Tag Archives: Kansas City Monarchs

“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.”

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A Thousand Words–Satch and Diz

15 Mar

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Ted Williams called for the recognition of Negro League players in his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech:

“The other day Willie Mays hit his five hundred and twenty second home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, “Go get ’em, Willie.” Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better  This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

After Williams’ speech, Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean became one of Paige’s most vocal supporters.In 1968 Dean said:

“I think that he was one of the most outstanding pitchers I ever saw throw a ball and too bad he couldn’t have broken in in his prime when he could really fire that ball.”

Dean encouraged fans to write letters to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to tell then “The venerable Leroy Robert Paige has proved he belongs in Cooperstown.”

Dean said he had “played more baseball against Satchel Paige,” than any other Major League player:

“I certainly think that if anybody belongs in the Hall of Fame, Satchel Paige deserves it as much as anyone else.  I think he was one of the outstanding pitchers of all times, and a guy who has given his life to baseball.”

Paige was the first player inducted to the Hall of Fame by The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues in 1971.

satchndiz

King Tut

30 Jan

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

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

Richard "King Tut" King

Richard “King Tut” King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank "Fay" Young, The Chicago Defender

Frank “Fay” Young, The Chicago Defender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thousand Words

6 Dec

Satchel Paige demonstrates four of his favorite pitches to The Baltimore Afro-American, 1948:

The sidearm curve (outshoot):  “A wrist-twist causes counter-clockwise spin which makes the ball bend away from a right-handed batter.”

Sidearm Curve--outshoot

Sidearm Curve–outshoot

The overhand curve (drop): “Is gripped and thrown with a twist as to let the ball leave the hand with a snap between thumb and forefinger.  Overspin thus makes ball take a sudden dip.”

Overhand curve--drop

Overhand curve–drop

The Screwball (inshoot):  “Ball slides off fingers with a rapid clockwise spin, making it twist away from a left-handed hitter.”

Screwball--inshoot

Screwball–inshoot

The knuckleball:  “takes odd twists and turns even the pitcher can’t predict.”

Knuckle ball

Knuckle ball

“May every page you turn be a Satchel Paige.” Greg Proops, The Smartest Man in the World Podcast.

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