Tag Archives: St. Louis Giants

“About the Best Outfielder he had Ever Lamped”

29 Oct

In 1930, Dizzy Dismukes provided his list of the greatest outfielders he had seen during his 20 years as a Negro League pitcher, to The Pittsburgh Courier, as part of a series of ‘releases’ he wrote for the paper:

“From 1909 to 1915 I had seen a great array of outfield talent, including such stars as Pete Hill, Frank Duncan, Jap Payne, Spotwood Poles, Jimmy Lyons, (Robert ‘Judy’) Gans, C. B. Earl [sic Earle]…and a host of others.”

dismukes.jpg

Dismukes

Dismukes said none of them measured up to the man who “I have little doubt that the choice of ranking him as no. 1 will be unanimous,” among The Courier’s readers:

“Ranking as the best outfielder of all time is Oscar Charleston, who reported to C. I. Taylor for a tryout in the spring of 1915 as a pitcher”

Dismukes said Charleston played some games in the outfield for Taylor and:

“His uncanny judgement of fly balls, his prowess with the bat, and daring on the bases in games he played soon convinced C. I. that he had about the best outfielder he had ever lamped.”

oscar.jpg

Charleston

Dismukes said:

“In the days of the bunt—that is the swing bunt—he excelled, and then, as the home run craze began to creep into the game, he kept pace with the leaders by amassing as many as any other.”

In the field, Dismukes said:

“Opposing players complained that four men played the outfield for the (Indianapolis) ABC’s. Charleston, playing close in behind second base, snared line drives which ordinarily were hits, and then when some batter would drive one to the far corners of the lot for what seemed like a sure hit, Charleston would bob up from somewhere to make a catch just before the ball had a chance to hit the ground.  I for one have never seen his equal.”

Dismukes chose Pete Hill for number 2 all time:

“A close student of the game in every sense, he played the batter when playing outfield; was a great hitter in a pinch, whether it was a single, double, triple, or home run that was needed.”

The third best outfielder, according to Dismukes, was Jimmy Lyons:

“He too, like Charleston, broke in as a pitcher, but the late Dick Wallace, then manager of St. Louis (1911) realized his value as an outfielder.  Lyons was the most daring of all batters I ever saw; was fast and used his speed to every advantage.  He was considered about the freshest kid to break into baseball during those days.  Safe bunting was his specialty.  Talkative, he could upset an infield by telling them what he was going to do and get away with it…In that respect I class him as greater than Charleston or Hill.  Drop the ball and he would run—and how.”

Dismukes said “that seemingly slow moving Frank Duncan” was number four:

“There was a natural hitter.  A great judge of pitched balls and uncanny at getting to first base by being hit by a pitched ball.  Frank’s position was left field.  Hit one right on the foul line and he was there to receive it; hit one over the shortstop’s head, he was there; hit one up against the fence, he was there; why, how, everybody who has seen him play still wonders.”

Dismukes said “that nervous type” Spotwood Poles was fifth:

“(He) was the fastest man I ever saw in getting to first base.  With all his speed however, he was an ordinary base runner, seemingly awkward, but a good fly chaser and one of the game’s greatest lead off men.  And, truly, he was a great hitter.”

Next was Andrew “Jap” Payne:

“Payne in the time of need could do more acrobatic stunts to help a pitcher out of a tight situation, than all the outfielders put together.  Almost any ball Jap could get within three to five feet of before hitting the ground he caught, as he usually took a dive for them.”

payne

Payne

Dismukes’ next choice was Poles’ Lincoln Giants teammate Robert “Judy” Gans, who had become an umpire:

“(Gans’) whom his teammates dubbed ‘telegram’ because he told everything he knew, must be given credit for being one of the game’s greatest fielders.  He started as a pitcher, but found his real greatness would be shown in the outfield.”

In the eighth spot:

“I had heard a lot of a lad out east by the name of (Herbert ‘Rap’) Dixon, and it was my good fortune to see him last fall in about seven games and I quickly concluded he was just about all I had heard of him.  Eastern critics have been ranking him with Charleston.  He is a great fly chaser, a hard and timely hitter, and few outfielders have possessed throwing arms the equal of his.  To exclude his name from my list would be an injustice.”

And, “Last but not least” Dismukes said:

“James Bell, affectionately called by his teammates ‘Cool Papa’…I would like to see a contest with ‘Cool Papa’ as a participant (against the 1916 version of) Jimmy Lyons.”

 

 

 

 

“Negro Baseball is Here to Stay”

24 Jul

At the close of the first Negro National League season in 1920, The Kansas City Sun declared “Negro baseball is here to stay.”

The paper made several observations about the state of the league and its future and picked the league’s first all-star team.  Beginning with a bit of bragging, the paper said that in spite of the Chicago American Giants winning the pennant, “Kansas City proved to be the best Negro baseball city.”

The Chicago American Giants

The Chicago American Giants

As evidence of Kansas City’s dominance, The Sun said:

“One hundred thousand White and Negro fans attended the Monarch games at Association Park the past season without the least bit of friction…(and) played to more local fans than the Kansas City Blues (of the American Association)…Negro teams used to play for a keg of beer, but now they play for $5,000 gates.”

The league as a whole, according to the paper, drew “more than 700,000 fans.”

but, it was not all a glowing review, The Sun did acknowledge one of the league’s biggest difficulties in the inaugural season, “(They) did not discover any real Negro umpires the past season;” inconsistent umpiring would remain an issue in subsequent years.

Perhaps most importantly, The Sun said the current season “Made baseball a safe investment,” and “Made baseball contracts legal.”

The final point was overly optimistic, as contract jumping and player raids were a serious detriment to the league throughout its 11-year run.

The Sun also picked the league’s first all-star team:

Pitchers:  Charles“Bullet” Rogan, Monarchs, Bill Drake, St. Louis Giants

Bullet Rogan

Bullet Rogan

Catchers:  George “Tubby” Dixon, Chicago American Giants and John Beckwith, Chicago Giants

First Base: Ben Taylor, Indianapolis ABC’s

Second Base: Bingo DeMoss, Chicago American Giants

Third Base: Bartolo Portuondo, Kansas City Monarchs

Portuondo

Bartolo Portuondo, all-star third baseman

Outfield: Jimmie Lyons, Detroit Stars, Cristobal Torriente, Chicago American Giants, and Hurley McNair, Kansas City Monarchs

Utility:  John Donaldson and Tank Carr, Kansas City Monarchs.

Such Clanging of Bells and Blowing of Horns has never been Equaled in Athletic Park”

24 Feb

From the formation of the Cuban Giants as the first professional black team in 1885 until the establishment of the Negro National League in 1920 there were many attempts to form an organized league; and numerous advocates for the idea.

Lester Aglar Walton, editor of The New York Age, believed the color line was borne solely out of “the white man’s fear in open competition,” but also understood that the situation was not likely to change.

Lester Aglar Watson

Lester Aglar Watson

In 1911, Walton thought the conditions for starting a league were right, were right based on a three-game series in June—the Chicago Leland Giants traveled to St. Louis for a three-game series with Charles Alexander Mills’ St. Louis Giants:

“The figures, giving the attendance at the three games played, are interesting and furnish those who have been agitating the organization of a colored baseball league much cause for jubilation.  They are now enthusiastically pointing to figures to back up the assertion they have been making all along that a colored baseball league would pay;  also that the fans would give it their loyal support.”

Charles Alexander Mills,

Charles Alexander Mills

The Freeman described the atmosphere at the first game:

“The Chicago Giants entered from the south entrance, headed by Captain Pettis (William “Bill” “Zack” Pettus), and followed closely by the entire squad, clad in blue caps and white uniforms.  The contrast was rich.  At the site of the Chicago boys the fans cut loose, and such cheerings in respect would be fit for a king.  Ten minutes later Captain (Richard Felix (Dick) Wallace and his squad emerged from the club house, all in a quick step, and when they came in view of the vast throng such clanging of bells and blowing of horns has never been equaled in Athletic Park.”

Bill Pettus

Bill Pettus

Walton noted that the opening game, played on June 21, drew 2,200 fans.  On the same day in Cincinnati, just 700 attended a Reds game against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The following day 2,500 hundred watched the two teams play, and about 2,600 attended on Friday.  The St. Louis Browns, playing the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday at Sportsman’s Park, drew smaller crowds both days:

“It should not be overlooked that the fans turned out in goodly numbers to see the St. Louis Giants and the Chicago Giants on week days.  On Sundays it is not unusual for the St. Louis Giants to play before 5,000 people.  It is, however, generally admitted that strong colored teams are good Sunday attractions, but the difference of opinion has invariably come up over the question of whether the fans would put in their appearance in sufficient numbers on week days.

“What is also considered significant by those who favor the formation of a colored baseball league is that with few exceptions the crowds were composed of colored people, which proves conclusively that members of the race will support colored clubs when they put up a good article of ball.  The same can be said of white fans, and quite often, for instance, in greater New York, more whites attend baseball matches between colored clubs than colored.”

Walton said it was always understood that New York and Chicago could support a member club in an organized league, but there was “doubt as to whether devotees of the national game in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Louisville etc…would turn out in sufficient numbers to ensure the players a nice check when payday rolled around.”  The series, he said, erased some of those doubts:

“Cincinnati, Louisville, Baltimore and other cities considered can make as good a showing as St. Louis.  Furthermore…these cities have but one big league team, while St. Louis has two, a condition which it is claimed, would argue in favor of the respective colored teams securing a larger white patronage.”

The St. Louis Giants swept the three-game series—winning all three in the bottom of the ninth inning; including a 2 to 1 victory behind “Steel Arm” Johnny Taylor over “Smokey Joe” Williams in game two—Taylor also won game one in relief.

The line scores from the three games

The line scores from the three games

Despite the enthusiasm, three excellent, well–attended games, and the resulting optimism as a result of the attendance in St. Louis during three days in June of 1911, an organized black league was still nearly a decade away.

Adventures in Barnstorming—Fake Cuban Stars

27 Mar

One of the pitfalls when trying to book a famous barnstorming team to play your local club was making sure you were actually getting what you thought you were getting.

Fake House of David teams crisscrossed the country for years; there were reports of fake Negro League teams and fake versions of the Nebraska Indians.  Most made an attempt to field a competitive team who could at least pass for the team they were fraudulently representing;  some didn’t even bother.

Charles A. Mills thought he was getting the authentic Cuban Stars for a May 1910 game against his St. Louis Giants; the Cubans roster included the great pitcher Jose Mendez, and well-known players like pitcher-outfielder Luis Padron, first baseman Augustin “Tinti” Molina and shortstop Luis Bustamante.

None of them arrived in St. Louis.

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

The Freeman said:

“Much talk is going the rounds over the way in which the management of the St. Louis Giants were deceived by a bunch of get-rich-quick schemers, who claimed to be the real Cuban Stars, when in fact there was not a Cuban in the club.”

More than thirty-six-hundred fans came to Kuebler’s Field to see the famous barnstormers play the hometown team, but:

“Mr. C.L. East, advance agent for the supposed Cubans, brought to the city a set of misfits to fool the public and get the money.”

The Freeman insisted that Mills, who bore the brunt of the reaction from angry fans, was an innocent victim of a scam and that the impostors were “in no way the fault of the St. Louis Giants.’”

Mills called it a “high-handed game to defraud the public,” an “unpleasant occurrence that has caused (The Giants) to be unjustly criticised (sic) by some of our best followers.”

There is no record of the outcome of the game or a mention of whether the game was even completed.

The legitimate Cuban Stars, with Mendez, played in St. Louis the following year.

Luis Bustamante

Luis Bustamante

Charles Mills and the St. Louis Giants

25 Mar

The origin of the Negro League St. Louis Giants, one of the Western Independent Clubs, has become clouded by conflicting histories –some say Charles Alexander Mills started the team in 1909, others say he started it earlier; contemporaneous accounts in the Black press differ, but seem to indicate that Conrad Kuebler, a white businessman (and ballpark owner) operated the team beginning in 1906 or ’07, with Mills becoming involved with the club later (the team was almost universally referred to as Kuebler’s Giants before 1909, when Mill’s became involved, and references as late as 1915 confirm  that Kuebler still had an ownership stake in the team).

Mills’ background is equally as murky, born around 1879; some sources call him “a bank messenger,” others “a tavern owner.”  He did for a time own a bar, the Keystone Cafe and Cabaret at the corner of Compton and Lawton in St. Louis which he opened in 1915—The Freeman said “Hours of good entertainment and high-class wines…can always be found at the Keystone.”

In any case, Mills operated the team on a shoestring in 1909; The Freeman said in 1911:

“Two years ago, when baseball was emerging from the field of darkness into the dim light of athletic fame, the present St. Louis Giants baseball team sprang into existence.  At that time baseball was something new to the Negroes of St. Louis and hardly 100 patrons attended the games.  Players would receive about .50 or .60 each for their share of the gate receipts.

“Their baseball uniform consisted of different colors, cheap material—every man wearing a different suit and stockings of a different type, therefore presenting a grotesque appearance.”

Charles Alexander Mills

Charles Alexander Mills

Within a year, Mills had transformed the Giants.

David Wyatt, a former Chicago Union Giants player turned sportswriter wrote about the opening of the 1910 season at Kuebler’s Field at the corner of Broadway and Pope:

“The St. Louis Giants pulled off a demonstrative honor of Negro baseball, the like of which has never been equaled in the history of the game.

“A monstrous street parade in which automobiles, landaus, coupes and traps played a conspicuous part, started promptly from in front of the Missouri Negro Republican League quarters at 12 o’clock and passed over a route which included all the principal thoroughfares inhabited by the Negro in St. Louis.”

Wyatt praised Mills “the genial and hustling business manager” of the Giants, who “proved conclusively that he is a type of young business- man who is not only endowed with spirit and proclivities of the up-and-doing variety, but he is putting the same into circulation and getting results.”

As for the game, Giants pitcher Bill Gatewood pitched a no-hitter against the Louisville Stars; an 11-0 victory in front of “an assemblage of about five thousand fans.”

By 1911, Mills had signed some of the best players in the country to join Gatewood, including team captain Dick Wallace and three of the Taylor Brothers; Ben, “Candy” Jim and “Steel Arm” Johnny.  The Giants, according to The Freeman now had “as good athletes as ever trod American soil.”

Giant Captain Wallace

Giant Captain Dick Wallace

Mills’ Giants won the St. Louis City League in 1912 and ’13 but were generally a .500 team in games against other Western Independent Clubs. Mills aggressively solicited opponents and filled the Giants schedule with games against all comers between league games.

A 1910 ad for Mills' St' Louis Giants soliciting games.

A 1910 ad soliciting games for Mills’ St. Louis Giants

Despite maintaining a fairly strong following in the African-American community, the Giants were something of a nomadic club–according to reports of games in The Freeman, The Chicago Defender and The St. Louis Argus the team played “home” games in no less than seven ballparks during Mills’ tenure.

The Giants continued operating as an independent team (although they seemed to have disbanded for most of 1917 and ’18— tensions stemming from the East St. Louis race riots in May and July of 1917 were probably a contributing factor).

In 1920, Mills was present at the YMCA on 18th and Vine in Kansas City for Rube Foster‘s meeting to form the Negro National League; his Giants finished 6th in 1920 and 3rd in 1921 (Giants’ center fielder Oscar Charleston hit–depending on the source– .433 or .444 that season).

Mills was either ousted or sold his interest in the team (depending on the source) after the 1921 season, and new owners Dr. Sam Sheppard (variously spelled Shepard, Sheperd, and Sheppard) who had played for the New York Gorhams in 1887 and Dick Kent renamed the team the St. Louis Stars.

Mills died in St. Louis in 1944; his role as a pioneer of black baseball so forgotten that as late as 1994, James A Riley in The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues refers to Mills as “A white businessman.”