Tag Archives: Lester Aglar Walton

“Three of the Greatest Pitchers the Game ever has Produced”

15 Jul

In 1915, Frank G. Menke, who wrote for the Heart Newspaper’s International News Service told readers:

“The color line drawn so tightly around major league baseball has barred from major league fields three of the greatest pitchers the game ever has produced.”

The three were John Donaldson, Frank Wickware, and Jose Mendez.

In May, Donaldson, who pitched for the All Nations, had thrown 30 consecutive no-hit innings against Kansas City based semi-pro clubs.

Sketchy contemporary accounts with some transposed numbers in newspaper articles seem to have led to confusion about Donaldson’s feat in later years: some sources claim the streak was over two games—a regulation contest and a 21-inning game , but it appears from the earliest reports in The Kansas City Times and The Indianapolis Freeman that he pitched a nine-inning and 12-inning no-hitter against the Schmelzers, a powerful semi-pro club sponsored by the Schmelzer Arms Sporting Goods Company in Kansas City and another no-hitter against a team called the KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) All-Stars.  (Later in the summer of 1915, Schmelzers became the sponsor of the All Nations after the club lost their original sponsor, Hopkins Brothers Sporting Goods).

John Donaldson

John Donaldson

Menke quoted New York Giants Manager John McGraw’s assessment of the All Nations’ star after having watched him pitch in Cuba:

“If Donaldson were a white man, or if the unwritten law of baseball didn’t bar Negroes from the major leagues, I would give $50,000 for him—and think I was getting a bargain.”

Menke said of Wickware of the Chicago American Giants:

“(He) is another Negro pitcher who would rank with the Walter Johnsons, Joe Woods and Grover Alexanders if he were a white man…Wickware has marvelous speed, a weird set of curves and wonderful control.  And he has a trick that has made him feared among batters.  He throws what seems like a ‘bean ball,’ but his control is so perfect that he never yet has hit a batter in the head.  But when the batters see the ball, propelled with mighty force, come for their heads, they jump away, and the ball, taking its proper and well-timed curve, arches over the plate for a strike.”

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The final pitcher on Menke’s list was Mendez,  another member of the All Nations:

“He’s known as “The Black Matty” and his work has been almost as brilliant as that of “The Big Six” of the Giants.  Mendez is only of medium height (5′ 9”), but he has terrific power in his arm.

“The Cuban Negro has a canny brain and he always has used it.  He has mixed his fastball with his slow one, has an assortment of beautiful curves and perfect control…Like Mathewson, he never pitches air-tight ball unless he has to.  He conserves his strength.  But when he needs to pitch hitless ball he does it.  When he needs to strike out a man he usually succeeds.”

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

Incredibly, a story about three pitchers who deserved notice by the major leagues written by an influential white sportswriter received barely a notice in the black press.

The Indianapolis Freeman ran the story with no further comment, and no mention of who wrote the original story, simply attributing it to The Indiana Daily Times which had run Menke’s piece.

The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier ignored the story entirely.  The New York Age didn’t mention Menke’s story, but the same week did make a pitch for black players—not with the positive portrayal of three great pitchers as Menke had done, but by highlighting the bad behavior of some major leaguers.

Lester Aglar Walton, who wrote about baseball and theater for The Age and later became the United States Ambassador to Liberia, said:

“(I)f baseball magnates are not color prejudiced can it be that they have misgivings as to how Negro players would conduct themselves on and off the field if permitted to play in the big leagues?  However, if this is their chief cause of concern and the stumbling block in the way of crack Negro players, big league managers should be reminded of the Ty Cobbs, Larry McLeans and others who have distinguished themselves by acts of ruffianism on and off the diamond.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

Walton related the story of McLean’s recent fight with Giants Manager John McGraw and coach “Sinister” Dick Kinsella in the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis.

“(H)ad McLean been a colored player the incident in St. Louis would have brought about the disbarment of all Negroes from hotels in St. Louis—had a policy of accommodating Negroes existed.”

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

Walton also noted that when white teams met black teams on the field after the regular season, “The mixing of the races does not provoke racial conflicts and the best of feelings exist” among the players.

Then, he asked the men who owned major league clubs:

“The question is therefore put up to big league magnates that if the Indian with his dark skin and the Cuban are permitted to play in the big leagues, and if there is not the least possibility of the record for ruffianism established by the Ty Cobbs and Larry McLeans being eclipsed, why not give the Negro player a chance?”

As would be the case for three more decades, there was no reply.

Such Clanging of Bells and Blowing of Horns has never been Equaled in Athletic Park”

24 Feb

From the formation of the Cuban Giants as the first professional black team in 1885 until the establishment of the Negro National League in 1920 there were many attempts to form an organized league; and numerous advocates for the idea.

Lester Aglar Walton, editor of The New York Age, believed the color line was borne solely out of “the white man’s fear in open competition,” but also understood that the situation was not likely to change.

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

In 1911, Walton thought the conditions for starting a league were right, were right based on a three-game series in June—the Chicago Leland Giants traveled to St. Louis for a three-game series with Charles Alexander Mills’ St. Louis Giants:

“The figures, giving the attendance at the three games played, are interesting and furnish those who have been agitating the organization of a colored baseball league much cause for jubilation.  They are now enthusiastically pointing to figures to back up the assertion they have been making all along that a colored baseball league would pay;  also that the fans would give it their loyal support.”

Charles Alexander Mills,

Charles Alexander Mills

The Freeman described the atmosphere at the first game:

“The Chicago Giants entered from the south entrance, headed by Captain Pettis (William “Bill” “Zack” Pettus), and followed closely by the entire squad, clad in blue caps and white uniforms.  The contrast was rich.  At the site of the Chicago boys the fans cut loose, and such cheerings in respect would be fit for a king.  Ten minutes later Captain (Richard Felix (Dick) Wallace and his squad emerged from the club house, all in a quick step, and when they came in view of the vast throng such clanging of bells and blowing of horns has never been equaled in Athletic Park.”

Bill Pettus

Bill Pettus

Walton noted that the opening game, played on June 21, drew 2,200 fans.  On the same day in Cincinnati, just 700 attended a Reds game against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The following day 2,500 hundred watched the two teams play, and about 2,600 attended on Friday.  The St. Louis Browns, playing the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday at Sportsman’s Park, drew smaller crowds both days:

“It should not be overlooked that the fans turned out in goodly numbers to see the St. Louis Giants and the Chicago Giants on week days.  On Sundays it is not unusual for the St. Louis Giants to play before 5,000 people.  It is, however, generally admitted that strong colored teams are good Sunday attractions, but the difference of opinion has invariably come up over the question of whether the fans would put in their appearance in sufficient numbers on week days.

“What is also considered significant by those who favor the formation of a colored baseball league is that with few exceptions the crowds were composed of colored people, which proves conclusively that members of the race will support colored clubs when they put up a good article of ball.  The same can be said of white fans, and quite often, for instance, in greater New York, more whites attend baseball matches between colored clubs than colored.”

Walton said it was always understood that New York and Chicago could support a member club in an organized league, but there was “doubt as to whether devotees of the national game in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville etc…would turn out in sufficient numbers to ensure the players a nice check when payday rolled around.”  The series, he said, erased some of those doubts:

“Cincinnati, Louisville, Baltimore and other cities considered can make as good a showing as St. Louis.  Furthermore…these cities have but one big league team, while St. Louis has two, a condition which it is claimed, would argue in favor of the respective colored teams securing a larger white patronage.”

The St. Louis Giants swept the three-game series—winning all three in the bottom of the ninth inning; including a 2 to 1 victory behind “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor over “Smokey Joe” Williams in game two—Taylor also won game one in relief.

The line scores from the three games

The line scores from the three games

Despite the enthusiasm, three excellent, well–attended games, and the resulting optimism as a result of the attendance in St. Louis during three days in June of 1911, an organized black league was still nearly a decade away.

The Color Line and the PCL

22 Jan

In the spring of 1913 Walter “Judge” McCredie brought Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants to the West Coast to play five games against his Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).  The American Giants won four of the games and also split a two-game series against Nick Williams’ Portland Colts of the Northwestern League.

Walter "Judge" McCredie

Walter “Judge” McCredie

When McCredie made arrangements with Foster for the American Giants to return west in 1914 it created a stir in the PCL.  Joe Murphy of The San Francisco Call wrote:

“Some of the magnates and officials of the Pacific Coast League are bitterly opposed to Manager Walter McCredie’s plan of playing a series of games with the Chicago Giants, an aggregation of colored ball players.  The Beavers played the colored tossers during their training trip last season and were badly beaten by them.”

Murphy said “no official action can be taken against McCredie to prevent his team engaging in games with the dusky tossers,” but said several prominent PCL figures “do not mince any words” regarding the games.

Dan Long, who had managed the San Francisco Seals from 1908 through 1912, was now a West Coast scout for the Chicago White Sox and booked the team’s 1914 spring games in California.  Long said he turned down a request for the Sox to play the American Giants:

“Colored players are barred in organized baseball, and I can see no reason why white players should even meet them in exhibition games, if they are barred by the baseball powers.  Baseball is a sport that must be elevated, and it is up to the managers and players to keep it free from criticism.

“I never arranged or played in any games with colored players, and I doubt Mr. (Charles) Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, would allow his team to play with the colored men.”

James Calvin “Cal” Ewing, the owner of the San Francisco Seals, who was one of the PCL’s founders and a former president of the league, was equally as outspoken:

“If I were a player working for McCredie, and he asked me to go out and play against these colored fellows, I would refuse to do it for him.

“There are two classes I bar from playing on my ball park—colored tossers and bloomer girls.  They will never use any park I control.”

Cal Ewing

Cal Ewing

Allan T. Baum, entering his third season as the PCL’s president said he was against the games, but was powerless to act because the games were played outside of the league’s regular season:

“I have no jurisdiction in the matter, but my sentiments are strongly against it.  I am sure that there is not another manager in the league who would consider playing with the Chicago Giants.”

Lester Aglar Walton, managing editor of the East Coast’s largest circulation black newspaper, The New York Age, responded to “the vicious article” from the West Coast:

“Joe Murphy, in an heroic effort to start needless agitation relative to the drawing of the color line in organized ball, does a journalistic stunt which, while humorous for the absurdities contained therein, is a curious document for the lamentable ignorance which this writer and other show on the subject.”

Walton said the color line was borne solely out of fear:

“The cowardly practice of using the color prejudice subterfuge as a cloak to hide the white man’s fear in open competition with the colored man in various avenues of endeavor will someday lose its effectiveness.  The truth of the matter is some white managers and players are not opposed to playing colored teams solely on account of color, for if their aversion was based purely on color the Indian would not be permitted to join organized baseball, nor would teams of the two major leagues journey every winter to Cuba to engage in games with native players, many of whom are as black as the ace of spades.”

“Manager Walter McCredie is the only game white man in the Pacific Coast League.  He is not afraid to permit his team to meet a strong colored nine and fight it out on the diamond.  There would not be a word of complaint today about the beavers and Giants playing a series of exhibition games had not the colored team given undisputed evidence of its supremacy last spring.”

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

McCredie claimed he wasn’t making a social statement.

He told The Portland Oregonian he needed to schedule the games in order to compete with teams like San Francisco in the regular season.  The Seals, he said, were preparing for the season by playing the White Sox, and taking in between $15,000 and $20,000 in the process:

“Yet they rave because I book the Beavers for four or five games against the Negroes, although they furnish the only stiff opposition available.

“It is to laugh.  Likewise the statement that playing against the Negroes hurts baseball.  It might, were we to consider them on an equal footing because of the strong race prejudice that exists here on the Coast. But the games are nothing more or less than training affairs.”

Despite the objections, Foster and his team arrived on the West Coast in March of 1914.

The rest of the story on Friday