Tag Archives: Brooklyn Royal Giants

“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.

chappie

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:

connors.jpg

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

poplloyd

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.”

Cum Posey’s “All-Americans”

18 Nov

In 1937, Homestead Grays owner Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey Jr. set out to name the all-time Negro League all-stars–his “All-Americans”– in The Pittsburgh Courier; six years later he expanded his “All-American” team and conceded that picking an all-time Negro League team was a nearly impossible task:

“Due to the changes in umpiring, parks, baseballs, ownership, in the last three decades, it is merely a guess when any of us attempt to pick an all-time All-American club.  Under any system we would hesitate to put ourselves on record as picking the club without placing some of the boys from the islands on the team.  We know some star players from Cuba, who played Negro baseball in the US and they cannot be ignored.”

Cum Posey

Cum Posey

Posey said no team would be complete without considering pitchers Jose Mendez, Eustaquio “Bombin” Pedroso, and Juan Padron, shortstop Pelayo Chacon, outfielders Cristobal Torriente and Esteban Montalvo and “(Martin) Dihigo, probably the greatest all-around player of any decade.”

Cristóbal Torriente

Cristóbal Torriente

“If one could be a spectator at an argument between those closely associated with baseball—fans, players, owners—he would be surprise at the differences of opinions.

Ted Page, who is now manager of Hillvue Bowling Alley (in Pittsburgh), and was formerly one of the star players of Negro baseball was mentioning one of the players of former years.  Ted contends (Chester) Brooks, one of the few West Indian (Brooks was said to hae been born in Nassau, Bahamas, but several sources, including his WWII Draft Registration and death certificate list his place of birth as Key West, Florida) players ever on the roster of an American baseball club was one of the real stars of all time.  Brooks, formerly of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, was probably the most consistent right hand hitter in the history of Negro baseball.  When the Homestead Grays were at odds with everyone connected with Negro Organized Baseball we tried to get Brooks on the Grays club.”

Chester Brooks

Chester Brooks

In his 1937 picks, Posey placed Brooks on his all-time all-star team as “utility” outfielder.

The 1937 team:

Manager:  C. I. Taylor

Coaches:  Rube Foster, Sam Crawford, and Chappie Johnson

Catchers:  Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey

Pitchers: Smokey Joe Williams, Dick Redding, Pedroso, Bullet Rogan, Satchel Paige, Dave Brown and Willie Foster

First Base:  Ben Taylor and Buck Leonard

Second Base: Sammy Hughes

Third Base: Jud Wilson

judwilson

Shortstop: John Henry Lloyd

Left Field:  Torriente

Center Field: Oscar Charleston

Right Field: Pete Hill

Utility:  Infield: Dick Lundy; Outfield: Brooks

Posey added several players for consideration in 1943, many who were largely forgotten by then:

Pitchers: Mendez, Padron

Catcher:  Bruce Petway, Wabishaw “Doc” Wiley

First Base: Leroy Grant, George Carr, Eddie Douglas

Second Base:  Frank Warfield, Bingo DeMoss, George Scales, John Henry Russell, Frank Grant

Bingo DeMoss

Bingo DeMoss

Third Base: Connie Day, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, Dave Malarcher, Henry Blackmon, Walter Cannady, Billy Francis, Bill Monroe

Shortstop:  Willie Wells

Posey concluded:

“Too many outfielders to mention.  You have Dihigo, (Pee Wee) Butts, (Sam) Bankhead, Cannady (and) Monte Irvin to play in any position and nine hundred ninety-nine others.  Our personal preference for manager is C.I. Taylor, but what about Rube Foster?”

“The Best First Sacker in the Game”

27 Nov

Raymond V. Wilson was one of the biggest stars of early black baseball. The Freeman said the captain and manager of the Philadelphia Giants was, at the plate, “styled the colored Hans Wagner,” and “in his heyday the best first sacker in the game.”  The paper also said he was one of the game’s best base runners:

“Ray Wilson gives no indication of speed or race, but he possesses these two qualities in a surprising degree, and his stealing is magnificent.  His strong point, however, is avoiding the man with the ball.  He has a slide which carries him outside the base and around, his spikes clinging to the base.”

Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson

It is unclear where Wilson was born, but he lived for a time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before he became a member of the Cuban X-Giants in 1898.  The Harrisburg Telegraph said, the following season, in announcing that local catcher Clarence “Wax” Williams had joined the X-Giants “Ray Wilson, of this city, is playing first base on this crack team.”

The Telegraph said that Wilson played for several teams in Harrisburg, initially as a second baseman, “but his ability was soon learned and he was sent for.”

Wilson remained with the X-Giants through 1906, and then joined the Philadelphia Giants where he played for the remainder of his career.

It came to an end in the mid summer of 1910.

In a game at Bronx Oval, Wilson and the Giants were playing the Brooklyn Royal Giants.  The New York Age said Wilson was at bat, facing Brooklyn’s Harry Buckner and “was hit on the head near the temple and received a fracture which necessitated his retirement from baseball.”

By late July he began exhibiting strange behavior.

Other sources, including The Associated Press, said he received the injury earlier in his career, as a result of being “hit on the head by a swift line drive.”

The Freeman attributed some of the reason for Wilson’s becoming “somewhat demented” on his reaction to the death of his friend, Giants pitcher Sy “Bugs” Hayman, who was hit by a car on his way to a game, and died on July 4, 1910.

Bugs Hayman

Bugs Hayman

The injury, regardless of how it happened, as well as any other contributing factors, left Wilson nearly incapacitated, and he was sent to his mother’s home in Pittsburgh.

Just a week after arriving in Pittsburgh, The Associated Press reported that he had disappeared:

“(H)is relatives have asked the police to find him. Warning is given by the relatives that Wilson is insane and that he may not be captured without trouble.”

According to those relatives he was suffering from hallucinations:

“One of Wilson’s hallucinations was that someone batted a ball at him and that it broke through his hand and hit his head.  On such occasions he would lie down for hours, helpless from pain from the imaginary blow.”

On the day he disappeared, Wilson “picked up a newspaper to look at the ball scores.  He saw something which stirred him, and dashed from the house shouting that his head was hurting.”

Several days later he turned up in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, more than 100 miles from Pittsburgh.  The Tyrone Daily Herald said he had been arrested by railroad police “after insisting on going on to Harrisburg without paying his fare.”  Wilson was held in the Tyrone city jail until his identity was determined.  The paper said it was unlikely he would be prosecuted because he was “temporarily deranged, this accounting for his strange actions on the train.”

He was committed to the Pennsylvania State Hospital in Harrisburg where he died in September of 1912.  Most sources give Wilson’s year of birth as 1870, which would have made him 42 years-old at the time of his death, The Harrisburg Telegraph, in their brief death notice, listed his age as 35.

There was an intriguing claim made by Wilson’s hometown newspaper during his 1910 disappearance—although it was probably a conflation of the story of Charlie Grant.   The Telegraph said:

“While (John) McGraw was manager of the Baltimore team he endeavored to get Wilson into the major league by claiming the Negro was an Indian.  The subterfuge was discovered and Wilson was forced to remain in the Negro nines.”

With statistics being incredibly scarce, it is impossible to judge just how good Wilson was.  But, 15 years after his death, George “Chappie” Johnson—who had been in the game for more than 30 years was interviewed by W. Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier:

“You want an all-time team you say?  I’ll pick you one and will challenge anyone to name a better outfit.  On this team of my choosing will be nothing but smart men. Every one will be able to hit, to bunt, to think…Here is your team, and note that old-timers are few and far between:

Chappie Johnson

Chappie Johnson

“Catchers (James “Biz”) Mackey, (Bruce) Petway, (George “Tubby”) Dixon; pitchers George Wilson of the Page Fence Giants, Nip Winters, Joe Williams, (Charles) Bullet Rogan;  first base, Ray Wilson of the Cuban X-Giants, second base John Henry Lloyd;  shortstop Dick Lundy;  third base Oliver Marcelle, utility, John Beckwith;  outfield Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Jess Barbour, (Cristobal) Torriente.”

Note:  While it seems unusual that John Henry Lloyd, almost unanimously considered the greatest shortstop in Negro League history, was placed at second, Johnson told The Courier:

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

“Fans Inclined to be Fair find it Difficult to side with Wickware”

7 Oct

Frank Wickware is best remembered for defeating Walter Johnson and a team of minor league players 1 to 1 in Schenectady, New York in October of 1913.  He was pitching for the Mohawk Giants, and the game was very nearly cancelled after the pitcher and his teammates initially refused to take the field, claiming they were owed six weeks of back pay.

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The New York Times said the crowd of 6,000 nearly rioted, the police were called to control the crowd and more than an hour after the game was scheduled to begin “the financial difficulty was settled and the game started.”

As a result of the “strike,” and the late start, the game was called after only five innings.

The incident in Schenectady wasn’t the first time in 1913 that Wickware took center stage in a controversy over money—the first time it contributed to the cutting short a much anticipated series of games.

On July 17 the Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants were to begin a five-game series with the Lincoln Giants in New York.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Roderick “Jess” McMahon, the owner of the Lincoln Giants, went to Schenectady before the series and signed Wickware, who he intended to start in the first game.

The New York Age said:

“Thursday afternoon before the game…McMahon spied Wickware all togged up in and American Giant suit.  He inquired of the pitcher why he was not in a Lincoln Giant uniform.  Wickware promptly told him that he was going to pitch for the American Giants.

“McMahon protested to Rube Foster against Wickware playing on the American Giants in view of the fact that he had given him money (allegedly $100), but the manager of the American Giants insisted that Wickware do the pitching for his team.  The two managers argued for over an hour, when the game was called off.”

The series was resumed the following day without Wickware.  The Lincoln Giants were ahead in the series 2 games to 1 before the game scheduled for July 22.  McMahon recruited Charles Earle of the Brooklyn Royal Giants to play left field in place Robert “Judy” Gans who was ill.  Foster objected to the substitution and refused to play the game despite there being “A large crowd.”

The Age said Wickware and both teams were doing damage to the future of black baseball:

“Fans inclined to be fair find it difficult to side with Wickware or regard him as a hero.  To accept money from one manager and then want to play for another is a piece of reasoning which does not favorably impress those who believe that one should keep his word at all times.  Just such conduct of Wickware’s will do much to injure the progress of baseball among colored clubs.”

“The sooner the managers of the colored teams get together and agree upon a working basis for their mutual protection the better.  Manager McMahon seems to have developed a habit of borrowing players from other clubs which should not be permitted. “

Roderick ":Jess" McMahon

Roderick “:Jess” McMahon

Wickware would remain one of the dominant pitchers in black baseball into the 1920s.  He continued to jump when teams when a better offer came—he played for four clubs in 1914, jumping a contract each time.  In 1925 Wickware was in a bar on 135th Street in New York with Lincoln Giants teammates Oliver Marcelle and Dave Brown.  After an altercation in the bar, a man named Benjamin Adair was shot and killed in front of the bar.

One report in The Freeman said witnesses claimed Adair was with the three players when a fifth man ran from building “shouted ‘I got you,’ and fired point-blank at Adair,” The New York Amsterdam News said “four men were quarreling on the sidewalk, when one drew an automatic.”

In either case, Brown disappeared and was assumed to me the shooter.  Wickware and Marcelle were never charged; there has been much mythology about Brown and speculation about the date and place of his death, but no definitive evidence has been presented.

McMahon and his brother Ed sold their controlling interest in the Lincoln Giants in 1914 and owned the Lincoln Stars from 1914-1917.  The McMahon’s were also boxing and wrestling promoters—which continues to be the family business.