Tag Archives: Josh Gibson

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.

Fred Downer

30 Mar

In August of 1953, “Jet Magazine” said people were talking about:

 “That affectionate hug baseball immortal Ty Cobb gave Chicago news dealer Fred Downer.”

By then, Frederick Douglas Downer was largely forgotten.

Before playing as a professional, he was, according to The Pittsburgh Courier, the “star” of the Morehouse College baseball team in Atlanta.

Fred Downer

Fred Downer

His first professional experience was with the Atlanta Cubs in 1919—the team was colloquially called the Atlanta Black Crackers for years, and newspapers referred to them by both names until 1922 when the “Cubs” name was permanently dropped.  Years later, Downer told The Chicago Defender he also played with the Knoxville Giants during this period.

In 1921, Downer and Gerard Williams, his teammate at Morehouse and with the Atlanta Cubs, went north to join the Pittsburgh Keystones.   Downer is listed by several sources as the club’s manager, but in the 1970s he told The Defender said he “played under the management of (William) Dizzy Dismukes.”  Dismukes was also the Keystones’ manager the following year when the team entered the Negro National League.

Downer appears to have played independent and semi-pro ball during 1922.

While not listed on any extant rosters, Downer spent some time with the Cleveland Tate Stars in 1923—in an interview given in 1972 Elander “Vic” Harris, who debuted with the Tate Stars as an 18-year-old that season, said Downer, who he had gotten to know in Pittsburgh was with the club. Harris told The Van Nuys (CA) News he tried out as a first baseman but was installed in the outfield, leading to Downer being let go.

Downer returned to Pittsburgh and assumed management of the Keystones in 1924. After a single season in the Negro National League, the Keystones had dropped out, and the team continued operations as a semi-pro club.

Downer, and another Georgian who also played with the 1923 Cleveland Tate Stars, Mathis Williams, managed and played for the semi-pro version in 1924 and ’25.  The Keystones barely treaded water financially.

Mathis Williams

Mathis Williams

In June of 1925 The Pittsburgh Courier said:

“Of the colored clubs in action, none but the Homestead Grays are making any money…Fred Downer and his Pittsburgh Keystones are practically a thing of the past.”

Within a month the team disbanded and Downer was through as a player.

The following year, he and his wife Marian Foster Downer, a reporter for The Pittsburgh Courier—and later The Chicago Defender— relocated to Chicago.  She continued to write for The Courier’s society page while Fred began covering baseball and boxing for the paper and acted as The Courier’s Midwest circulation manager.

In addition to covering most major Midwest-based events–including the annual Negro League East-West All-Star Game and several championship fights—Downer started the Atlas News and Photo Service which distributed content to Black newspapers.

 

Marian Foster Downer also wrote about sports for The Defender.  Her article on the 1935 East-West All-Star Game—won by the West 11-8 on George “Mule” Suttles’ three-run home run after Webster McDonald walked Josh Gibson to face him—was headlined:

Mule Suttles

Mule Suttles

Our Girl Scribe Sees Mule’s Hit

Marian Foster Downer--The Defender's "Girl Scribe"

Marian Foster Downer–The Defender’s “Girl Scribe”

In 1945, Fred Downer proposed a new path for Negro League baseball, writing in a Chicago-based magazine called “New Vistas:”

“If the white majors won’t hire good colored players, then the Negroes should build their own parks and hire the best players regardless of race.  This will build up competition, and competition will break down many barriers.”

Downer was covering the World Series at Wrigley Field in 1932 and was on-hand for Babe Ruth’s “called shot.”  The Courier’s Sports Editor Wendell Smith said Downer was “One of Babe’s most staunch and loyal supporters,” and was determined to find the ball.

 “His decision to find the ball Ruth hit resulted in a search that has been a detailed and intensive as any by a ‘G-man.’  Fred scoured every baseball haunt in the Chicago area.”

According to Smith, Downer expanded his search throughout the Midwest, with no luck.

Downer later told The Chicago Defender he found the ball and bought it from a former Chicagoan who had moved to Michigan.  He called the ball “one of his prized possessions.”

The actual provenance of the ball and its current whereabouts are unknown.

Twenty-one years after he witnessed Ruth’s “called shot,” Downer—by then he had left  The Courier and owned three newsstands on Chicago’s South Side– was again at Wrigley Field where he had an encounter that raised questions in the Black press about a long-held opinion of another baseball legend.

Ty Cobb stopped in Chicago on his way back to his California home from Cooperstown, to attend a game between the Cubs and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Downer was born in Cobb’s hometown of Royston, Georgia in 1896.  The Defender said of the relationship between the two:

“(Downer) got his start in baseball chasing fly balls for Ty Cobb as a kid.”

The California Eagle said:

“Downer was raised around the Cobb’s household in Royston, Georgia.”

Wendell Smith, then with The Chicago Herald-American, said of Cobb’s day at Wrigley:

“(T)here were two things said about (Cobb) that were, apparently, the gospel truth:

  • He could hit any living pitcher.

  • He would hit any living Negro.”

Smith said the second “truth” was “merely a matter of hearsay.”

And, he said:

“(H)e gives no indication today of intolerance.”

In addition to his embrace of Downer, Cobb was asked which players on the field most impressed him:

“’Why that catcher there, he said, pointing to Roy Campanella.  ‘He’s the best ball player I’ve seen in many a year…That fella’s a great catcher,’ he volunteered.  ‘The very best in the game.  He reminds me a little of Roger Bresnahan.  If he can stick around for five or six more years they’ll have to put him alongside the game’s all-time catchers.’”

Downer continued to operate his newsstands well into his 70s.  At the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue, The Defender said, he would:

“(S)ell morning newspapers (and) answer hundreds of questions pertaining to his long career.”

Fred Downer

Fred Downer

Frederick Douglas Downer died in Chicago on March 10, 1986.

Cecil and Josh

21 Jan

Newspapers across the country saw it as a human interest story about baseball; the Black Press saw it very differently.  With his team in a slump, New York Giants Manager Bill Terry brought in 13-year-old Cecil Terry to “bring the Giants some badly needed luck.”

Cecil Haley

Cecil Haley

The Associated Press said of Haley’s first day on the job:

“Cecil, a Negro mascot, was given a Giant uniform yesterday, allowed to sit in the dugout for the first time and promised a trip West if he’d bring the Giants some badly-needed luck.  The net result of his work?  Pirates 4, Giants 3.”

Very different stories appeared in the Black press.  The Washington Afro-American said:

“(O)rganized big leagues will have colored mascots but steadfastly refuse to accept them as players.  The proud lad sits under the bat rack in the Giants’ dugout, but to date, something must be wrong, because the Giants are hopelessly battling for fifth place.”

The New York Age said:

“Cecil Haley, New York Giants colored mascot, will know better when he grows older and tries to get a job playing for the same team.”

The same day that Haley appeared on the bench with the Giants, New York pitcher Carl Hubbell spoke with The Pittsburgh Courier about Josh Gibson:

“‘(H)e’s one of the greatest backstops in the history of baseball, I think…Boy–how he can throw!’ exclaimed Hubbell.

josh

“There seems to be nothing to it when he throws.  He just whips the ball down to second base like it had a string on it.  He’s great, I’m telling you.  Any team in the big leagues could use him right now.’

“But, with all that,’ said Hubbell, ‘the thing I like best about him is that he’s as fast as greased lightening.  You know, after a few years a catcher usually slows up considerably from bending down so much.  But that guy–why, he’s never slowed down.”

That summer, a new effort was underway to integrate baseball.  A petition drive led by the Young Communist League collected between 25,000 and 100,000 (reports varied) and delivered to National League President Ford Frick,  and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis at the 1939 winter meeting in Cincinnati.

The Afro-American said Frick “avoided the issue by declaring that a ‘social problem’ was involved for which the big leagues were not responsible.”

There is no public record of the commissioner’s response.

Josh Gibson, with two-time Communist Vice-Presidential Candidate James W. Ford looking on, signs the 1939 petition to end racial discrimination in professional baseball.

I published a shorter version of this post on August 27, 2012.

Adventures in Barnstorming II—Crawfords vs. Dean’s

4 Sep

This story has been told in a few books, but those books generally get the facts wrong.  The authors relied on the 50 and 60-year-old memories of participants, the same participants from whom I first heard the story from, but never checked the stories against contemporaneous accounts.

On October 23, 1934 the Pittsburgh Crawfords (the team was made up of many members of the Crawfords lineup, but also included Negro League stars from other teams) played the Dizzy Dean All-Stars (made up of the Dean brothers, a few current and former Major Leaguers and  minor leaguers from the Pittsburgh area) at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.  It was the final game of the Dean Brothers’ 1934 barnstorming tour.  As with most of the games, Dizzy Dean, and Satchel Paige pitched the first two innings.  After Dean was relieved by minor league pitcher Joe Semler, he went to left field.

In the bottom of the 5th, with the Crawfords trailing 4-3, Elander “Vic” Harris either bunted or “tapped the ball” in front of the plate and former and future major league catcher George Susce threw wide to first base.  Harris advanced to second on the throw.

Dizzy Dean came in from left field and told home plate umpire James Ahearn that Harris had interfered with the throw.  Ahearn called Harris out.

Harris ran from 2nd base to argue the call with Ahearn, a local Pittsburgh umpire with whom Harris had a contentious history.

Vic Harris with the 1930 Homestead Grays.

Accounts vary at this point.  Some newspapers said Harris picked up Ahearn’s mask and hit him with it.  Other accounts said Harris grabbed the umpire’s mask (this is what Harris also maintained until his death).

Susce then went after Harris and a melee broke out.  Josh Gibson came to Harris’ aid and wrestled Susce away from him.  Soon a group of fans attempted to join the fray, but all accounts agree that police, security and cooler heads on both teams quickly controlled the situation and the game resumed.

Versions of the story that came much later included an account of Josh Gibson taking on Susce and throwing “Dizzy” Dean off of him “some ten feet away,” when Dean and Ted Page attempted to pull Gibson away from Susce.  This version did not come out until the 1970s, and it strains credibility that the greatest star of the Negro Leagues “threw” one of the most popular white players in America ten feet during a fight and that the account failed to appear in any newspaper story.

Gibson did hit a home run in the 8th to lead the Crawfords to a 4-3 victory.

Harris was removed from the field and arrested for assault.  Other erroneous accounts credit Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney with interceding Harris’ behalf and ensuring he wasn’t charged with a crime.  The problem with that story is that Harris was charged, and convicted of assault and battery in March 1935.  Harris was fined and given six months probation.

This incident, other run-ins with umpires and his aggressive style of play earned Harris the nickname “Vicious Vic.”

Harris died in California in 1978.  He was one of the Negro League players considered for enshrinement in Cooperstown but was passed over in 2006.

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