Tag Archives: New York Cubans

“You Could Feel his Resentment”

22 Feb

After spending years as one of the loudest voices for the integration of professional baseball, Wendell Smith broke his own color barriers. He was the second African American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America–after Sam Lacy– and the first to have a byline in a big city white daily paper leaving The Pittsburgh Courier and joining the Hearst owned Chicago Herald-American in 1948.

Smith

Years later, William Rhoden quoted Smith’s widow Wyonella in his column in The New York Times regarding smith’s move:

“When he came to Chicago to write, he told the Hearst people. ‘I will not be your black writer. I’m not going to just write about blacks in sports. If you want me to be a sportswriter here, I’m going to right about all sports, and I’m going to do it fairly.’”

In 1963 he became a sports anchor, first at WGN-TV and later WBBM-TV in Chicago.  He also began writing a weekly column for The Chicago Sun-Times; but never gave up his new crusade for the recognition of Negro League stars; in 1971 he made the case for Josh Gibson’s enshrinement in Cooperstown:

“He hit home runs higher and farther than any batter of his time, including George Herman (Babe) Ruth, whose feats are immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

“He was a big, strong, intelligent catcher. He was as magnificent behind the plate as any of his major league contemporaries, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, and Gabby Hartnett, all of whom have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

“He played someplace summer and winter, spring and fall over a span of 16 years. He had the endurance and stamina of Lou Gehrig, who played in 2130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, a major league record. Gehrig is in the Hall of Fame. He is not.”

Gibson

Smith said of Gibson’s presence in the batter’s box:

“When he planted his immense, flat feet in the batter’s box, bent his knees slightly and cocked his bat with the most muscular arms and hands in baseball, apprehension invariably seized the defenders in the field.”

Because, said Smith, ”There are no authentic records, unfortunately to substantiate the thunder in Josh Gibson’s bat, nor his skills behind the plate,” he turned to “reliable former teammates who were there with him,” and other contemporaries to tell his story:

Roy Campanella told Smith about the night Gibson hit three home runs off Andy Porter in Wheeling, West Virginia. Campanella told a slightly different version of the story than he had 12 years earlier in his book “It’s Good to be Alive:”

“’He hit three home runs that night,’ Campanella recently recalled, with a note of awe and excitement in his highly pitched voice. ‘Each one was farther than the other.’

“’There was a mountain there, a good distance behind the left field fence…His first drive landed at the bottom of the mountain. The next one landed dead center, and the next almost cleared the mountain. When he came to bat the fourth time, I said to Porter, ‘what are you going to do with him this time?’ He said, ‘I’m going to walk him. ‘And we did.’”

In the book, Campanella said Gibson hit four runs in four at-bats, with each being longer until the fourth cleared the hill.

Bill Yancey told Smith about another Gibson three-home run performance, this one in New York:

“He walloped three that day and one of them was the quickest home run I ever saw. It was out of the park before the outfielders could turn their heads to watch it. It landed behind the Yankee Stadium bullpen, some 500 feet away. He didn’t loft it, he shot it out of there.”

Alex Pompez the one-time owner of the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans, then a scout for the Giants, and had just joined Smith as a charter member of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, told a story about a game at the Polo Grounds:

“Dave Barnhill was pitching for the Cubans. There were two on in the ninth and we were leading 3 to 2. Showboat Wright [sic, Dave “Showboat” Thomas] our first baseman, called time and walked to the mound. ‘Let’s walk him’ he said to Barnhill.

“Barnhill as a cocky pitcher. He refused (the) suggestion and insisted on pitching to Josh. He threw Gibson a curve ball and Josh hit it in the top tier of the left field stands. The last we saw the ball was when it went through an open door up there and disappeared.”

Pompez

After Pat Scantlebury gave up three home runs to Gibson in another game, he told Pompez:

“I pitched him high the first time and he hit it out of the park. So, the next time I pitched him low and he hit that one out, too. The third time, I pitched him tight and it followed the others out. When he batted the fourth time, I started to roll it to him, but instead I walked him.”

Smith also sought out Gibson’s sister, Annie Mahaffey and Ted Page who was “closer to Josh than any other player.”

Smith visited Mahaffey in her home in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He noted “Strangely, there are no pictures of Josh Gibson,” in her home:

“The resemblance between Annie Mahaffey and her brother, Josh, is striking indeed. She has the same round, brown face. Her gentle smile is contagious.

“’He’d come here whenever he was in town,’ Annie recalls with a note of pride in her voice, ‘and he’d have us laughing about the funny things that happened on the road. He would sit here and talk, have a sandwich maybe, and just keep us amused with his stories. He loved life, Josh did.’”

Page said:

“He’d never talk about himself. I never heard him say one thing about himself that was intended to impress someone.

“He was extremely modest. I roomed with him in this country and South America and got to know him well.  If he hit four home runs in a game—which he did many times—you’d never know anything about it if you were getting your news of the game from him. He’d never walk up to you and say, ‘Well, I hit four of ‘em today.’”

Page

Page said Gibson was the opposite of Satchel Paige:

“When Satch pitched a no hitter, he told the whole world about it. We got little or no space in the daily papers, so he’d sit around and those third-rate hotels we lived in, and in taverns and restaurants, and tell everybody about his achievements. Everyone would gather round Satch and he’d spin tall tales for them, and they’d go away laughing and talking about him. Josh would never do that.”

Sportswriters, Page said, “always complained that he wouldn’t open up and talk about himself.”

Gibson’s sister said “he talked baseball all the time at home. He talked about other players and how good they were, and how many games were won or lost on certain types of strategy…Josh used to laugh so hard when telling a story he’d shake all over.”

Page said Gibson “loved baseball, never got bored with the game nor the terrible conditions we had to tolerate at times.”

Gibson also did not join his teammates “playing cards or meeting girls,” Page said:

“Josh was seldom with them. We’d go to an ice cream parlor or some other harmless place and talk baseball.”

Gibson’s sister and Page saw his reaction to baseball segregation differently.

Mahaffy said:

“There were all kinds of racial problems in those days, but Josh never let them get him down. If they ever bothered him, he never said so. He never once mentioned the fact that the color bar in the majors was a terrible injustice. He laughed off most of the things that happened to him.”

Page said:

“Josh never talked about the organized baseball ban against us. But he was always aware of it and it finally killed him. He kept things to himself, but if you knew him you could feel his resentment. We went to see a lot of big-league games and when he saw players who were inferior to him, he became sullen and the bitterness seemed to just ooze from him.”

Both agreed that Gibson didn’t drink until his final years.

After Jackie Robinson signed, his sister said:

“This was just about the time he started having dizzy spells and blackouts. He also became a heavy drinker.”

The dizzy spells, said Page, caused him to “stagger and stumble, whenever he looked up,” and “Josh’s drinking was a symptom of his affliction. He knew his time was short and that he’d never get a break in the majors…He tried to submerge his misfortune in drink.”

Smith closed:

:”The deadly curse that had been upon Josh Gibson all his life finally claimed him…Eighty days later Jackie Robinson became the first Negro player in modern big league history.

“That was 23 years ago.

“Josh Gibson should be immortalized in Cooperstown.

“What price, Hall of Fame?”

Less than a year later, Gibson was enshrined along with Buck Leonard; Smith died nine months later, he was 58. He was awarded the JG Taylor Spink Award 21 years after his death.

“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.

Lost Pictures: 1935 Newark Dodgers

14 Jun

35newark.jpg

A second team photo of the 1935 Newark Dodgers of the Negro National League.

Front row: Homer Craig, James Williams, Ted Bond, Melvin Markham, Frank McCoy, Johnny Hayes, Burnalle “Bun” Hayes, Paul “Sonny” Arnold

Back row: Willie Burns, Ray Dandridge, Bert Johnston, Leroy Miller, William Bell, Percy Lacey, Robert Evans, James Starks

The picture would have been taken after May 24 when, according to The Brooklyn Citizen, Dick Lundy–who was feuding with Dodgers’ owner Charles Tyler–was traded to the Brooklyn Eagles for Bun Hayes–William Bell replaced Lundy as manager. Lundy ended up finishing the season with the New York Cubans as a result of what The New York Age called, “a ruling of the moguls” which allowed him to join that club.

Eagles owners Abe and Effa Manley purchased the Dodgers after the 1935 season–reported to have been a settlement of a $500 debt Tyler owed Manley–and merged the clubs becoming the Newark Eagles.

1935newarkdodgers

The other extant photo of the  Dodgers

Veeck and Paige–a third time?

27 Feb

In 1959, when Bill Veeck purchased the White Sox rumors swirled in Chicago that the Sox owner was planning on having Satchel Paige start on Opening Day. Later, as the Sox were making a run for their first American League Pennant in 40 years the rumors resurfaced that the ageless Paige would join the White Sox for the Pennant run.

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Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige, 1959

Paige, who had played for Veeck with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, had spent 1956-59 with the Miami Marlins in the International League, winning 31 games. He had returned to barnstorming with the Cuban Giants and Indianapolis Clowns in 1959, but it was reported he was looking for another chance in the Major Leagues, and in June it began to be reported again that Paige would be joining the Sox.

A United Press International story in July said that Veeck had “sent Paige two new Chicago White Sox uniforms,” and quoted Paige:

 “If they want me they’d have to pay me big money.  I’m not going back for nothing.”

Whether it was ever a serious discussion, or simply two famous showmen milking rumors for the maximum publicity will never be known, but Veeck and Paige let the rumors swirl well into August before Veeck finally put them to rest, telling Jet Magazine:

“We’re not giving any thought to hiring him.  I’m very fond of LeRoy and I see him whenever he’s in town.  I gave him the uniforms because we’re old friend and for no other reason.”

And with that White Sox fans missed the chance to see the pitcher who Veeck called “The best righthander baseball has ever known,” pitch for the 1959 Pennant winners.