Tag Archives: Larry Doby

“He Took a Needling From Jackie Every Day”

29 Apr

In 1952, “Jet Magazine” featured an article about the “feuds” between several former Negro Leaguers who were currently starring in the major leagues.  The article contained no byline but was likely written by Andrew Sturgeon “A.C.” “Doc” Young, who wrote most of the baseball articles for the magazine during the early 50s; Young later became Hollywood’s fist black publicist in the late 1950s.

Young said Satchel Paige arrived in Cleveland in 1948 “a bit confused by some of the regulations,” of big league clubs. Paige did not understand why players did not have mustaches, as he did, nor did they were hats with their street clothes:

“One day Satch asked of Larry Doby, then a fledgling major leaguer “Why don’t they wear hats up here?’

“Doby, who had crawled in diapers while Satch was getting started on his fabulous career, said shortly, ‘Do as we do. Don’t ask questions!’

“Ít was the unkindest cut. Satch didn’t like it. And, later, when Doby told a white writer that Satch ‘carries a gun,’ failing to explain the pitcher was a collector of antique firearms, a feud was on. To this day it still flairs every time Doby faces Paige in a game.”

dobypaige

Doby and Paige

Young said the “feuds” tended to get “little publicity,” but would put “the Hatfields and McCoys episode to shame.”

Artie Wilson appeared in just 19 games for the New York Giants in 1951, but Young said it was enough time for two feuds to develop between Wilson and fellow, former Negro Leaguers.

The first involved Doby before the beginning of the season.

“The Indians and Giants had played an exhibition game at Charleston, West Virginia, after which a party was organized.”

Wilson went back to the hotel rather than attending.

“(H)e was in bed when someone knocked on his door and insisted he attend the affair. Finally, not wanting to offend the man, he agreed to go. He went, had a few dances, and returned home.

“Later, on the train, Doby sought to collect $5 from Wilson, explaining that the players had agreed to chip in for the party. Wilson declared he knew nothing of any such arrangements. Doby insisted Wilson should chip in anyway. An argument ensued, during which the 155-pound Wilson invited the 185-pound Doby to settle it with fists in back of the car.”

artie.jpg

Wilson

Wilson’s other feud was with teammate Hank Thompson. Thompson, who had hit .289 and drove in 89 runs in 1950, got off to a slow start in ’51:

Although he was a rookie with the Giant, Wilson was an experienced player and a former manager in Latin league ball. He sought to give Thompson some good advice.

“Thompson heard him out, then snapped, “Listen, you can’t tell me nothing. You just got up here.”

Doby, said Young was involved in a bit of a “feud” with every other black player on the Indians in 1950:

“When the club went to Tucson, Arizona for spring training, they were housed at a local Negro family because the swank resort Santa Rita Hotel had refused them. To facilitate their travel the two miles between the home and the ballpark, the Indians arranged for the Negroes to have a rented Ford, with Doby holding the keys. Luke Easter and others became disgruntled when Doby wouldn’t let them drive the car. As the pioneer Negro with the club, he felt the car was his responsibility.”

Young said there were several feuds among the black players on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 1949, Don Newcombe “had been labeled lazy” by manager Burt Shotton, and:

“(He) took a needling from Jackie every day he pitched and between games. It was Jackie’s way of ‘lighting a fire’ under the big, easy-going rookie. But Don didn’t take it that way.

“When he sought to buy a house later, he was very much impressed with one in St. Albans, L.I. [sic, Queens] Everything was fine until the real estate broker, thinking he was embellishing its attractiveness, said the house was in Jackie Robinson’s neighborhood. Newcombe immediately cancelled the deal. Explaining he did not want to live in the same neighborhood as Jackie Robinson.”

campanella-newcombe-and-robinson

Campanella, Newcombe, and Robinson

After the 1950 season, Young said, Robinson had “perhaps the hottest feud of all” with Roy Campanella after the catcher felt Robinson did not pay him enough during the Jackie Robinson All-Stars barnstorming tour:

“Campy, a man who watches money with eagle eyes, was greatly put out. Though they play together every day, and perhaps, will fight for the other team’s rights, the feud has not completely burned out, evidence indicates. Only recently, Campy refused to let his children attend a birthday party for one of Jackie’s children.”

And Campanella, said Young, sought out a feud with Giants Rookie Willie Mays in 1951:

“Campy, who had earned his place in the sun by playing both Latin ball in the winter and Negro ball in the summer, catching doubleheaders, and riding broken-down busses before entering organized ball, was miffed because Mays became a major leaguer in less than a year following graduation from high school.

“Every time the teams met, Campanella rode Mays unmercifully. It got to the point where Mays complained to his manager Leo Durocher, who said Campy had no right to do it.

“Mays, a naïve youngster, was at bat one day, Campy went into his needling routine. Mays turned and told the catcher, ‘Stop talking to me. Mr.  Durocher says you have no right to keep talking to me that way.’ But Campy didn’t stop talking until Mays went into the army this year.”

Young said “likeable, hard-hitting Monte Irvin” was one of the few who seemed to avoid “feuds” with fellow players.

The “strangest feud of all” according to Young started over a joke in 1949.  Two of the stars of the Wilkes-Barre Indians in the Eastern League were “Tall’ slender Harry Simpson,” the 24-year-old outfielder who hit .305 and hit a league-leading 31 home runs, and “rotund, left-handed Roy Welmaker,” the 35-year-old, long-time Negro League pitcher who was 22-12 with a 2.44 ERA in a league where only six pitchers who qualified for the league lead had an ERA below 3.45.

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Doby and Welmaker

“After a game one day, Welmaker almost used an entire bar of soap lathering himself in the bath. A startled white player inquired, ‘What’re you doing, Roy?’ The pitcher replied, ‘I’m trying to get white like you.’

“From that day on, Simpson and Welmaker were in sharp disagreement. Simpson said Welmaker was an ‘Uncle Tom.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendell Smith’s “Talent Hunt”

6 May

With Negro League baseball reeling from the effects of integrated professional baseball and years of disorganization, Wendell Smith and The Pittsburgh Courier set out to inject some life back into it.

Wendell Smith

Wendell Smith

A banner headline in the May 15, 1948, edition announced:

Courier Launches Talent Hunt

Smith did not spare the hyperbole in his explanation of the details:

The Pittsburgh Courier introduces this week the greatest scouting system ever devised in the history of baseball…It stretches from coast-to-coast and every foreign country in which this great newspaper circulates.”

Smith said the paper would pay $100 to any reader who recommended a player “Who is assigned to a professional ballclub and makes the grade.”

He said the “(S)couting system—which is even greater than those conducted by the major league club,” sought players “not to exceed 21,” who “may be of any race or nationality.”  The paper would then “conduct a thorough investigation of the candidate.”

That “thorough investigation” would be conducted by some of the biggest names in Negro League baseball recruited as “Official Scouts” to vet the candidates.  They were Oscar Charleston, Ted Page, Dizzy Dismukes, Frank Duncan, Vic Harris, Winfield Welch, George Scales and Tex Burnett.

Vic Harris with the 1930 Homestead Grays.

Vic Harris 

Smith said of the paper’s “Scouts;”

“They will see these boys pay and send in a report to The Courier sports department.  If the scout’s report indicates the boy is a potential big leaguer, he will be immediately sent to a professional team for a trial.”

Smith promised every reader of the paper:

“(Y)ou automatically become an ‘ivory-hunter,’ a ‘bird dog,’ a real, honest-to-goodness baseball scout.”

The “Talent Hunt” had the enthusiastic support of Negro League magnates as well—despite having been the frequent targets of Smith’s and The Courier’s ire.

Effa Manley, Newark Eagles owner, said, “It will be a life saver for Negro baseball.”

Effa Manley

Effa Manley

Dr. John Johnson—an Episcopal minister in his second year as president of the Negro National League said, “(W)e are now going to discover more players than ever before.”

Negro American League President Dr. John B. Martin said, “It will help every team in baseball.”

Smith reminded readers:

“(Jackie Robinson) was recommended to Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, by The Pittsburgh Courier…Some pace there is another Robinson and The Courier and its many readers are determined to find him!”

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

The following week, Smith told readers:

“Letters are rolling in from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  But the little towns are sending names of hopefuls too.  Everybody wants to be a scout!”

At the end of May, The Courier announced another addition to the Official Scouts: Elmer C. “Pop” Turner.  Nearly forgotten today, Turner was a football and baseball star at West Virginia State University—also Smith’s alma mater.  He played for several Negro League teams in the late 20s and early 30s, became a Negro National League umpire in the late 30s and early 40s, and coached baseball and football at North Carolina College at Durham—now known as North Carolina Central University.

By June 5, Smith promised:

“Someone is going to be one hundred dollars richer, and some young ballplayer is going to be a thousand times happier by virtue of The Pittsburgh Courier’s new ‘Talent Hunt’ campaign… (It) is in full swing and letters are pouring in from all over the country.”

The following week, the paper said, under the headline:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…He’ll bring you $100!

“All you have to do is find a likely prospect (and) send his name and address and other information you wish to Wendell Smith…This ‘Talent Hunt’ program is designed to uncover the ‘Stars of Tomorrow.”

The article said they were scouting “more than 200 young players” recommended by readers.

After that June 12 article, there was never another word written about the “Talent Hunt.”  Not by Wendell Smith, not by The Courier.  The promotion, which could have provided much-needed publicity and enthusiasm for the moribund Negro Leagues, disappeared without a trace; without so much as a mention.

Smith spent the remainder of the 1948 season covering major league baseball; and The Courier’s coverage of the Negro Leagues was greatly reduced from previous seasons, and nonexistent some weeks.

The only passing reference Smith made to the “Talent Hunt” came almost four months after the abrupt disappearance of the promotion.  It was in his column, under the headline:

Hard to Find Negro Baseball Talent

“Branch Rickey proved with Jackie Robinson that there’s gold in Negro players, and Bill Veeck of Cleveland substantiated that proof with Satchel Paige and Larry Doby…So major league scouts are scouring the country sides looking for Negro prospects, while the owners sit back and wait, envisioning record-breaking crowds in the future if their ‘bird dogs’ find a sepia star in the hinterlands.

But, said Smith:

“The scouts are out there snooping around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent, but having a difficult job uncovering it.”

Smith then listed several past Negro League players who should have had the opportunity to play in the major leagues, and said:

“Unfortunately, there aren’t such players around today.  That’s why there won’t be a large number of Negro players in the majors for some time to come.  They just can’t be found and were going to have to wait until the kids playing in the sandlots around the country develop.”

Smith’s pessimistic assessment of the state of “Negro baseball talent,” was likely the result of the paper’s failed promotion, as players continued to be scouted and signed without the help of the readers of The Courier.