Tag Archives: Hilton Smith

“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.