Tag Archives: Frank Duncan

“I’ve Selected them in the Order as Their Greatness Appeals to me”

31 Oct

Dizzy Dismukes probably wrote more about the players he saw during and after his career than any other Negro League player.  The Pittsburgh Courier regularly published his observations in 1930.  Like this one:

“Strolled into a barber shop (in St. Louis) a few days ago and arguments were rife as to the best pitcher of all times.”

diz

Dismukes

Dismukes said that each participant in the discussion “based his argument on one particular game” they had witnessed.  He told the group he would share his top nine “I had seen during my 21 years” in the pages of the paper:

“I’ve seen some might fine work done by some pitchers whose names won’t be included in the list because of the short duration of their performances.  For instance, there was  Bill Lindsay, who died early in his career (at age 23 in 1914), Pat Dougherty, who had as much zip on a fast ball as any pitcher who ever through a pellet, he imbibed too much of intoxicants, and numerous others.”

Dismukes said “consistency of performance for a reasonable number of seasons” was his criteria.  Unfortunately, Dismukes chose not to go into the detail he did when selecting outfielders, or The Courier did not give him the space, so the pitcher list lacks a lot of the insights of the previous one, but listed them in order:

“Here goes:

  1. Rube Foster

  2. Cyclone Joe Williams

  3. John Donaldson

  4. Steel Arm John Taylor

  5. Bullet Rogan

  6. Dick Redding

  7. Frank Wickware

  8. String Bean Williams

  9. Walter Bell”

RubeFoster

Rube Foster

Of the list, he said:

“I’ve selected them in the order as their greatness appeals to me.  There will be very little opposition to the placing of the first names two, although some may prefer juggling numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6.

“Some might argue as to the effect the lively ball would have had on their performances.   In the list above are two notable examples:  In the list above are two notable examples: ‘Cyclone’ Williams and Rogan.  How many times during a season were they shelled off the hill?”

Next, he rated catchers.  Josh Gibson, then 18, had not yet begun his first season with the Homestead Grays, and was not on Dismukes’ radar:

“The crop of young catchers breaking into the game in the past ten years have been so poor that I can only find three, namely: Frank Duncan, of the Kansas City Monarchs, Raleigh (Biz) Mackey of Hilldale, and Larry Brown of the Memphis Red Sox showing enough skill to qualify.”

His first choice:

“Topping the list is none other than Bruce Petway, whom I claim to be the greatest catcher I ever saw.  His best days were spent during the base-running craze.  There were not as many fast me afoot playing baseball then as now but there were more base runners.  One could possibly count all the thefts against Petway during a season on one hand and then have a few fingers left.”

 

petway

Dismukes said some people thought Petway was a poor catcher because he dropped a lot of balls, but he claimed:

“Petway would intentionally drop balls to encourage base runners to start, as very few had the nerve.”

Dismukes said Petway was a great base runner and “an uncanny judge” of foul pop ups.

Second was George “Chappie” Johnson:

“With Chappie behind the plat, a pitcher did not have to have much on the ball…(and he) was the greatest conversationalist in baseball…Chappie had the opposing batters dumbfounded with a never-ceasing flow of ‘lingo’ crossing the batter up by telling him exactly what the pitcher was about to deliver then standing far to one side of the plate telling the pitcher to ‘get this one over.’ The pitcher then shot one across the plate and he gracefully reached in with one hand to receive a strike.  He excelled in receiving with one hand.  Many young catchers have ruined a career trying to emulate Chappie.”

The third pick was Pearl “Specs” Webster:

“He could do everything expected of a great catcher.  In competition he proved the fastest runner in colored baseball and in bunting and getting to first base as well as circling the bases he was a wonder.  He truly was one of baseball’s greatest catchers.  Specs died overseas in the service of the USA.”

specks

Next was “a scrawny kid from Kansas City,” Frank Duncan:

“He gets the call for No. 4 position.  A great receiver, thrower, fast on bases, and a dangerous hitter.”

Dismukes’ next choices:

“Pete Booker, another of the old school, gets post No. 5, while Russell Powell, reporting to the Indianapolis ABC’s as an infielder and converted into a catcher, is choice No. 6.  He was one of the few catchers who seldom made false moves back of the plate.  When he threw at a base runner there was always a chance of getting him.  He excelled in trapping runners off third base with snap throws.”

His seventh choice:

“Wm. McMurray, who could look at batter’s feet and come near telling what batter could or could not hit, gets the lucky No. 7 position…whenever you put Mac in a game you always had a well-caught game.”

His final two choices were Biz Mackey and Larry Brown:

“(Mackey) a super hitter, and one who comes near as any recent catcher in having a throwing arm resembling that owned by the one and only Petway, in No. 8 in line, while ninth, last but not least is Larry Brown, who shows unusual skill in handling of pitchers.  (Dolf) Luque, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds and now with Brooklyn of the National League, praises Brown as being the best receiver he ever pitched to.”

“About the Best Outfielder he had Ever Lamped”

29 Oct

In 1930, Dizzy Dismukes provided his list of the greatest outfielders he had seen during his 20 years as a Negro League pitcher, to The Pittsburgh Courier, as part of a series of ‘releases’ he wrote for the paper:

“From 1909 to 1915 I had seen a great array of outfield talent, including such stars as Pete Hill, Frank Duncan, Jap Payne, Spotwood Poles, Jimmy Lyons, (Robert ‘Judy’) Gans, C. B. Earl [sic Earle]…and a host of others.”

dismukes.jpg

Dismukes

Dismukes said none of them measured up to the man who “I have little doubt that the choice of ranking him as no. 1 will be unanimous,” among The Courier’s readers:

“Ranking as the best outfielder of all time is Oscar Charleston, who reported to C. I. Taylor for a tryout in the spring of 1915 as a pitcher”

Dismukes said Charleston played some games in the outfield for Taylor and:

“His uncanny judgement of fly balls, his prowess with the bat, and daring on the bases in games he played soon convinced C. I. that he had about the best outfielder he had ever lamped.”

oscar.jpg

Charleston

Dismukes said:

“In the days of the bunt—that is the swing bunt—he excelled, and then, as the home run craze began to creep into the game, he kept pace with the leaders by amassing as many as any other.”

In the field, Dismukes said:

“Opposing players complained that four men played the outfield for the (Indianapolis) ABC’s. Charleston, playing close in behind second base, snared line drives which ordinarily were hits, and then when some batter would drive one to the far corners of the lot for what seemed like a sure hit, Charleston would bob up from somewhere to make a catch just before the ball had a chance to hit the ground.  I for one have never seen his equal.”

Dismukes chose Pete Hill for number 2 all time:

“A close student of the game in every sense, he played the batter when playing outfield; was a great hitter in a pinch, whether it was a single, double, triple, or home run that was needed.”

The third best outfielder, according to Dismukes, was Jimmy Lyons:

“He too, like Charleston, broke in as a pitcher, but the late Dick Wallace, then manager of St. Louis (1911) realized his value as an outfielder.  Lyons was the most daring of all batters I ever saw; was fast and used his speed to every advantage.  He was considered about the freshest kid to break into baseball during those days.  Safe bunting was his specialty.  Talkative, he could upset an infield by telling them what he was going to do and get away with it…In that respect I class him as greater than Charleston or Hill.  Drop the ball and he would run—and how.”

Dismukes said “that seemingly slow moving Frank Duncan” was number four:

“There was a natural hitter.  A great judge of pitched balls and uncanny at getting to first base by being hit by a pitched ball.  Frank’s position was left field.  Hit one right on the foul line and he was there to receive it; hit one over the shortstop’s head, he was there; hit one up against the fence, he was there; why, how, everybody who has seen him play still wonders.”

Dismukes said “that nervous type” Spotwood Poles was fifth:

“(He) was the fastest man I ever saw in getting to first base.  With all his speed however, he was an ordinary base runner, seemingly awkward, but a good fly chaser and one of the game’s greatest lead off men.  And, truly, he was a great hitter.”

Next was Andrew “Jap” Payne:

“Payne in the time of need could do more acrobatic stunts to help a pitcher out of a tight situation, than all the outfielders put together.  Almost any ball Jap could get within three to five feet of before hitting the ground he caught, as he usually took a dive for them.”

payne

Payne

Dismukes’ next choice was Poles’ Lincoln Giants teammate Robert “Judy” Gans, who had become an umpire:

“(Gans’) whom his teammates dubbed ‘telegram’ because he told everything he knew, must be given credit for being one of the game’s greatest fielders.  He started as a pitcher, but found his real greatness would be shown in the outfield.”

In the eighth spot:

“I had heard a lot of a lad out east by the name of (Herbert ‘Rap’) Dixon, and it was my good fortune to see him last fall in about seven games and I quickly concluded he was just about all I had heard of him.  Eastern critics have been ranking him with Charleston.  He is a great fly chaser, a hard and timely hitter, and few outfielders have possessed throwing arms the equal of his.  To exclude his name from my list would be an injustice.”

And, “Last but not least” Dismukes said:

“James Bell, affectionately called by his teammates ‘Cool Papa’…I would like to see a contest with ‘Cool Papa’ as a participant (against the 1916 version of) Jimmy Lyons.”

 

 

 

 

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.

Lost Advertisements–The Leland Giants’ New Ballpark

3 Apr

lelands

 

An advertisement for the opening of the Leland Giants’ newly refurbished ballpark, Normal Park, at 69th and Halsted Streets in Chicago, on May 15, 1910.  Just three weeks earlier, Cook County Judge Jesse Baldwin had given the team, managed by Andrew “Rube” Foster, the right to use the name Leland Giants.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

May 15 would be the first regular season game for the Leland Giants after the split between Frank Leland and Foster over finances, which resulted in the formation of two separate teams–Leland’s team would be called the Chicago Giants.

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley, who had been one of Leland’s primary financial backers but sided with Foster in the split, became the business manager of the new club and represented the team in court.  Under Moseley and Foster’s leadership, the club retained many of the club’s stars and added John Henry Lloyd and Grant “Home Run” Johnson to the roster:

“To the most select audiences in the city.  Games with the best talent procurable.  Come and visit our park and see Rube Foster, the World’s Greatest Pitcher, assisted by (Frank) Wickware and (Charles) Dougherty, the season’s sensation, (Bruce) Petway and (Pete) Booker, the stars (Pete) Hill and (Andrew) Payne, outfield phenomenon, (Frank) Duncan, (Wesley) Pryor, (Fred) Hutchinson, Lloyd and Home Run Johnson, celebrities, who can only be seen on our diamond.”

1910 Leland Giants--Seated, left to right, Johnson, Booker, Payne, Strouthers, Duncan, Pryor; standing, left to right, Petway, Lloyd, Hill, Dougherty, Bill Lindsay, Wickware, and Foster.

1910 Leland Giants–Seated, left to right, Johnson, Booker, Payne, Strouthers, Duncan, Pryor; standing, left to right, Petway, Lloyd, Hill, Dougherty, Bill Lindsay, Wickware, and Foster.

While Foster and Moseley’s club consisted of several of the core players from the 1909 Leland Giants, who had won the championship of Chicago’s City League, the league’s members rejected their request for league membership in 1910;  Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants were accepted into the league and The Chicago Tribune said it would be the Chicago Giants who would “hoist the pennant” signifying the 1909 championship at their ballpark, Auburn Park, at 79th and Wentworth,  on May 15.

When the Chicago Giants played their first City League game on May 1, the Leland Giants were on what The Chicago Inter Ocean called “Moseley’s 9,000-mile trip;” a spring training tour that covered 9,073 miles and included games in 10 states.

While they were not members of the City League, the Leland Giants played games against league teams throughout the season; including the May 15 opener.

The Chicago Defender said:

“Those in doubt about the popularity and ability of the 1910 line-up of the Leland Giants, had that doubt dispelled last Sunday if they were at the giants’ new park…B.F. Moseley presented the entire line-up, together with Manager (William C. “Billy”) Niesen‘s team, the Gunthers (a member of the City League) to 4,000 enthusiastic fans, comprising some of the best citizens of Chicago.”

The Defender described Normal Park as “one of the swellest and best-equipped ballparks in the city…it is clean and accessible to the (street) car lines and a credit to the race.”

As part of the festivities, at Normal Park–and at roughly the same time Frank Leland was about to”hoist the pennant” at Auburn Park, Niesen, on behalf of the City League gave the Leland Giants their own championship banner:

“(Niesen) presented the pennant to Rube Foster, as the champions of the city, a march was then formed, headed by the First Regiment K of P (Knights of Pythius) Band to the rear of the grounds, where the pennant, a beautiful flag in maroon, properly lettered ‘Leland Giants, City Champions’ was hoisted and unfurled to the breeze amidst great applause and music.”

The Lelands beat the Gunthers 5 to 1 behind the pitching of Frank Wickware.

Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants, lacked some of the star power of 1909 and  finished in second place in the City League.

Foster and Moseley’s Leland Giants fared better.  The “best talent procurable” won 35 straight games until June 11; The Chicago Tribune said, “Lelands Defeated at Last–Gunthers break winning streak of colored players,” when, with Foster on the mound, they lost 3 to 1 to Niesen’s Gunthers.  It was a rare loss, the Leland giants won 106 games in 1910, with just seven losses.

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

The next season, with an infusion of cash from a new business partner, a white Chicago tavern owner, John Schorling–another former partner of Frank Leland, who was sometimes identified as Charles Comiskey‘s son-in-law–the Leland Giants became the Chicago American Giants and moved from Normal Park to “Schorling’s Park” at 39th and Wentworth, the former home of the Chicago White Sox.

 

 

 

“Fatty Weakened and Portland scored four runs”

24 Jan

Walter “Judge” McCredie went ahead with the scheduled spring series in California between his Portland Beavers and the Chicago American Giants despite criticism from Pacific Coast League (PCL) President Allan T. Baum and other league executives.

Much of the concern was the result of the Negro League team beating the Beavers four out of five games in the spring of 1913.

The results of the 1914 series were much different.  Foster, and most of the rest of the pitching staff were injured, and catcher Bruce Petway missed most of the games with a bad ankle.

The series began in Santa Maria with an 11-inning 8 to 8 tie.  “Smokey” Joe Williams, of the New York Lincoln Giants joined Rube Foster’s club for the series.  The Beavers pounded him for 14 hits.

"Smokey" Joe Williams

“Smokey” Joe Williams

Portland won the second game in Santa Maria 5 to 0.  Harry Krause (who would win 22 games for Portland in 1914) shut out the American Giants on eight hits; Lee Wade struck out 9, but allowed 11 hits and took the loss.  The Portland Oregonian said Krause’s:

“Southpaw slants and spitballs stood the Negro Giants, of Chicago, on their heads.”

The series moved to Santa Cruz.

Portland beat “Smokey” Joe Williams again in game 3; 6 to 2.  The Santa Cruz Evening News said Williams “Had a nice curve, plenty of speed, but was a little wild.”  The American Giants loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, but 19-year-old rookie Elmer Hanson struck out pinch hitter Frank Duncan to end the game.

Watsonville was the site of the fourth, and final, game.

The Santa Cruz Evening News said while McCredie and Foster made the trip together to Watsonville, McCredie asked which pitcher Foster was starting the next day:

“Foster replied that he did not know, as all were ailing, one way or another.

“McCredie suggested that he (Foster) pitch.  Foster said that he would pitch if McCredie would play, and an agreement was made.”

McCredie’s last season as a regular was 1909.  After playing in 61 games in 1910, he had appeared in just eight games from 1911-1913.

“(McCredie and Foster) appeared on the ball field in uniform and the Portlanders went to bat first, big Foster began to pitch and retired the side…Then it was that McCredie got cold feet.

“He refused to carry out his side of the agreement to play, and all coaxing and teasing and jibes from  both teams could not feaze him.”

Foster pitched five innings of one-hit ball, but in the sixth “Fatty weakened and Portland scored four runs.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

After the final game The Oregonian said:

“Perhaps it was taking unfair advantage, but in the recent Beaver-Negro series the Portland Coasters knew in advance nearly everything the twirlers tossed up the plate.

(James) Hi West and (Irv) Higginbotham were out on the coaching line every game stealing the catcher’s signs.”

The American Giants salvaged their West Coast trip in their series against Nick Williams’ Portland Colts. They won the opener on March 28 in Santa Rosa 6 to 0 behind a “Smokey” Joe Williams no-hitter.  Williams struck out nine of Portland’s  Northwestern Leaguers.  The Oregonian said:

“Williams, a tall, rakish looking mulatto (Williams’ mother was a member of the Comanche nation) set the Colts down without a hit or a run.”

The American Giants committed two errors, including one by third baseman Bill Francis.  The paper said:

(Duke) Whitt rolled one infield grounder toward third that might have been construed a safety, but the scorers graciously agreed to swallow race prejudices.  It was scored as an error.”

The series then went to Chico, California, and Medford and Grants Pass, Oregon, before finishing in Portland.

The Colts only managed one victory, beating the Giants 9 to 8 in Medford.  Although the colts won the game The Oregonian said the highlights were two long home runs hit by American Giants shortstop John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, including “one of the longest hits ever seen on the local field.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry Lloyd

The American Giants continued the spring tradition of traveling west to play Portland teams through the 1916 season.

Walter “Judge” McCredie later created some doubt that playing Foster’s team was simply a business relationship and not an expression of his opinion of the color line in baseball.  When he was criticised by PCL executives in 1914 he said: “the games are nothing more or less than training affairs.”  Later that season his attempt to sign a Hawaiian player of Chinese decent named Lang Akana was thwarted by PCL officials and his own players who threatened to revolt. In 1915 McCredie was quoted in The Chicago Defender:

“I don’t think the color of the skin ought to be a barrier in baseball…If I had my say the Afro-American would be welcome inside the fold.  I would like to have two such ball players as Petway and Lloyd of the Chicago Colored Giants who play out here every spring.  I think Lloyd is another Hans Wagner around shortstop and Petway is one of the greatest catchers in the world.”

It wouldn’t be until 1917 that a Chinese player would play professional baseball.