Tag Archives: Jackie Robinson

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.

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“Its Existence is a Blot on the Statue of Liberty”

4 May

For two decades, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier was at the forefront of the battle for the integration of professional baseball.  He called segregated baseball:

“(T)he great American tragedy!  Its existence is a blot on the Statue of Liberty, the American Flag, the Constitution, and all this great land stands for.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

For Smith, the “American tragedy” was exacerbated by the fact that he felt the players and fans were further harmed because while the quality of Negro League baseball on the field was of the same quality as that of their white brethren, the off-field operations were not.

In 1943, Smith said he hoped “(F)or the day when we can actually say there is such a thing as organized Negro baseball…Schedules are not respected, trades are made without the knowledge of the league officials, players are fined but the fines are seldom paid; and no one seems to know what players are ineligible and what players are eligible in the leagues.  It is a messy system.”

That same year, when Negro American President Dr. John B. Martin—a Memphis dentist who also owned the Chicago American Giants with his brother– said he was told by Kennesaw Mountain Landis that “Negro baseball will never get on a firm footing until a commissioner is appointed and a sound treasury built up.”

Smith responded:

“The sports scribes of the Negro press have been yelping to the high heavens for years for a real boss in Negro baseball.”

In 1946, when Baseball Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler told the Negro League magnates to “Get your house in order,” The Courier story—which contained no byline but was likely written by Smith—said Chandler had told “Negro baseball the same thing everybody else has been telling it for five years.”

And, when the magnates said in response they were willing to improve the organizational structure of the Negro American and National League, Smith said in his column:

“It is significant to note, dear reader, that this concern is not motivated by a desire to improve the status of the Negro player, but simply to protect their own selfish interests.”

Of the Negro League magnates, he said:

“The truth of the matter is this:  Few, if any, of the owners in Negro baseball, are sincerely interested in the advancement of the Negro player, or what it means in respect to the Negro race as a whole.  They’ll deny that, of course, and shout to the highest heavens that racial progress comes first and baseball next.  But actually, the preservation of their shaky, littered, infested, segregated baseball domicile comes first, last, and always.”

Later in the column, he accused the owners of caring for nothing except:

“(T)he perpetuation of the ‘slave trade’ they had developed via the channels of segregated baseball.”

Smith felt integration was not only critical for the “advancement of the Negro player” and “the race as a whole,” but also critical to the Negro Leagues themselves.

In response to a letter written by Hubert Ballentine, an outfielder for the semi-pro East St. Louis Colts, which echoed the sentiments of many claiming integration would be the death knell of the Negro Leagues, Smith said:

“Negro baseball cannot be a success without major league cooperation.  Proof of that contention exists right today.  Our players receive salaries that the average big league player would scorn.  Our players receive less money per month than players in the class ‘B’ minor leagues… (I) believe that anything done by the majors to improve the status of Negro players will prove beneficial and advantageous to Negro baseball in every way.”

Smith held onto that belief through the signing and debut of Jackie Robinson, believing an organized Negro League could “(L)ine up with the majors and serve as recruiting grounds.”

Much of his hope for a long-term place for the Negro Leagues in organized baseball was lost in January of 1948, after the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, signed 22-year-old Chicago American Giants catcher John Ritchey, who had won the Negro American League batting title in 1947.

John Ritchey

John Ritchey

Dr. John B. Martin—the American Giants owner and Negro American League President—protested the signing to Commissioner Chandler, claiming San Diego “had stolen Richey.”

Smith picked up the story:

“(Martin) demanded an investigation.

“But before Chandler could go to work on the case, he asked Martin to send him a duplicate of Richey’s contract for the past season…when Martin searched through his files—or whatever in the word he uses to keep such important documents—there was no contract to be found.  He then called in Candy Jim Taylor, manager of the club.  ‘I want Richey’s contract for last season,’ he said.  ‘I need to send it to Chandler.’

“Taylor raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘I don’t have his contract,’ he said.  ‘You’re the owner and you sign the ball players.”

Taylor had not.

“Martin had to write Chandler to tell him he could not find Richey’s contract.  ‘But,’ he wrote, ‘he’s still my property.  He played on my club all last year.’

“The commissioner must have rolled in the aisle when he learned of this laxity on the part of the president of the Negro American League.  Obviously, he has been operating his club on an Amos ‘n’ Andy basis.

“Chandler then wrote to Martin: ‘The Executive Council of Baseball would want to handle, with the most careful ethics the cases of organized baseball taking players from the Negro Leagues.  At present , I am somewhat  at a loss to know how we can hold one of our minor league clubs responsible for the violation of an alleged contract when the contract itself cannot be found, and when apparently those responsible for obtaining the contract are uncertain whether or not the ever did obtain it.’”

Smith noted that Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson made the same “robbery” claim when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Robinson:

“But like Martin, he was unable to produce a bonafide contract with Robinson’s name on it.  That too, we’ll call an oversight.”

Those “oversights” said Smith, not integration of professional baseball, were what had cost the owners.

But, ever the optimist, Smith made one last effort to save Negro Baseball, with a plan that had it been successful,  could be the pitch for a reality show.  That story, coming up Friday

 

The First Jackie Robinson All-Stars

31 Aug

jackierobinsonas

The above advertisement is from the first, and least successful, of Jackie Robinson’s post season barnstorming tours.

In August of 1946, The Pittsburgh Courier said, “Jackie Robinson’s All-Stars” would play in several Eastern and Midwest cities after the Montreal Royals’ season ended.

The tour got off to bad start because the promoters—said to be from Pittsburgh, but never named in newspaper accounts—scheduled games to begin at the close of the International League season, failing to take into account that Robinson and Montreal would be playing in the Little World Series against the Louisville Colonels, the American Association champions.  East Coast games, including one at the Polo Grounds and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were cancelled as a result.

After Robinson’s season ended, his “All-Stars” made up the game in Harrisburg and then played a handful of games in the Midwest before heading to California.

The All-Stars included Artie Wilson of the Birmingham Black Barons, John Scott of the Kansas City Monarchs. Ernie Smith, a one-time member of the Chicago American Giants, who played in 1946 with the Boston Blues in Branch Rickey’s U.S. Baseball League, and Bill “Wee Willie” Pope of the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

williepope

              Wee Willie Pope

Robinson’s All-Stars did not win a game in California.  They lost three games to Bob Feller‘s All-Stars—a team which included Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Charlie Keller, Ken Keltner and Phil Rizzuto.  Feller’s club won 6 to 0 in San Francisco, 4 to 2 in San Diego, and 4 to 3 in Los Angeles.  Feller pitched five innings each in the San Diego and Los Angeles games—striking out 11 in the first game, and 10 in the second (he left that game having not allowed a hit through five innings).

One of those games was the impetus of the long-term animosity between Robinson and Feller that came to a head before the 1969 All-Star game.  At a press luncheon, Robinson noted the lack of black managers and front office personnel in major league baseball.  Feller criticized Robinson saying “The trouble with Jackie is that he thinks baseball owes him something.”  Feller told The Associated Press (AP) the bad feelings between the two started during the San Diego game on the 1946 tour:

“Jackie was getting a lot of publicity at the time since it was known he was being groomed to be the first Negro in big league baseball (and) threatened not to go on the field unless he got more money.”

Robinson told The AP Feller’s charge was “A damned lie.”

In 1975, Feller told The AP they “buried the hatchet,” before Robinson died in 1972:

“We discovered that out arguments were petty.  Both of us admitted our errors.  When Jackie died, we were good friends.”

Others claimed Feller never let the feud go.

The advertisement above is for the final game Robinson’s All-Stars played.  They faced the Oakland Larks, the champions of Abe Saperstein’s short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association (Negro Pacific Coast League) who posted a 14-3 record—the team barnstormed after the league folded and claimed a 56-12 record for all games played that season.

The teams played at San Bernardino’s Perris Hill Park; Robinson played center field.  The San Bernardino County Sun said he made “two stellar catches,” and was 3 for 4 with a double.  Despite Robinson’s efforts, the Larks won 8 to 5.

After Robinson’s final game with the All-Stars, he wasn’t quite finished for the year.  He joined the Los Angeles Red Devils, an integrated professional basketball team –three other well-known baseball players were members of the Red Devils: George Crowe, Irv Noren, and Everett “Ziggy” Marcel (the son of Oliver Marcelle).

Robinson’s brief professional basketball career ended in January of 1947.

“Let us try and meet his Qualifications as a Gentleman”

20 Apr

In April of 1947, with Jackie Robinson on the verge of making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the “Dean of Negro sportswriters,” Frank Albert “Fay” Young said in The Chicago Defender, Robinson would not be the only one under a microscope:

“It is hoped that the Negro fans, who want to see Robinson remain in big-time baseball will learn to treat him as another top-notch ball player.  He should not be made to carry the added burden of ‘the race problem’ on his shoulders.  He will have a hard enough job playing the brand of baseball expected of any other big leaguer.

“Two things are important.  The first is the conduct of the Negro fans.  Drinking is out in all National League parks.  Profane language, if you have to use it, reserve it for your home where your wife will ‘brain’ you.

Robinson will not be on trial as much as the Negro fan.  The Negro fan has been the ‘hot potato’ dodged by managers who would have taken a chance by signing a Negro player.”

Frank "Fay" Young, The Chicago Defender

Frank “Fay” Young, The Chicago Defender

Robinson was scheduled to make his first appearance in Chicago on May 18.  Young said:

“We hope that Sgt. Harness and ‘Two-gun Pete’ and some other brave Negro policemen will be assigned to the Cubs Park.  Harness and ‘Two-gun’ know the hoodlums.”

Harness and ‘Two-gun Pete’ were Robert Harness and Sylvester Washington, two well-known African-American police offers.  Harness rose to the rank of commander before he retired.  Washington, who The Defender called “Chicago’s toughest black cop,” and carried two pearl-handled revolvers, suffered a different fate.  The paper said in 1951, he was “(A)sked publicly to explain how he had been able to purchase a $40,000 building specifically, and maintain an expensive auto and flashy clothes on a $3,600 per year salary.  ‘A lot of people give me things…I am a great policeman,’ he is reported to have replied.”  Washington resigned from the force that year.

In addition to their behavior at the ballpark, Young also implored fans:

“Robinson is against being singled out before a game to be called to home plate and be presented with numerous gifts.  There will be eight other Dodger players in the game.  Jackie insists on being treated as a ballplayer trying to make good and not a Negro ballplayer seeking special privileges.

“The Negro fan can help Robinson.  The Negro fan can ruin him.  Robinson is an American citizen, an ex-army officer, a ballplayer and a gentleman.  Let us try and meet his qualifications as a gentleman.  If you Chicagoans have got to raise a lot of hell, do a lot of cussing, go somewhere else.”

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Robinson’s Chicago debut—a 4 to 2 Dodger victory–drew 46,572 fans, the then largest crowd to attend a game at Wrigley Field since field seating was discontinued in 1936.  The Defender reported that the fans were “Orderly,” focusing their only derision towards “one Dixie Walker who was the recipient of plenty of boos.”  The fans maintained order even when Robinson was called out on strikes with the bases loaded in the fifth inning “much to his disgust and to those who sat behind home plate and though the umpire should have called the pitch a ball.”

Jackie Robinson’s 96th Birthday

31 Jan

Profiles in Courage: Jackie Robinson faced nearly as much prejudice when he was named vice president of the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee and restaurant company in 1958 as he had when he broke baseball’s color barrier.  In a 1959 syndicated newspaper column Robinson said:  “My proudest moment of all,” was a statement issued by company president  William Black:

“I cannot speak for all the stockholders of Chock Full O’ Nuts, because I now own only one-third of the company.  Speaking for my third, if anyone wants to boycott ‘Chock’ because I hired Jackie Robinson, I recommend Martinson’s Coffee, it’s just as good. As for our restaurants, there are Nedick’s, Bickford’s, and Horn and Hardart in our price range.  Try them, you may even like them better than ours.”

jackie

Monte Irvin–Happy 95th Birthday

25 Feb

Montford Merrill “Monte” Irvin was born on this date in 1919.

Monte Irvin (r) with Jackie Robinson at The Jackie Robinson Store 111 West 125th Street in Harlem, 1953

Monte Irvin (r) with Jackie Robinson at The Jackie Robinson Store 111 West 125th Street in Harlem, 1953

“We used to look at each other and say, ‘We play the same game with the same rules, the same bat, the same ball, the same field. What the hell does color have to do with it? You don’t play with color. You play with talent.”  Monte Irvin

Samuel H. Apperious

6 Jan

Samuel H. “Sam” Apperious (incorrectly identified as William Apperious  on Baseball Reference and other sources) led two separate boycotts that contributed to keeping William Clarence Matthews out of organized baseball—four decades before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Apperious was born in Montgomery, Alabama; fellow Alabamian Matthews was born in Selma (some contemporaneous accounts wrongly claimed both were born in Selma).

The wealthy Apperious attended Georgetown University.  Matthews, after studying, and playing baseball and football, at Tuskegee Institute and Phillips Andover, enrolled at Harvard University.

Apperious was part of Georgetown teams (1900-1904) that sent several players to the big leagues, including Leon “Doc” Martell, James “Hub” Hart, Charles Moran, and Art Devlin.  Apperious, who was first a catcher and later a center fielder, was considered one of the team’s best prospects.

In 1903, the Boston press reported that Boston Americans manager Jimmy Collins, in need of a second catcher, “tried to get Sam Apperious, of Georgetown, but he declined to enter the professional ranks.”  The following year The Sporting Life said among college players, Apperious was “the hardest-hitting outfielder of them all.”

Sam Apperious

Sam Apperious

Matthews played shortstop at Harvard and received equally as glowing reports.  Samuel McClure’s “Outing” magazine, a monthly sports publication, said Matthews was the best shortstop in college baseball each year from 1903 through 1905.  The Boston Post said he was “the best infielder” in Harvard’s history—this included teammate Eddie Grant who went on to a 10-year big league career.

Apperious and Matthews met for the first time on April 18, 1903.  When the Harvard team arrived in Washington D.C. for a game, Apperious, the Georgetown captain, refused to play.  The Associated Press said in addition to Apperious’ boycott “There were some wild demonstrations of displeasure at the Negros’ appearance in the field but Matthews won the crowd by his brilliant plays.”

The Colored American said:

“Mr. Apperious is no doubt feeling pretty mean, that is, if he is capable of such a sensation.  His want of hospitality, his conspicuous rudeness and their absolute futility must be subjects of unpleasant recollections to him.”

The paper noted that Apperious’ name “indicates his un-American traits,” and said after Matthews demonstrated his talent, several of the other Georgetown players “grew ashamed of their conduct and acclaimed Matthews as heartily as they had sneered at him, but this foreign importation was not sure enough of his own status to imperil it in a contest of brawn and skill with a colored gentleman.”

Harvard won the game 8 to 0.  Apperious would also choose to sit out two additional games against Harvard (one later that season and one in 1904) which led to a short rift between the schools, and a suspension of scheduled games.

In 1905, Apperious was appointed Graduate Coach of the Georgetown team.  He summed up his coaching philosophy to The Washington Times:

“In short the choice of men must be wholly on the man’s worth for the position for which he is trying.”

1905 Georgetown baseball team. Apperious is second from left in the center row

1905 Georgetown baseball team. Apperious is second from left in the center row

Later that year Apperious failed to apply his philosophy to Matthews.

In the summer of 1905 Apperious went to Vermont, as he had the previous summer, to play in the state’s “outlaw” Northern League—the league was notorious for having multiple college players performing under assumed names to retain their eligibility.  Apperious played both seasons for the Montpelier-Barre club (known in the local press as the Inter-Cities or Hyphens).

During his first summer in Vermont,  Apperious had raised some eyebrows on July 21, 1904, when he did not participate in an exhibition game between the Inter-Cities and the barnstorming Cuban X Giants.  The Bennington Evening Banner said the “Southerner refused to play against the colored team.”

Matthews joined the Burlington club at the end of June 1905 to immediate controversy.  The Montpelier Argus said a pitcher named Smith “from the south” had left the team as a result, and Apperious made it known he would not play on the same field as Matthews.  When the Burlington club arrived in Barre for a July game with the Inter-Cities, Apperious made good on his threat and watched the game from the bleachers.

Apperious was condemned in the Vermont press:

The Newport Express and Standard:

“(Matthews) may be his equal in every respect: not only in intelligence, but in performing the part of a gentleman as well.  Certainly so in this instance, so far as Mr. Apperious  is concerned, the much aggrieved white individual in this case…Mr. Apperious had better retire to those places where peonage is still in practice—where he can still vent his spite on the Negro as his little, narrow-minded, measly soul desires.”

The St. Albans Messenger:

“If Apperious wants to show his loyalty to and affection for his native Southland, which is a commendable thing in any man, he could do it better by helping his generation t forget some rank nonsense that used to pass for ultra-refinement and chivalry.”

The Poultney Journal:

“(Apperious) Hails from a state where the best citizens” burn people alive…Good chap.  Too good to play ball with a graduate of Harvard college.  If he goes to heaven will want a box stall all to himself.  Scat! Vermont has no use for him—believes in the doctrine “all men were created free and equal.” Apperious is as good as a colored man—if he behaves himself as well.  Better wash and go South.”

  The Wilmington Times:

“Vermonters like to see good, clean ball, and they are not fussy as to the color of the player who can deliver.”

One of the few exceptions in Vermont was The Montpelier Argus which said Apperious was simply following his “traditions, sentiments and interests,” and “it is rank foolishness to expect everyone to bend to our ideas.”

Apperious also found support from The Washington Post which said: “The college players in the Vermont League (sic) are following the lead of Sam Apperious in ‘cutting’ Negro Matthews.”

The paper also repeated an allegation that Matthews “had played (professional) summer ball every year since he entered Harvard.”  While Matthews had played four seasons on the baseball team and graduated from Harvard, The Post, with no evidence, alleged Harvard “dropped Matthews,” because of the allegations.

Despite Apperious’ refusal to play against him, and reports throughout the season that, as The Boston Globe said,  some opponents were “laying for “ Matthews and he “had been spiked several times,” he completed the season with Burlington. But after a quick start (.314 through 14 games) his average dropped off to .248.

There were rumors in the Boston press that summer that Matthews might become a member of the National League’s Boston Beaneaters, but he never played professional baseball after his controversial season in Vermont and his second run-in with Sam Apperious.

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

William Clarence Matthews with Harvard Baseball Team

William Clarence Matthews with Harvard Baseball Team

The rest of Apperious’ story on Wednesday.

 

King Tut

30 Jan

For almost 30 years Richard “King Tut” King was the clown prince of Negro League baseball and one of its biggest drawing cards.  King, born in 1905 in Philadelphia spent his youth playing in sandlot and semi-pro leagues.

He is listed as having made seven plate appearances for the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 1931—the rest of his nearly 30-year career was spent primarily as an entertainer.

Richard "King Tut" King

Richard “King Tut” King

King joined Charlie Henry’s Louisville-based Zulu Cannibal Giants in 1934.  The Cannibals wore grass skirts, red wigs and face paint.  Players were identified by “native” names, as with this lineup printed in The Meriden (CT) Daily Journal in advance of the team’s 1935 appearance:

“The Cannibals will lineup as follows:  Wahoo, right field, Limpopo, first base, Rufigi, center field, Tanna, left field; Taklooie, third base; Bissagoss, shortstop, Kangkol, second base, Nyass, Catcher; Kalahare, Pembra, Moke, Impo and Tankafu pitchers.”

Sometime during the 1935 season after the Cannibals had played a game with the Miami Giants, King, tired of irregular paydays with the cash-strapped Cannibals, stayed in Miami and joined the Giants.

The following season the Giants became the Ethiopian Clowns—later the Cincinnati Clowns and finally the Indianapolis Clowns– and King spent the next 22 years with the team.

He became most famous for his pantomime “shadow ball” routine with Spec Bebop, a ball juggling act with “Goose” Tatum, and playing with an over-sized first baseman’s mitt.

Richard "King Tut" King, left and Goose Tatum at Crosley Field, Cincinnati, performing the ball juggling routine

Richard “King Tut” King, left and Goose Tatum at Crosley Field, Cincinnati 1946, performing the ball juggling routine

For the most part, he did not participate in games.  As a result, it’s unclear exactly what his skill level was.

In 1948, Hall of Fame sportswriter Sam Lacy wrote in The Baltimore Afro-American said King:

“ Hasn’t hit a ball since they found his namesake’s tomb.”

Bob Motley, who was a Negro League umpire from 1947-1958, said in his biography:

“King Tut was actually a heck of a ballplayer and could put some serious wood on the ball.  I don’t particularly think he was major-league caliber, but he was good.”

At 45-years-old, King was pressed into duty as the regular first baseman on the Clowns’ 1949 barnstorming tour, The Associated Press said:

“Heretofore little has been known about his hitting prowess, since during the regular season the Clowns have used him only as a fun maker…at Atchison the other night, he slammed out three hits in five trips to the plate, including a long home run over the left field wall to slug the Clowns to a 9-6 victory over the mighty Kansas City Monarchs.”

While tremendously popular with fans across the country, and the top-billed member of the team in promotional materials throughout his career, the Black Press was not always in agreement about King’s act.

Near the end of his career, The Baltimore Afro-American said:

“Tut is a natural clown and a natural ballplayer…one of baseball’s most popular players among the fans as well as with his teammates.”

On the other hand, when King entertained the crowd at the 1947 East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park, he included two of his regular routines.   Frank “Fay” Young of The Chicago Defender, often called “The dean of Black sportswriters,” was not amused:

“(T)here are thousands who did not approve of King Tut’s crap shooting stunt or his shimmy in the grass skirt.  He could have left that part of his act at home.  The East vs. West classic is a high-class sport event.  Let’s keep it that way.”

Frank "Fay" Young, The Chicago Defender

Frank “Fay” Young, The Chicago Defender

King remained a huge drawing card throughout the 1950s; he spent each off-season appearing regularly with New York Broadway Clowns and New York Colored Clowns basketball teams, and occasionally with the Harlem Globetrotters.  He and Spec Bebop were part of the Jackie Robinson’s All-Star’s barnstorming tour in 1953.

King with Curtis "Junior" Johnson in a 1952 New York Broadway Clowns promotional photo

King with Curtis “Junior” Johnson in a 1952 New York Broadway Clowns promotional photo

On August 29, 1958, King was honored for what The Afro-American called “A million miles and a billion laughs,” at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.  Jackie Robinson sent a congratulatory telegram and many Negro League legends were on hand, including Bill Yancey, Toussaint Allen, Mahlon Duckett, Bill Cash, Chaney White. Buddy Burbage, and Hank Miller.

King’s career came to an abrupt end before the 1959 season.  Jet Magazine reported:

“(King) suffered a memory lapse en route to spring training at St. Petersburg, Fl, was picked up by police and returned by air to Philadelphia where he was hospitalized.”

King was committed to the Pennsylvania State Hospital at Byberry; he died there in 1966.