Tag Archives: Willie Wells

“Fans Come out Here to see a Ballplayer Hustle at all Times”

23 May

William G. Nunn was city editor, and later, managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.  He wrote a regular baseball column “Diamond Dope” for the paper throughout the 1920s, and later he would on occasion also write a sports column for paper called “WGN Broadcasts.”

.In 1934, he told a story about how “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher managed his Chicago American Giants:

malarcher

Malarcher

“Chicago was sporting a small lead going into late innings.  A Crawford player, with a man on first knocked a slow roller to (Jack) Marshall, keystone-sacker of the Windy City team.  Marshall failed to field the ball in a hurry and loafed the throw to first base, with the result that all hands were safe.

“From the bench came running Dave Malacher, present manager of the team and one of the most astute diamond students Negro baseball has ever produced.  We noticed a whispered conference.

After the game we asked Dave what it was all about.  ‘I fined him five dollars,’ said Dave.  ‘Fans come out here to see a ballplayer hustle at all times, ‘he continued, ‘and when he fails to do that, he’s hurting Negro baseball.

“Give us some more of that type of management.  We don’t have any too much use for these all-star teams anyway.  They look like a million dollars on paper, and like buns when they face real competition.”

Eight years later Nunn was a key figure in The Courier’s push—along with The Daily Worker— to integrate professional baseball.  Nunn and his sports editor, Hall of Famer Wendell Smith attempted to broker a deal for four Negro League players to try out with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Chicago Defender said in August of 1942:

nunn

William G. Nunn Sr.

“The four Negro baseball players to receive a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates the latter part of this month or first of September will be named next week.

“Three weeks ago William Benswanger, owner of the Pirates, stated that he was willing to give Negro players a tryout…Wendell Smith and William G. Nunn will confer with officials of the Negro American and National Leagues here (at the East-West Game)…and select the four players.”

Smith and Nunn, in collaboration with Negro League magnates, chose Josh Gibson, Leon Day, Sam Bankhead, and Willie Wells to receive tryouts.

Smith called Benswanger “The greatest liberal in baseball history,” at the end of August. The accolades were premature.  The tryouts were never scheduled.

“There is no hop on Your Fastball”

21 May

Schoolboy Johnny Taylor, like many Negro Leaguers, spent several seasons playing in Mexico. The Hartford, Connecticut native told his hometown paper, The Courant, about the game south of the border, in a 1941 interview with the paper’s sports editor W.J. “Bill” Lee:

“Taylor was telling us about baseball in Mexico, a subject on which he speaks with authority.”

johnnytaylor

Schoolboy Johnny Taylor

Taylor, who pitched in Vera Cruz in 1940, was asked how baseball competed with Mexico’s “big sport:”

‘”Well,’ Johnny laughed, “bull fighting is still the major sport down there but baseball is rapidly catching up. We play our games in the mornings and the bull fights are held before noon also. When there is a bull fight on the day a ball game is scheduled we feel it at the gate.

“But don’t let anyone tell you the Mexicans aren’t red hot baseball fans. They are as rabid as they are anywhere in the United States.”

Taylor said there was little difference between fans there and the states:

“They get riled up, those Mexican fans, and when they do they start to throw things, same as they do anywhere in America. Down there though, they mostly throw fruit, probably because it’s cheap. The only difference is their way of razzing a ball player. Instead of hoots, catcalls or the Bronx cheer, they whistle at you.”

Taylor was asked how the climate in Mexico affected American players:

“’It’s not so bad,’ Johnny said, ‘except in Mexico City, where the altitude is very high. When you first play ball in that city it gets to you…if you have to circle the bases in a hurry you have to sit down for awhile to get your breath back.

“Funny thing about pitching in Mexico City. The atmospheric conditions are such that there is no hop on your fast ball. No matter how fast you buzz one through, it goes straight. I’ve found that the batters there murder the number 1 pitch more than any other ball. You can’t get a sharp hook on your curve ball either. Everywhere in the league except Mexico City the hop comes on your fast ball and the break on your curve is normal.”

Taylor and Lee talked about “the best player in the league,” Josh Gibson:

“He’s a catcher and if it weren’t for the barrier that organized baseball has set up against members of his race and Johnny Taylor’s, Gibson would be in the big league. Taylor didn’t make any complaints or do any boasting, but this corner knows that if Johnny belonged to the white race he would have a great chance to become a major league pitcher.”

Taylor said of Gibson:

“’The left field fence in Chihuahua,’ Johnny relates, ‘is 435 feet at the foul line. This fellow Josh Gibson plastered three balls over the left field fence in one game, and the distance is plenty more than 435 feet at the points where the balls Josh clouted cleared the fence. Up to the time Gibson hit those three homers no one in Chihuahua had ever seen anybody belt one over that left field fence.”

gibsonveracruz

Josh Gibson

Taylor, who attended Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, cut the interview short to go see “Gone with the Wind,” at a local theater. Lee said:

“If I didn’t have a lot of work to get done and too little time to do it, I might have tried to talk Taylor out of leaving to see the GWTW picture.

“A fine gentleman, Johnny Taylor. He talks better than most big leaguers, better, in fact, than many college men I’ve met. He has learned a great deal about pitching since his Bulkeley High days, but he has not let baseball fill his mind entirely. John has profited by his travels through most of the states of the Union and in Mexico and Cuba.”

Taylor spent the 1941 season in Vera Cruz, and in September returned to Hartford with an all-star team that included Gibson, Ray Dandridge, Sam Bankhead, Willie Wells, and Dick Seay. They played a double-header against the Savitt Gems—an integrated semi-pro team sponsored by local jeweler Bill Savitt. Taylor, who had once played for the Gems, faced his former team and former major league pitcher Pete Naktenis, a Hartford native.

Taylor pitched a ten-inning complete game, striking out 15, and the all-stars won 7 to 5. Barney Morris pitched a two-hitter in the nightcap, defeating the Gems 3 to 0 in a five inning game called on account of darkness.

The Courant said a fire broke out under the grand stand during the first game:

“(F)iremen arriving on the scene to quench the blaze were almost totally ignored by the spectators.”

Cum Posey’s “All-Americans”

18 Nov

In 1937, Homestead Grays owner Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey Jr. set out to name the all-time Negro League all-stars–his “All-Americans”– in The Pittsburgh Courier; six years later he expanded his “All-American” team and conceded that picking an all-time Negro League team was a nearly impossible task:

“Due to the changes in umpiring, parks, baseballs, ownership, in the last three decades, it is merely a guess when any of us attempt to pick an all-time All-American club.  Under any system we would hesitate to put ourselves on record as picking the club without placing some of the boys from the islands on the team.  We know some star players from Cuba, who played Negro baseball in the US and they cannot be ignored.”

Cum Posey

Cum Posey

Posey said no team would be complete without considering pitchers Jose Mendez, Eustaquio “Bombin” Pedroso, and Juan Padron, shortstop Pelayo Chacon, outfielders Cristobal Torriente and Esteban Montalvo and “(Martin) Dihigo, probably the greatest all-around player of any decade.”

Cristóbal Torriente

Cristóbal Torriente

“If one could be a spectator at an argument between those closely associated with baseball—fans, players, owners—he would be surprise at the differences of opinions.

Ted Page, who is now manager of Hillvue Bowling Alley (in Pittsburgh), and was formerly one of the star players of Negro baseball was mentioning one of the players of former years.  Ted contends (Chester) Brooks, one of the few West Indian (Brooks was said to hae been born in Nassau, Bahamas, but several sources, including his WWII Draft Registration and death certificate list his place of birth as Key West, Florida) players ever on the roster of an American baseball club was one of the real stars of all time.  Brooks, formerly of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, was probably the most consistent right hand hitter in the history of Negro baseball.  When the Homestead Grays were at odds with everyone connected with Negro Organized Baseball we tried to get Brooks on the Grays club.”

Chester Brooks

Chester Brooks

In his 1937 picks, Posey placed Brooks on his all-time all-star team as “utility” outfielder.

The 1937 team:

Manager:  C. I. Taylor

Coaches:  Rube Foster, Sam Crawford, and Chappie Johnson

Catchers:  Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey

Pitchers: Smokey Joe Williams, Dick Redding, Pedroso, Bullet Rogan, Satchel Paige, Dave Brown and Willie Foster

First Base:  Ben Taylor and Buck Leonard

Second Base: Sammy Hughes

Third Base: Jud Wilson

judwilson

Shortstop: John Henry Lloyd

Left Field:  Torriente

Center Field: Oscar Charleston

Right Field: Pete Hill

Utility:  Infield: Dick Lundy; Outfield: Brooks

Posey added several players for consideration in 1943, many who were largely forgotten by then:

Pitchers: Mendez, Padron

Catcher:  Bruce Petway, Wabishaw “Doc” Wiley

First Base: Leroy Grant, George Carr, Eddie Douglas

Second Base:  Frank Warfield, Bingo DeMoss, George Scales, John Henry Russell, Frank Grant

Bingo DeMoss

Bingo DeMoss

Third Base: Connie Day, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, Dave Malarcher, Henry Blackmon, Walter Cannady, Billy Francis, Bill Monroe

Shortstop:  Willie Wells

Posey concluded:

“Too many outfielders to mention.  You have Dihigo, (Pee Wee) Butts, (Sam) Bankhead, Cannady (and) Monte Irvin to play in any position and nine hundred ninety-nine others.  Our personal preference for manager is C.I. Taylor, but what about Rube Foster?”