Tag Archives: Judy Johnson

“Whose American Giants?”

27 May

Robert “Judy” Gans played for Negro League teams  from 1908 through the mid-1920s, and was later a manager and umpire; he is probably most famous for being the source of Judy Johnson’s nickname, the Hall of Famer said the two were teammates on a semi-pro team in 1920 and picked up the sobriquet because of his resemblance to the older player.

Gans liked to tell a story about about playing for Rube Foster with the Chicago American Giants in 1914.

gans

Gans

The story, first told to Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier in 1929 and later to Lewis Dials from The New York Age in 1936, was substantially the same–although he added some embellishments after six years. Lewis wrote in 1936:

“Gans had been starring down East when Rube sent for him to come to Chicago and play for him. In a game with a group of white league stars, the Giants were trailing 1-0 with a man on second and a sloppy field, the late Rube instructed Judy to bunt and get the runner on third. The opposing pitcher lobbed one up and Gans hit it for a home run, winning the game 2 to 1. Rabid fans tossed money of all descriptions on the field to Judy, who collected it and counted $136.”

In the 1929 version, Gans added a few details–the game took place while the American Giants were barnstorming the West Coast, Bruce Petway was the runner at second, and Portland Beavers pitcher Irv Higginbottom was on the mound.

The amount collected from the fans also changed–in 1929, he said it was $87.50, with an additional “fifty dollar bill” handed to him by George Moore; Moore was an African-American hotel owner in Portland who became a prominent boxing promoter and manager–he was most famous for managing Henry Armstrong at the end of his career.

Gans was told after the game that he would be riding back to the hotel in Foster’s car—in the 1929 version Foster told him in the dugout to ride back to the hotel with him.

“Judy said his chest poked out as he had made a big hit with his new boss. Seated in the car with Rube made Gans feel big until Foster broke the silence with a query, ‘Where did you play ball?’ To which Just proudly replied, ‘Down East with all the good clubs.’”

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Foster

In the 1929 version, Gans said Foster asked him about playing for the Lincoln Giants, “How did you like working for Sol White down East? Any discipline down there?”

Gans answered that discipline was “so-so” under White.

“Rube then asked, ‘What team are you playing for now?’ And Judy replied, ‘The American Giants.’ Rube said, “Whose American Giants?’ And Judy replied, ‘Rube Foster’s’. ‘That’s what I thought, how much did you get for hitting that home run?’ Gans told him the sum and Rube said it was some hit alright but add fifty dollars to that $136 you got and it will pay your fine. Judy asked what fine. Rube said it was failure to carry out instructions.”

Foster told Gans:

“’Men on my club play ball like Rube Foster tells them, or it would not be Rube Foster’s American Giants.’

“Judy played as he was told after that, and at the end of the season Rube refunded the money.”

In the 1929 version, Gans did not get the money back and was told by Foster:

“’Well, boy, let papa tell you something. If the Giants had lost the game today, the papers would have been full of what happened to Rube Foster’s team. I am the manager of the club. I told you to lay down and you hit a home run…now the next time I tell you to bunt, you’ll remember that won’t you?’”

Whether he received the money back or not, Gans, according to Dial “pins the medal of a great leader” on Foster.

“The Opposing Pitchers were Cheating”

11 Jun

Writing in The Pittsburgh Courier in 1936, Cum Posey owner of the Homestead Grays said the “greatest pitching battle of the Gray’s history and a fielding feature that stands out as the best ever witnessed by the writer,” happened in the same 1930 game.

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Cum Posey

The night game was played August 2, 1930 in Kansas City, between the Monarchs and the Grays, after the teams had spent several weeks playing a series of games in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It was the most famous game of Smokey Joe Williams’ career—some sources incorrectly date the game as August 7 because of the dateline on The Courier’s contemporaneous story about the game.

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“Smokey” Joe Williams

Williams faced Chet Brewer of the Monarchs.  Posey said:

“Before the game, the writer and Mr.(James Leslie) Wilkinson of Kansas City had an agreement that neither pitcher would use the ‘emery’ ball. The Grays got two men on base in the first inning, when Brewer brought out his ‘work,’ and there was no score.

“Joe Williams was then given a sheet of sand paper and the battle was on.”

Six years earlier, The Courier confirmed Posey’s recollection about doctored balls:

“The opposing pitchers were cheating without the question of a doubt.  An emery ball in daylight is very deceptive but at night it is about as easy to see as an insect in the sky.”

Posey picked up the story:

“For eight innings not another Gray and no Monarch reached first base.  Kansas City hadn’t made a hit off of Joe, with one down in the ninth (actually the eighth).  Newt Joseph in attempting to bunt, lifted a ‘pop’ over (first baseman Oscar) Charleston’s head.  Charleston had come in fast for the bunt and the ball went for two bases.”

The Courier did not describe the hit as a bunt in the original game story.

Posey continued:

“Joseph stole third.  “The Grays infield of Judy Johnson, (Jake) Stephens, (George) Scales, and Charleston came in on the grass…Moore (Posey misidentifies the batter—it was actually James ‘Lefty’ Turner) a young first baseman, was at bat, and hit a half liner, half Texas leaguer over Stephens’ head.  Jake turned at the crack of the bat and started running with his hands in the air.  While still out of reaching distance of the ball, Stephens stumbled and, taking a headlong dive, caught the ball six inches from the ground.”

The Courier was less specific in the 1930 coverage but said Stephens “went back” for Turner’s “sure Texas leaguer,” and “made a spectacular catch to rob the Monarchs of a possible victory.”

Williams retired Brewer to end the inning.

Brewer and Williams continued their duel until the top of the 12th when Brewer walked Charleston (the game’s only base on balls) and scored on Chaney White’s single for the game’s only score.

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Chet Brewer

Williams struck out the side in the 12th, completing the one-hitter with 27 strikeouts.

Brewer gave up just four hits and struck out 19, including 10 straight—he struck out the side in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Williams is widely known to have recommended Buck Leonard to Posey resulting in Leonard’s signing with the Grays in 1934.  Lesser known is the story Leonard told Red Smith of The New York Times in 1972:

“’Williams—he was tending bar on Lenox Avenue—asked me if I’d like to play for a good team.  He called up Cum Posey, who had the Homestead Grays.  Posey sent travel expenses but not to me; he sent the money to Williams, who gave me a bus ticket and $5.’

“’Do you think,’ Leonard was asked, ‘that Smokey Joe took a commission?’

“Laughter bubbled out of him.  ‘All I know, when I got my first pay check they held out $50.  That bus ticket didn’t cost $45.”’

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

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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?”