Tag Archives: George Treadway

“Three or four Men who looked like Wonders in the Big Leagues Disappeared”

13 Jan

In 1912 The Cincinnati Times- Star‘s Sports Editor William A. Phelon questioned why professional baseball had not become integrated:

“The prejudice against the Negro ballplayer is a strange and a deep-rooted thing in baseball circles, and all through the country, little leagues and big, from Maine to Mexico, the prejudice holds sway.  The African is barred from the places where the Indian is royally welcome and the athlete of negro blood must not presume to mingle in white baseball society.

“Strange to say, the white ball players, even the haughty southerners like (Ty) Cobb and (George) Suggs will gladly play games against Cuban clubs, composed mostly of black men.  They will play exhibition games against Negro teams, treating the black men with the utmost cordiality and fairness, but will not tolerate Negros in their own crowds or in the white clubs of the same circuits.”

Phelon said Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker’s short stay with the Toledo Blue Stockings demonstrated that even the most bigoted of teammates could manage to work with a good player—even if they treated him unreasonably:

 “Formerly there were a few clever Negro ball players in the big leagues, one of the best being Walker, a black catcher who was as good behind the bat as any white man of his time.  It was said of Walker that when he was catching Tony Mullane, the latter refused to stand for a Negro giving him battery signs.  Walker then agreed to work without a battery sign of any kind, and the battery of Mullane and Walker proved one of the most successful of the season.”

Walker and James “Deacon” McGuire were the team’s two primary catchers, each playing 41 games behind the plate.  Mullane was 36-26 in 67 games (the team was 10-32 in games Mullane did not figure in the decision).

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Moses Fleetwood Walker

Thirty-five years later Mullane told The New York Age that Walker was the “best catcher I ever worked with.” He said:

“I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.  One day he signaled me for a curve and I shot a fast ball at him.  He caught it and walked down to me.

“’Mr. Mullane,’ he said, ‘I’ll catch you without signals, but I won’t catch you if you are going to cross me when I give you signal.’

“And all the rest of that season he caught me and caught anything I pitched without knowing what was coming.”

tonymullane

Tony Mullane

Phelon also suggested that more than one player since Walker had managed to pass for a short period of time before being found out:

 “Now and then a Negro man has slipped over the bars, passing himself off as a suntanned white man or Indian, but sooner or later he has been unmasked and quietly vanished from the game, doubtless to turn up under some different name, with one of the strong Negro teams that tour the country.

“Three or four men who, for a little while, looked like wonders in the big leagues disappeared in that way and to this day fans marvel why such clever athletes should have quit and left no word behind.  Some of these players were so near white that they fooled the Northern athletes completely, but almost every ball club now contains two or three sons of Dixie, and you can barely deceive them on a Negro.”

Phelon also told the story of a first baseman who “broke into one of the major clubs, and he was a corker.  He could hit and run and field like a demon.”  He claimed that during a game in Washington a Virginia congressman recognized the player as a “black scoundrel” trying to pass as white, thus ending his career.

Unfortunately, Phelon left no clues about the players he claimed briefly “slipped over the bars” and there’s no way to verify whether his claims were legitimate or simply apocrypha indented to make a point.

The idea of players “passing” has intrigued historians.  Claims have been made about several players, including George Treadway and George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  None have been verified.

Actually, it Probably Wasn’t the Superstition

5 Dec

As with George Treadway, a story can get repeated throughout the decades while a large, key portion is lost in the process; such is the case with Billy Earle.

His career ended because of the superstitions of other players who thought he was “creepy,” as David Nemec described him in his excellent book “The Beer and Whiskey League.”  In “The New Bill James Historical Abstract,” James credulously quotes the assertion from sportscaster Bill Stern‘s 1949 book “Favorite Baseball Stories” that Earle was:

“(F)orced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye.’”

For awhile even Earle tried to use it as an excuse.

But actually, it was probably the morphine.

William Moffat Earle was at times a great player, but more often impetuous and prone to jumping contracts.

He earned his nickname “The Little Globetrotter” after being part of the 1888 world tour organized by Albert Spalding.  Earle said of the trip:

“We played everywhere from the catacombs of Rome to Cheops of Egypt, under the shadow of the pyramids and out through India and the Islands of Ceylon.”

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour

Billy Earle and the other members of the world tour at the Great Sphinx of Giza

After returning from the tour Earle joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association.  He bounced back and forth from Major League to minor league teams for the next six years.  During that time, there were a number of humorous references to Earle’s interest in hypnotism, but none claimed it was an impediment to his career; however, in 1897, upon being released after one game with the Columbus Senators of the Western League the legend began.

In September of 1897 a fairly long article appeared in The Baltimore Sun under the headline “A Haunted Ballplayer,” and then ran in papers around the country. The story said:

“(Earle) cannot get a position on any ball team in the country, not even the small minor league teams.”

Earle told a sad story of teammates avoiding him and fearing the “hoodoo.”  He even blamed his being released by Pittsburgh  after the 1893 season on it, ignoring the fact that he was only signed because of injuries to the three other Pirate catchers, Connie Mack, Joe Sugden and Doggie Miller—and emergency catcher Jake Stenzel.

That 1897 story became the story of Billy Earle.

It also said:

 “He is, moreover, a pleasant, intelligent, strictly temperate man.”

The first two might very well have been true.  The last was not.

The rest of the story about Billy Earle has been lost, forgotten, or just ignored.

In August of 1898, The Cincinnati Enquirer told the real story of why Billy Earle had been out of baseball.  The “strictly temperate” Earle was addicted to morphine.

His friend John McGraw helped get him treatment in a Baltimore hospital; his former Cincinnati teammates took up a collection to buy Earle a ticket to Philadelphia to stay with his parents after treatment.

He kicked the habit, and then for three seasons managed and played for an independent team in Richmond, Indiana; he also coached teams in Havana, Cuba during the winters of 1900 and 1902-1904. And he returned to professional baseball; hardly the profile of a blacklisted man.

Earle signed as a player/manager with the 1903 Vicksburg Hill Billies in the Cotton States League.  He continued his playing career through 1906, and either managed or worked as an umpire in Midwest-based leagues through 1911.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle, player/manager Columbia Gamecocks 1905.

Billy Earle died in Omaha, Nebraska in 1946.

Were there some players in the superstitious world of 19th Century baseball who were uncomfortable playing with or against Earle? Probably.  If he had hit .320 and not had a drug problem would he have had a 10-year or more major league career regardless of superstitions? Probably.

George Treadway

16 Oct

A small item in the Louisville Courier-Journal near the end of the 1893 season created a major stir.  And while the story was almost immediately shown to be untrue, several books and articles over the years have tried to imply that it’s still an open question.

The story about George Treadway was written by Courier-Journal Baseball Editor Sam McKee who was traveling with the Baltimore Orioles of the National League:

“There can be little doubt that Treadway, Baltimore’s right fielder is a Negro…all the players say he is.”

Treadway attributed the story to a former teammate he refused to name, and told The Baltimore News:

“The story is the result of a piece of spite work on the part of a former member of the Baltimore team, and knowing the man as I do, I am not surprised that such a thing could emanate from him.”

Treadway went on to say that he had information about the player which would “Kill him eternally, as far as the baseball profession is concerned, but I prefer not to act in that underhanded way.”

Treadway said the story about him came out of an incident when he was playing with Denver in the Western Association when an opposing player had directed a racist epitaph at Treadway.

George Treadway

Both The Baltimore Afro-American and baseball columnist O.P. Taylor reported that the story was investigated and was untrue.  At the same time it came to light that Baltimore owner Harry Vonderhorst and manager Ned Hanlon had heard similar rumors and conducted an investigation before signing Treadway, The Sporting Life said:

“Manager Hanlon felt satisfied the report was without truth and Treadway was made a member of the team.”

The story quickly went away, but in recent years has been revived, and mostly in the absence of the facts.  For example:

“. . . the writers . . . compared Joe (Jackson) to Treadway . . . but they did not mention that Treadway had been driven out of baseball by opposing players and fans who bombarded him with taunts and slurs about his alleged or real Negro blood.” – From Say It Ain’t So, Joe!: The True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson

This reference to Treadway, like most, ignores critical facts.  The taunts and slurs must not have been very effective—Treadway remained in the Major Leagues for two full seasons, and part of a third after the story broke, and he was “driven out of baseball” a full 11 years later at the age of 37.

Had there been any evidence that Treadway was African-American his tenure in professional baseball would have been similar in length to that of William Clarence Matthews a decade later.

As the starting shortstop for Harvard University, Matthews faced four years of racial tension and boycotts—when the Crimson faced Georgetown in 1903 Georgetown’s manager,  and the team’s catcher, Samuel H. Apperious (Baseball Reference lists him as “William”) refused to participate in the game.

After graduating Matthews attempted to play professional baseball, signing with the Burlington team in the Vermont-based “outlaw” Northern League.  Upon arriving in Burlington Matthews was faced with another player boycott led by the same Sam Apperious, who was playing for the Montpelier-Barre team in the lead.  While there were rumors that Matthews might play Major League ball it never rose beyond speculation.

Matthews was, in effect,  “driven out of baseball.”

William Clarence Matthews with Harvard Baseball Team

George Treadway was in and out of professional baseball until 1904, but his absences were about the economics of early baseball and not questions about his race: from 1899-1901 Treadway played baseball for various teams in the Chicago area, including the White Rocks in the Chicago City League, while working for the Pullman Palace Car Company.

After leaving Chicago, Treadway played in the Pacific Northwest League and Pacific Coast League.  He stayed on the West Coast and settled in California until his death in 1928.

Matthews became an attorney, was actively involved in politics and served as legal counsel for Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.  He also passed away in 1928.