A Dozen Things You Should Know About Frank Grant

Frank Grant while at Buffalo

1. He was born in 1865 in Massachusetts and named Ulysses Franklin Grant. Being black and born immediately after the Civil War, it is possible he was named for Union General U.S. Grant, but that can’t be confirmed, at least as far as I can determine.

2. His parents were both from Massachusetts and freemen, an unusual combination for 1860s America. Both were alleged to be of mixed race, which in 1860s American made them “colored” (bet you can guess which color).

3. He was 5’7″ and weighed 155 pounds, making him big for a middle infielder of the era.

4. He joined the Eastern League’s Meriden, Connecticut team in 1886, one of three black players in the league (Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey were the other two). He hit .316 over 44 games, most at second base (although he pitched three times going 0-1). The team disbanded in July and Grant ended up with Buffalo, playing in Olympic Park at the Northeast corner of Richmond and Summer Streets (I know some people in Buffalo and thought they might like to know the location of the park.).

5. Race was already becoming an issue. He was refered to by his own team as either “Spanish” or “Italian” in order to lessen the problem. As an aside this seems to be a subterfuge as late as the early 20th Century when John McGraw hired at least one black player and called him an “Indian.”

6. In May 1887, Grant hit for the cycle. That same season, the International League (Grant’s league) voted to ban the hiring of more black ball players, but “grandfathered” Grant and the handful of blacks already in the league. Most leagues began banning black players about the same time and didn’t bother with the “grandfather clause.”

7. In 1888 Grant held out for a salary of $250 per month (not bad pay in 1888), which is great chutzpah considering the just completed vote on race. He got the money and ended up playing 84 games and hit .346.

8. In 1889 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first Negro League teams. The Giants wandered in and out of the minor leagues for the next several seasons. Grant stayed with the Cuban Giants off and on into 1891, when he signed with the Gothams, another black team. He went back to the Cuban Giants in 1892 and remained there through 1897. This kind of team jumping was fairly common among Negro League players of the era. And here I’m using “negro league” in a more generic sense, rather than refering to the more well established leagues that begin in the 1920s.

9. The end came at age 38 after the 1903 season. At the end of the season he participated in what some refer to as the first Negro League World Series (it isn’t generally credited as such). His team lost.

10. He’s credited with inventing shin guards in order to keep white players from ripping up his legs when they slid into second base. Unfortunately, a couple of other black players (Bud Fowler is one) are also credited with the invention. I have no idea who really did it.

11. He died in 1937.

12. The Hall of Fame selected him for enshrinement in 2006, one of several Negro League players brought in at the same time.

As is usual with black ballplayer who spent their careers in the Negro Leagues, stats are hard to come by. That’s especially true for 19th Century players who only had options in the black leagues or the minors. There’s not much in the way of statistical information on Grant, but there seems to be a consensus that he was among the finest black players of the century, if not the finest (it’s usually a fight between supporters of Grant and supporters of Fowler with a smattering of Walker fans thrown in). Second base was a weak enough position in the 19th Century anyway (except for Nap LaJoie at the very end of the century), so some people make the case for Grant as the best second baseman of the century. Maybe, but I’d like to see a little more statistical information before I buy off on that.

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One Response to “A Dozen Things You Should Know About Frank Grant”

  1. sportsphd Says:

    Buffalo has a pretty decent history with black baseball. That area where Grant played is a block away from the oldest church in the city, so it would have been very noticeable to anyone in Buffalo that they had an integrated team. In later years, the city had a field used by the Negro Leagues and then by the local minor league team over on the east side of the city. Unfortunately, that stadium was torn down after some small scale race riots in the late 1960’s. Now the only evidence left of that past is that they have retired Luke Easter’s number at the AAA stadium downtown.

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