Tag Archives: Frank Wickware

“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.”

Lost Advertisements–American Giants at Dyckman Oval

8 Jul

amgiants1919

An advertisement for the final day of Rube Foster and the Chicago American Giants’ 1919 barnstorming tour of the East Coast–an August 24 doubleheader against Guy Empey’s Treat ‘Em Rough at Dyckman Oval

The “Treat ‘Em Rough,” also occasionally called the Treat ‘Em Roughs, were a barnstorming team composed of some current and former professional players–including Jeff Tesreau, Pol Perritt as well as East Coast semi-pro players.  The team was a promotion for “Treat ‘Em Rough Magazine,” published by Arthur Guy Empey, an American cavalry sergeant who, opposed to the United States neutrality during the early stages of WWI, left the country to join the British Army.  Empey returned to the United States after being wounded in the Battle of the Somme and became a national celebrity after the publication of his biography, “Over the Top,” which was turned into a film–written by and starring Empey–in 1918.  Treat ‘Em Rough was a reference to what had become Empey’s famous tagline: “Treat ‘Em Rough Boys.”

Guy Empey

Guy Empey

Empey’s team spent the 1919 season playing against local clubs and Negro Leaguers, including the Bacharach Giants:

amgiants19193

amgiants19192

The Bacharach Giants swept two doubleheaders from Empey’s club that month behind the pitching of “Cannonball” Dick Redding and Frank Wickware.

Empey’s team, with Tesreau and Perritt on the mound, faired no better against the American Giants.  In an August 17 Doubleheader, Smokey Joe Williams pitched a one-hitter, beating the Treat ‘Em Rough and Tesreau 2 to 0.

"Smokey" Joe Williams

“Smokey” Joe Williams

 

Oscar Charleston started the second game for the American Giants but was hit hard and relieved by Dave Brown.  The Giants came back to win 9 to 7 in 11-innings.  Perritt pitched 11 innings and took the loss.

The next meeting went about the same for Treat ‘Em Rough.

The New York Age said “The stands were filled to overflowing” for the final doubleheader, “The last two games of Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants’ Eastern tour.” The paper also noted that:

“The majority of the fans were supporters of the Chicagoans.”

Tom Johnson started the first game  for the American Giants, beating Tesreau and the Treat ‘Em Rough 2 to 1, and Williams outpitched Perritt in the second game, the American Giants winning 7-1.

The American Giants returned to the Midwest the following day.  Empey’s Treat ‘Em Rough baseball team appears to have disbanded sometime in 1920.

 

“Three of the Greatest Pitchers the Game ever has Produced”

15 Jul

In 1915, Frank G. Menke, who wrote for the Heart Newspaper’s International News Service told readers:

“The color line drawn so tightly around major league baseball has barred from major league fields three of the greatest pitchers the game ever has produced.”

The three were John Donaldson, Frank Wickware, and Jose Mendez.

In May, Donaldson, who pitched for the All Nations, had thrown 30 consecutive no-hit innings against Kansas City based semi-pro clubs.

Sketchy contemporary accounts with some transposed numbers in newspaper articles seem to have led to confusion about Donaldson’s feat in later years: some sources claim the streak was over two games—a regulation contest and a 21-inning game , but it appears from the earliest reports in The Kansas City Times and The Indianapolis Freeman that he pitched a nine-inning and 12-inning no-hitter against the Schmelzers, a powerful semi-pro club sponsored by the Schmelzer Arms Sporting Goods Company in Kansas City and another no-hitter against a team called the KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) All-Stars.  (Later in the summer of 1915, Schmelzers became the sponsor of the All Nations after the club lost their original sponsor, Hopkins Brothers Sporting Goods).

John Donaldson

John Donaldson

Menke quoted New York Giants Manager John McGraw’s assessment of the All Nations’ star after having watched him pitch in Cuba:

“If Donaldson were a white man, or if the unwritten law of baseball didn’t bar Negroes from the major leagues, I would give $50,000 for him—and think I was getting a bargain.”

Menke said of Wickware of the Chicago American Giants:

“(He) is another Negro pitcher who would rank with the Walter Johnsons, Joe Woods and Grover Alexanders if he were a white man…Wickware has marvelous speed, a weird set of curves and wonderful control.  And he has a trick that has made him feared among batters.  He throws what seems like a ‘bean ball,’ but his control is so perfect that he never yet has hit a batter in the head.  But when the batters see the ball, propelled with mighty force, come for their heads, they jump away, and the ball, taking its proper and well-timed curve, arches over the plate for a strike.”

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The final pitcher on Menke’s list was Mendez,  another member of the All Nations:

“He’s known as “The Black Matty” and his work has been almost as brilliant as that of “The Big Six” of the Giants.  Mendez is only of medium height (5′ 9”), but he has terrific power in his arm.

“The Cuban Negro has a canny brain and he always has used it.  He has mixed his fastball with his slow one, has an assortment of beautiful curves and perfect control…Like Mathewson, he never pitches air-tight ball unless he has to.  He conserves his strength.  But when he needs to pitch hitless ball he does it.  When he needs to strike out a man he usually succeeds.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Incredibly, a story about three pitchers who deserved notice by the major leagues written by an influential white sportswriter received barely a notice in the black press.

The Indianapolis Freeman ran the story with no further comment, and no mention of who wrote the original story, simply attributing it to The Indiana Daily Times which had run Menke’s piece.

The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier ignored the story entirely.  The New York Age didn’t mention Menke’s story, but the same week did make a pitch for black players—not with the positive portrayal of three great pitchers as Menke had done, but by highlighting the bad behavior of some major leaguers.

Lester Aglar Walton, who wrote about baseball and theater for The Age and later became the United States Ambassador to Liberia, said:

“(I)f baseball magnates are not color prejudiced can it be that they have misgivings as to how Negro players would conduct themselves on and off the field if permitted to play in the big leagues?  However, if this is their chief cause of concern and the stumbling block in the way of crack Negro players, big league managers should be reminded of the Ty Cobbs, Larry McLeans and others who have distinguished themselves by acts of ruffianism on and off the diamond.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

Walton related the story of McLean’s recent fight with Giants Manager John McGraw and coach “Sinister” Dick Kinsella in the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis.

“(H)ad McLean been a colored player the incident in St. Louis would have brought about the disbarment of all Negroes from hotels in St. Louis—had a policy of accommodating Negroes existed.”

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

Walton also noted that when white teams met black teams on the field after the regular season, “The mixing of the races does not provoke racial conflicts and the best of feelings exist” among the players.

Then, he asked the men who owned major league clubs:

“The question is therefore put up to big league magnates that if the Indian with his dark skin and the Cuban are permitted to play in the big leagues, and if there is not the least possibility of the record for ruffianism established by the Ty Cobbs and Larry McLeans being eclipsed, why not give the Negro player a chance?”

As would be the case for three more decades, there was no reply.

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.

 

 

 

“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.