A Good Source for the Negro Leagues

February 27, 2015

Just a short note today to let you know about an interesting site. In studying Negro League baseball and black baseball in general, there are a lot of good places to go on the net. I’d like to think this is one of them. But I also know that there are places for more detailed, especially statistically detailed, info. So for my last post on black baseball for Black History Month, I’d like to tell you about one.

One of the very best places to go is seamheads.com. Seamheads is a site dedicated to baseball in general, but it has a wonderful subset on the Negro Leagues. When you click on Seamheads, you’ll see, in the upper right, a “Negro Leagues Database”. Clicking on that will send you to their Negro Leagues area. There you’ll find a blog on the Negro Leagues and links to various bits of info on the players and teams. The player info and league info is in pretty good shape from 1896 through 1936 (always remembering that the statistical information is sketchy). Beyond that the information is sparse. I’ve been unable to find anything indicating they are planning to move forward into the 1940s with their findings, but presume that to be the case.

If you’re at all interested in the Negro Leagues, Seamheads.com is a nice place to find information. I suggest you check it out. You can simply type seamheads on Google and you’ll get to it easily. Worth taking the time.

Shades of Glory: a Review

February 25, 2015
cover of Shades of Glory

cover of Shades of Glory

Normally I would never do two book reviews this close together. Nor would I do two involving pretty much the same information on the same topic. But I’m going to make an exception. If Only the Ball Was White is the first great work on the Negro Leagues since 1920, then Shades of Glory is arguably the most influential. It seemed like a good idea to take a look at both this month.

Back in the mid 2000s the Hall of Fame decided to make a major attempt to enshrine a significant number of Negro League players who had been otherwise overlooked. Over the 1970s through 2001 the Hall, through its various committees elected a handful of Negro League players. Then the list more or less dried up. Frankly, a lot of people who voted for the Hall knew next to nothing about the Negro Leagues. So the Hall formed a special committee to research the Negro Leagues and the pre-Negro League 1800s looking for players, executives, and other contributors who might reasonably be enshrined at Cooperstown. In the process the committee assembled a mass of material, including what available statistical info they could find. Two major things came out of this, the election in 2006 of 17 black Americans to the Hall of Fame and the book Shades of Glory.

With all the information that had been collected sitting around and unavailable to the general public, the committee chose Lawrence D. Hogan to create a book making the heart of the information available in an easy to find and easy to understand work. Shades of Glory is the result. It looks over the Negro Leagues and black baseball from their beginnings, tries to put them in the context of both their times and of the black experience in America. The information spreads over the players, the teams, the eras. Various writers (including Robert Peterson who wrote Only the Ball Was White)  provide chapters on the very earliest black players, the Jim Crow 1880s and 1890s, the birth of the Negro Leagues, and a look at the legacy of the Leagues. The end chapter is a compilation of the statistical information found. Some of it is very fragmentary, other information is more detailed. The stats include not only the players who were elected in 2006, but what info was found on players who either weren’t elected or were already enshrined at Cooperstown.

It’s a worthwhile addition to a baseball library, even if you’re not a student of the Negro Leagues. The writing is good, the information excellent, and the statistics are as complete as possible in 2006. The book is available at Amazon.com for $19.76. Enjoy.

 

Turkey Stearnes

February 23, 2015
Turkey Stearnes

Turkey Stearnes

Although everyone seems to think of Josh Gibson as the ultimate Negro League power hitter, he doesn’t hold the home run title. A few sources cite Mule Suttles as the home run champion. Most, however, give the honor to Turkey Stearnes.

Norman Thomas Stearnes was born in 1901 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was something of a baseball prodigy becoming a local star in the black neighborhoods of Nashville. His running style was considered unorthodox and the nickname “Turkey” was added to him (much like Ron Cey’s running  style got him the nickname “Penguin.”). By 1920 he was playing the outfield for the Nashville Giants, a segregated team that was not considered a top-tier black team.

In 1921 he moved to Montgomery, Alabama to play for the Gray Sox and then in 1922 he was with the Memphis Red Sox. Neither was considered a major player in black baseball (although Memphis would eventually become one). In 1923, Stearnes moved north to play for the Detroit Stars, one of the teams in Rube Foster’s Negro National League. He was an instant star, clubbing 17 documented home runs in 69 games. For the rest of the 1920s he led the Stars in home runs and is credited with leading the NNL in at least 1925, 1926, 1927, and 1929.

By 1930, the Stars were having trouble meeting payroll and Stearnes left them after 30 or so games for the Lincoln Giants, a team which folded following the season. Back with Detroit in 1931, he again encountered a team with payroll problems. He bailed out toward the end of the season, playing a few games with the Kansas City Monarchs. The 1932 season saw him with the Chicago American Giants, where he stayed through 1935. His .441 batting average over 37 games is the documented NNL (new version) high for 1935, giving him his only documented batting title.

In 1936 he moved on to the Philadelphia Stars (they were paying better than the American Giants), didn’t do as well as before (he was 35). He went back to Chicago (now a member of the Negro American League) to begin 1937. The NAL in 1937 used a split season format and had a postseason playoff between the top teams of each half. Stearnes’ American Giants won the second half, but then lost the playoff to Kansas City.

The year 1938 saw him leave the American Giants during the season and hook up with the Monarchs. He remained through 1940, helping Kansas City to NAL pennants in 1939 and 1940. He was 39 in 1940 and fading. He returned to Detroit and worked in the rolling mills of the area until he retired in 1964. He died in Detroit in 1979. In 2000, he was chosen for the Hall of Fame.

How good was he? As usual with Negro League players it’s impossible to answer that question. His statistics are incomplete and the sources disagree. The Negro League Museum credits him with 183 home runs, seven home run titles, and a batting average of .359. The Baseball Reference.com bullpen site gives him 185 home runs and an average of .345. Using the latter numbers (which originate in the research done for the Hall of Fame 2006 election of Negro League players) he has 1209 hits, 712 runs scored, and 387 walks in 914 documented games. He is given credit for 203 doubles, 104 triples, 183 home runs, 718 RBIs, and 129 stolen bases. His batting average is .345 with a slugging percentage of .619. No OBP is given but if you take the number of walks and at bats and the number of hits and walks (How many hit batsman and catcher interference can there be?) you can get an approximate OBP of .419. That provides an approximate OPS of .1.038. With out other info OPS+ isn’t possible to determine. The Baseball Reference.com bullpen also gives a 162 game average for his career. For a 162 game season he would average 214 hits, 126 runs, 36 doubles, 18 triples, 32 home runs, 127 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, and 69 walks (no strikeout numbers are available). Not a bad set of numbers, and as stressed earlier, very incomplete.

Turkey Stearnes is considered one of the greatest power hitters of the Negro Leagues. His average is also excellent and his RBI numbers are very good. The numbers are admittedly incomplete, but what we have indicate that he was a very good player and a deserving Hall of Famer.

Stearnes grave. There is no marker. The "20" indicates the 20th grave in the line

Stearnes grave. There is no marker. The “20” indicates the 20th grave in the line

 

The Bacharachs

February 19, 2015
Bacharach Giants Logo

Bacharach Giants Logo

If you ask most people to name a Negro League team, odds are you’ll get the Monarchs or the Grays or the Crawfords. A few might know the American Giants or the Eagles. One of the better teams that’s mostly unknown today was the Bacharach Giants.

Originally the Duval Giants of Jacksonville, Florida, the Giants’ owners Henry Tucker and Tom Jackson moved the team to Atlantic City in 1916. Atlantic City mayor Harry Bacharach (who is a character on television’s “Boardwalk Empire”)  was looking for ways to improve the city economy and Tucker and Jackson agreed to move the team. In honor of the mayor, the team was renamed the Bacharach Giants, a name it kept until its demise. As far as I can tell, Bacharach never owned any part of the team but was supportive of them. They made money initially, but by 1918 were in trouble as World War I took away fans and money.

In 1919 they relocated to New York becoming the New York Bacharach Giants. By then they were so well-known as “Bacharach Giants” that they retained the team nickname despite have left both New Jersey and Harry Bacharach. They did poorly in New York and by 1922 were back in Atlantic City (and the name stayed around despite Bacharach no longer being mayor). They became associated members of the Negro National League, meaning that they could play sanctioned games against the NNL teams, but were not eligible for the pennant. This worked well by allowing the Bacharach Giants to both play the premier teams of the era but to also barnstorm around the East Coast making money.

In 1923 the Eastern Colored League was formed with the Bacharach Giants as a charter member. They finished fourth in both 1923 and 1924. Finishing fourth again in 1925 led to major overhaul of the team. Manager John Henry Lloyd was traded and shortstop Dick Lundy took over the team. A line up featuring Oliver Marcell at third, Red Ferrell in the outfield, and pitchers Arthur “Rats” Henderson, and Red Grier led the Bacharachs to the ECL title in 1926.

After two successful Colored World Series (renamed Negro World Series in 1942) matchups, the NNL and ECL hosted a best of nine series in 1926. The Bacharachs faced the Chicago American Giants (Rube Foster’s old team). The Series last 11 games (two ties) and Grier, in game three, tossed the first no-hitter in postseason play, but the American Giants won game 11 by a run. It was Grier’s second no-hitter of the season (the other against the Elite Giants).

The Bacharach Giants repeated as ECL champs again in 1927 and again faced the American Giants in the postseason series. This time they lost in eight games, but again a Bacharach pitcher, this time Ferrell (who now pitched more than he played the outfield), tossed a no-hitter. In 1928 they were in second when the ECL folded due to financial difficulties.

In 1929 a number of Eastern clubs formed the American Negro League. It lasted one season and the Bacharachs again became a barnstorming independent team. By 1930 they were in deep trouble and there is debate about what happened next. One source says they folded, another that they were sold. Either way the team resurfaced in Philadelphia in 1931. Still called the Bacharach Giants they remained independent until 1934 when they joined the newly revived Negro National League. They stayed two seasons then returned to independent play. They hung on into 1942 when they finally disbanded.

Over the life of the team some truly great players wandered through the Bacharachs. Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd played short and managed the team. Dick Lundy and Oliver Marcell spent most of the 1920s in Atlantic City (and both have solid cases to join the Hall of Fame).  “Cannonball” Dick Redding pitched for them before they joined the Eastern Colored League.

For a very short time the Bacharach’s were a top-notch Negro League team. They produced great players, but were never able to stand at the top of the Negro Leagues. They are, in short, a fairly typical Negro League team.

 

You’re Not Helping, Coach

February 16, 2015
A Saturday Evening Post cover I shamelessly ripped off from Kevin's Baseball Revisited site

A Saturday Evening Post cover I shamelessly ripped off from Kevin’s Baseball Revisited site, a site you should visit

Back when I played youth baseball the system was a little different from the one they use now. Oh, yeah, we still used bats and there were gloves and balls and there were four bases and all those kinds of things, but once you got on a team you stayed four years. Age six was a one year event to get kids to understand where first base was located and where the shortstop stood. Then from age seven through age 10 you were on one team (and after I moved, the next town used the  same system). At seven you were still learning and if you were lucky you got to bat occasionally and generally got an inning in the outfield. By eight the guys who were able to pick up on how the game worked started getting decent playing time and the age nine and 10 guys were the fulltime players.

I started at seven on a team coached by a member of the local police force. He was a good enough guy. He knew my grandparents, knew my aunts and uncles. Because that was so he took particular time to work with me. He taught me how to stand on the field, told me I needed a better glove than the wretched thing I wore when I showed up. I learned how to hold a bat with the knuckles aligned, how to slide away from the throw, just all those great things that you need to really have a sense of how to truly play the game right. By eight, I was the part-time left fielder and by nine and 10 had settled in as the full-time center fielder. I was fast enough to track down balls and keep them from becoming long triples to the gaps and could, with some frequency, actually get my glove on the ball. I didn’t always catch it, but I could knock it down and I understood the concept of the cutoff man. Life, baseball speaking, was good.

Then the town decided to integrate the youth baseball program. It was a small Oklahoma town in the late 1950s and nothing was integrated. There were white schools and there was a black school. There were water fountains for each race, the bathrooms at the train depot and the bus station were both segregated. So into this segregated world they decided to experiment with the youth baseball program. At the time it struck me as strange to start with sports, but then as I aged I remembered that Jackie Robinson came before Brown v School Board.

The entire idea created a huge stir in our town. There were people who knew it would ruin the community and people who figured it wouldn’t hurt anything. I remember my grandparents sitting down to talk about whether I should play or not. I had big ears, so I managed to hear a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear. They were worried about white and black kids playing together in a public setting (rather than the more private setting I was used to), about black and white kids using the same helmets and bats, about where the black parents would be allowed to sit. There weren’t a lot of bleachers at the ballyard but a new small set was built just for the black families (theirs were well down the left field line while the white folk got to sit up by the backstop). Ultimately they decided that, well, the kid loves the game, and I guess it couldn’t hurt, and, well, why not? So I got to sign up for my age 10 season. So too did three black kids. And sure as taxes, my coach drew two of them for our team. The rules stated that once you drew a kid for your team, you were stuck with him whatever you thought.

So the opening day of practice came. Every parent, or in my case grandparent, showed up along with all the kids. It’s the only time I ever saw all the kids and all the parents at the same time; that’s how important it was to them. The two black kids and their folks were standing a little way off from the rest of us, but they were there. I’d played a little with black kids (see my post The Field in the Middle of Town dated 25 February 2014 for the story), but I didn’t know either of these two.

Then Coach announced (all conversations approximated after 50 years) “We got two black kids this year. Any of you parents who want to quit will get your entry fee refunded.” He didn’t use “black” in the sentence, but another word. That I do remember.

At the time I didn’t understand the absolute awfulness of saying that in front of the two black families, but I knew that three of the kids and their parents turned and left. Now that made no sense. It was baseball, for God’s sake, and I knew all three guys and I knew they loved to play and now they were just walking away, escorted by their parents, from the game. Well, as I said, that made no sense.

But we practiced with what we had left. A bit later we got a kid from another team (to make up for the three we lost) because the league wanted all the teams at approximately the same strength. Neither of the black kids had ever played organized ball before so they needed all the coaching help they could get. They got none. Coach simply ignored them. Occasionally he’d let one of them swing a bat (then he’d wipe off the bat with alcohol before the next white kid could swing it) or he’d stick one out in right field where they stood around totally unaware of what they were supposed to do. Now, me, I’d gotten all the help Coach could provide, but they weren’t getting a thing. I have to admit I didn’t think much about it at the time, because Coach was busy with the whole team and well, maybe he just didn’t have time to get to them.

The season started and I was back in center field. Back then the rule was simple: every kid had to play one inning in the field. Batting was optional because sometimes the last inning was a top of the inning and your team didn’t bat in the bottom of the inning or the new guy’s position in the lineup didn’t come to the plate. We did six innings, so Coach would stick one of the black kids in right field (where you always put the kid who couldn’t play) for the fifth inning and the other got the sixth. I gotta admit that Coach treated them alike there. The kid who played the fifth inning in one game generally got the sixth in the next game.

Which brings me to game one and the fifth inning. I don’t remember if we were ahead or behind. Frankly I don’t remember if we won or lost. What I remember is Coach pulling me aside and telling me, “Look, that black kid (and those aren’t the words he used) doesn’t know how to play right field. So I want you to shade over toward right center and be ready to take anything hit his way.”

“Sure thing, Coach.”

So out I went and did as I was told. We got through the game OK and the fifth and sixth inning instructions became common, “Shade over toward right center and be ready to take anything hit his way.” The problem was that we were beginning to leak runs in the fifth and sixth innings. I was over in right center, the left fielder was where he was supposed to be, and occasionally a liner got through that big gap and rolled to the fence. I don’t think it ever actually cost us a game (maybe so, I don’t remember), but it did cost us a run a few times.

So I went to the source of all baseball wisdom so far as I was concerned. “Coach, you gotta let me move back to dead center in the last innings. I can get to those balls and hold the batter to a single.”

“Do what you’re told. That black kid (again not the coach’s choice of words) doesn’t know anything so you keep playing where I say.”

“Yes, sir.” By now it was beginning to dawn on me that a lot of the reason the black kids didn’t know anything was because Coach wouldn’t teach them anything. You’re not helping here, Coach.

So back to right center I went, having decided I was going to have to do Coach’s job. I started trying to get the black kid (One was named Ronny. I have no idea the other kid’s name after all these years.) to move a little toward center, leaving the line open and letting me get back toward center field. I wasn’t going to catch that many (Hey, I wasn’t that good), but I could get to them and hold the runner at first. It actually worked and I was feeling pretty good about helping the right fielder. All that helping of Ronny and his pal got me a talking to.

“Quit telling that kid (again, wanna guess what word was actually there?) where to play,” Coach told me. “You’ll make him start to look good.”

And at that point the light went on. Coach was willing to give up runs in order to keep a kid from looking like he knew what he was doing. I’ll admit I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier so it took another game or so to realize that the problem was Ronny and his cohort’s skin color. Here I was trying to win and the coach wasn’t helping because he wanted those two off his team. I should be clear that my problem was with losing, not with equal rights. It took a while to realize which was more important. In partial defense, I was but 10.

For almost all my youth baseball career I had two coaches: one I revere to this day, the other I’m of two minds about. My second coach taught me not just how to play, but how to play well, how to play fairly, and in some degree how to grow up. The first (the one referenced above) taught me quite a different lesson. On the one hand he liked me, taught me how to play the game right. What he didn’t teach me was how to grow up to be a person my wife and son could be proud of, a  person who judged another on who they were, not what they looked like. It’s sad, because he was a good man in most things, but he did have this blind spot and to this day it taints the way I view a man I should otherwise like and admire. Damned shame, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Only the Ball Was White: A Review

February 12, 2015
Only the Ball Was White (my copy has this cover)

Only the Ball Was White (my copy has this cover)

Back when I was working on my PhD in history the big book that was causing a stir was Time on the Cross, a book that was hugely controversial and was  supposed to use new statistical methods, later called “cliometrics” (Clio was the Greek Muse of history), to revolutionize how we viewed the institution of slavery. Well, it didn’t actually end up doing that, but it did introduce “cliometrics” and statistical analysis to the study of history in a big way (try being a social historian today without it) and that changed how history was studied.

In January 1970 Robert Peterson did something like that when he published Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All Black Professional Teams, generally known by the first five words of the title. It told America about the Negro Leagues at a time when the Negro Leagues were almost entirely forgotten by the general public and by baseball fans. What little was known was more myth than reality. Peterson’s book began a trend of looking at the reality of Negro League baseball. There were stories, an historical narrative, some thoughts on individual players. All were researched in newspapers, team papers (such as were available), and interviews with surviving players and associated people. It was utterly groundbreaking in both the study of black history and baseball history.

There had been other books, like Sol White’s history, but they were old and generally ignored in 1970. Peterson, following on Ted Williams’ plea for recognition of Negro League players in his Hall of Fame address, wrote a book that tried to place black baseball in the context of its times and in the context of the larger black community. It’s worth noting the book for that reason alone. And it wasn’t stat heavy (unlike Time on the Cross) which made it more acceptable to a general audience.

It’s outdated now. Forty-five years of research will do that to a book. Some of the info turned out to be wrong, much of it is still good. It’s a fine read. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and so it continues to hold a special place in my psyche. Copies are still available (Amazon has a copy for $15.64) and it’s worth reading at least once.

As an aside, Peterson was one of the people chosen for the committee that selected the 2006 Hall of Fame members for Negro League baseball. He died a couple of weeks before the voting, but sent in a copy of his choices. The copy was accepted and he helped elect some deserving members to the Hall of Fame. I think it’s nice that did that for a pioneer who helped rescue the Negro Leagues from oblivion.

 

Homestead Wins It All

February 10, 2015
1943 Homestead Grays

1943 Homestead Grays

The Homestead Grays dominated the Negro National League from its inception. Year after year they easily won the pennant. Without a Negro League World Series they were always seen as a successful team, but there was no way to declare them, unquestionably, the finest Negro League team. That all changed in 1942 when the Negro National League and the Negro American League agreed to play a postseason Negro World Series between their two champions. That hadn’t occurred since the late 1920s. The Grays represented the NNL and were crushed by the NAL Kansas City Monarchs. In 1943, the Grays again won the NNL championship and turned the Negro World Series into a crusade to redeem their 1942 loss.

The 1943 Grays were mostly holdovers from the previous season. Manager “Candy” Jim Taylor had Hall of Fame catcher Josh Gibson who hit .486 with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs, and 64 runs scored in 181 at bats (all stats from Baseball Reference.com’s Negro League section and are admittedly very incomplete). Fellow Hall of Fame players Buck Leonard and Jud Wilson anchored first and second. Neither had Gibson’s numbers, but Wilson hit .279 at age 47. Sam Bankhead played shortstop and Howard Easterling hit .399 and played third (and how he’s been overlooked for the Hall of Fame is utterly unfathomable). The outfield consisted of Sam Benjamin and Vic Harris on the corners with Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell playing center field. The staff included Edsall Walker and triple crown winner Johnny Wright along with Hall of Fame right-hander Ray Brown.

They drew the Birmingham Black Barons in the Series. The Barons had been around for a long time, but weren’t one of the premier teams in the Negro Leagues. Manager Gus “Wingfield” Welch had a team without a single Hall of Famer, but won the NAL in a close contest. Lyman Bostock, Sr. (father of the later Major Leaguer) played first, Tommy Sampson and Piper Davis anchored the middle of the infield, while Jake Spearman was at third. Lester Lockett and Felix McLauren were outfielders who both hit over .380. The staff included John Huber, Johnny Markham, and Gready McInnis.

Part of the fun of a study of the Negro Leagues is the quirky nature of their scheduling. The 1943 Series was to be a best of seven, but at that point it begins to diverge from the Major League norms. The games were scheduled for seven different cities: Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, Indianapolis, Birmingham, and Montgomery. So each team got one home game (Washington and Birmingham) and one game at a nearby city (Baltimore and Montgomery), along with three games at neutral sites. This was probably great for fans, but not so great for the players. The Series stretched from 21 September all the way to 5 October and covered a thousand miles.

And then it ended up taking eight games to complete. Game two, the one in Baltimore, resulted in a 12 inning tie (5-5). So the next day the teams trekked back to DC to replay the game in the Grays home park.

Another interesting aspect of Negro World Series play was the use of the “loaner.” With small team sizes, injuries, and in the 1940s, the Second World War, teams frequently went into postseason play with short rosters. It was at least somewhat common for teams that weren’t going to make the Series to “loan” a player to a playoff team. In 1943, just before the end of the season, the Chicago American Giants “loaned” Double Duty Ratcliffe to Birmingham. He played for the Barons in the Series (but not overly well–he was 40) but was then returned to Chicago when the Series finished. This sort of thing happened with some frequency and created problems (In the 1942 Series it caused one of the games to be replayed.), especially if the other teams didn’t know about it before hand.

The play-by-play is difficult to find so I’m not going to try to explain every game. Homestead was a big favorite, but Birmingham won the first game (the first of the two in Washington), then lost game three (the replay of the tie). The teams split games four and five, making the Series a best of three. Homestead won game six before the Series shifted to Birmingham.

Game seven was the classic of the Series. Needing a win to force a deciding game, the Barons sent Markham to the mound. The Grays had a runner thrown out at the plate in the fifth, but other than that no one came close to scoring for 10 innings. In the bottom of the 11th Leonard “Sloppy” Lindsay doubled and scored the game’s only run on a single by Ed Steele.

Game eight was 4-2 in favor of Birmingham with two out in the eighth when the Grays struck for six runs and put the Series away. The final score was 8-4 Homestead and the Grays won their first Negro World Series championship (they’d win again in ’44 and ’48). It wasn’t a well-played Series (Birmingham made 19 errors) and despite the need for a full seven (eight) games, Homestead outscored Birmingham 46-28 (5.75 runs vs. 3.5).

For both teams there would be other championship series. Birmingham would never win one (despite having Willie Mays around one year) and Homestead would win two more. By 1951 the Grays were gone. The Barons hung on through 1960.

 

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Cum Posey

February 6, 2015
Cum Posey

Cum Posey

1. Cumberland Willis Posey, Jr. was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania (just outside Pittsburgh) in 1890.

2. His family was wealthy for a black family of the time. His father was the first black licensed engineer in the US and built steamboats while managing and owning a coal company.

3. Posey excelled in basketball and baseball and was considered by contemporaries as a better basketball player than a baseball player.

4. In 1911 he began playing for the Murdock Grays, a semi-pro industrial league team. In 1912 they became the Homestead Grays with Posey still playing.

5. In 1916 he became manager of the Grays and owner in 1920.

6. While owning the Grays and acting as both manager and general secretary, Posey also wrote a weekly sports column for the Pittsburgh Courier, the premier black newspaper in Western Pennsylvania. He was joined there by Wendell Smith in 1937.

7. In 1929 he made an agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates to lease Forbes Field, the Pirates home field, for Grays games. This gave his team a considerable economic advantage over other teams in the area.

8. In 1932 Posey formed the East-West League, but the league folded before the end of its first season. After barnstorming for a few years, Posey led his team into the newly formed Negro National League (second version).

9. The Grays, led by Posey, won NNL pennants every year from 1937 through 1945, winning the Negro World Series in 1943 and 1944. They also lost both the 1942 and the 1945 Negro World Series.

10. In 1940 Posey negotiated an agreement that allowed the Grays to play in Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. Paired with Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the two stadia allowed Homestead to develop a following in two major metropolitan areas, which made them one of the wealthier Negro League Teams.

11. Cum Posey died of cancer in 1946.

12. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

“You’re a Better Man…

February 4, 2015

…than I am, Gunga Din.”–Rudyard Kipling

playbill for the movie version of "Gunga Din"

playbill for the movie version of “Gunga Din”

As with most baseball fans I was saddened by the recent death of Ernie Banks. He was, by all accounts, a better man than a ballplayer and he was one heck of a good ballplayer. I never met him myself, but he’s one of a handful of the true greats that I’d really have liked to know.

But Banks was more than a good man and a good ballplayer, he was also a pioneer. I presume a few of you don’t know that he was the first black player in Chicago Cubs history. He was the first great Major League black shortstop. His hitting was superb (he won 2 MVP awards), his fielding was better than a lot of people would like you to believe, but he wasn’t Ozzie Smith either. He set the pattern for the big, powerful shortstop in the same way that Eddie Matthews set the standard at third base. It took a long time for it to register on the baseball world what Banks had done, but eventually other players like Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez followed in his path (although it’s fair to say that Ripken was the true catalyst of the new type of shortstop). Although not power hitters in the way of Banks both Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter are also in the Banks mold.

With his passing we are down to six of the players who originally integrated the 16 original teams of the 1950s: Monte Irvin (Giants), Minnie Minoso (White Sox), Ozzie Virgil, Sr. (Tigers), Pumpsie Green (Red Sox), and both Nino Escalara and Chuck Harmon (who both played for the Reds on the same day). Let’s take a minute here and remember them. Each should have his number retired by his team in the same way and for the same reason that all of Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s 42. Irvin and Minoso have already received this honor (as have a couple of the deceased players like Banks), but I’d like to see it done by all those teams that were once segregated, without reference to the quality of the player.

It seems like the right thing to do. After all they went through to get to the big leagues and then what they went through upon arrival, it’s the least we can do. And after all they went through they are, at least in a baseball sense, like Gunga Din; better men than most of us.

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1912

February 2, 2015

February begins Black History Month in the US. I normally take the month and use it for a yearly journey into whatever I’ve found concerning the Negro Leagues or other versions of black baseball. I also use the first post of each month to introduce the newest members of My Own Little Hall of Fame, which is a look at how a Hall of Fame begun in 1901 rather than the 1930s might have looked. It seems I’m able to combine both this year.

Kid Nichols

Kid Nichols

Charles “Kid” Nichols served as the primary pitcher for National League championship teams in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1897, and 1898. With the National League Boston franchise he won over 350 games, leading the league in wins three times. He won 30 or more games on seven occasions.

Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson

Samuel “Sam” Thompson was an outfielder for both Detroit and Philadelphia of the National League. Between 1885 and 1898 he led the league in batting and triples once, in doubles and home runs twice, and in hits three times. In 1894 he hit .415.

George Stovey

George Stovey

George Stovey was a colored pitcher who played in both segregated and integrated leagues between 1886 and 1897. A left-hander, he was considered the premier colored pitcher of his era.

Now the commentary:

1. Again I have used the word “colored” to describe a black ballplayer. From what I can tell, the word “Negro” doesn’t come into common usage in newspapers and digests until the end of World War I, or about 1920 (about the same time Rube Foster founds the Negro National League). That being the case, I will make my change over for the 1920 class, if it is necessary.

2. I am well aware that there is no chance of Stovey making a 1912 Hall of Fame and that if there was he could have been elected earlier. I choose to include Negro League players despite the normal custom in 1912 so he gets in. I purposefully left him until 1912 so I could include him during Black History Month. It should be another 10 or so years before the big names that began 20th Century black baseball arrive on the Hall list. Then there will be a lot all at once.

3. Nichols was one of the easiest calls I had to make. You can decide who you want to declare the best pitcher of the 19th Century, but whoever you decide, Nichols will have to be in the debate.

4. Thompson had all those numbers the early 20th Century baseball types loved, lots of hits, high average, and lots of extra base hits. He also had a bunch of RBIs, but it’s still a difficult number to pin down so I left it off.

5.  Next year Jake Beckley and Bobby Lowe are the most significant players eligible for the Class of 1913. Among contributors John T. Brush arrives on the scene. There are no significant pitchers arriving in 1913. I’ve decided to cut the list of holdovers to either 10 or 20 in any given year. If you can’t make my top 20 everyday players, top 10 contributors, or top 10 pitchers you have no business being considered for a Hall of Fame.

6. Everyday players now on the list for 1913 are: Jake Beckley, Cupid Childs, Lave Cross, Gene DeMontreville, Patsy Donovan, Jack Doyle, Hugh Duffy, George Gore, Paul Hines, Dummy Hoy, Bill Lange, Arlie Latham, Andy Leonard, Hermann Long, Bobby Lowe, Tommy McCarthy, John McGraw, Cal McVey, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Mike Tiernan, George Van Haltren. A total of 22. I have to either add 2 to the Class of 1913 or drop 2 from the list.

7. For pitchers I have the following: Bob Caruthers, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Bobby Mathews, Tony Mullane, Gus Weyhing, and Will White. A total of 7. None will have to be taken off for 1913.

8. The contributors, with Brush added, are: Brush (owner), Jim Creighton (who may have been the 1st professional and may have invented the fastball/ or maybe not), Candy Cummings (early pitcher who may, or may not, have invented the curve), Bob Ferguson (early 3rd baseman, manager, and umpire), John “Bud” Hillerich (of Louisville Slugger), Lip Pike (early power hitter), Henry C. Pulliam (NL President), Al Reach (player, owner, Reach Guide), Chris von der Ahe (owner), William R. Wheaton (wrote oldest set of rules available–1837). To reach 10 I dropped Henry Chalmers, of Chalmers Motors, who provided the first MVP Awards. As far as I can tell he didn’t do much else with baseball, so I cut him loose.

9. I’ve figured out how to handle the John McGraw problem mentioned in previous posts. Will let you know more next time.


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