Tag Archives: Bill Veeck

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.”

mrskwgibson

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.”

aaroncovington

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.”

bravesbradenton

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.

Wendell Smith’s “Talent Hunt”

6 May

With Negro League baseball reeling from the effects of integrated professional baseball and years of disorganization, Wendell Smith and The Pittsburgh Courier set out to inject some life back into it.

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

A banner headline in the May 15, 1948, edition announced:

Courier Launches Talent Hunt

Smith did not spare the hyperbole in his explanation of the details:

The Pittsburgh Courier introduces this week the greatest scouting system ever devised in the history of baseball…It stretches from coast-to-coast and every foreign country in which this great newspaper circulates.”

Smith said the paper would pay $100 to any reader who recommended a player “Who is assigned to a professional ballclub and makes the grade.”

He said the “(S)couting system—which is even greater than those conducted by the major league club,” sought players “not to exceed 21,” who “may be of any race or nationality.”  The paper would then “conduct a thorough investigation of the candidate.”

That “thorough investigation” would be conducted by some of the biggest names in Negro League baseball recruited as “Official Scouts” to vet the candidates.  They were Oscar Charleston, Ted Page, Dizzy Dismukes, Frank Duncan, Vic Harris, Winfield Welch, George Scales and Tex Burnett.

Vic Harris with the 1930 Homestead Grays.

Vic Harris 

Smith said of the paper’s “Scouts;”

“They will see these boys pay and send in a report to The Courier sports department.  If the scout’s report indicates the boy is a potential big leaguer, he will be immediately sent to a professional team for a trial.”

Smith promised every reader of the paper:

“(Y)ou automatically become an ‘ivory-hunter,’ a ‘bird dog,’ a real, honest-to-goodness baseball scout.”

The “Talent Hunt” had the enthusiastic support of Negro League magnates as well—despite having been the frequent targets of Smith’s and The Courier’s ire.

Effa Manley, Newark Eagles owner, said, “It will be a life saver for Negro baseball.”

Effa Manley

Effa Manley

Dr. John Johnson—an Episcopal minister in his second year as president of the Negro National League said, “(W)e are now going to discover more players than ever before.”

Negro American League President Dr. John B. Martin said, “It will help every team in baseball.”

Smith reminded readers:

“(Jackie Robinson) was recommended to Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, by The Pittsburgh Courier…Some pace there is another Robinson and The Courier and its many readers are determined to find him!”

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

The following week, Smith told readers:

“Letters are rolling in from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  But the little towns are sending names of hopefuls too.  Everybody wants to be a scout!”

At the end of May, The Courier announced another addition to the Official Scouts: Elmer C. “Pop” Turner.  Nearly forgotten today, Turner was a football and baseball star at West Virginia State University—also Smith’s alma mater.  He played for several Negro League teams in the late 20s and early 30s, became a Negro National League umpire in the late 30s and early 40s, and coached baseball and football at North Carolina College at Durham—now known as North Carolina Central University.

By June 5, Smith promised:

“Someone is going to be one hundred dollars richer, and some young ballplayer is going to be a thousand times happier by virtue of The Pittsburgh Courier’s new ‘Talent Hunt’ campaign… (It) is in full swing and letters are pouring in from all over the country.”

The following week, the paper said, under the headline:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…He’ll bring you $100!

“All you have to do is find a likely prospect (and) send his name and address and other information you wish to Wendell Smith…This ‘Talent Hunt’ program is designed to uncover the ‘Stars of Tomorrow.”

The article said they were scouting “more than 200 young players” recommended by readers.

After that June 12 article, there was never another word written about the “Talent Hunt.”  Not by Wendell Smith, not by The Courier.  The promotion, which could have provided much-needed publicity and enthusiasm for the moribund Negro Leagues, disappeared without a trace; without so much as a mention.

Smith spent the remainder of the 1948 season covering major league baseball; and The Courier’s coverage of the Negro Leagues was greatly reduced from previous seasons, and nonexistent some weeks.

The only passing reference Smith made to the “Talent Hunt” came almost four months after the abrupt disappearance of the promotion.  It was in his column, under the headline:

Hard to Find Negro Baseball Talent

“Branch Rickey proved with Jackie Robinson that there’s gold in Negro players, and Bill Veeck of Cleveland substantiated that proof with Satchel Paige and Larry Doby…So major league scouts are scouring the country sides looking for Negro prospects, while the owners sit back and wait, envisioning record-breaking crowds in the future if their ‘bird dogs’ find a sepia star in the hinterlands.

But, said Smith:

“The scouts are out there snooping around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent, but having a difficult job uncovering it.”

Smith then listed several past Negro League players who should have had the opportunity to play in the major leagues, and said:

“Unfortunately, there aren’t such players around today.  That’s why there won’t be a large number of Negro players in the majors for some time to come.  They just can’t be found and were going to have to wait until the kids playing in the sandlots around the country develop.”

Smith’s pessimistic assessment of the state of “Negro baseball talent,” was likely the result of the paper’s failed promotion, as players continued to be scouted and signed without the help of the readers of The Courier.

“Throw Strikes. Home Plate Don’t Move.”

19 Jan

Satchel Paige told Dave Condon of The Chicago Tribune that early in 1965, with the help of his wife Lahoma, and 17-year-old daughter Pamela he “wrote letters to everyone in baseball just looking for a steady job.  Anything.”

After not one professional team responded, the spring and early summer were like most during his 40-year career as a pitcher—Paige traveled wherever there was a chance for a paycheck.

He had made appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters in the winter and spring and then hit the road; pitching for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns and whoever else would call.  In May, The Chicago Defender said Abe Saperstein, who was managing Paige’s appearances, took out an ad in The Sporting News:

“(T)he man, who may have been the greatest pitcher of all time, is letting it be known that he has glove and is willing to travel.  All that is necessary to secure his services is to contact Saperstein.”

One night Paige would be at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, in a White Sox uniform, pitching for the Clowns in front of a large crowd, or across town in Wrigley Field where 30,000 fans came out; another night would find him in Hastings, Pennsylvania taking “the mound for the Hastings VFW club,” or Wheatfield, Indiana pitching “for the Band Boosters against the Wheatfield Young Farmers,” in front of a few hundred people.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965--Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Paige at Comiskey Park in 1965–Chicago Cubs outfielder George Altman is the catcher.

Things began to look up in late July when the Cleveland Indians inducted Paige into the team’s Hall of Fame between games of a Sunday doubleheader with the Yankees; in front of the team’s largest crowd of the season:  56,634.  According to United Press International:

“Satch tossed examples of his blooper, drooper and hesitation pitches to (former Indians teammate) Jim Hegan, now a Yankee coach and explained his philosophy of pitching thus: ‘Just take the ball and throw it where you want to.  Throw strikes.  Home plate don’t move.”

In August, he accepted an offer to pitch for and manage a team in Anchorage, Alaska called the Earthquakers.  In reality, Paige simply went to Alaska for a short series of exhibition games, and had no intention of staying there—he was already booked to appear at the old-timers game scheduled in September to mark the first season of the Houston Astrodome.  But he did his best to sell it as a possible long-term move.  He told a reporter for The Associated Press:

“Lately, I’ve wanted to leave barnstorming baseball to settle down somewhat to help the sport.  Anchorage seems to be the place to do it.”

In addition to his appearance in a handful of games in Alaska, his arrival in the state also resulted in a chance meeting that was reported in the press.

As a crowd of local residents gathered at the Anchorage airport to greet Paige, another plane arrived for refueling.  It carried former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on his way to Tokyo.  Nixon walked into the terminal while the plane was refueled, and when he asked about the crowd he was told they were waiting for Paige’s arrival.  Nixon joined the line to greet the pitcher.  The man who would be the leader of the free world in a little more than three years told a reporter from The Associated Press:

“I always like to meet celebrities.”

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

Nixon and Paige meet in Alaska

His commitment in Alaska over, Paige made it to the Astrodome on September 6.  The two-inning game, featuring a team of “immortals” versus “Texas All-Stars,” was an incredible collection of legends—more than 50 former players participated; twelve were already members of the Hall of Fame.  The Houston Post said of the player introductions:

Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, got a deafening cheer.  So did Satchel Paige, peerless Negro hurler.”

The paper said the only others to receive a reception near that for Paige and DiMaggio were Dizzy Dean and native Texan Monty Stratton.

Paige in the Astrodome

Paige in the Astrodome

Perhaps it was the reception in Houston that caused one of the letters Paige, and his wife and daughter had written months earlier to finally be answered.

Charles Oscar Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business and bought controlling interest of the Kansas City A’s before the 1961 season, was the one who finally responded.

That the signing of Paige appears to have been a spur of the moment decision for Finley after reading about the reception in Houston, is supported by the fact that it was announced by the marketing savvy Finley at what The Kansas City Times described as a “hastily called news conference,” which Finley, who was in Chicago, did not attend.

He appeared with General Manager Hank Peters and told reporters “I thought they were kidding” when Finley called and offered him a contract.

He said he was ready to pitch and brushed aside questions about his age:

“I think I can still pitch and help this club.  So what difference does it make what my age is if I can?”

Bill Veeck, who had signed Paige with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and the St. Louis Browns in 1951, told The Times he hoped it wasn’t just a publicity stunt by Finley:

“I am hopeful he will be used as he should be—as a pitcher. Leroy should surprise a few people as he has for a long time.”

Veeck and Paige

Veeck and Paige

The controversial Veeck, more than a decade away from his return to the game, told The Kansas City Star he blamed himself for the pitcher’s  long absence:

“When I left Cleveland the first thing the new owners did was get rid of Satch.  When I sold the St. Louis Browns (and the team relocated to Baltimore), the same thing happened.  That’s nothing more than guilt by association.”

The signing of the 59-year-old Paige, who joined a team that included five 19 and 20-year-old pitchers who appeared in at least one game that year—Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Ron Tompkins, Tom Harrison and Don Buschorn—inspired a short poem published in The Star:

“They’re either too

Young or too old,

When Charlie puts ‘em

In A’s Green and Gold.”

Papers across the country carried a photograph of Paige, seated on a chair, with one of Finley’s young pitchers, Catfish Hunter, on his knee.  While the photo was straight from Finley’s marketing plan, the impact of one future Hall of Famer on another, forty years his junior, seems to have been real.

Paige and Hunter

Paige and Hunter

The Star spoke to Paige about his pitching philosophy one afternoon as Hunter stood nearby.  The paper said:

“Hunter listened intently as Satchel expounded his pitching theories.”

Paige was equally impressed with the 19-year-old, telling The Star:

“This young man has shown me a lot of poise.  He has a great future in this game.”

The next two weeks were filled with pictures of, and stories about, Paige in a rocking chair, a nurse seated nearby, watching the A’s play, and while a “Satchel Paige Night” was scheduled, there appeared little chance the pitcher would be used as anything but a prop for publicity.  Then Finley announced that his new pitcher would start on his night, September 25 against the Boston Red Sox.

What took place on the mound on September 25 has been written about many times. With his six children and wife Lahoma—pregnant with number seven—sitting in the owner’s box with Finley, Paige pitched three shutout innings, allowing just one hit—a Carl Yastrzemski double.

The only disappointment was the anemic crowd—just 9,289 Kansas City fans turned out to see a legend, the second largest crowd during that six-game home stand was 2,874.

As Paige took the mound in the fourth inning, A’s Manager Haywood Sullivan, who was not consulted before Paige’s signing or before Finley announced he would pitch that night, came to the mound to remove Paige.  The pitcher walked off to a standing ovation.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige walks off the field with Manager Haywood Sullivan while Diego Segui warms up.

Paige returned to the clubhouse.  The Star said:

“In the clubhouse he was down to his long underwear, and talking about helping the A‘s out of the basement when someone rushed in a and screamed, ‘Satch, they want you back on the field.’

“The lights were out.  More than 9,000 matches flickered in the darkness, and on ‘Salute to Satchel Paige Night,’ they sang ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ ‘Darling I am Growing Old,’ and “The Old Gray Mare.”

After returning to the clubhouse, Paige was greeted by Finley, who called him “a real credit to the game.”  Paige “shook the owner’s hand” and said “I want to thank you for bringing me here.”

Whether he truly believed it or not, Paige told reporters he planned to pitch again in 1965.

“Everybody doubted me on the ballclub.  They’ll have more confidence in me now.”

He did not appear in another game but stayed with the club for the remainder of the season.  Two days after his three-inning performance, he was with the team in Baltimore.

A discouraging word had not been uttered by Paige during his time with the A’s.  Perhaps being in Baltimore—where his big league career effectively ended after Veeck sold the Browns—or maybe just the realization that a man capable of throwing three shutout innings at age 59 was not given an opportunity by a major league club the previous 12 seasons, changed that.

Lou Hatter wrote in The Baltimore Sun:

“Satchel Paige, the slender pitching ancient signed 2 ½ weeks ago by Kansas City, bared a deep-rooted wound here last night for the first time.”

Paige said to Hatter:

“You can put it this way.  You can say I resent being overlooked by organized baseball all these years while I threw away most of my best years pitching for a barnstorming club…All they ask me, though, is how old am I.  But nobody asks me why I stayed out of the major leagues for 15 [sic 12] years.  That’s a long time isn’t it?  That’s a lifetime for most professional players.

“Let me ask another question. When Baltimore bought the St. Louis ballclub, why did they turn me loose?

“When I went to the Miami club (again pitching for Bill Veeck with the International League Marlins) and was a top pitcher for three years (11, 10 and 10 win seasons with ERAs of 1.86, 2.42 and 2.95), how come nobody picked me up?…I know the answer, but I won’t tell that neither—like I won’t tell my age.”

Despite Finley telling reporters throughout September that Paige would return to the A’s in 1966, if not as a player, then as a coach, he was released in September. The next time he appeared on the mound at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium, it was again as a member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

Paige back in Kansas City as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns in 1966.

“And they Started Hitting like Demons”

4 Sep

Arthur “Artie” “Circus Solly” Hofman was one of the best utility men in baseball, and a member of four Chicago Cubs teams that went to the World Series.  When he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1912, Bill Bailey of The Chicago American told a story about Hofman, baseball bats and why baseball players are superstitious about them:

“Some fans might think that Artie can hit with most any old stick that comes along, but he himself is very exacting about the one he picks out before he goes up to the plate.  There is always a great line of bats laying out in front of the players bench during a game.  Most of them are special makes of the big sporting goods companies and most of them are expensive products.”

Bailey said during the 1911 season the Cubs were mired in a mid-season hitting slump:

“And Hofman conceived an idea.  He was wandering through a department store in town when he saw a couple of bats on display.  They weren’t anything like the kind the Cubs had been using. “

Circus Solly Hofman

Circus Solly Hofman

Told the bats cost twenty-five cents each Hofman bought dozens of the bats and had them delivered to the West Side Grounds:

“Hofman took one himself and distributed the rest among his teammates…Every man in the lineup used one of Hofman’s bats that afternoon.  And they started hitting like demons.  Naturally they continued using the cheap bats. And they went on a batting rampage that lasted for a long time.  Everybody was slugging the ball.  When things like that happen, is it any wonder that the players have their superstitions about bats?”

“Bill Bailey” was the pen name of Bill Veeck Sr., who would become vice-president of the Cubs in 1917, and president of the club in 1919.  He, of course, was also the father of Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck.

Bill Veeck Sr./"Bill Bailey"

Bill Veeck Sr./”Bill Bailey”

Hofman’s greatest claim to fame was being the Cubs centerfielder on September 23, 1908.  He fielded Al Bridwell’s single that scored Harry “Moose” McCormick, seemingly giving the New York Giants a 2 to 1 victory.  It was  Hofman, according to umpire Hank O’Day, who realized that Fred Merkle of the Giants, who had been on first base,  failed to touch second before leaving the field.  “Merkle’s Boner” remains baseball’s most famous base running blunder.

Satchel Paige Night, 1952

21 Jun

???????????????????????????????

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.”

???????????????????????????????The Box Score

Veeck and Paige–a third time?

27 Feb

In 1959, when Bill Veeck purchased the White Sox rumors swirled in Chicago that the Sox owner was planning on having Satchel Paige start on Opening Day. Later, as the Sox were making a run for their first American League Pennant in 40 years the rumors resurfaced that the ageless Paige would join the White Sox for the Pennant run.

???????????????????????????????

Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige, 1959

Paige, who had played for Veeck with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, had spent 1956-59 with the Miami Marlins in the International League, winning 31 games. He had returned to barnstorming with the Cuban Giants and Indianapolis Clowns in 1959, but it was reported he was looking for another chance in the Major Leagues, and in June it began to be reported again that Paige would be joining the Sox.

A United Press International story in July said that Veeck had “sent Paige two new Chicago White Sox uniforms,” and quoted Paige:

 “If they want me they’d have to pay me big money.  I’m not going back for nothing.”

Whether it was ever a serious discussion, or simply two famous showmen milking rumors for the maximum publicity will never be known, but Veeck and Paige let the rumors swirl well into August before Veeck finally put them to rest, telling Jet Magazine:

“We’re not giving any thought to hiring him.  I’m very fond of LeRoy and I see him whenever he’s in town.  I gave him the uniforms because we’re old friend and for no other reason.”

And with that White Sox fans missed the chance to see the pitcher who Veeck called “The best righthander baseball has ever known,” pitch for the 1959 Pennant winners.