Tag Archives: Rollo Wilson

“Whose American Giants?”

27 May

Robert “Judy” Gans played for Negro League teams  from 1908 through the mid-1920s, and was later a manager and umpire; he is probably most famous for being the source of Judy Johnson’s nickname, the Hall of Famer said the two were teammates on a semi-pro team in 1920 and picked up the sobriquet because of his resemblance to the older player.

Gans liked to tell a story about about playing for Rube Foster with the Chicago American Giants in 1914.

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Gans

The story, first told to Rollo Wilson of The Pittsburgh Courier in 1929 and later to Lewis Dials from The New York Age in 1936, was substantially the same–although he added some embellishments after six years. Lewis wrote in 1936:

“Gans had been starring down East when Rube sent for him to come to Chicago and play for him. In a game with a group of white league stars, the Giants were trailing 1-0 with a man on second and a sloppy field, the late Rube instructed Judy to bunt and get the runner on third. The opposing pitcher lobbed one up and Gans hit it for a home run, winning the game 2 to 1. Rabid fans tossed money of all descriptions on the field to Judy, who collected it and counted $136.”

In the 1929 version, Gans added a few details–the game took place while the American Giants were barnstorming the West Coast, Bruce Petway was the runner at second, and Portland Beavers pitcher Irv Higginbottom was on the mound.

The amount collected from the fans also changed–in 1929, he said it was $87.50, with an additional “fifty dollar bill” handed to him by George Moore; Moore was an African-American hotel owner in Portland who became a prominent boxing promoter and manager–he was most famous for managing Henry Armstrong at the end of his career.

Gans was told after the game that he would be riding back to the hotel in Foster’s car—in the 1929 version Foster told him in the dugout to ride back to the hotel with him.

“Judy said his chest poked out as he had made a big hit with his new boss. Seated in the car with Rube made Gans feel big until Foster broke the silence with a query, ‘Where did you play ball?’ To which Just proudly replied, ‘Down East with all the good clubs.’”

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Foster

In the 1929 version, Gans said Foster asked him about playing for the Lincoln Giants, “How did you like working for Sol White down East? Any discipline down there?”

Gans answered that discipline was “so-so” under White.

“Rube then asked, ‘What team are you playing for now?’ And Judy replied, ‘The American Giants.’ Rube said, “Whose American Giants?’ And Judy replied, ‘Rube Foster’s’. ‘That’s what I thought, how much did you get for hitting that home run?’ Gans told him the sum and Rube said it was some hit alright but add fifty dollars to that $136 you got and it will pay your fine. Judy asked what fine. Rube said it was failure to carry out instructions.”

Foster told Gans:

“’Men on my club play ball like Rube Foster tells them, or it would not be Rube Foster’s American Giants.’

“Judy played as he was told after that, and at the end of the season Rube refunded the money.”

In the 1929 version, Gans did not get the money back and was told by Foster:

“’Well, boy, let papa tell you something. If the Giants had lost the game today, the papers would have been full of what happened to Rube Foster’s team. I am the manager of the club. I told you to lay down and you hit a home run…now the next time I tell you to bunt, you’ll remember that won’t you?’”

Whether he received the money back or not, Gans, according to Dial “pins the medal of a great leader” on Foster.

Things I Learned on the way to Looking up Other Things #31

25 Mar

The Best Off-Hand Cusser

Louis Santop was one of the favorite players of Rollo Wilson, the long-time baseball writer for The Pittsburgh Courier.

Wilson put many nicknames on the Texas-born Santop over the years, including “My boyfriend from Rio Pecos,” “the swaggering Longhorn,” “The big Bertha of the Bats” and the “Disappearing Gun.”  He also once described Santop—known for his colorful language–as “the best off-hand cusser who ever piloted a Missouri mule through a Texas mudhole.”

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Santop

Wilson wrote Santop’s baseball eulogy after the catcher played his final game for Hilldale—or Clan Darbie as Wilson referred to the club which originated in Darby, Pennsylvania– in 1926:

“That countless army of athletes who have earned their final plaudits of the fickle fans has been augmented by the once incomparable catcher of Clan Darbie—Louis Napoleon Santop.  News of his unconditional release was sent out last week and this time methinks the firing will stick.  For years ‘Top’ was one of the most colorful players in the game and his deadly bat was known and feared far and wide.  As a drawing card with certain groups he ranked second to none.  It was the usual thing for neighborhood fans to cry, ‘Put Santop in,” whenever someone else donned the catcher’s regalia for Hilldale.  But that time has gone, and his day is done and now he lives in the world of ‘used to be.’  The Lone Star Ranger has ridden herd on his last ball game.  The clarion ring of that famous bat when the lusty swing and mighty pitch met fair and true is stilled forever. (Of course, he may fill in temporarily now and then, but regular ball diet is no longer the food on which the Caesar will feed.)

“When someone—for instance, Rube Foster—with an intimate knowledge of Negro baseball and its players writes a history of the game his All-Time team will have as its first-string catcher our boyfriend of the Rio Pecos, Santop.”

Shortly after Santop’s exit, Foster was committed to the asylum in Kankakee, Illinois and never had a chance to write “a history of the game.”

Hoblitzel’s ‘X-Ray eye’

Dick Hoblitzel told The Cincinnati Times-Star in the spring of 1911 he was “training his batting eye,” and:

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Hoblitzell

“(B)elieves he will soon be able to count the stitches on a ball before it leaves the pitcher’s hand.  ‘It’s the X-ray eye that does this,’ he avers, and he has made a bet of a suit of clothes that he will finish in the .275 class or better.”

Hoblitzel, perhaps as a result of his “X-ray eye,” improved his average 11 points to .289 in 1911.

Seventh Inning Stretch

In the July 1912 edition of “The American Magazine,” Hugh Fullerton set out to understand “the custom” of the seventh inning stretch.

“(It) has become almost universal and almost as much a part of the ceremony as is the tea interval at cricket. There are variations.  In some cities the fans stand and yawn widely, ‘stretching’ before resuming their seats.  In others everyone takes out a handkerchief and brushes hat and clothes until the flapping of handkerchiefs makes an astonishing amount of commotion. The custom is based on the superstition that seven is lucky.”

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Fullerton

Fullerton claimed:

“The fact is a larger percentage of baseball games are won and lost in the seventh than in any other inning.  I examined 860 scores last winter to study this phenomenon, and discovered that 184—over a fifth, were decided in the seventh inning; an abnormal number.  But a further study of the figures convinced me that the superstition is responsible for the ‘luck’ rather than the other way around.  For the home team won in 151 out of the 184 games, proving, to my satisfaction at least, that the rooting of the crowd does affect visiting players.  It is evident that the custom of rooting wildly for the break to come in the seventh inning has the effect of shaking the nerve and the confidence of the opposing teams and from a study of those 184 scores it looked as if the effect was principally upon the pitcher.”

“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.”