and Mrs. K. W. Gibson, the people in whose home he and members of the Braves stay while in Florida.

“’Mrs. Gibson was hurt over all the things she heard concerning our statements about Bradenton.  She thought we were being critical of her and her home.’

“’Actually that wasn’t the case at all.  We were trying to get over the point that we didn’t like being segregated against our will.  I explained all this to Mrs. Gibson.  I told her about the moral issues concerned.  I think she’s on our side now.'”

United Press International (UPI) reported the following spring that, “The Braves switched their Bradenton hotel headquarters to nearby Palmetto this spring to permit integration of their athletes.”

UPI said six clubs “still have the integration problem:” the Orioles, Tigers, Athletics, Twins, Senators, and Pirates.

Glory Thieves

6 Apr

In 1958, two men, one who had just died in a Detroit rooming house, and another, who was living in Dayton, Ohio, claimed to be former major league pitcher Jack Rowan. Rowan played for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies over parts of seven seasons from 1906-1914.

Each man had supporters who claimed he was the “real” Rowan.

The Dayton Rowan died in 1966—the question of who was the “real” Rowan died with him.

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Jack Rowan

In the end, one man had his greatest achievement stolen from him, and the other was the vilest of thieves; stealing an achievement and a legacy from someone who had earned it.

When someone erroneously claims military service it is called stolen valor. Given the role of baseball in the American fabric, for one to claim to have been a professional ballplayer when they did not achieve that status makes that person a glory thief.

In “Shoeless Joe,” W.P. Kinsella introduced fiction’s best known glory thief. Eddie “Kid” Sissions claims to be “The oldest living Chicago Cub,” while he actually had only an obscure minor league career. The book’s hero, Ray Kinsella, gives Scissions a pass when his lie is discovered:

“I imagine Eddie Scissons has decided, ‘If I can’t have what I want most in life, then I’ll pretend I had it in the past, and talk about and live it and relive it until it is real and solid and I can hold it in my heart like a precious child. Once I’ve experienced it so completely, no one can ever take it away from me.’”

Kinsella and his protagonist were too forgiving.

Countless are the number of times I have had someone who never came closer than a seat in the stands at a professional game tell me they played pro ball.  More incredibly, the phenomenon persists during a time when claims of a pro career can be verified within seconds.

Over many years in Chicago I ran into dozens of claimants to a professional baseball career; mostly barstool jockeys operating during a period when everyone didn’t have easy access to the internet in their purse or pocket. There were also many imposters–for some reason utility infielders were particularly popular–I met a fake Sammy Esposito, Craig Grebeck, Paul Popovich, Alan Bannister, and Mick Kelleher among others.

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The real Sammy Esposito

When I was living in Las Vegas, the old men who sat together drinking at one of the local’s casinos told me I had to meet their friend who, they said, had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox in the mid 1960s—even said he roomed with Rico Petrocelli on the road. Their hero never seemed to be able to come over when I was around—and of course, a quick search of Baseball Reference confirmed he never played professional baseball at any level. But he has regaled two generations of credulous Las Vegans with stories of his time with the Red Sox.

And there was the contractor who told me he had played in the Royals organization in the 1980s; two basic questions about the club’s affiliates during those seasons revealed him to be a glory thief—he hadn’t bothered to do the most basic research to make his claim credible. If his ball playing ability was commensurate with the quality of his work, it is likely he never played at a level higher than Little League.

It is also very possible the middle-aged guy with a gut and a story about his professional career at your softball game is a glory thief as well. If you are playing with a former professional, you know it.

I worked at a television station in Chicago during the late 90s and played 12” softball with the morning anchorman—Mike Pomeranz. Pomeranz pitched four seasons in the minors, was once traded for Lloyd McClendon, and is now a studio host and announcer for the Padres on Fox Sports San Diego.

My one vivid memory of softball with Pomeranz was playing first base—Mike, a southpaw was playing third—he fielded a ground ball and effortlessly and flat-footed put the ball in the pocket of my glove. I walked around with a handful of ice for the rest of the day. He didn’t need to tell anyone he played pro ball.

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Mike Pomeranz

I asked John Thorn, Official Historian of Major League Baseball for his take on what kind of person pretends to have had a professional baseball career:

“Calling Dr. Freud. Self-aggrandizement always reflects an undersized ego and uncertain sense of self, as if life were to be lived from the outside.”

Dr. Freud was not available for a second opinion but Dr. Rachel Annunziato was. Annunziato, associate professor of Psychology at Fordham University said:

“I would say given how easily such claims could be debunked these days, there might be concerns about significant mental illness—delusions–and perhaps antisocial personality characteristics which can include lying and manipulating.”

Dr. Annunziato allows that for a thief like Kinsella’s “Kid” Scissions, a professional, but one who didn’t make it to the big leagues the misrepresentation is mainly tied to ego:

“I suspect too that many were ‘close’ and perhaps have modified their story over time to protect (and) bolster self-esteem.”

And, finally, because my experience with glory thieves has been limited to bar stools and social situations, I asked someone who has dealt with them professionally to tell me about his experiences with them.

Bill Deane was Senior Research Associate for the Baseball Hall of Fame from 1986-1994, and shared several great stories:

“I’d often be asked to verify that someone played minor league baseball—typically a family member or friend of the questioner. As often as not, I’d find there was no evidence of Grandpa having played professional baseball at any level, and have to come up with a tactful way of telling them so.”

Deane heard many stories about another would-be former Boston player while at the Hall of Fame:

“I frequently got calls about a Sal Rizzo, who claimed to have played for the Red Sox and set some sort of record for triple plays. The calls came from people who were considering a business venture with Rizzo. He must have been a smooth talker, because when I told them there was no such person who played major or even minor league ball, they were sure I was mistaken.”

Another of Deane’s encounters seems to fit Dr. Annunziato’s assessment that some glory thieves might be delusional:

“Another ‘former major leaguer,’ James Durler, wrote frequently, requesting copies of his big league records so he could apply for a pension. The man said he had played in the majors between 1967 and 1970, and listed his birth date (December 3, 1954), teams, positions, and other details of his career. After checking fruitlessly for any evidence that he played in the majors or even the minors, it dawned on me that the guy would have had to be 12 years old when he began his career. I wrote him back with my findings, but he continued to write every month or so, each time listing different teams with which he played and different details about his career, but always the same birth date and same range of playing years. My responses got more and more sarcastic over the years, before I finally let go of my need to answer every letter.”

More recently Keane met someone else claiming to be a former Red Sox; in this case, even the man’s wife wasn’t quite sure of the truth:

“I had a face-to-face experience with an impostor. A man moved into the Cooperstown area in 2003, and told the Town Clerk (who happened to be my wife, Pam) that he was Chuck Schilling, who played for the Red Sox from 1961-65. He said he had been Carl Yastrzemski’s roommate and told all kinds of stories about his career. Pam told me about the encounter, and I thought an interview with Schilling would make a great story for the local newspapers. I researched his career thoroughly so I would be prepared, and then I happened into him when I visited the Town building and he was there again. Pam introduced us.

“Chuck seemed older than he ought to have been, and didn’t look much like the guy I researched, but of course he’d aged 40 years since then. He went into a self-deprecating routine about his career, and how he was such good friends with Yaz. I got suspicious when I asked him a couple of questions he should have known the answer to, but didn’t, such as if he remembered his first home run. When your first big league homer is a grand slam off the best curveball pitcher–Camilo Pascual–of your generation, and part of a six-RBI day, I think you’d remember it. So, I figured either the guy is a fraud, or he has no memory, either way making for a bad interview.

“I phoned him to set one up anyway, and got his wife. He was outside, but she asked me ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?’ She said that he sometimes claims he played for the Red Sox, other times is tight-lipped about it. But she also said her husband was born in 1927 (the ballplayer was born in ’37), and spells his name ‘Schelling.’ I guess he knew the jig was up by the time he got to the phone. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I’m not the Chuck Schilling who played ball, I was just kidding.’”

Whichever one of the two Jack Rowan’s was the real deal, he probably would not have gotten the joke.

Satchel Paige Night, 1952

21 Jun

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This cartoon of Satchel Paige  appeared in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 29, 1952; drawn by the paper’s cartoonist Amadee Wohlschlaeger, who celebrated his 101st birthday last December.

Paige was primarily used as a reliever in 1952, but made one of his six starts the evening before against the Washington Senators on “Satchel Paige Night” at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  The Associated Press said:

“A bearded player in a wheelchair was introduced as Paige’s first battery mate.”

Owner Bill Veeck gave him a boat called “Ole Satch 1,” a television, and a camera; his teammates presented him with a rod and reel.

Paige pitched 6 2/3 innings and was credited with the win in a 6-3 victory against the Washington Senators.

Later that month Senators manager Bucky Harris said in The Washington Afro-American:

“I swear to God, we would be in first place if we had Satchel Paige.”

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The Worst, or Best Game Recap Ever—1888

9 Apr

In June of 1888 the Dallas Hams were coasting to the Texas League championship; the team was so good, and so far in front, the league would be reformed in July as the Texas Southern League.  Dallas would win that championship as well.

The 1888 Dallas Hams

The 1888 Dallas Hams

Unfortunately most stories did not have bylines in 1888, as a result we’ll probably never know who wrote this recap of the June 12 game between the Hams and the Austin Senators in The Dallas Morning News:

“It was a good game on both sides, still a listless, lifeless, inanimate game.  Neither side showed any life or spirit.  They played like they were asleep, or dead.  There were only about 150 spectators and the boys couldn’t throw any life into the game.

“For seven innings neither side made a run.  Each side played ball and kept the other from scoring. In the eighth inning (Frank) Hoffman for Austin scored.  It was (William) ‘Kid’ Peeples error that lost the game.  A beautiful, way up, pop fly came over to him, falling so prettily right into his hands, and he let it slip—muffed it.  Jack Wentz was on one side of him (Clarence) ‘Daddy’ Cross at the other, each one standing ready and waiting, but it was Peeples’ ball and they stood by.  He muffed it.  He said afterward that he had his hands out for it to come down between his breast and his hands, which it did, but he had his hands too far out and it slipped through.

“The game was lost for Dallas by Peeples’ error of the fly already mentioned.  Look at the score and you will see that while Austin made five base hits, Dallas made nothing except Charlie Levis’ two bagger.

“It is not necessary to go through the minutia of the game.  It was goose egg after goose egg up to the eighth inning, when Austin made one.  There wasn’t a brilliant play in the whole game.  Charlie Levis did make a two bagger, and is entitled to credit for it.  Nobody else did anything.

“Only about 150 people were present to see the game.  The small crowd discouraged the boys and they played without verve, without spirit, without animation.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

John Bradley

18 Jan

Two members of the 1888 Dallas Hams were shot and killed in Texas.

One, George Kittle, I wrote about in September.

John Bradley was the other one.

Charles M. “John” “Brad” Bradley (wrongly listed with the middle initial “H” on Baseball Reference) left Oil City, Pennsylvania where he was born in June of 1864, to go west and play baseball.  An article in The Louisville Courier Journal said he was born to wealth and left Pennsylvania because of his father’s disapproval of baseball:

“(Bradley) was surrounded with every luxury.  He acquired a collegiate education and all the ornamental accomplishments of modern times.  He was possessed of a charming tenor voice; was a brilliant pianist and an expert linguist.  He was passionately fond of the national game…An early disagreement with his father, the result of his penchant for baseball, led to an estrangement, and, troubles never coming singly, he was rejected by a young lady of Oil City, PA, to whom he was devoted.”

After playing in Corning, New York in 1885 Bradley went to Kansas.  Various sources place him with the Topeka Capitals in the Western League and/or a team in Abilene in 1886 though neither can be verified.  Bradley then played with the Emporia Reds in the Western League in 1887.

He signed with the Austin Senators in the newly formed Texas League in 1888.  In March, Bradley caught for Austin in two exhibition games with the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association—the Statesmen lost the first game 2-0, but won the second 3-0.

Box score of 1888 Austin -Cincinnati game won by Austin 3-0.

Box score of 1888 Austin-Cincinnati game won by Austin 3-0.

Bradley was Austin’s starting catcher until the dissolution of the Texas League in July.  When the reformed Texas Southern League commenced play later that month, Bradley was with Dallas where he shared catching duties with Kittle.

Bradley hit .158 as Dallas coasted to a championship.

The 1888 off season was an eventful one.

Bradley was offered a contract for 1889 with the St. Joseph Clay Eaters in the Western Association.

He also started seeing Dolly Love, “A woman of bad repute,” as The Dallas Morning News said; problem was Love was also involved with a livery driver named Tom Angus.

At the same time Bradley got in trouble with the law in December of 1888.  The Austin Weekly Statesman said:

“(Bradley) shot a man named Billups in a (Dallas) bar room, because Billups attacked him with an empty beer keg because he refused to pay for drinks.”

Bradley was charged with “assault with intent to kill” and was scheduled to appear in front of a Dallas Judge at the end of January.  He was also arrested twice in early January for altercations with Love at the brothel she operated.

Throughout the chaos Angus and Bradley were trading threats over Dolly Love.

The rivalry came to a head on January 16.  Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Bradley and a friend exited Swope & Mangold’s Saloon at the corner of Main and Austin to return to his room at the Grand Windsor Hotel across the street.  The Austin Weekly Statesman said Bradley was:

“Shot down like a dog by Tom Angus, a hack driver, who followed him and fired in his back.”

The Headline in The Dallas Morning News said:

“The Killing of Charles Bradley the Baseball Catcher, all about a Fallen Woman.”

Bradley was shot through the back and began to run as Angus fired two additional shots; after running about 120 feet, Bradley fell dead in the street.  Angus was immediately arrested and ordered held for trial.

A letter from five representatives of the Texas/Texas Southern League and addressed “To the Baseball Profession of the Union” was published in newspapers around the country soliciting funds “In order that able counsel may be obtained to conduct the prosecution,” the letter concluded:

“John Bradley played with Austin and Dallas in 1888, and had recently signed with St. Joe for the season of 1889. He was a gentleman, an excellent ballplayer and altogether an honor to our profession.  To ball players this case suggests not only a duty but a privilege, and we trust that a suitable response will be made.  Yours fraternally,

J. J. McCloskey, manager Austin team, I888.

Charles Levis, manager Dallas team 1888

Doug Crothers, manager Dallas team, 1889.

Kid Peeples, short stop Dallas team 1888.

Billy Joyce, third base Ft. Worth and New Orleans, 1888.”

It is unknown how much money was raised.

Dolly Love left Dallas for Fort Worth to escape the publicity.  Tom Angus spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial during which time he got married.  Dick Johnson, a friend of Angus’, who was at the scene of the shooting, was charged as an accessory, but was acquitted in a separate trial.

When the trial began in April of 1890 The Dallas Weekly Times-Herald headline called it:

“The Most Sensational Case that Has Been up for Years.”

Several witnesses, including a Dallas police officer testified that Bradley had also made threats against Angus in the weeks leading up to the killing, and that he often carried a gun.  Although Bradley wasn’t carrying a gun on the morning he was shot, and was shot in the back, the defense claimed that Angus had acted in self-defense.  Angus was found guilty, but sentenced to only five years in prison.

The sentence was upheld on appeal, the decision said:

“The accused should congratulate himself upon the mildness of the sentence.”

Angus was released from prison in the spring of 1895; in December he was arrested for shooting a man over a dispute about a horse.

Bradley was buried in Dallas.

The 1888 Texas Southern League

17 Jan

The Texas Southern League was in existence for half of one season; the reason for its creation was that the Dallas Hams were just too good a team in 1888.

In the winter of 1887 the Texas League was formed with six teams: the Dallas Hams, Austin Senators, Fort Worth Panthers, Galveston Giants, Houston Babies and San Antonio Missionaries.  Representatives from the Memphis Grays and New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League, which was struggling to replace teams that had folded, also attended the meeting and lobbied for the league to be expanded to eight teams, but the six Texas-based teams voted not to include them;   New Orleans and Memphis joined the 4-team (down from 7) incarnation of the Southern League, which also included the Birmingham Maroons and Charleston Sea Gulls.

Charlie Levis, who had played Major League ball in The Union Association and American Association in 1884 and ’85 was named manager and played 1st base for Dallas.  Levis, a St. Louis native, brought in several Missourians including some who had spent time in the Major Leagues and built a strong team.

The Sporting News said Levis:

“Signed a team of professionals for Dallas that would do credit to almost any league in the country…They are all splendid fielders and batsmen and fair base runners.”

The team was so strong according to The Dallas Morning News that:

“So good was the Dallas team that club after club dropped out after repeated drubbings at its hands.  Dallas won so many consecutive victories that the other cities lost their appetite for baseball and withdrew.”

By late June, Dallas led the league with a winning percentage above .800; Austin and Fort Worth had dropped out and all the remaining teams were losing money with players often going several weeks between paydays.  At the same time, the Southern League was collapsing.  In early July, a deal was struck to create the five-team Texas Southern League with New Orleans joining Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio.

The 1888 Dallas Hams--Identifiable players: Front right Bill Goodenough, front left, Pat Whitaker, seated left, Ducky Hemp, standing left Charlie Levis, standing right John Fogerty,

The 1888 Dallas Hams–Identifiable players:
Front right Bill Goodenough, front left Ducky Hemp, seated left Pat Whitaker, standing left Charlie Levis, standing right John Fogarty,

While New Orleans provided some much-needed competition for Dallas the Texas Southern League half-season was not much different from the Texas League half-season.  Dallas finished with a winning percentage of .826, New Orleans finished second followed by San Antonio, Galveston and Houston.  The Morning News said on the final day of the season:

“The league is dead, and the Dallas club carries off the glory, waves high the pennant, and stands the champion club not only of the league but of all the South.”

The following season Austin and Fort Worth rejoined and the Waco Babies replaced the San Antonio Missionaries to again form a six-team Texas league; New Orleans returned to the Southern League, and the Texas Southern League was finished.

The story of one member of the 1888 Dallas Hams tomorrow.


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