Tag Archives: Kansas City Monarchs

“I’m Disappointed in Baseball”

2 Apr

“I don’t want no rockin’ chair, I don’t want no triple-A. I want to pitch in the majors again. I want a chance. I never really had a chance.”

In 1962, 55-year-old Satchel Paige was looking for one last chance.

He talked to Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Tribune about his frustration while, “on one of those hurry-up barnstorming tours with the Kansas City Monarchs.”

Paige spent a large part of that summer playing for Goose Tatum’s Harlem Stars in dozens of games with Ted Rasberry’s Kansas City Monarchs in the Midwest and South.

Tatum and Paige

Any notion that traveling with those two great stars was glamorous was addressed by a 19-year-old member of the Monarchs, named Eddie Brooks, who told The Charlotte Observer when the teams played there that he was “disillusioned after two months” on tour:

“Somehow I thought it would be different from this. The only reason I’m here is that some major league scout might see me somewhere and give me a chance in organized ball.”

Brooks never got a chance in organized ball, but became a well-known high school basketball coach in his hometown, and more than 50 years later told The Peoria Journal Star the experience with the Monarchs—he also played with the team in 1965–motivated him to finish college:

“I was still a young man, so to see those older guys I looked up to like Satch and Goose out there scrapping for money from town to town, it left an impression on me…I got my rear end back to Macomb (Western Illinois University) to finish the few hours I needed for my degree.”

Brooks with Tatum and Paige

Paige shared Brooks’ frustration:

“Paige doesn’t really like what he’s doing. He doesn’t like the role he’s in. He believes he is a pitcher, not an antique, that his long, remarkably durable arm is still good enough for the big time.

“’I’d rather pitch against Mantle and Maris tomorrow than anything else in the world,’ he said.”

So certain that he could still compete in the major leagues, Paige said:

“Nobody in the world can tell me I can’t hold up my end and if I can’t, they don’t have to pay me a nickel.”

The lack of a chance to prove himself, left him disillusioned:

“I’m really a disappointed man. I’m disappointed in baseball.”

He said that he’d never gotten over his release from the Baltimore Orioles after the franchise relocated from St. Louis:

“I still got that letter. The letter said I was a number one pitcher, but they didn’t want no old men on the team. They said they were going for youth. Well, they ain’t won the pennant yet and I see where clubs are paying $100,000 bonuses for players that never throwed a ball.’

“The time they turned me a-loose, I was in the All-Star game, this is the first time I said this to anybody, but I got to answer back. You asked and I got to answer. The more I think of being turned a-loose, the madder I get.”

Rasberry said Paige had “pitched 159 innings this summer, pitching every night, three or four innings.”

Paige said he could likely throw a lot harder than he was that summer, “if I could have a little rest, As it is you ride and pitch, ride and pitch, sometime 500 to 700 miles between games.”

An ad from the 1962 tour

He admitted he could no longer pitch nine innings, but:

“I’m as good as anybody for five or six, Yes, as good as (Don) Drysdale. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like to talk about myself. But if I get a chance and I’m wrong, I’ll hush up.”

It took three years for his final chance.

“Negro Baseball is Staggering about Grotesquely on its Last Legs”

15 Feb

Lucius “Melancholy” Jones, after a college football and basketball career at Clark College—now Clark Atlanta University—served as sports editor for several black newspapers, wrote for The Pittsburgh Courier and the Southern Newspaper Syndicate which served many black newspapers across the country.

Jones

In 1941, he enumerated the “frailties of Negro baseball,” which were:

“1. Selfish, dishonest, and insecure owners and higher ups;

  2. Absence of records, lack of publicity, failure to give the fans their money’s worth; and

  3. Trampish tendencies, jumping of clubs, moral indecency, and respect of a baseball contract as more than a piece of paper.”

Satchel Paige, “rated by the immortal Grover Cleveland Alexander as one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, regardless of race, creed, or color and declare by Joe DiMaggio to be the best pitcher he ever batted against…should be the idol of his race; the pride of colored kids everywhere,” he said

But, instead, “(T)he average Negro boy knows 10 times as much about Joe DiMaggio as he does about Oscar Charleston or Turkey Stearns; 10 times as much about Bob Feller as he does Paige or Hilton Smith; 10 times as much about Lou Gehrig as he ever knew about Buck Leonard or Red Moore; and the average colored fan knows the standings of every club in the white major leagues but hasn’t the faintest idea as to just which of the Negro clubs is in first place. Published standings, game-to-game box scores, and official scoring are more or less mythical.”

Paige

Paige had in 1941, appeared with four teams, including organizations “in both of the Negro major leagues,” and as a result “of his trampish tendency of playing with so many clubs.” And, despite the fact the was “a surprisingly clean liver…his utter lack of respect for a baseball contract,” resulted in him lacking the type of following enjoyed by white players.

Jones said:

“But what is more remarkable than Paige’s pitching for four different clubs in a season is just three months old at this writing is the fact that this strange thing has been done with approval of officials of both leagues—or so it would seem, because instead of handling him severally for his trampish practices which automatically amount to ineligibility went to the other extreme, removing the bar against his participation in the annual East-West Classic.”

Both leagues required “overhauling,” because each stood “for little more than personal gain, and even in this selfish motive are not together. There is continuous bickering between” the two leagues’ officials.

Negro League baseball was, according to Jones, in such precarious shape because of its lack of organization that if steps were not taken to shore up the “tottering empire,” it would be “doomed to oblivion.” Jones cited a popular vaudeville comedian and actor’s signature bit as an analogy:

“Negro baseball is staggering about grotesquely on its last legs like a Leon Errol. Most of us fear for the worst.”

Leon Errol

Jones’ regular rancor directed at the magnates of black baseball was continuous and based on his conclusion that:

“White major league baseball is good. The white baseball loops are better organized and better patronized than the colored leagues. But the brand of ball played in those white circuits is not superior to that played by the best Negro teams.”

Jones, like Wendell Smith, his colleague at The Pittsburgh Courier continued calling for an “overhauling” of the Negro Leagues while at the same time pushing for integration in baseball. Jones outlined the “three important steps” to successfully integrate the game:

“1. Crystallization of a favorable public sentiment; 2. Numerous experimental contests between white and Negro stars of major league caliber in the larger cities where mass reaction will be greatest; and 3. attainment of total endorsement from Commissioner Kennesaw M. Landis and organized baseball as an institution.”

Jones went on to become the New Orleans editor for The Courier and  the first black host of a radio sportscast on a white station in the deep south when he hosted a show for 16 weeks on WDSU-AM in New Orleans in 1949—he also helped bring the first sports telecast in the deep south featuring two black teams to WDSU-TV on April 30, 1950 when the station aired a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the New York Cubans with Jones presenting “between inning highlights.”

He also was a co-founder—along with his former Clark College teammate and fellow Courier writer Ric Roberts—of Atlanta’s “the 100% Wrong Club” which was established for the purpose of recognizing black collegiate athletes.

Jones was just 47 years old when he died in 1952.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #28

19 Dec

Satch on Segregation, 1943

In 1943, The Associated Press asked Satchel Paige about the prospect of integration in major league baseball:

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Paige

“’It’s the only sport we haven’t cracked,’ the big, loose-jointed star of the Kansas City Monarchs said last night.

“’I think some of our boys will get major tryouts next spring; in a couple of years I believe they’ll be in the lineups. I wish we could start out with a club of own—all colored boys,’ he asserted.  ‘Later, when they got used to us playing, they could mix the teams up.’”

Fat Cupid, 1901

When the Chicago Orphans released veteran Cupid Childs on July 8, 1901, The Chicago Daily News eulogized the big league career of the one-time star.  Some highlights:

“The passing of Childs removes from the National League, probably forever, one of it’s best known characters… (He was) remarkably fast on grounders and flies, despite his fat shape and short limbs… (Chicago manager Tom) Loftus though he could make the fat man renew his youth, and Childs has certainly done the best he knew how.  Through years of experience the league fielders had learned how to play for his hits; his batting became light in consequence, and his fielding continued very good for a fat old player.”

cupid

Childs

The paper was correct that Childs’ major league career had come to an end, he played three and a half more seasons in the minor leagues before calling it quits for good.

World Series Souvenirs, 1906

Two of the highlights of the surprise win by the 1906 White Sox over the Cubs in the World Series were the bases loaded triple by weak-hitting George Rohe that accounted for the all scoring in the 3-0 White Sox victory in game three; and Frank Isbell’s four doubles in game five.

Hugh Fullerton of The Chicago Tribune, who made his reputation as a prognosticator that year by being one of the few experts to pick the Sox, told his readers about an encounter with Isbell after the series:

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Isbell

“I dropped in at the South Side Grounds…I discovered (Isbell) under the grand stand, staggering under a load of bats, and followed him along under the stand.  Then he dragged out a bushel basket filled with old practice balls and began packing balls and bats into a big dry goods box.

“’What the dickens are those, Issy,” I asked.

“’Balls and bats.’ Calmly remarked the Terrible Swede.

“’what are you going to do with them?’

“’I’ll tell you,’ remarked Issy, seating himself on the edge of the box.  ‘I began collecting them in July and saving them up.  I knew everyone in Wichita (Kansas, Isbell’s off-season home) would want one of the balls that was used in the world’s championship series.

“’Those, he added serenely if ungrammatically, pointing at the bushel of baseballs, “are the balls Rohe  made that triple when the bases were full.’ And those,’ he added, pointing to the bats, ‘are the bat used when I made those four doubles in one game.’”

Corbett on Gentleman Jim, 1916

After his baseball career, Joe Corbett worked for several years as a deputy to the San Francisco County Clerk.  In 1916, The San Francisco Call & Post said the younger brother of former Heavyweight Champion Gentleman Jim Corbett, had a way of dealing with fans who wanted to talk to him about his brother’s prowess in the ring—he would tell them:

joecorbett

Corbett

“They tell me he was a great fighter; you see, I don’t know.  I only saw him in the ring twice; I guess he wasn’t fighting then.  (Bob) Fitzsimmons won the first time and Jeff (Jim Jeffries) knocked him out the second time.  But they tell me he was some fighter.”

“But, no Freakish Balls”

20 Jun

After Smokey Joe Williams struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 12-inning one-hit shutout in Kansas City in August of 1930, Paul A.R. Kurtz of The Pittsburgh Press wrote about meeting Williams in the Grays dugout when the two teams played at Forbes Field two weeks earlier:

smokeyjoe

Smokey Joe Williams

“Personal experience recently revealed to me the superstition existing in baseball.

“I know big league players want bats scattered when they’re not hitting; others touch bases or gloves on the way to the bench during innings and do numerous other unusual things.  But my own failing for peanuts brought me an interesting interview.”

Kurtz said he bought peanuts from a vendor when he arrived at Forbes Field:

“While a few Grays were practicing, I wandered to the Homestead bench to be greeted by Smokey Joe Williams, the veteran Gray twirler, who noticed the hard-shelled peanuts.”

Williams asked:

“’Do you know peanuts are barred from our bench?’ Joe asked.  I inquired, ‘how come?’

“’I don’t like them around and have made my mates understand that.  They try to tease me by eating some once in awhile.  I always feel I’m losing when I hear the cracking of shells.”

Williams said:

“That’s my only superstitious feeling in baseball.”

Kurtz said he was concerned he contributed to Williams losing for the first time that season:

“Joe didn’t like peanuts. I had them in my hands.  Joe was starting pitcher.  He had won 23 games without a defeat until the Monarchs beat him with a rally that particular night.”

Williams, with the help of Grays shortstop Jake Stephens–who made three errors in the game, two of them in the ninth–blew a 4 to 3 lead in the ninth when the Monarchs scored five runs to beat the Grays 8 to 4 in the second night game ever played in Forbes Field:

“Was I the cause of Joe’s downfall? Those peanuts may have preyed on his mind and by mental telepathy Stephens foozled a few swats to help the monarchs halt Williams’ winning streak.”

Generally listed at 6’ 3” or 6’ 4” and 190 pounds, Williams told the the reporter he was 6’2” and weighed 224 pounds, but said he loses “nearly 30 pounds during a summer.”

Williams said:

“’I have no trouble keeping in shape. I take good care of myself, sleep long and eat carefully.  I tried to throw a spitball once, but it jerked my arm and so I cut it.  Control and plenty of motion are my bets.  I have practiced hard to master control to place the ball just where I want it on a batter.  Low knee fast pitches, inside and outside, are my favorites.  But, no freakish balls.  I am better with control than those who try an assortment of twisters.”

Williams told Kurtz about the biggest regrets of his career:

“Although Joe has marvelous control of his fast pitches, he talked regretfully of three boys who he hurt badly.  One lad in Texas became demented after being hit and another had all his teeth knocked out. In Coal City (Pennsylvania) Joe dented a player’s skull, leaving the imprint of the ball on his forehead.”

Williams told Kurtz that he had, for years, kept “a big scrapbook…It contained all accounts of his baseball life.”  The book, “which Williams prized highly,” was stolen:

“Since it disappeared Joe has not been as interested in recording his accomplishments. ‘How I’d like to get that book back,’ he said.”

He then went out and took his first loss of the 1930 season.

“Baseball After Dark Made its Initial Gesture in Pittsburgh”

18 Jun

With light standards set up just behind the first and third base coaching boxes, the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs took the field for the first night game at Forbes Field on July 18, 1930.

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Frank Duncan at the plate, “Buck Ewing catching July 18, 1930

The night before, the Grays played under lights for the time.  A similar lighting system was deployed at the Akron, Ohio Central League ballpark, and Smokey Joe Williams shut out the Akron Guard, a local amateur club, 10 to 0, and held the Guard to two hits.

Ralph Davis, the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Press said:

“Baseball after dark made its initial gesture in Pittsburgh last night…More than 6,000 fans turned out through curiosity or other motives to see the spectacle, and the vast majority of them gave the night baseball plan their unqualified approval.”

Davis declared the field “as bright as day,” and said:

“With 33 huge floodlights as illuminants, the play-field of the Pirates was turned from inky blackness into something approaching mid-afternoon brightness.

“The scene was a revelation to many doubting Thomases who went to scoff and left the field declaring that perhaps, after all, the national pastime, if it ever has to be saved, will find night performances its savior.

“Hardly a shadow was discernible as the rival teams fielded apparently as surely and as speedily as they would have done in broad daylight.  Balls hit high in the air were easy to follow in their flight, and long hits to the outfield could be traced without ‘losing’ the ball.”

Davis said the one exception in the field were ground balls “which skimmed along the ground.” Pitchers he said, appeared “to use just as much speed,” as during the day, and the lights seemed to not affect the catchers, and:

“Pitched balls, waist-high or higher, were easy picking for the eager batsmen, but it looked as if balls around the knees were harder to judge.”

The first pitch was not thrown until 9:15, because “the darker it was, the better the lighting system worked.”

As for the crowd, which Davis said “The color line was not drawn,” and the number of black and white fans were roughly equal:

“It was a typical baseball scene, with enthusiasm just as evident as any major league game.  Rooters went into a frenzy when the Grays tied the score after the Monarchs had gotten away in the lead, and almost tore down the stands when they finally won out.”

crowdforbes.jpg

“The color line was not drawn” in the crowd

The game went 12 innings, and ended, The Press said, “Precisely at midnight,” when George Scales scored the winning run on a hit by catcher William “Buck” Ewing.

Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was “an interested spectator” who “Watched the play closely,” Davis asked him his opinion:

“It is interesting, and provides entertainment for many people who cannot get away from work for afternoon contests.  It is not as fast as daylight ball, and I imagine the infielders have some difficulty in judging hard-hit grounders but it is remarkable how well the men handle themselves.”

Dreyfuss summed up his feelings:

“I don’t think night baseball will ever replace the daylight brand in popularity.”

Smoky Joe Williams, who had pitched in the Grays’ first night game in Akron two days earlier, agreed with Dreyfuss when Davis asked his opinion of playing under the lights:

 “’Night baseball causes an eye strain,’ said he.  “’It is all right as long as you don’t look into one of those big lights.  If you do, you lose sight of the ball entirely.  I’ll take the daylight stuff for mine.”

The next night, Williams pitched in the second night game to played in Pittsburgh, he took a 4 to 3 lead into the ninth inning when Kansas City scored five runs and beat him 8 to 8.  Two weeks later, Williams struck out 27 Monarchs batters under the lights in Kansas City.

“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.

Posey Cum 1345.72 crop PD

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.

smokeyjoe

“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.

chetbrewer

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.”’

“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.

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              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.

“Negro Baseball is Here to Stay”

24 Jul

At the close of the first Negro National League season in 1920, The Kansas City Sun declared “Negro baseball is here to stay.”

The paper made several observations about the state of the league and its future and picked the league’s first all-star team.  Beginning with a bit of bragging, the paper said that in spite of the Chicago American Giants winning the pennant, “Kansas City proved to be the best Negro baseball city.”

The Chicago American Giants

The Chicago American Giants

As evidence of Kansas City’s dominance, The Sun said:

“One hundred thousand White and Negro fans attended the Monarch games at Association Park the past season without the least bit of friction…(and) played to more local fans than the Kansas City Blues (of the American Association)…Negro teams used to play for a keg of beer, but now they play for $5,000 gates.”

The league as a whole, according to the paper, drew “more than 700,000 fans.”

but, it was not all a glowing review, The Sun did acknowledge one of the league’s biggest difficulties in the inaugural season, “(They) did not discover any real Negro umpires the past season;” inconsistent umpiring would remain an issue in subsequent years.

Perhaps most importantly, The Sun said the current season “Made baseball a safe investment,” and “Made baseball contracts legal.”

The final point was overly optimistic, as contract jumping and player raids were a serious detriment to the league throughout its 11-year run.

The Sun also picked the league’s first all-star team:

Pitchers:  Charles“Bullet” Rogan, Monarchs, Bill Drake, St. Louis Giants

Bullet Rogan

Bullet Rogan

Catchers:  George “Tubby” Dixon, Chicago American Giants and John Beckwith, Chicago Giants

First Base: Ben Taylor, Indianapolis ABC’s

Second Base: Bingo DeMoss, Chicago American Giants

Third Base: Bartolo Portuondo, Kansas City Monarchs

Portuondo

Bartolo Portuondo, all-star third baseman

Outfield: Jimmie Lyons, Detroit Stars, Cristobal Torriente, Chicago American Giants, and Hurley McNair, Kansas City Monarchs

Utility:  John Donaldson and Tank Carr, Kansas City Monarchs.

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

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