Tag Archives: Oliver Marcelle

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.

williepope

              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.

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“The Best First Sacker in the Game”

27 Nov

Raymond V. Wilson was one of the biggest stars of early black baseball. The Freeman said the captain and manager of the Philadelphia Giants was, at the plate, “styled the colored Hans Wagner,” and “in his heyday the best first sacker in the game.”  The paper also said he was one of the game’s best base runners:

“Ray Wilson gives no indication of speed or race, but he possesses these two qualities in a surprising degree, and his stealing is magnificent.  His strong point, however, is avoiding the man with the ball.  He has a slide which carries him outside the base and around, his spikes clinging to the base.”

Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson

It is unclear where Wilson was born, but he lived for a time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before he became a member of the Cuban X-Giants in 1898.  The Harrisburg Telegraph said, the following season, in announcing that local catcher Clarence “Wax” Williams had joined the X-Giants “Ray Wilson, of this city, is playing first base on this crack team.”

The Telegraph said that Wilson played for several teams in Harrisburg, initially as a second baseman, “but his ability was soon learned and he was sent for.”

Wilson remained with the X-Giants through 1906, and then joined the Philadelphia Giants where he played for the remainder of his career.

It came to an end in the mid summer of 1910.

In a game at Bronx Oval, Wilson and the Giants were playing the Brooklyn Royal Giants.  The New York Age said Wilson was at bat, facing Brooklyn’s Harry Buckner and “was hit on the head near the temple and received a fracture which necessitated his retirement from baseball.”

By late July he began exhibiting strange behavior.

Other sources, including The Associated Press, said he received the injury earlier in his career, as a result of being “hit on the head by a swift line drive.”

The Freeman attributed some of the reason for Wilson’s becoming “somewhat demented” on his reaction to the death of his friend, Giants pitcher Sy “Bugs” Hayman, who was hit by a car on his way to a game, and died on July 4, 1910.

Bugs Hayman

Bugs Hayman

The injury, regardless of how it happened, as well as any other contributing factors, left Wilson nearly incapacitated, and he was sent to his mother’s home in Pittsburgh.

Just a week after arriving in Pittsburgh, The Associated Press reported that he had disappeared:

“(H)is relatives have asked the police to find him. Warning is given by the relatives that Wilson is insane and that he may not be captured without trouble.”

According to those relatives he was suffering from hallucinations:

“One of Wilson’s hallucinations was that someone batted a ball at him and that it broke through his hand and hit his head.  On such occasions he would lie down for hours, helpless from pain from the imaginary blow.”

On the day he disappeared, Wilson “picked up a newspaper to look at the ball scores.  He saw something which stirred him, and dashed from the house shouting that his head was hurting.”

Several days later he turned up in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, more than 100 miles from Pittsburgh.  The Tyrone Daily Herald said he had been arrested by railroad police “after insisting on going on to Harrisburg without paying his fare.”  Wilson was held in the Tyrone city jail until his identity was determined.  The paper said it was unlikely he would be prosecuted because he was “temporarily deranged, this accounting for his strange actions on the train.”

He was committed to the Pennsylvania State Hospital in Harrisburg where he died in September of 1912.  Most sources give Wilson’s year of birth as 1870, which would have made him 42 years-old at the time of his death, The Harrisburg Telegraph, in their brief death notice, listed his age as 35.

There was an intriguing claim made by Wilson’s hometown newspaper during his 1910 disappearance—although it was probably a conflation of the story of Charlie Grant.   The Telegraph said:

“While (John) McGraw was manager of the Baltimore team he endeavored to get Wilson into the major league by claiming the Negro was an Indian.  The subterfuge was discovered and Wilson was forced to remain in the Negro nines.”

With statistics being incredibly scarce, it is impossible to judge just how good Wilson was.  But, 15 years after his death, George “Chappie” Johnson—who had been in the game for more than 30 years was interviewed by W. Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier:

“You want an all-time team you say?  I’ll pick you one and will challenge anyone to name a better outfit.  On this team of my choosing will be nothing but smart men. Every one will be able to hit, to bunt, to think…Here is your team, and note that old-timers are few and far between:

Chappie Johnson

Chappie Johnson

“Catchers (James “Biz”) Mackey, (Bruce) Petway, (George “Tubby”) Dixon; pitchers George Wilson of the Page Fence Giants, Nip Winters, Joe Williams, (Charles) Bullet Rogan;  first base, Ray Wilson of the Cuban X-Giants, second base John Henry Lloyd;  shortstop Dick Lundy;  third base Oliver Marcelle, utility, John Beckwith;  outfield Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Jess Barbour, (Cristobal) Torriente.”

Note:  While it seems unusual that John Henry Lloyd, almost unanimously considered the greatest shortstop in Negro League history, was placed at second, Johnson told The Courier:

“Among the men John Henry Lloyd stands out as the greatest second baseman of all time, and he is supreme at that bag yet.  Of course he made his greatest reputation as a shortstop, but I always thought second base was where he belonged.”

“Fans Inclined to be Fair find it Difficult to side with Wickware”

7 Oct

Frank Wickware is best remembered for defeating Walter Johnson and a team of minor league players 1 to 1 in Schenectady, New York in October of 1913.  He was pitching for the Mohawk Giants, and the game was very nearly cancelled after the pitcher and his teammates initially refused to take the field, claiming they were owed six weeks of back pay.

Frank Wickware

Frank Wickware

The New York Times said the crowd of 6,000 nearly rioted, the police were called to control the crowd and more than an hour after the game was scheduled to begin “the financial difficulty was settled and the game started.”

As a result of the “strike,” and the late start, the game was called after only five innings.

The incident in Schenectady wasn’t the first time in 1913 that Wickware took center stage in a controversy over money—the first time it contributed to the cutting short a much anticipated series of games.

On July 17 the Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants were to begin a five-game series with the Lincoln Giants in New York.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster

Roderick “Jess” McMahon, the owner of the Lincoln Giants, went to Schenectady before the series and signed Wickware, who he intended to start in the first game.

The New York Age said:

“Thursday afternoon before the game…McMahon spied Wickware all togged up in and American Giant suit.  He inquired of the pitcher why he was not in a Lincoln Giant uniform.  Wickware promptly told him that he was going to pitch for the American Giants.

“McMahon protested to Rube Foster against Wickware playing on the American Giants in view of the fact that he had given him money (allegedly $100), but the manager of the American Giants insisted that Wickware do the pitching for his team.  The two managers argued for over an hour, when the game was called off.”

The series was resumed the following day without Wickware.  The Lincoln Giants were ahead in the series 2 games to 1 before the game scheduled for July 22.  McMahon recruited Charles Earle of the Brooklyn Royal Giants to play left field in place Robert “Judy” Gans who was ill.  Foster objected to the substitution and refused to play the game despite there being “A large crowd.”

The Age said Wickware and both teams were doing damage to the future of black baseball:

“Fans inclined to be fair find it difficult to side with Wickware or regard him as a hero.  To accept money from one manager and then want to play for another is a piece of reasoning which does not favorably impress those who believe that one should keep his word at all times.  Just such conduct of Wickware’s will do much to injure the progress of baseball among colored clubs.”

“The sooner the managers of the colored teams get together and agree upon a working basis for their mutual protection the better.  Manager McMahon seems to have developed a habit of borrowing players from other clubs which should not be permitted. “

Roderick ":Jess" McMahon

Roderick “:Jess” McMahon

Wickware would remain one of the dominant pitchers in black baseball into the 1920s.  He continued to jump when teams when a better offer came—he played for four clubs in 1914, jumping a contract each time.  In 1925 Wickware was in a bar on 135th Street in New York with Lincoln Giants teammates Oliver Marcelle and Dave Brown.  After an altercation in the bar, a man named Benjamin Adair was shot and killed in front of the bar.

One report in The Freeman said witnesses claimed Adair was with the three players when a fifth man ran from building “shouted ‘I got you,’ and fired point-blank at Adair,” The New York Amsterdam News said “four men were quarreling on the sidewalk, when one drew an automatic.”

In either case, Brown disappeared and was assumed to me the shooter.  Wickware and Marcelle were never charged; there has been much mythology about Brown and speculation about the date and place of his death, but no definitive evidence has been presented.

McMahon and his brother Ed sold their controlling interest in the Lincoln Giants in 1914 and owned the Lincoln Stars from 1914-1917.  The McMahon’s were also boxing and wrestling promoters—which continues to be the family business.