Tag Archives: Luke Easter

“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luke Easter, Sausage King

31 May

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Between the 1952 and ’53 season, Cleveland Indians first baseman Luke Easter (r) went into the sausage business with his brother-in-law Raymond Cash (l).  The business, Ray’s Sausage still operates in Cleveland.  In a Jet Magazine article  Easter said they only managed to sell 20 pounds their first week, but by January of 1953 they were selling 2,300 pounds a day.  The article said Easter had “taken out a license to place his sausage on sale” at Indians games.  He said:

“I can make this business go by hitting lots of home runs (but) even if our sausage makes a million dollars I won’t quit baseball, I’ll stay in baseball as long as I can walk.”

During the fourth game of the 1953 season Easter was hit by a pitch, breaking a bone in his foot, as a result the 37-year-old, who had hit 31 home runs with 97 RBIs in 127 games the previous season, dropped to 7 and 31 in 68 games;  his career with the Indians ended after only 6 games in 1954.  But while Easter didn’t hit “lots of home runs” in Cleveland after starting the company, he did stay in baseball for almost “as long as (he could) walk.”

Playing primarily in the International League with the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings, Easter remained in baseball until 1964, hitting more than 235 homes runs.

Easter was killed in a hold up in Cleveland in 1979.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized the day after his death:

“For all of his huge size and great strength, Luke Easter was a gentle man.  It is a contradiction to the way in which he lived that his life should be ended violently.

“He had courage.  He played first base for the Cleveland Indians from 1949 to 1954, a time when it was far from easy to be a black athlete in the major leagues…He was shot dead yesterday at age 63, victim of a cowardly attack from ambush outside a bank office .

“It is a wound to the community.  Luke Easter, athlete and gentleman, will be missed.”

Luke Easter, 1949

Luke Easter, 1949