Tag Archives: Bob Feller

“Negro Baseball is Staggering about Grotesquely on its Last Legs”

15 Feb

Lucius “Melancholy” Jones, after a college football and basketball career at Clark College—now Clark Atlanta University—served as sports editor for several black newspapers, wrote for The Pittsburgh Courier and the Southern Newspaper Syndicate which served many black newspapers across the country.

Jones

In 1941, he enumerated the “frailties of Negro baseball,” which were:

“1. Selfish, dishonest, and insecure owners and higher ups;

  2. Absence of records, lack of publicity, failure to give the fans their money’s worth; and

  3. Trampish tendencies, jumping of clubs, moral indecency, and respect of a baseball contract as more than a piece of paper.”

Satchel Paige, “rated by the immortal Grover Cleveland Alexander as one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, regardless of race, creed, or color and declare by Joe DiMaggio to be the best pitcher he ever batted against…should be the idol of his race; the pride of colored kids everywhere,” he said

But, instead, “(T)he average Negro boy knows 10 times as much about Joe DiMaggio as he does about Oscar Charleston or Turkey Stearns; 10 times as much about Bob Feller as he does Paige or Hilton Smith; 10 times as much about Lou Gehrig as he ever knew about Buck Leonard or Red Moore; and the average colored fan knows the standings of every club in the white major leagues but hasn’t the faintest idea as to just which of the Negro clubs is in first place. Published standings, game-to-game box scores, and official scoring are more or less mythical.”

Paige

Paige had in 1941, appeared with four teams, including organizations “in both of the Negro major leagues,” and as a result “of his trampish tendency of playing with so many clubs.” And, despite the fact the was “a surprisingly clean liver…his utter lack of respect for a baseball contract,” resulted in him lacking the type of following enjoyed by white players.

Jones said:

“But what is more remarkable than Paige’s pitching for four different clubs in a season is just three months old at this writing is the fact that this strange thing has been done with approval of officials of both leagues—or so it would seem, because instead of handling him severally for his trampish practices which automatically amount to ineligibility went to the other extreme, removing the bar against his participation in the annual East-West Classic.”

Both leagues required “overhauling,” because each stood “for little more than personal gain, and even in this selfish motive are not together. There is continuous bickering between” the two leagues’ officials.

Negro League baseball was, according to Jones, in such precarious shape because of its lack of organization that if steps were not taken to shore up the “tottering empire,” it would be “doomed to oblivion.” Jones cited a popular vaudeville comedian and actor’s signature bit as an analogy:

“Negro baseball is staggering about grotesquely on its last legs like a Leon Errol. Most of us fear for the worst.”

Leon Errol

Jones’ regular rancor directed at the magnates of black baseball was continuous and based on his conclusion that:

“White major league baseball is good. The white baseball loops are better organized and better patronized than the colored leagues. But the brand of ball played in those white circuits is not superior to that played by the best Negro teams.”

Jones, like Wendell Smith, his colleague at The Pittsburgh Courier continued calling for an “overhauling” of the Negro Leagues while at the same time pushing for integration in baseball. Jones outlined the “three important steps” to successfully integrate the game:

“1. Crystallization of a favorable public sentiment; 2. Numerous experimental contests between white and Negro stars of major league caliber in the larger cities where mass reaction will be greatest; and 3. attainment of total endorsement from Commissioner Kennesaw M. Landis and organized baseball as an institution.”

Jones went on to become the New Orleans editor for The Courier and  the first black host of a radio sportscast on a white station in the deep south when he hosted a show for 16 weeks on WDSU-AM in New Orleans in 1949—he also helped bring the first sports telecast in the deep south featuring two black teams to WDSU-TV on April 30, 1950 when the station aired a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the New York Cubans with Jones presenting “between inning highlights.”

He also was a co-founder—along with his former Clark College teammate and fellow Courier writer Ric Roberts—of Atlanta’s “the 100% Wrong Club” which was established for the purpose of recognizing black collegiate athletes.

Jones was just 47 years old when he died in 1952.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things–Quote Edition

12 Oct

When you spend hours pouring over microfilm and web based newspaper archives you find something every day that is interesting but not enough for a standalone post—these are random quotes and observations that follow no theme or thread, I just think they should not be lost to the mists of time.

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News in 1909 if there would ever be a successful ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues:

“Elton Chamberlain, who was with Cleveland in the early 90s, essayed to perform this feat occasionally, but about all he had with his left arm was a small amount of speed and a straight ball. The way pitchers have to work nowadays a man who can use one rm and use it effectively is quite a man as pitching goes.”

chamb

Elton Chamberlain

In 1909, Time Murnane noted in The Boston Globe that Billy Sunday, as an evangelist was earning more than 10 times what the “highest-paid men” in baseball were making. Of Sunday’s ability he said:

“No doubt Mr. Sunday is a very good evangelist, much better it is hoped than he ever was as a ballplayer. Mr. Sunday was a fast runner. That marked his limit as a baseball star. He could not hit or field or throw well enough to make it worthwhile talking about.”

billysunday2

Billy Sunday, evangelist

In 1946, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune asked Connie Mack during a discussion of Bob Feller which pitcher he felt had the “greatest combination of speed and curves,” of all time:

“He hesitated less than two seconds. ‘Rube Waddell,’ he said. ‘The Rube was about as fast as Feller, not quite as fast as (Walter) Johnson. But the Rube had one of the deepest, fastest-breaking curves I’ve ever seen. Johnson’s curve ball was unimportant. Feller isn’t as fast as Johnson but he has a far better curve ball.’”

Mack did, however, concede:

“’Feller and Johnson were far more dependable than the Rube who now and then was off fishing or tending bar when I needed him badly.’”

rube

Rube

In 1916, in his nationally syndicated American League umpire Billy Evans asked Napoleon Lajoie about the best pitchers he faced:

“I never faced a wiser twirler than Chief Bender…he made a study of the art. If a batter had a weakness, the Chief soon discovered it, and from that time he made life miserable for that particular batsman. His almost uncanny control made it possible for him to put into execution the knowledge he would gain of the batter’s weakness. I know of a certain big league player, and he was a good one, who would request that he be taken out of the game any time Bender worked…Best of all, he had the heart of an oak and in a pinch always seemed to do his best work.”

chiefbender

Chief Bender

In 1907, the Washington Senators hired Pongo Joe Cantillon to manage the team, Ted Sullivan, “the man who discovered Comiskey,” was never shy about taking credit for an idea, and told The Washington Star:

“As I was instrumental in enticing Cantillon to come to Washington I know the salary that was offered, and I saw the contract. It was nearly twice the salary of a United States Senator, and there is not a bench manager today in the eastern country that is getting one-half the salary of Cantillon. The Washington management has corrected all the errors of the past in getting a baseball pilot who knows all the bends and shallows in the baseball river.”

pongo

Pongo Joe

Despite the money, and Cantillon’s knowledge of the “bends and shallows,” the Senators finished 8th twice and 7th once during Cantillon’s three seasons in Washington, he had a 158-297 record during his only stint as a big league manager.

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

williepope

              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.

A Thousand Words–Harpo Marx

24 Dec

harpo

Harpo Marx with manager Lou Boudreau and pitcher Bob Feller at the Cleveland Indians’ training camp at Randolph Park (now Hi Corbett Field) in Tuscon, Arizona, March 1947.