Tag Archives: Jack Johnson

“There is only one Thing against him—he is Very Dark”

13 Jul

Vernon Ayau became professional baseball’s first player of Chinese descent when he appeared briefly in the Northwest League in 1917.

But he was the not the first Chinese player a West Coast team attempted to sign.  Two years earlier, Walter McCredie of the Portland Beavers tried to bring one Ayau’s teammates with the Chinese Athletic Club of Honolulu to the Pacific Coast League.

Fong Lang Akana was born in Hawaii in 1889 to a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother.

In the winter of 1914, McCredie announced that he had signed Akana.  The (Portland) Oregonian said:

“Akana is a big, rangy fellow and bats left-handed.  He weighs about 180 pounds, according to the dope given to Mack.”

Lang Akana

Lang Akana

The Oregon Daily Journal said he was 5’ 10” and quoted Bert Lowry, the sports editor at The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser:

“He swings from the left side and hits the ball hard at all times, Akana is well-educated, has pleasing manners and is willing to learn.”

Two former major leaguers Jack Bliss and Justin “Mike” Fitzgerald, barnstorming with Pacific Coast Leaguers in Hawaii, were impressed with Akana.  Bliss said he was a great fielder who “had eyes all over his head.”  Fitzgerald said:

“He is a good fielder and very fast.  He is by far the best player in the islands.”

One additional observation from Lowry and Fitzgerald foretold that there would be trouble ahead:

Lowery: “He is a bit dark.”

Fitzgerald: “There is only one thing against him—he is very dark.”

McCredie told The Daily Journal that Akana would likely join the club at their Fresno, California training camp in the spring, the paper noted:

“Cubans, Indians, Poles and Italians have made good in baseball, but no Chinese or Japanese has yet won his spangles.”

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

Akana, top row second from left, with Chinese Athletic Club, 1909

It took less than a month for the plan to bring Akana to Portland to begin to fall apart.

The San Francisco Chronicle, while getting Akana’s name and position wrong, reported that:

“Portland players won’t play with a Chinese.”

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said:

“Narrow racial prejudices, or possibly the fear that if the bars are let down someone will lose his regular job, threatens to work a grave injustice to Lang Akana.”

In late December, McCredie was ready to bend to the pressure, telling Roscoe Fawcett the sports editor of The Oregonian:

“His skin’s too dark…The Coast Leaguers who played at Honolulu on that recent barnstorming trip came back vowing boycott.  I have received a couple of letters from players telling me Akana is as dark as Jack Johnson, so I guess I will have to give him a release.”

Walter McCredie

Walter McCredie

Pitcher “Seattle” Bill James, who also played against Akana in Hawaii, disputed the account that players were refusing to play with Akana, telling The Oregonian:

“I don’t think any ballplayer will object to playing on the same team as him.  But he might have some trouble around the hotels.  He is not black like a negro, more sepia colored—and his hair is straight.”

But in January, McCredie, who was by far the most progressive PCL magnates on the issue of race, switched direction, and vowed to keep Akana when Fawcett showed him a photograph of the outfielder:

“Dark or not dark, we’ll  have Lang Akana report to us at Fresno…This photograph shows him to be extremely dark-skinned…(PCL umpire) Jack McCarthy saw him at Honolulu this winter and says Lang is just as white as most ballplayers after they have been out all summer in the sunshine.

“He doesn’t look any blacker than Barney Joy, who used to pitch for San Francisco.”

Apparently, McCredie found a way out without explicitly saying he refused to put a Chinese player on his club.  Shortly before the Beavers headed to California, The Oregonian said:

“The Hawaiian, Akana, will not be considered unless he pays his own expenses to the spring camp at Fresno.”

The paper had said earlier that it would cost $175 to bring Akana over from Hawaii.  Akana, whose father was a doctor, and whose family, according to several accounts were “wealthy,” likely could afford the cost of transportation. So, it is unknown whether he refused to pay for his own way or if the paper’s account was incorrect.

The Beavers went to California and started the season without Akana, but there was still talk of his joining the team.  In May, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin said McCredie was still considering adding Akana to the roster:

“Portland is wavering between the first and second division…’What we need here are bat artists,’ writes the sporting editor (Fawcett) of The Oregonian to a Honolulan…Naturally, Lang is watching the Portland field from a distance;  Manager Mac has not made good and Lang is playing the ‘watchful waiting’ polity to perfection.”

“Summed up, the situation now is: if Portland can gain a foothold in the Coast race within the next month or six weeks, it is probable that Akana will celebrate the Fourth of July and Christmas in Honolulu, if not then a demand for strengthening the team with a few good hitters will be forthcoming…’McCredie is silent on the Akana contract,’ (Fawcett) continued, ‘and I think that the Hawaiian-Chinese’s chances to play with the Beavers are good, unless Portland takes a sudden leap upward in the percentage column soon.”

The prediction was wrong.  Portland struggled all season, finishing in last place with a 78-116 record, but the call never went out to Hawaii for Akana to join the team.

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

Akana, bottom row, left, 1915

McCredie finally saw Akana in person two years later when he brought the Beavers to Honolulu for spring training.  Fawcett said in The Oregonian that “Akana played left field and did not show up particularly well, owing it is said, that he had played little ball for several months.”

Akana continued to play in Honolulu—interrupted by service in the Hawaii National Guard in 1917—into the 1920s, but was “Too dark” to ever appear in a professional game.

Biographical notes: Some sources, including his Hawaii Birth and Christening (B&C) record list his name as Lan rather than Lang, the same B&C record lists his complete name as C. Fong Lan Akana.  Several sources, including the B&C record list his date of birth as April 15, 1890, several others, including his WWI and WWII Draft Registrations list the date of birth as April 15, 1889.

“Who Cares about Color, when the Scores are Tied?”

6 Jan

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley was one of the primary financial backers of the Leland Giants and after the dispute which led to the departure of Frank Leland, he partnered with Rube Foster and served as business manager for the club when he and Foster won the right in court to continue using that name.

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

Beauregard Fitzhugh Moseley

In January of 1911, he wrote an open letter to the readers of The Broad Axe, what the paper called “A baseball appeal of a worthy undertaking by a worthy man to worthy men:”

“We are undertaking to organize a Negro National League of America, an enterprise that that needs no prospectus to convince one of its necessity to our people, who are already forced out of the game from a national standpoint, with the closing in and narrowing each year our opportunity to play with the white semi-pro teams, because of the organization of these teams into minor state and city leagues.

“Here in Chicago, the City League has barred all but possibly one colored club; this fact alone presages the day when there will be none, (unless) the Negro comes to his own rescue by organizing and patronizing the game successfully which would itself force recognition from minor white leagues to play us and share in the receipts; for with six or eight National Negro clubs playing clean, scientific baseball the public would soon ask itself the question which of the National Leagues are the stronger; just as it is queried about the world’s pugilistic championship until the promoters of the game were compelled to answer at Reno (Nevada), July 4th last (The Jack Johnson/Jim Jeffries fight).

Johnson and Jeffries in Reno

Johnson and Jeffries in Reno

“In that contest, just as in the coming contest of the world’s best ball clubs the Negro will be prepared, if he acts wise to take care of himself and be heralded again Champion of the World, so let these who serve the Race and assist it in holding its own back up and encourage the national  movement for with it goes the hope of the Race in more than one direction, for be it known that there are no greater leveler of men than manly sport such as baseball which is admired by white and black alike, appeals to their pride as athletes and to their senses as the best test of physical and mental superiority and here on the diamond before the frenzied anxious populace the Negro has the best opportunity of his present day advantage to display ability, that taken the ball player in Pennsylvania, and California to the Gubernatorial chair.”

John Kinley Tener, a major league player, had just been elected governor of Pennsylvania and George Cooper Pardee, who had made a name for himself as a college and amateur ballplayer served as California’s governor from 1903-1907.

Moseley then asked the most important question:

“Who care(s) about color, when the scores are tied and the home team is at bat in the ninth inning, with two gone and two on base?

“What is wasted is a man that can hit, be he blue, black, yellow, grizzle or gray, a hit that scores (runners) from 2nd and 3rd and the batter is thereafter a hero; hence, the importance of being a ‘hitter’ is a great asset, greater perhaps than any other I can now recall.

“So I appeal to all Race loving men in the cities in which it has been agreed to place a National League club to organize an effort to secure not only the franchise but the best club of ball players possible to the end, that nothing should retard the entire success of the national undertaking.  Hesitancy means ruin.  Procrastination has almost drove the talent from the fold and stagnation will surely set in if a business turn is not thrown over and around the game, $300 is a mere bagatelle for cities like St. Louis, Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile and Columbus to raise, it is just $10 each for 30 men and yet this is sufficient to secure a franchise and guarantee the making of the circuit by each club, besides it should be the best investment  now apparent and make those who invest it proud by the returns due them at the end of the season.”

Mosley predicted that each team in an eight-team league could turn enough of profit to repay investors and create operating capital for the following season.

He made a final pitch:

“(O)rganize, get 1o of your Race men together and write at once for your franchise, hustle, the time is short.  The Schedule Committee must report on February 27th next and the organization must be complete and ready to play ball by Easter Sunday.  Men of the Race this appeal is to you for you and yours.  It is in vain or shall we have a Negro National Baseball League?”

His plea for an enduring league was in vain.

Rube Foster deserted Moseley before the 1911 season to form the Chicago American Giants; the failure to form a league has been posited as one of the reasons for the split.  Without Foster, the Leland Giants quickly faded from prominence.

Moseley’s brief tenure as a baseball executive was over after the 1911 season.  He returned to his many business interests, including land holdings in “The Black Eden,” Idlewild, Michigan.  He also owned the Idlewild Hotel and Dixie Land Park at 33rd and Wabash in Chicago–The Chicago Defender said of the Idlewild “It is one of the most pretentious hotels conducted for Colored people in the United States.”  And he continued to practice law–The Defender noted that upwards of “90 percent” of his clients were white–and remained a political force in Chicago’s Black Belt; Moseley also served as a presidential elector for Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912.

Ad for Moseley's Dixie Land Park

Ad for Moseley’s Dixie Land Park

It would be nearly a decade until the formation of a league, and Moseley would not live to see it.

Just two months before his former business partner, Foster and other team owners met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City in February of 1912 to form the Negro National League, Moseley died of Influenza.  He was 54.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

“The Fair Sex” at American Giants Park

23 Oct

The Chicago Defender loved Rube Foster:

Rube Foster

                                       Rube Foster

“Chicago generally leads all cities in America in producing foremost men in the world of business, letters, professions, and arts, and in athletics she boasts of her champions, crowned and uncrowned.  Perhaps no sport in America has a greater following than baseball, and of the many colored teams who sign up here the American Giants under Rube Foster’s management is unquestionably the best.  Rube Foster is to baseball what Jack Johnson is to the pugilistic world and as a manager and player he has few equals in the major leagues.”

But during the 1914 season, the paper said there was one area where Foster had been negligent.  It involved “The fair sex” at American Giants Park at 39th and Wentworth:

“Sport to be good must be clean sport…The thousands of ladies who attend the games should be given every courtesy, and complaint has been generally made that their costumes have been soiled by unclean seats.  It isn’t such a great task to turn the hose on the seats two or three hours before each game, so the ladies may attend without having to send their dresses to the cleaners after each game.  There is no doubt that it is simply an oversight on the part of the management and will immediately be remedied.”

Lost Advertisements–Lajoie for Nuxated Iron

7 Aug

lajoienuxated

 

Not to be outdone by Ty Cobb, Harry Hooper and Joe Jackson who also endorsed the new “miracle drug” from DAE Health Laboratories in Detroit in 1916, Napoleon Lajoie took his turn in an advertisement for Nuxated Iron.

Napoleon Lajoie–World’s Greatest Veteran Baseball Player–‘Comes Back’ says Nuxated Iron Has Given him Tremendous New Force, Power and Endurance After 23 Years’ Service He Can Now Go Through The Hardest Game Without Fatigue–Physicians’s Opinion

Lajoie’s testimonial for the product said:

“When a man gets past forty, some people seem to think he is finished, especially where athletics are concerned.  But I believe the way I play today proves that the strength, vitality and youthful ginger which are the chief assets of young fellows, can be possessed to just as a great a degree by a man of my age if he keeps his body full of iron.  Nuxated Iron has put the ‘pep of youth’ into my whole body.”

Most doctors disagreed with Lajoie’s assessment.

The Journal of the American Medical Association took notice of the Nuxated Iron ad campaign and in October of 1916 had this to say about the “miracle drug:”

“Newspapers whose advertising ethics are still in the formative stage have, for some months past, been singing—at so much a song—the praised of “Nuxated Iron.”  The public has been that this nostrum is what makes Ty Cobb, “the greatest baseball batter of all time,” a “winner” and is what helped Jess Willard “to whip Frank Moran” besides being the “untold secret” of Willard’s “great triumph over Jack Johnson.”

All that DAE would say about the ingredients were:

“Formula—The valuable blood, nerve force and tissue building properties of this preparation are due to organic iron in the form of ferrum peptonate in combination with nux vomica (strychnine) phosphoglycerate and other valuable ingredients.

But alas, The AMA Journal was not impressed with the claims made by Nuxated Iron’s endorsements:

“The Journal felt that it owed it to the public to find out just how much iron and nux vomica there were in ‘Nuxated Iron.’  Packages of the nostrum…were subjected to analysis.”

What the analysis found was that the formula that made Ty Cobb a “winner,” offered no health benefits:

“There is only one-twenty-fifth of a grain of iron in each ‘Nuxated Iron’ tablet, while the amount of nux vomica…is practically negligible…In a dollar bottle of ‘Nuxated Iron’ the purchaser gets, according to our analysis, less than 2 ½ grams of iron; in 100 Blaud’s Pills, which can be purchased at any drug store for from 50 to 75 cents, there are 48 grains of iron.”

To sum up their analysis The Journal called the claims made by Nuxated Iron “the sheerest advertising buncombe.”

Cobb was said to have earned as much as $1000 for his endorsement, there is no record of what Lajoie was paid.

Nuxated Iron remained on the market until at least 1921; although by then they had sought a higher power to endorse the product.

Portions of this post appeared in one about the Cobb advertisement for Nuxated Iron, published February 15, 2013.

 

An Umpire’s Revenge

5 Sep

In July of 1910 the Cotton States League released an umpire named Hunt (his first name has been lost to history).

A week after he was let go the first place Greenwood Chauffeurs were in Jackson, Mississippi to play the second place Tigers.  The Jackson Clarion-Ledger told the story:

“Ex-Umpire Hunt was in Jackson last night.

“If you don’t believe that statement ask some of the members of the Greenwood baseball team.

“They can testify to it.

“They can also show bodily evidence in support of the fact.

“He also had on his fighting clothes, and this is another fact they will swear to

“There are others who are willing to testify that he would have made a better show against Jack Johnson than did (Jim) Jeffries, among them Deputy Sheriff Sanders.

“Hunt was a short while back in the employ of the Cotton States League officiating in the capacity of umpire, but his performance last night demonstrated that he is better fitted for the prize ring.

“He was also fired, or at least relieved of his official duties on account of a howl made by certain players, the merits of which The Clarion-Ledger knows nothing.

“As before stated Hunt was in town and while standing at the corner of Mill and Capitol Streets, met Orth Collins of the Greenwood team, who accused him of umpiring games and betting on them at the same time.  This offended Hunt’s dignity, and on Collins reiterating the accusation, he was promptly knocked down…Hunt walked away, going to his supper in a nearby café.  Having satisfied his appetite, he proceeded to the Lemon Hotel, headquarters for all the baseballists, and where the Greenwood team had congregated preparatory to taking their game.  Entering Hunt espied his old friend Jack Law, catcher for the Greenwooders, and saluting him, asked that he use his good offices in patching up the differences between him and the mighty Orth.  But Jack, who reports say, was feeling his rye, was somewhat in belligerent humor himself, and he promptly pasted Hunt one in the face and received a knockdown in return.  Hunt then squared himself for action, but in doing so stumbled over a chair and fell to the floor and was immediately covered by second baseman (Ray) Rolling, who had gone to the assistance of Law.  In the meantime Law had recovered himself and kicked his ex-umpship in the eye, and to use Hunt’s expression ‘that kinder made him mad,’ and those who witnessed his subsequent performance, were perfectly willing to believe it.

Orth Collins--one of Hunt's victims

Orth Collins–Hunt’s first victim

“Shaking himself loose from Rolling, Hunt ‘riz’ to his feet and then the fireworks went off and the pyrotechnics shot out in every direction.  Four of the other players of the Greenwood bunch decided to take a hand against the athletic umpire, but very soon regretted their rashness in ‘rushing in where angels dare not tread,’ and were kept busy for a few minutes picking themselves up from the floor.

“Hunt backed himself up against the counter and his arms began working like piston-rods with battering ram attachments, and every time he stretched them out somebody went down.  (Clyde) Frakes, who officiates as catcher when Jack Law is occupying the bench, got into the scrap rather late, but he lost no time in getting out of it.  In fact, it is said that one lick delivered at the psychological moment started his feet to moving with such rapidity that he was unable to get any control over them until he found himself seated on in the A & V train (Alabama & Vicksburg Railroad) ready to pull out for Vicksburg.  Other players who showed an inclination to help their brothers in distress, hesitated and finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor and contented themselves with being ‘lookers on.’

“After the fight had gone some three or four round Hunt recognized that some of the men persisted in getting up after being knocked down by him, and not caring to continue the performance indefinitely, he gathered  two spittoons, one in each hand, and let one of them fly at a belligerent who was making for the stairway, and it is said that it hastened his speed to such an extent that his moving form became like Mark Twain’s coyote, ‘only a yaller streak,’ and that only lasted for a fraction of a second before he entirely disappeared from view.  The other cuspidor went in another direction, as also did most of the spectators.  Hunt was getting wild in his aim and not being able to distinguish friend from foe, and knocking down everybody and everything that came in reaching distance, the last being Jack Law, who had got back into the scrap, only to receive another swat, the like of which, spectators declared, was never before delivered to mortal man.

“Having put all his opponents hor de combat.  Hunt found himself in the arms of Deputy Sheriff Sanders, but not knowing him to be such, he was preparing himself for a last mighty effort when the deputy sheriff hastily volunteered the information that he was a peace officer intent on doing his duty, and the roaring lion subsided like an innocent lamb, and meekly announced that he didn’t ‘want to hurt any man attending to his own business.’”

Hunt and six of the Greenwood players were arrested.  Four of the players were immediately released, but Law and Rolling, along with Hunt were held over for trial the following day.  All three were fined and released.

The Clarion-Ledger said although Hunt was “out of a a job at present…his friends will insist that he go into immediate training and challenge the holders of all the championship titles in the universe.”

Greenwood held on to beat Jackson by a half game for the pennant.

It’s unclear whether Hunt ever worked again as an umpire, but The Washington Times suggested that if Ban Johnson “wants a fighting umpire, one who can take the players and administer punishment on the ball field without fear of his blouse being torn to shreds or dirtied, here is the boy.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up other Things #10

21 Jul

Trash Talk, 1886

The Philadelphia Times reported in July of 1886 about a feud between two American Association pitchers; Brooklyn Grays rookie Steve Toole and St. Louis Browns star Dave Foutz:

“Steve Toole says Foutz is the ugliest player in the Association.  Foutz returns the compliment by saying that Toole is no pitcher, but his face paralyzes the batsmen.”

Dave Foutz

Dave Foutz

Steve Toole

Steve Toole

The National Convention—1867

The Nashville Union and Dispatch’s take on a decision which would reverberate for the next 80 years:

“Still Against The Negro—The National Convention of base-ball players in session at Philadelphia last week resolved that no club composed of persons of color, or having in its membership persons of color, should be admitted into the National Association.

“To show the significance of this action we may state that there were four hundred and eighty-one clubs represented in this convention including clubs from the following states:  Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska.  From which it is evident that the Northern base-ballists are opposed to Negro equality.”

Boss Schmidt—Throwing and Fighting

Charles “Boss” Schmidt is best known for leaving Ty Cobb with two black eyes and a broken nose in 1907 after Cobb slapped a black groundskeeper and choked the man’s wife when she attempted to intervene;  he also was a member of three pennant-winning Detroit Tigers teams (1907-1909).

Charles "Boss" Schmidt

Charles “Boss” Schmidt

During the era when several players received tremendous publicity for catching balls dropped from great heights. Schmidt received only minimal attention for an impressive throwing feat in 1909.

The Tigers were staying at Washington’s Arlington Hotel during an August series with the Washington Senators when Schmidt, according to The Associated Press:

“Charles Schmidt of the Detroit baseball team threw a 10-cent baseball from Vermont Avenue in front of the Arlington over the eight-story Shoreham Hotel (the one torn down in 1929, not the Omni Shoreham which was built in 1930 and is still standing), which faces on fifteenth Street.  He took a run, and the ball went up until it disappeared over the roof line of the hotel.  It was later found in Fifteenth Street.  Whether it cleared the building entirely or bounced from the roof is not known, but it was a splendid throw, for the distance from where Schmidt stood to Fifteenth Street is nearly 400 feet.”

shoreham

The Shoreham Hotel, Washington D.C., the eight story hotel Schmidt cleared with “a 10-cent baseball.”

Schmidt participated in two professional bouts in Fort Smith, Arkansas after the 1911 season—he won a six-round decision and participated in one four-round no decision.  While some thought Schmidt could potentially fight champion Jack Johnson (who some sources say he spared against during this period), it’s clear Schmidt never took seriously the idea of fighting Johnson.

In a letter later printed in The Detroit Times Schmidt told a friend:

“This white man’s hope bunk is the biggest joke ever put over on the public.  I admit I like the boxing game, but I have never even considered gathering a living from the roped arena.  I like to do just four things.  Play ball, fight, hunt and eat.  Boxing is all right for a little amusement when it’s too cold to play ball…As for this dope on my being the white man’s hope, somebody is loon, it sounds like a squirrel talking to a nut.

“I have joined the Tigers again, and mean to show by my playing that I am with the team heart and soul.  Whatever my personal opinions have been, whatever my playing is, whatever critics have said about me, no one can say that I have not given the Detroit team the best I have…I don’t know who this guy is who has been sending fight dope from Fort Smith about my challenging Jack Johnson, but whoever he is, he ought to get a job in New York.  He could sell J. Pierpont Morgan a nicely enameled brick without difficulty.

“Yours is peace, prosperity and pennants, Charlie.”

Despite being released by the Tigers before the beginning of the 1912 season, Schmidt remained true to his word that baseball, not boxing, was his sport of choice.  His big league was over, but he continued as a player and manager in the minor leagues until 1927.  He never fought again.

Lost Advertisements–Old Underoof–White Sox, Cubs and “The Battle of the Century”

27 Jan

oldunderroof1910jj

 

An advertisement for Old Underoof Whiskey from June 16, 1910–“A Few Comparisons.”  Most of the Old Underoof ads were exclusively about baseball, but this one also mentions the biggest sports story of that week.  California Governor James Norris Gillett  (the ad misspelled it “Gillette”) had just issued an order to stop the Jack Johnson vs Jim Jeffries “Battle of the Century,” scheduled for July 4 in San Francisco.  The San Francisco Chronicle said that despite $300,000 worth of tickets having been sold, and the construction of a new stadium for the bout being nearly completed, Gillett bowed to “Pleas to the governor to stop the fight.”  The San Francisco Church Federation was the most vocal opponent to the fight.

On the same day, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs both played 14 innings.

The seventh place White Sox, behind a complete game from “Big Ed” Walsh defeated the Philadelphia Athletics 4 to 3; he also drove in the winning run with one out in the fourteenth.

The first place Cubs lost 3 to 2.  Eros Bolivar “Cy” Barger pitched a complete game for the Brooklyn Superbas, and like Walsh, drove in the winning run with one out in the fourteenth.

The fight was moved to Reno, Nevada and Johnson won by TKO in the 15th round.

The White Sox finished in sixth place with a 68-85 record.  Walsh was 18-20 and led the American League with a 1.27 ERA

The Cubs remained in first place and won the National League pennant by 13 games.  The Athletics beat them four games to one in the World Series.

 

 

A Thousand Words–Jim Jeffries and Baseball

12 Jul

jeffries

 

Former Heavyweight Champion Jim Jeffries fields a ground ball at his ranch in Burbank, California as he prepares for “The Fight of the Century,” against reigning  champion Jack Johnson; Johnson pummeled the former champ on July 4 in Reno, Nevada, retaining his title on a TKO in the 15th round.

Behind him is Harley M. “Beanie” Walker, sports editor of The Los Angeles Examiner.

A decade earlier, while champion, Jeffries along with fellow fighters John L.  Sullivan and “Gentleman Jim” Corbett began making appearances as umpires (Corbett also played at times) in many minor league games.  The use of fighters as umpires appears to have been the idea of Atlantic League president, and future Hall of Famer Ed Barrow, although all three fighters appeared at professional games in many leagues across the country.   When Barrow died in 1953, Al Abrams of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said he once paid Jeffries “60 percent of the gate receipts,” for appearing at a game.

After Jeffries defeated Corbett in 1900 he did a series of  appearances at ballparks across the country. The Kansas City Star said:

“Jeffries had an easy time as the players were so scared they forgot all the baiting tactics.”

Jeffries often included a sparring exhibition as part of his appearance, when he didn’t, fans usually left disappointed.    The St. Joseph (MO) Herald said during his 1900 ballpark tour:

“He merely walked up and down between first and second bases, but was not heard either by the crowd or the players, to make any decisions…The crowd had expected that Jeffries, besides umpiring the game throughout, would be placed on exhibition and put through his paces…such remarks as ‘Where’s the punching bag?’ and ‘Who’s going to box with him?’ were heard among the crowd, and when no bag or sparring mate was produced the disappointment of the spectators was so apparent that it had a depressing effect on the teams.”

Jim Jeffries

Jim Jeffries

“Beanie” Walker would leave the newspaper business in 1917 and become a screenwriter for movie producer Hal Roach, writing title cards during the silent film era and dialogue for talkies.  Walker wrote for Roach’s films featuring Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and Our Gang.

Beanie Walker

Beanie Walker

Walker is also credited with coining the nickname for a  redheaded teenage pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League with an excellent fastball, who would became the first big league player from Arizona.  Lee William “Flame” Delhi only pitched one game for the Chicago White Sox;  the 19-year-old, who had already pitched nearly 700 inning of professional ball (not including two seasons of winter ball), had a dead arm by the time he joined the Sox.

Flame Delhi

Flame Delhi

 

“Topeka” Jack Johnson and the Negro National League

19 Jun

Ten years before Rube Foster organized it in 1920, Jack T. Jackson called for the creation of the Negro National League.  Johnson was variously nicknamed “Topeka Jack,” “Chicago Jack,” and “Kansas Jack,” and was occasionally confused with another Jack Johnson, the World Heavyweight Champion who also dabbled in baseball—“Topeka” Jack also did some boxing, further confusing the issue.

As a result of the common name and the confusion with his more famous namesake, there is very little biographical information available about him and no information survives regarding his birth or death, but for about a decade at the beginning of the 20th Century, he was an important figure in black baseball.

Jack T. Johnson

Jack T. Johnson

A shortstop and outfielder, he organized teams  in Topeka before going north and joining the Chicago Union Giants, and then the Minneapolis Keystones.  In 1909, he returned to Kansas to manage the Kansas City Giants, owned by Tobe Smith, and the following season he played for and managed the rival Kansas City (MO) Royal Giants owned by Kansas City businessmen M.B. Garrett and George Washington Walden.

George Washington Walden

George Washington Walden

On the eve of the 1910 season, with two rival franchises in Kansas City, and Chicago’s Rube Foster and Frank Leland battling over control of the Leland Giants, Johnson attempted to form a Negro National League.  He wrote an article which appeared in The Freeman, The Chicago Defender, and other papers:

“To my idea it will be one of the greatest things that has ever happened for the Negro, if it goes through.  There is no one that knows from the actual experience, better than I, under what trying conditions the Negro has been existing in baseball…in other words it has been very discouraging for the colored player.”

Johnson said the teams suffered at the box office because games were arranged on an ad hoc basis and often clubs would “show up with about one-half of the lineup being green youngsters that had never played a game together before,” and said many great players had quit the game because of the lack of organization.

“I contend that these conditions are not likely to occur with the clubs of the league as each club would practically be intact the season through, would have something to fight for and each manager would consequently show more interest.

“It has certainly been proven from the big leagues on down to the minors, that there is nothing in the world that beats organized baseball and harmony.  Of course we cannot expect to cope right along with the big leagues the first season or two, but we can follow their method and system as far as we go.  Good judgment can be used in adopting a schedule in regard to the shortest jumps, conflicting dates with white league clubs, etc…From the fact that most cities of the league would put out good, strong clubs, would be attractions that would draw at any time and at any place where baseball is known at all.  So many times the white fans have been heard to remark, ‘I would rather go to see those colored boys play than one of the big league games.’  To prove this look how they used to pass right by the White Sox gate at 39th Street to get to Auburn Park at 79th street to watch the Lelands.

“Then look at the prestige, standing and rating it will give each club under the heading ‘Negro National League.’  What a great thing it would be to have an official record and per cent kept of each club and player.  Then we will not have to argue and squabble as to the real merits (of Negro League players).”

The type of league Johnson envisioned was a decade away.

Johnson and George Washington Walden would have a bitter split after the 1910 season with Johnson leaving the Royal Giants and returning to the Kansas City (KS) Giants—the two resolved their differences the following year, according to The Freeman:

“At last war in Kansas City has come to a happy ending.  (Walden and Johnson) have at last got together and will give Kansas City the strongest baseball team she has ever had.”

Jack T. Johnson and George Washington Weldon, 1912

Jack T. Johnson and George Washington Weldon, 1912

The newly formed Kansas City club operated as an independent barnstorming team and faded away by the early teens; Jack Johnson also faded away, his date and place of death unknown.

Competing advertisements for the Kansas City Royal giants and Giants in The Freeman, 1910

Competing advertisements for the Kansas City Royal Giants and Giants in The Freeman, 1910

In 1920, while the former Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson was serving his sentence at Leavenworth, Kansas for violation of the Mann act, he fought two exhibition matches on November 25, knocking out a Chicago fighter named Frank Owens and then “sparring” four rounds with a fighter billed as “Topeka Jack Johnson.”  Some sources have identified the fighter as the same “Topeka Jack,” but, at least, three different professional fighters (and likely more) used that name between 1900 and 1925, and none of the newspaper reports indicate it’s the same Johnson.

jackjohnsonb

The other Jack Johnson, fighting Tommy Burns in 1908