Tag Archives: Phil Cockrell

“Did They Send him any Flowers?”

13 Dec

In 1927, W. Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier called Chappie Johnson “one of four men who have been real managers in colored baseball.”  Johnson, he explained, did his own “booking, financing, and directing,” in addition to managing his clubs on the field.

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Chappie Johnson

Johnson, who began playing his playing career with the Page Fence Giants in 1895, was also a former player who didn’t insist that the game must have been better in his youth because that’s how he chose to remember it.  He told Wilson:

“I am an old-timer myself, but the game today would be too fast for the men who started out with me and before me.  These men now are more highly trained and the game has a greater technique.  Things are done now, plays are pulled that would never have been thought of in the nineties.  These days there is smart pitching and scientific batting, and a few years back base-running reached its highest development.  Frank Grant is the only batter of those ancient times who could hold his own now, I’ll venture to say.  George Wilson of the Page Fence Giants was the only pitcher who would have a look-in.  Then they made no study of the game of the players.  Now the boys learn to play while in grade schools and baseball has become a profession.  There were no smart managers then which is evidenced by the fact that none of the old boys is in harness.”

Johnson acknowledged that he was the exception—a player from his era now managed–but said that was because:

“I am also owner of the club.”

Johnson gave much of the credit for the progress the game had made in the previous two decades to John W. Connors, the restaurant owner who formed the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1904 and had died on July 9, 1926 at 51 after suffering a stroke:

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John W. Connors

“The Negro baseball player lost his best friend when John Connors died last summer.  He was really the father of modern Negro baseball and did more for players than anyone else ever did or ever will.”

Johnson, who played for Connors, chided players for not recognizing the debt they owed the former owner (the inability of the press to figure out the correct spelling of Connors’ name is evident in this article as his name is spelled alternately Connor and Connors within the same paragraph—it also often appeared as Conner), :

“He made it possible for them to get a living wage and forced the other owners to meet his prices or lose their stars.  Did they say anything when he passed on?  Did they send him any flowers?  Not yet! Everyone who knew him loved him—save the players, and they should have been willing to give their life’s blood to keep him living.”

Conner’s death had been covered in the black press, but Johnson felt he had not received the credit he deserved:

“He started the Brooklyn Royal Giants as a sandlot team and named them for the Royal Cafe in Brooklyn and then made them a salaried outfit.”

Johnson said when Nat Strong took over ownership of the club in 1913:

“(T)he Royals never knew the glory that was theirs when Connors had them.”

Johnson credited Connors for stating the first Negro League games in the Polo Grounds “and the old Highlanders’ park on Broadway,” as well as being the only owner to provide his players with three uniforms, “including coats and sweaters.”

He said:

“John Connors wanted everyone to look nice and have the best of things to work with.”

Johnson said Connors, who owned a stake in the Bacharach Giants from 1919-1921, had intended to return to Negro League baseball:

“(B)ut death ruled otherwise.  Do you know that in New York he left three sets of uniforms already made up for his new team?”

Then, as was The Courier’s routine when interviewing past players, Wilson asked Johnson to name his all-time team:

“I’ll pick you one and will challenge anyone to name a better outfit. On this team of my choosing there will be nothing but smart men…Here’s your team and note that old-timers are few and far between:

Pitchers: George Wilson, Nip Winters, Phil Cockrell, Rats Henderson, Rube Foster, Joe Williams, Bullet Rogan

Catchers:  Biz Mackey, Bruce Petway, George Dixon

1B:  Ray Wilson

2B: John Henry Lloyd

SS: Dick Lundy

3B: Oliver Marcelle

Utility: John Beckwith

OF: Pete Hill, Oscar Charleston, Jesse Barber, Cristobal Torriente

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John Henry Lloyd

Of Lloyd’s inclusion at second base rather than shortstop, Johnson said:

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

Johnson invited any of The Courier’s readers to reach him through the paper if they wanted to argue his choices:

“Why, I could clean up the National League, the American League , the Epworth League with that bunch of ball hounds.

“G’bye.  I’ll be seein’ yuh.”

“I Haven’t Heard of any Club Owners Refusing to accept the Patronage of Colored People”

24 Apr

Damon Runyon called Dan Parker, “The most consistency brilliant of all sportswriters.”

Parker wrote a column and was sports editor of The New York Daily Mirror from 1926 until the paper folded in 1963.

 

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Dan Parker

 

Parker often used his column, “Broadway Bugle” to agitate for change in sports.  He crusaded against fixed wrestling matches, disreputable “Racetrack touts,” and the influence of organized crime in boxing—these columns led to several investigations, the disbanding of the corrupt International Boxing Club, and several criminal convictions, including Frankie Carbo, a member of the Lucchese crime family.

Parker was also an early crusader for the integration of professional baseball.  In 1933, Parker lent his name and influence to The Pittsburgh Courier’s “Crusade for comments from baseball celebrities” who supported integration.

Parker wrote to Chester Washington, The Courier’s sports editor:

“I don’t see why the mere accident of birth should prove a bar to the Negro baseball players who aspire to places in organized baseball.  I haven’t heard of any club owners refusing to accept the patronage of colored people. Rutgers didn’t draw any color line when Paul Robeson proved himself the best man for the place he was fighting for on the football team.  The All-American selectors didn’t go into a huddle about Paul’s complexion when they picked him for a place on the mythical eleven, football’s highest honor.

 

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Paul Robeson

 

“The U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t consider Eddie Tolan’s or Ralph Metcalfe’s lineage when they were picking the strongest sprinting team possible for last summer’s games.  If the Negro athlete is accepted without question in college football and amateur track and field events, which are among the higher types of sports, I fail to see why baseball, which is as much a business as it is a sport, should draw the line.

“In my career as a sports writer, I have never encountered a colored athlete who didn’t conduct himself in a gentlemanly manner and who didn’t have a better idea of sportsmanship than many of his white brethren.  By all means, let the Negro ballplayer play in organized baseball.  As a kid, I saw a half dozen Cuban players break into organized baseball in the old Connecticut League.  I refer to players like (Armando) Marsans, (Rafael) Alameda, (Al) Cabrera and others (Almeida, Marsans, and Cabrera played with the New Britain Perfectos in the Connecticut State League in 1910). I recall the storm of protest from the One Hundred Per Centers at that time but I also recall that all the Cubans conducted themselves in such a manner that they reflected nothing but credit on themselves and those who favored admitting them to baseball’s select circle.

“The only possible objection I can find to lifting the color line in baseball is that the Yankees might then lose their great mascot.  I refer to my good friend, (Bill) “Bojangles” Robinson, who chased away the Yankee jinx last season with his famous salt-shaker. The Yanks didn’t draw the color line on their World Series special to Chicago for Bill accompanied us on the trip.  On the way back, at every town where we stopped for a few minutes, the crowd hollered for Babe Ruth. Babe would make an appearance and then introduce Bojangles who would tell a few stories, go into his dance and make the fans forget about baseball as he ‘shuffled off to Buffalo.’

 

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Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

 

“I read your paper every week and find your sports pages well edited and thoroughly enjoyable.”

Parker’s letter was released shortly after Heywood Broun of The New York World-Telegram made waves at the 1933 Baseball Writers Association dinner when he said:

“I can see no reason why Negroes should not come into the National and American Leagues.”

Broun and Parker were joined by another prominent sports writer, Gordon Mackay, who had been sports editor at three Philadelphia papers—The Enquirer, The Press and The Public Ledger—who wrote to The Courier:

“I believe that there are scores of Negroes who would make good in the big minors and in the majors.  Take some of the men I used to know—John Henry Lloyd, Rube Foster, Big (Louis) SantopPhil Cockrell, Biz Mackey and others—why, Connie Mack or the Phillies would have been strengthened with any of them on the best teams they ever had.”

The Courier’s Washington was hopeful that the sentiments of three powerful sportswriters would have some impact:

“Fair-minded and impartial writers like Broun, Mackey, and Parker can do much towards breaking down the barricaded doors of opportunity to capable colored ballplayers which lead into the greatest American game’s charmed circle.  And we doff our derby to ‘em.”