Tag Archives: Josh Gibson

“You Could Feel his Resentment”

22 Feb

After spending years as one of the loudest voices for the integration of professional baseball, Wendell Smith broke his own color barriers. He was the second African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America–after Sam Lacy– and the first to have a byline in a big city white daily paper leaving The Pittsburgh Courier and joining the Hearst owned Chicago Herald-American in 1948.

Smith

Years later, William Rhoden quoted Smith’s widow Wyonella in his column in The New York Times regarding smith’s move:

“When he came to Chicago to write, he told the Hearst people. ‘I will not be your black writer. I’m not going to just write about blacks in sports. If you want me to be a sportswriter here, I’m going to right about all sports, and I’m going to do it fairly.’”

In 1963 he became a sports anchor, first at WGN-TV and later WBBM-TV in Chicago.  He also began writing a weekly column for The Chicago Sun-Times; but never gave up his new crusade for the recognition of Negro League stars; in 1971 he made the case for Josh Gibson’s enshrinement in Cooperstown:

“He hit home runs higher and farther than any batter of his time, including George Herman (Babe) Ruth, whose feats are immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

“He was a big, strong, intelligent catcher. He was as magnificent behind the plate as any of his major league contemporaries, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett, all of whom have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“He played someplace summer and winter, spring and fall over a span of 16 years. He had the endurance and stamina of Lou Gehrig, who played in 2130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, a major league record. Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame. He is not.”

Gibson

Smith said of Gibson’s presence in the batter’s box:

“When he planted his immense, flat feet in the batter’s box, bent his knees slightly and cocked his bat with the most muscular arms and hands in baseball, apprehension invariably seized the defenders in the field.”

Because, said Smith, ”There are no authentic records, unfortunately to substantiate the thunder in Josh Gibson’s bat, nor his skills behind the plate,” he turned to “reliable former teammates who were there with him,” and other contemporaries to tell his story:

Roy Campanella told Smith about the night Gibson hit three home runs off Andy Porter in Wheeling, West Virginia. Campanella told a slightly different version of the story than he had 12 years earlier in his book “It’s Good to be Alive:”

“’He hit three home runs that night,’ Campanella recently recalled, with a note of awe and excitement in his highly pitched voice. ‘Each one was farther than the other.’

“’There was a mountain there, a good distance behind the left field fence…His first drive landed at the bottom of the mountain. The next one landed dead center, and the next almost cleared the mountain. When he came to bat the fourth time, I said to Porter, ‘what are you going to do with him this time?’ He said, ‘I’m going to walk him. ‘And we did.’”

In the book, Campanella said Gibson hit four runs in four at-bats, with each being longer until the fourth cleared the hill.

Bill Yancey told Smith about another Gibson three-home run performance, this one in New York:

“He walloped three that day and one of them was the quickest home run I ever saw. It was out of the park before the outfielders could turn their heads to watch it. It landed behind the Yankee Stadium bullpen, some 500 feet away. He didn’t loft it, he shot it out of there.”

Alex Pompez the one-time owner of the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, then a scout for the Giants, and had just joined Smith as a charter member of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, told a story about a game at the Polo Grounds:

“Dave Barnhill was pitching for the Cubans. There were two on in the ninth and we were leading 3 to 2. Showboat Wright [sic, Dave “Showboat” Thomas] our first baseman, called time and walked to the mound. ‘Let’s walk him’ he said to Barnhill.

“Barnhill as a cocky pitcher. He refused (the) suggestion and insisted on pitching to Josh. He threw Gibson a curve ball and Josh hit it in the top tier of the left field stands. The last we saw the ball was when it went through an open door up there and disappeared.”

Pompez

After Pat Scantlebury gave up three home runs to Gibson in another game, he told Pompez:

“I pitched him high the first time and he hit it out of the park. So, the next time I pitched him low and he hit that one out, too. The third time, I pitched him tight and it followed the others out. When he batted the fourth time, I started to roll it to him, but instead I walked him.”

Smith also sought out Gibson’s sister, Annie Mahaffey and Ted Page who was “closer to Josh than any other player.”

Smith visited Mahaffey in her home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He noted “Strangely, there are no pictures of Josh Gibson,” in her home:

“The resemblance between Annie Mahaffey and her brother, Josh, is striking indeed. She has the same round, brown face. Her gentle smile is contagious.

“’He’d come here whenever he was in town,’ Annie recalls with a note of pride in her voice, ‘and he’d have us laughing about the funny things that happened on the road. He would sit here and talk, have a sandwich maybe, and just keep us amused with his stories. He loved life, Josh did.’”

Page said:

“He’d never talk about himself. I never heard him say one thing about himself that was intended to impress someone.

“He was extremely modest. I roomed with him in this country and South America and got to know him well.  If he hit four home runs in a game—which he did many times—you’d never know anything about it if you were getting your news of the game from him. He’d never walk up to you and say, ‘Well, I hit four of ‘em today.’”

Page

Page said Gibson was the opposite of Satchel Paige:

“When Satch pitched a no hitter, he told the whole world about it. We got little or no space in the daily papers, so he’d sit around and those third-rate hotels we lived in, and in taverns and restaurants, and tell everybody about his achievements. Everyone would gather round Satch and he’d spin tall tales for them, and they’d go away laughing and talking about him. Josh would never do that.”

Sportswriters, Page said, “always complained that he wouldn’t open up and talk about himself.”

Gibson’s sister said “he talked baseball all the time at home. He talked about other players and how good they were, and how many games were won or lost on certain types of strategy…Josh used to laugh so hard when telling a story he’d shake all over.”

Page said Gibson “loved baseball, never got bored with the game nor the terrible conditions we had to tolerate at times.”

Gibson also did not join his teammates “playing cards or meeting girls,” Page said:

“Josh was seldom with them. We’d go to an ice cream parlor or some other harmless place and talk baseball.”

Gibson’s sister and Page saw his reaction to baseball segregation differently.

Mahaffy said:

“There were all kinds of racial problems in those days, but Josh never let them get him down. If they ever bothered him, he never said so. He never once mentioned the fact that the color bar in the majors was a terrible injustice. He laughed off most of the things that happened to him.”

Page said:

“Josh never talked about the organized baseball ban against us. But he was always aware of it and it finally killed him. He kept things to himself, but if you knew him you could feel his resentment. We went to see a lot of big-league games and when he saw players who were inferior to him, he became sullen and the bitterness seemed to just ooze from him.”

Both agreed that Gibson didn’t drink until his final years.

After Jackie Robinson signed, his sister said:

“This was just about the time he started having dizzy spells and blackouts. He also became a heavy drinker.”

The dizzy spells, said Page, caused him to “stagger and stumble, whenever he looked up,” and “Josh’s drinking was a symptom of his affliction. He knew his time was short and that he’d never get a break in the majors…He tried to submerge his misfortune in drink.”

Smith closed:

:”The deadly curse that had been upon Josh Gibson all his life finally claimed him…Eighty days later Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in modern big league history.

“That was 23 years ago.

“Josh Gibson should be immortalized in Cooperstown.

“What price, Hall of Fame?”

Less than a year later, Gibson was enshrined along with Buck Leonard; Smith died nine months later, he was 58. He was awarded the JG Taylor Spink Award 21 years after his death.

“Damndest Hitter I Ever saw, a Born Natural”

10 Sep

After Satchel Paige arrived three hours late for a 1953 interview with Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier, and talked about his family and his expectations for the upcoming season,  Smith asked Paige who were the toughest batters he faced in the American League:

Wendell Smith

“I can’t name ‘em all, but I can tell you some of ‘em. Among the modern players there’s Mickey Mantle, Dale Mitchell, Phil Rizzuto, Larry Doby, and Minnie Minoso.

DiMaggio was tough, too, before he retired. He was sure some hitter. But of all the hitters I ever faced, I think Josh Gibson, who is dead now, was the toughest. You could fool him and before the ball got to te plate, he could get that bat around and hit the ball out of the park. Damndest hitter I ever saw, a born natural.”

Paige wanted to talk to Smith about his own hitting prowess:

“Satchel considers himself a hitter, too. He rates himself right along with the Gibson’s and DiMaggio’s, Doby’s, and Mitchell’s.

“’Only difference,’ he said. ‘I’m not a long ball hitter. Me and Rizzuto hit liners.’”

Paige

Smith asked:

“If a pitcher were smart, what could he throw to a ‘dangerous’ hitter like Satch in a tight ballgame with the winning run on second base?

“’Well, if he was smart,’ Satchel said, thoughtfully ‘he’d curve me. He’s throw all the curves he could think of. That’s my weakness, curves. But he better make ‘em bad. Off the plate. If he throws them in there, over the plate, I’ll jump on ‘em. I jump on curves over the plate. Bing…I hit ‘em on a line over second base, me and Rizzuto.”

Smith pointed out to Paige that:

“(He) hit a ‘mighty’ .205 last season [sic, .128]

”’Shucks,’ he said, “I know a lot of regulars who didn’t hit that good.’”

 Paige was 3-9 with a 3.53 ERA and 11 saves in 57 appearances for the last place, 54-100 St. Louis Browns.  He hit .069.

“Fencing Conversationally with Luke Easter”

13 Apr

Robert C. “Rube” Samuelson was called “Mr. Rose Bowl;” he covered the game for 34 straight years as sports editor of The Pasadena Star-News.

In 1949, he interviewed Luke Easter, two months before Easter made is major league debut.

Samuelson said:

“Fencing conversationally with Luke Easter the San Diego Padres fancy-dan first sacker, takes more than a bit of parrying. To come up with something worthwhile one has to dig in and keep after the big fellow.”

eastersd

Easter

Samuelson asked Easter—who hit .363 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI in 80 games with the Padres–which Pacific Coast League (PCL) pitcher was the toughest to hit. Easter said 42-year-old Tommy Bridges, in his third season with the Portland Beavers after 16 seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

“He’s about the best I ever faced.”

Easter was asked if he thought he’d be able to hit Hollywood Stars’ Willie Ramsdell’s knuckle ball later that week:

“Why not? I’ve hit knucklers before.”

Samuelson then asked about his badly injured knee:

“I don’t know how long it will hold up. I may have to have it operated on before the season ends.”

Easter said his knee hurt, “All the time. Even when I step on the brakes of my car. Even when I go upstairs. It keeps me from going to the right and I can’t pull the ball as well as I otherwise could.”

Easter said the knee was injured when he collided with Larry Doby during spring training, he was later hit in the same knee with a pitch and had “a chipped bone” in the kneecap.

Easter lied when Samuelson asked the next question:

“’How old are you, Luke?’

“’Twenty-seven.’”

Easter would turn 34 on August 4—a week before his big-league debut.

When asked if he was ready to be called up to the Indians, he said:

“Sure. Anytime. But it’s best that I spend one year out here. You can always use experience. Mr. (Bucky) Harris and Mr. (Jimmy) Reese always talk to me and help me. That makes you feel good.”

Asked if he idolized our followed any players, he said:

“Phil Cavarretta of the Cubs. He may not be the best first baseman in baseball, but I like the way he plays.”

He also said Josh Gibson was the best Negro League player he ever saw and that “Doby” was his current “favorite Negro player.”

Easter said the quality of players was better in the PCL than he had faced when he played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948:

“It’s very good every day in the Coast League. The pitchers especially. You get the same class of pitching about every third or fourth day in the Negro circuits.”

easter49

Easter

On July 2, Easter had knee surgery at the Cleveland Clinic; he made his major league debut with the Indians 40 days later.

Lost Pictures: The Pittsburgh Crawfords’ Bus

2 Nov

 

crawfordsbus2

The bus purchased by Gus Greenlee in 1932 for the Pittsburgh Crawfords,  The Pittsburgh Courier said:

“It is a 17-passenger Mack, with a six-cylinder, 79-horsepower motor.  It is capable of 60 miles an hour, and is equipped with vacuum booster foot breaks.”

It is not the same vehicle which appears in the iconic photo of the 1935 Crawfords posed in front of the team bus–although the bus in the 1935 picture has been referred to as a 1932 Mack.

crawfords.jpg

The Crawfords used the bus for the first time on their trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas in the spring of 1932.  With Greenlee behind the wheel , they left Pittsburgh on March 11, and according to The Courier, “arrived at the spa without any mishaps” on March 15.

The photo below, with Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston (second and third from right) shows the 1932 bus–the photo below that is the bus that appears in the 1935 photo.

32bus

35

“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.”

“Fans Come out Here to see a Ballplayer Hustle at all Times”

23 May

William G. Nunn was city editor, and later, managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.  He wrote a regular baseball column “Diamond Dope” for the paper throughout the 1920s, and later he would on occasion also write a sports column for paper called “WGN Broadcasts.”

.In 1934, he told a story about how “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher managed his Chicago American Giants:

malarcher

Malarcher

“Chicago was sporting a small lead going into late innings.  A Crawford player, with a man on first knocked a slow roller to (Jack) Marshall, keystone-sacker of the Windy City team.  Marshall failed to field the ball in a hurry and loafed the throw to first base, with the result that all hands were safe.

“From the bench came running Dave Malacher, present manager of the team and one of the most astute diamond students Negro baseball has ever produced.  We noticed a whispered conference.

After the game we asked Dave what it was all about.  ‘I fined him five dollars,’ said Dave.  ‘Fans come out here to see a ballplayer hustle at all times, ‘he continued, ‘and when he fails to do that, he’s hurting Negro baseball.

“Give us some more of that type of management.  We don’t have any too much use for these all-star teams anyway.  They look like a million dollars on paper, and like buns when they face real competition.”

Eight years later Nunn was a key figure in The Courier’s push—along with The Daily Worker— to integrate professional baseball.  Nunn and his sports editor, Hall of Famer Wendell Smith attempted to broker a deal for four Negro League players to try out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Chicago Defender said in August of 1942:

nunn

William G. Nunn Sr.

“The four Negro baseball players to receive a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates the latter part of this month or first of September will be named next week.

“Three weeks ago William Benswanger, owner of the Pirates, stated that he was willing to give Negro players a tryout…Wendell Smith and William G. Nunn will confer with officials of the Negro American and National Leagues here (at the East-West Game)…and select the four players.”

Smith and Nunn, in collaboration with Negro League magnates, chose Josh Gibson, Leon Day, Sam Bankhead, and Willie Wells to receive tryouts.

Smith called Benswanger “The greatest liberal in baseball history,” at the end of August. The accolades were premature.  The tryouts were never scheduled.

“There is no hop on Your Fastball”

21 May

Schoolboy Johnny Taylor, like many Negro Leaguers, spent several seasons playing in Mexico. The Hartford, Connecticut native told his hometown paper, The Courant, about the game south of the border, in a 1941 interview with the paper’s sports editor W.J. “Bill” Lee:

“Taylor was telling us about baseball in Mexico, a subject on which he speaks with authority.”

johnnytaylor

Schoolboy Johnny Taylor

Taylor, who pitched in Vera Cruz in 1940, was asked how baseball competed with Mexico’s “big sport:”

‘”Well,’ Johnny laughed, “bull fighting is still the major sport down there but baseball is rapidly catching up. We play our games in the mornings and the bull fights are held before noon also. When there is a bull fight on the day a ball game is scheduled we feel it at the gate.

“But don’t let anyone tell you the Mexicans aren’t red hot baseball fans. They are as rabid as they are anywhere in the United States.”

Taylor said there was little difference between fans there and the states:

“They get riled up, those Mexican fans, and when they do they start to throw things, same as they do anywhere in America. Down there though, they mostly throw fruit, probably because it’s cheap. The only difference is their way of razzing a ball player. Instead of hoots, catcalls or the Bronx cheer, they whistle at you.”

Taylor was asked how the climate in Mexico affected American players:

“’It’s not so bad,’ Johnny said, ‘except in Mexico City, where the altitude is very high. When you first play ball in that city it gets to you…if you have to circle the bases in a hurry you have to sit down for awhile to get your breath back.

“Funny thing about pitching in Mexico City. The atmospheric conditions are such that there is no hop on your fast ball. No matter how fast you buzz one through, it goes straight. I’ve found that the batters there murder the number 1 pitch more than any other ball. You can’t get a sharp hook on your curve ball either. Everywhere in the league except Mexico City the hop comes on your fast ball and the break on your curve is normal.”

Taylor and Lee talked about “the best player in the league,” Josh Gibson:

“He’s a catcher and if it weren’t for the barrier that organized baseball has set up against members of his race and Johnny Taylor’s, Gibson would be in the big league. Taylor didn’t make any complaints or do any boasting, but this corner knows that if Johnny belonged to the white race he would have a great chance to become a major league pitcher.”

Taylor said of Gibson:

“’The left field fence in Chihuahua,’ Johnny relates, ‘is 435 feet at the foul line. This fellow Josh Gibson plastered three balls over the left field fence in one game, and the distance is plenty more than 435 feet at the points where the balls Josh clouted cleared the fence. Up to the time Gibson hit those three homers no one in Chihuahua had ever seen anybody belt one over that left field fence.”

gibsonveracruz

Josh Gibson

Taylor, who attended Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, cut the interview short to go see “Gone with the Wind,” at a local theater. Lee said:

“If I didn’t have a lot of work to get done and too little time to do it, I might have tried to talk Taylor out of leaving to see the GWTW picture.

“A fine gentleman, Johnny Taylor. He talks better than most big leaguers, better, in fact, than many college men I’ve met. He has learned a great deal about pitching since his Bulkeley High days, but he has not let baseball fill his mind entirely. John has profited by his travels through most of the states of the Union and in Mexico and Cuba.”

Taylor spent the 1941 season in Vera Cruz, and in September returned to Hartford with an all-star team that included Gibson, Ray Dandridge, Sam Bankhead, Willie Wells, and Dick Seay. They played a double-header against the Savitt Gems—an integrated semi-pro team sponsored by local jeweler Bill Savitt. Taylor, who had once played for the Gems, faced his former team and former major league pitcher Pete Naktenis, a Hartford native.

Taylor pitched a ten-inning complete game, striking out 15, and the all-stars won 7 to 5. Barney Morris pitched a two-hitter in the nightcap, defeating the Gems 3 to 0 in a five inning game called on account of darkness.

The Courant said a fire broke out under the grand stand during the first game:

“(F)iremen arriving on the scene to quench the blaze were almost totally ignored by the spectators.”

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #17

10 Feb

Honus Wagner on Integration, 1939

As part of a series of articles on the long overdue need to integrate major league baseball, Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier interviewed many of baseball’s biggest names.  One of the most vocal proponents was Honus Wagner.

Wagner

Wagner

The then 65-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates coach told Smith:

“Most of the great Negro players I played against have passed on, but I remember many of them well.

Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all time.  He was the smartest pitcher I have ever seen in all my years of baseball.

“Another great player was John Henry Lloyd.  They called him ‘The Black Wagner’ and I was always anxious to see him play.

“Well, one day I had an opportunity to go see him play.  After I saw him I felt honored that they should name such a great ballplayer after me, honored.”

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Wagner said the “Homestead Grays had some of the best ballplayers I have ever seen.”

John Henry lloyd

John Henry lloyd

Although he misidentified one of them as “lefty,” Wagner also said of William Oscar Owens, a pitcher and outfielder for the Grays and several other clubs:

“He was a great pitcher and one of the best hitters I have ever seen.”

More recently, Wagner said Oscar CharlestonJasper “Jap” Washington, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson “could have made the grade easily had they been accepted.”

Wagner concluded:

“Yes, down through the years, I have seen any number of Negro players who should have been in big league baseball.”

 

Uniform Criticism, 1923

The Decatur (IL) Herald found the state of baseball uniforms worthy of an editorial in March of 1923:

“Pictures of baseball players in training reveal that the season of 1923 has brought no marked change in the style of uniform.  It is quite as baggy and unbecoming as ever.

“Baseball players refer to their costumes as ‘monkey suits,’ a term that is supposed to establish some sort of connection with the cut of the affairs worn by the little animals that pick up the organ grinder’s pennies.  However, that may be, no sensible man imagines that his uniform accentuates his good looks.  It is purely a utility costume and smartness has no place in it.”

ruthandgehrig

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in their “baggy and unbecoming” 1923 uniforms

 

The paper was most concerned about the uniform’s tendency to make players look foolish and appear to be out of shape:

“A collarless blouse with an awkward length sleeve bags at the belt in a way to emphasize abdominal prominence instead of athletic trimness about the loins.  Loose knickerbockers gathered at the knee resemble the khaki uniforms of the Spanish-American War period in their voluminousness and wrinkles…A cap fitting close about the head and bringing ears into striking relief is the climatic feature of this make-up.

“Underneath this covering of dirty gray or brown there are doubtless lithe limbs and well developed muscles, but the spectator doesn’t see them.  The baseball costume doubtless serves its purpose, it fails lamentably to make the wearer look like an athlete.”

No Women Allowed, 1912

Coming out of the 1912 winter meetings in Chicago, The New York Globe said:

“Nothing doing for suffragettes in the American League!  Not even if they march to the meeting.  They may be making great progress in their cause, but there will not be any Mrs. Brittons in the Ban Johnson organization.”

“Mrs. Britton” was Helene Hathaway Britton, who became owner of the St. Louis Cardinals after the death of her uncle Stanley Robison.

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

Helene Hathaway Britton with children Marie and Frank

 “A decision was reached that no woman can own a club or even attend an American League meeting.  According to the owners it was a good decision, as they did not want to get into the same mess of trouble which the National League has encountered since one of its clubs fell into the hands of a woman.  Which shows the American League is constantly being benefitted by the experience of the National.”

The “trouble” referred to tension between Britton and Manager Roger Bresnahan, who she had given a five-year contract before the 1912 season.  The two feuded after the team struggled and Britton rejected numerous overtures from Bresnahan to buy the team.  She eventually fired the manager and a very public battle ensued.  Sinister “Dick” Kinsella, who along with Bill Armour comprised the Cardinals’ scouting staff, resigned claiming Bresnahan was “Not treated right.” Armour remained with the club and a settlement was finally reached when Bresnahan was named manager of the Chicago Cubs.

bresnahanandtoy

Bresnahan moved on to the Cubs

One American League owner told The Globe:

“I think it will benefit our league to keep the women out of baseball.  It is almost impossible to do so, but we must keep them out of baseball.  A woman owning a ballclub is about the limit, and the American League made a great move when they decided to bar female magnates.  Votes for the women may be alright, and we do not blame them for battling for them, but it would be a terrible thing to have them in baseball as owners.  It would mean the ruining of the game.”

Grace Comiskey, who became owner of the Chicago White Sox after the death of her husband John Louis Comiskey in 1939–she was forced to go to court to get control of the club from The First National Bank of Chicago; as trustees of the estate, the bank wanted to sell the team because there was no specific instruction in the will that his widow should take control.

She became the American League’s first woman owner.

The game appears not to have been “ruined” during her tenure.

Cum Posey’s “All-Americans”

18 Nov

In 1937, Homestead Grays owner Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey Jr. set out to name the all-time Negro League all-stars–his “All-Americans”– in The Pittsburgh Courier; six years later he expanded his “All-American” team and conceded that picking an all-time Negro League team was a nearly impossible task:

“Due to the changes in umpiring, parks, baseballs, ownership, in the last three decades, it is merely a guess when any of us attempt to pick an all-time All-American club.  Under any system we would hesitate to put ourselves on record as picking the club without placing some of the boys from the islands on the team.  We know some star players from Cuba, who played Negro baseball in the US and they cannot be ignored.”

Cum Posey

Cum Posey

Posey said no team would be complete without considering pitchers Jose Mendez, Eustaquio “Bombin” Pedroso, and Juan Padron, shortstop Pelayo Chacon, outfielders Cristobal Torriente and Esteban Montalvo and “(Martin) Dihigo, probably the greatest all-around player of any decade.”

Cristóbal Torriente

Cristóbal Torriente

“If one could be a spectator at an argument between those closely associated with baseball—fans, players, owners—he would be surprise at the differences of opinions.

Ted Page, who is now manager of Hillvue Bowling Alley (in Pittsburgh), and was formerly one of the star players of Negro baseball was mentioning one of the players of former years.  Ted contends (Chester) Brooks, one of the few West Indian (Brooks was said to hae been born in Nassau, Bahamas, but several sources, including his WWII Draft Registration and death certificate list his place of birth as Key West, Florida) players ever on the roster of an American baseball club was one of the real stars of all time.  Brooks, formerly of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, was probably the most consistent right hand hitter in the history of Negro baseball.  When the Homestead Grays were at odds with everyone connected with Negro Organized Baseball we tried to get Brooks on the Grays club.”

Chester Brooks

Chester Brooks

In his 1937 picks, Posey placed Brooks on his all-time all-star team as “utility” outfielder.

The 1937 team:

Manager:  C. I. Taylor

Coaches:  Rube Foster, Sam Crawford, and Chappie Johnson

Catchers:  Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey

Pitchers: Smokey Joe Williams, Dick Redding, Pedroso, Bullet Rogan, Satchel Paige, Dave Brown and Willie Foster

First Base:  Ben Taylor and Buck Leonard

Second Base: Sammy Hughes

Third Base: Jud Wilson

judwilson

Shortstop: John Henry Lloyd

Left Field:  Torriente

Center Field: Oscar Charleston

Right Field: Pete Hill

Utility:  Infield: Dick Lundy; Outfield: Brooks

Posey added several players for consideration in 1943, many who were largely forgotten by then:

Pitchers: Mendez, Padron

Catcher:  Bruce Petway, Wabishaw “Doc” Wiley

First Base: Leroy Grant, George Carr, Eddie Douglas

Second Base:  Frank Warfield, Bingo DeMoss, George Scales, John Henry Russell, Frank Grant

Bingo DeMoss

Bingo DeMoss

Third Base: Connie Day, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, Dave Malarcher, Henry Blackmon, Walter Cannady, Billy Francis, Bill Monroe

Shortstop:  Willie Wells

Posey concluded:

“Too many outfielders to mention.  You have Dihigo, (Pee Wee) Butts, (Sam) Bankhead, Cannady (and) Monte Irvin to play in any position and nine hundred ninety-nine others.  Our personal preference for manager is C.I. Taylor, but what about Rube Foster?”

“Stars for A’s, Pep for Phils—In Negro Ranks”

13 Jul

The push to integrate baseball in the late 1930s and early 1940s came most frequently from the black press and American Socialists, but occasionally a white voice would call for the color line to be broken.

In May of 1940, with both Philadelphia teams struggling and headed towards last place finishes (Phillies 50-103, and Athletics 54-100), The Philadelphia Record made the case under the headline:

Stars for A’s, Pep for Phils—In Negro Ranks

“Experienced players are available who could strengthen the A’s shaky pitching staff and give the Phils the batting punch they need.  These players could make potential champions out of any of the other also-rans in either major league.”

[…]

“But they are Negroes, and organized baseball says they can’t come in.”

The previous season, Phillies Manager James Thompson “Doc” Prothro, a Memphis native, told The Pittsburgh Courier he would welcome players from the Negro Leagues on his club:

“I certainly would, if given the opportunity to sign up a good Negro ball player.  I need good players, and if I ran across a colored boy who could make the grade I wouldn’t hesitate signing him.”

Doc Prothro

Doc Prothro

The Courier’s Wendell Smith said that when the Phillies manager made the statement:

“Prothro draped his right arm across our shoulders and we walked along, as though to assure us he realized the unfairness of the major league color line.  It seemed he wanted to convince us that he was against it as much as we were.”

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

Now as Prothro and the Phillies headed towards their second straight 100 loss season, one of Philadelphia’s daily papers agreed that it was time:

“In all baseball law there is not a single line barring colored players from the game.  Several major league managers have said they would jump at the chance to sign the best of them.  Some owners have declared they would vote to admit them.

“But no vote ever is taken on the subject.  No manager or owner dares defy the Jim Crow tradition which in the past has been the most inflexible unwritten law in the game.”

Most importantly, the paper said, the “unwritten law” had left a key group out of the decision:

“No one seems to have consulted the fans…There is an even chance—and a whole lot more—that a few thousand fans who have been staying away from the A’s and the Phils might turn out to see what (Satchel) Paige and (Josh) Gibson and a few more like them, might do in the major leagues.”

The Record never followed up on their call to integrate.  The issue was forgotten in Philadelphia.  As both teams limped to their last place finishes the fans that were never consulted on the issue stayed away in droves. The Athletics drew 432,135—sixth out of eight American League teams.  The Phillies had the worst attendance in the major leagues, just 207,177.