Archive for February, 2016

Negro League Lessons, Seven Years On

February 25, 2016
The 1929 St. Louis Stars

The 1929 St. Louis Stars

Seven years ago (is it really that long?) I started taking part of February to look at Negro League history. A year or so later I made it a month-long project. I had a couple of goals in doing this. One was to learn what I could about the black players, teams, owners, and all those other things that make a baseball team work. The second was to chronicle that information so that others could learn something also. Of course I’ve had to correct some of the things I initially put down because new information became available, or I found a source I’d overlooked, or I was just plain wrong (which happened occasionally). Seven years down the road it seems like a good time to take stock of the project.

The first thing I learned was just exactly how much mythology surrounds the Negro Leagues. Of course that sort of thing occurs with Major League Baseball, the origins of the sport, and various other aspects  of the game. It seems baseball nurses mythology more than any other sport and revels in those myths. Negro League Baseball is no different. The early players take on heroic proportions. Babe Ruth is a giant among men who can slay all sorts of ogres with one swing of his mighty sword (or bat). It seems Josh Gibson is the same way. Lou Gehrig is the doomed youth who heroically faces his end. So does Dobie Moore. There’s trickster Dizzy Dean and there is trickster Satchel Paige. If you listen to the myths, Homer himself would be proud of some of them.

The reality is even more fascinating, because you end up with a particularly interesting set of men, men much like the white players that were gracing the Majors. Some were scoundrels, some were men of great compassion and of high character. Some you wouldn’t want your family or your friends to be around while others were “the salt of the earth.” All that’s equally true of white players. As a whole they are complicated men who are generally defined by their ability to play ball (something I usually stick to here) but most are much deeper, although there aren’t many profound thinkers in the lot (which is true of people in mass).

It was tough being a Major Leaguer in the era of the Negro Leagues. It was tougher being a Negro Leaguer. The pay was wretched. In the 1924 World Series, the winning Senators received a $5959.64. The Monarchs, winners of the Negro World Series of the same year, received a winner share of $307.96. The transportation was sometimes very basic, including old buses and occasionally individual automobiles. The hotels were of poor quality, assuming they could find a hotel that would take them. By compensation there were individual families in the frequented towns who would take them in. Most of them enjoyed the same off-season drudgeries and joys as their white counterparts. The fields were sometimes in terrible shape, sometimes they were Major League fields rented for an individual game or for a season.

As with the white players the Negro Leaguers could be the toast of the town, although it was the segregated “colored towns” of the era. They provided one of the few community wide black venues for entertainment in many towns and in some cities. It seems, and this is strictly an anecdotal observation, that they were even more important to the black communities than the Major League teams were to the white communities.

The owners were much like the white owners. Players were chattel or they were employees. Some were treated well by their teams, some not so much. The owners frequently came from what the “better element” of the white community would call “the shady side of life.” There were gamblers, pool hall owners, barmen, numbers touts, even a woman (Effa Manley). They also stole players under contract to other teams at an alarming rate. They are as a group, in some ways, more interesting than their white counterparts, most of which were moguls who found baseball much more of a side interest. Some of my favorite articles to research are the ones on team owners and executives because they are such interesting individuals.

One thing that is certainly evident is that they could play ball really, really well. They were certainly the equal of the white players of the era. They were not, despite the growing mythology of the Negro Leagues, better. Short rosters made some of them more versatile than their white counterparts, but not better. The best were on a par with the Gehrigs and Deans and Applings of the day and the worst were no worse than the hangers on who had, at best, a cup of coffee in the big leagues. In an evident attempt to establish their greatness a certain bit of nostalgic mythology has made them better than the white players. In the stark reality of short seasons and second-hand fields and poor equipment they did well. It is a testament to their playing ability that they can be considered on par with the Major Leagues. There is no necessity to compensate for the bad hand they were dealt merely because of the color of their skin by trying to assert they were better than they were.

They weren’t all Americans. I knew that, of course, but I did not know the extent of the Latin players involved or of American black player involvement in the Latin countries. And it’s here that race is at its worst. A Latin player who didn’t look “black” (and God alone knows how many ways different scouts, managers, and owner defined that word) could make the Major Leagues. A Latin player who did look “black” couldn’t. So Dolf Luque could play in a World Series and Martin DeHigo couldn’t. For Americans of mixed race it didn’t matter how “white” a player looked, he was “black” and that was that and that mentality sent players like Roy Campanella to the Baltimore Elite Giants rather than the New York Giants (and ultimately the Dodgers).

It’s interesting that most of the Negro League teams were housed in the North rather than the South, which had more Black Americans. As a former college instructor (Geez, that was a long time ago) I knew that intuitively, but it still jarred a bit. Jim Crow wasn’t restricted to the South, but the rules were looser enough to make it at least a little easier for a black team to function in the North. And of course the cities were larger, which made the crowds larger and the possibility of profit greater.

All that’s some of what I’ve learned over seven years of wandering through the world of Negro League baseball. It’s a strange and fascinating place to wander. I intend to keep it up as long as I can find something new to say.

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The Sad Story of Dobie Moore

February 23, 2016
Dobie Moore with Kansas City

Dobie Moore with Kansas City

Baseball is full of those kinds of stories that soar with victory and with perseverance in the face of adversity. Unfortunately there are also stories of foolishness and of just plain bad luck. Then there are tragic stories. The tale of Dobie Moore falls somewhere in the latter set.

Walter Moore was born in Georgia. That’s about all we know for sure about it. Dates of his birth range from 1893 to 1897 with a consensus building around 1896. The location is also obscure, although Atlanta seems to be the best guess. He was illiterate but a good ball player. In 1916 he joined the 25th Infantry Wreckers in Hawaii, the premier black military service team of the era. They were good, winning the island championship several times. By the end of World War I, the Wreckers were in Arizona and played a series of games against a barnstorming team of big leaguers that was led by Casey Stengel. Impressed with the Wreckers, Stengel got in touch with J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, and touted several of the Wreckers, including Moore, for Wilkinson’s team.

In 1920 Moore, by now called Dobie (and I’ve been utterly unable to find the origin of the nickname), left the US Army and became the primary shortstop for the Monarchs, one of the founding teams of the Negro National League. He was good from the beginning. Between 1920 and 1925 he never hit below .308. All of Moore’s statistics are from BBREF’s BR Bullpen which seems to get its stats from the information compiled in Shades of Glory, the book written to accompany the 2006 Hall of Fame election of Negro Leaguers.

In 1924, the first Negro World Series was held. The Monarchs represented the Negro National League against Hilldale of the Eastern Colored League. Moore hit .300 with 12 hits in 40 at bats (these stats from SABR) and Kansas City won the Series. They repeated as NNL winners in 1925 but lost a rematch with Hilldale. Moore hit .364 with eight hits, including a double and a triple.

In 1926 he began the season with Kansas City, hitting over .400 in 15 games. Then tragedy struck. There are conflicting stories about exactly what happened, but Moore was shot in the leg by a woman. There is no consensus as to her relationship with Moore. Some say she was his girlfriend, others a hooker, some state she was both. Some indicate he was shot in the leg, then tried to jump off a balcony (to escape another shot) and did further damage to his wounded leg. Whatever happened exactly, he suffered multiple fractures (one source says six) in his leg. It healed poorly and his Negro League career was over. He played a little semi-pro ball, but could never get back to the highest level.

He seems to have disappeared at that point. Some sources indicate he died as early as 1943 in Detroit, but I found a reference to him being held up in an armed robbery in 1948. After that there is no firm date for his death (although the latest date I saw speculated was in the 1960s).

So how good was Dobie Moore? To begin to answer that we have to recognize he was done by at most age 33 (and probably closer to age 30) so he has a shortened career. BBREF stats are available for 1920-1926. They show him with career numbers of a .348 average, .520 slugging percentage, 363 runs, 657 hits, 35 home runs, 308 RBIs, 56 stolen bases, and 114 walks in 470 documented games. The chart gives stats averaged for a 162 game season that gives him 125 runs, 226 hits, 41 doubles, 18 triples, 12 home runs, 106 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, and 39 walks a season. The stats are, as usual, incomplete so it is impossible to judge the totality of his career.

Moore was one of the players included in the 2006 Hall of Fame special election list. He failed to receive enough votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. His career, along with other Negro Leaguers, is ultimately tragic because of the prevailing segregation of the era, but for Moore there is the further tragedy of losing his career to a shooting.

 

The Negro Southern League: A Review

February 18, 2016
cover of The Negro Southern League

cover of The Negro Southern League

There are a lot of books on the Negro Leagues. As with any topic, a number of them are good and a number are garbage. Most deal with either teams or players while few look at a league. One of the better to look at an individual league is The Negro Southern League written by William J. Plott, a SABR member.

Published in 2015, Plott’s work traces the history of the Negro Southern League from its beginning in 1920 through its demise in 1951. His format is to look at the league on a yearly basis, occasionally lumping a few years together into one chapter (especially those years when the Black Barons barely operated). The chapters give information on teams, players, and work in some play-by-play information. From the beginning, Plott admits that game information is spotty and statistical information is hit and miss. Beyond the yearly information, the author provides information on champions, playoffs, and no hitters in an appendix and finishes with a set of team rosters of each team. Some of the rosters are quite complete, others sketchy.

All in all this is a book worth having if you’re interested in Negro League baseball, especially at the minor league level (yes, there were Negro Minor Leagues). The book was published by McFarland and Co. and is available from Amazon, is 276 pages long, and retails for $39.95 in paperback.

Willie’s First World Series

February 16, 2016
Willie Mays, Birmingham's finest

Willie Mays, Birmingham’s finest

In 1948 the Negro World Series featured the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League facing the winners of the Negro American League, the Birmingham Black Barons. It would become an important Negro World Series for two reasons. First, it would be the final confrontation between the NNL and the NAL. Second, it would be the first time Willie Mays tasted postseason action.

The Black Barons were led by an infield of Alonzo Perry at first (he also pitched and put up a 10-2 record), manager Piper Davis at second, NAL batting champion Art Wilson at short and John Britton at third. Pepper Bassett did the catching, back stopping a staff that included Perry, Jim Newberry, Bill Powell, and Bill Greason. Ed Steele and Steve Zapp were the other outfielders (besides Mays). Joe Scott played first when Perry pitched.

With Josh Gibson dead, Homestead seemed less fearsome than earlier, but it was still a formidable team. Future Hall of Famer Buck Leonard was still at first, manager Sam Bankhead was a short, and Luis Marquez, Luke Easter, and Bob Thurman could hit. Wilmer Fields (who both pitched and played in the field), joined Thurman (who did the same), Ted Alexander, Bill Pope, and R. T. Walker on the staff. Eudie Napier did much of the catching.

As usual with Negro World Series’ there were some points we’d consider odd today. Game one was in Kansas City, hometown of the Monarchs. Game four was in New Orleans. Game one was played 26 September. It took until 5 October to get to game five. And of course, being the Negro Leagues, rosters were a bit fluid. The series was a best of seven format.

It’s difficult to find play-by-play for each game, I’m going to give more of a summary of each game than I usually do. According to the Cleveland Afro American  (essentially all scoring information is from the Cleveland newspaper),  game one was played in Kansas City because neither team could use their home stadium (both teams shared a stadium with a white team). In the top of the second inning, Birmingham outfielder Steele walked, went to third on a Zapp single, and scored the first run of the Series on Scott’s sacrifice fly. In the bottom of the same inning,  Thurman singled leading off for the Grays, went to third on a Napier double, and a Pope triple scored both runners. Marquez then doubled to score Pope and put Homestead up 3-1. The Black Barons got another run in the eighth on a walk, a single, and a Davis run scoring single. But Alexander got through the ninth without allowing Birmingham to score and Homestead won the game 3-2.

Game two was 29 September in Birmingham. Again, the Black Barons scored first. Davis singled, Steele walked, and Scott brought both men home with a double. Homestead scored five runs in the sixth inning to take the lead. Marquez singled, then, with one out, scored on an Easter double. After walking Leonard, a fielder’s choice got Leonard for the second out, but Marquez scored. Napier then doubled to score two runs and Pope crushed a two run home run to put the Grays up 5-2. Birmingham got one run back in the ninth on a Zapp single, a walk, and a double. But that was all as Homestead took game two by a 5-3 score.

Game three was 30 September, also in Birmingham. The Black Barons won 4-3. With two out in the bottom of the ninth and a 3-3 score and runners on first and second, up came Willie Mays. His single through the box into center drove in the winning run. It would not be the last time Mays would win a ballgame.

Game four was 3 October in New Orleans. It is the most obscure of the entire Series. There seems to be no information on why the game was held in New Orleans (at least that I can find) nor is there anything like a story on the game (again, at least not that I can find). Homestead won the game 14-1 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series.

Game five was October 5 back in Birmingham. The best information available (so far as I can determine) shows the Grays scoring two runs in the first, the Black Barons getting one back in the second, another in the fourth, and taking the lead with two in the fifth. Homestead retook the lead with three in the sixth, only to see Birmingham go back on top with two in the eighth. A single Grays run in the ninth tied the score 6-6 and the game went into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Homestead scored four runs, then shut down Birmingham to claim the game 10-6 and claim the Series 4 games to 1. It sounds like a great game, but I can find nothing to describe any of the scoring in the game (the line score shows runs; hits; errors, of which there were nine total); and the batteries only.

And that was it for the Negro World Series. Before the 1949 season the NNL folded (with the remaining teams either joining the NAL or going independent). Within a couple of years the NAL was on life support and the Negro Leagues were dying. But the last Negro World Series did manage to give Willie Mays his first chance at postseason glory. At least in game three he took it.

1948 Birmingham Black Barons. Mays at left on the front row

1948 Birmingham Black Barons. Mays at left on the front row

 

 

The Doctor Was a Giants Fan

February 12, 2016
Entrance to the Third Surgical Hospital, Viet Nam

Entrance to the Third Surgical Hospital, Viet Nam

Way back when I was in Viet Nam doing my bit for God, Country, Mom, Apple Pie, and the Girl I Left Behind (never mind there was no girl and I was raised by my grandparents) I did something stupid. I wanted to keep my boots dry and ended up getting shot in the arm (and getting the boots wet on top of it). It was more frightening than deadly, but at the time I couldn’t tell the difference. Anyway, they got a Medivac chopper to me and I ended up in the hospital (the entrance to it shown above). There a gallant doctor saved my life (at least I was initially sure that was true). The problem was he was a Giants fan.

When I first got to the hospital, the doctor (a black guy from somewhere in California) was intent on calming me down. It was evident to him (if not to me) that the wound wasn’t life threatening so it was more important to keep me calm than to take care of the wound. It wasn’t like I was in shock or raving or anything, but I must have had that deer in the headlights look or something approaching it. So he asked, among other things, if I was a baseball fan. I told him I was a Dodgers fan. He replied that he liked the Giants. I told him I wanted another doctor. He laughed and apparently knew that I was going to be fine. He fixed up the arm, then stuck me in a walking wounded ward for about a week (five days I think; it’s been a long time, team).

The good doctor would make rounds everyday stopping in the wards to talk with patients and generally shooting the breeze. It helped morale, it helped lighten the mood of being in a hospital, and it made him the toast of the ward I was in. Generally, he wanted to talk baseball. It was the offseason between 1967 and 1968 so he would engage in a lot of “Hot Stove League” speculation. We all chimed in our bit too. He loved Mays and McCovey, liked Marichal a lot, and thought the Giants were crazy for sending Cepeda to the Cardinals. There he had proof; St. Louis won the 1967 World Series and Cepeda was National League MVP.

He made sure that we never talked politics or about the war. Those things created problems in the ward (it’s tough to say anything positive about a war when you’re sitting around nursing a wound) and he needed us to keep up morale. Sure, there were the verbal jousts about which team was best, which was going in the dumpers (my Dodgers being one of those), and just how good Bob Gibson really was, but he’d always bring it back to the Giants and their chances. He was sure they’d catch the Cards and his disdain for the Dodgers was visible (although he was always careful not to offend either me or any other Dodgers fan).

After a few days I went back to my unit rested, refreshed, and well (OK, as well as you could be with a hole in your arm and several months remaining on your tour of duty). A lot of that was courtesy of the doc. I went back to the hospital later, found him, and offered to buy him a drink. He couldn’t. There were rules about officers accepting gifts from enlisted men. He told me to look him up after I got back and I could buy him one then, two if the Giants won the World Series. Turns out I never did. He left shortly for private practice and I went on to become the great baseball blogger I am (is that Hubris?). I sort of always wanted to see him again and buy that drink, but it never worked out. I hope he’s still alive to see the recent success of his beloved Giants. Thanks, Doc.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Piper Davis

February 11, 2016
"Piper" Davis

“Piper” Davis

1. Lorenzo “Piper” Davis was born in July 1917 in Piper, Alabama. Piper was a newly formed coal company town several miles south and west of Birmingham. The mines closed in the 1950s and the town no longer exits. Obviously, it gave Davis his nickname.

2. His first professional baseball experience was in 1936 playing with the Omaha, Nebraska Tigers. He was primarily a second baseman, but did some work at first.

3. After several years in professional baseball (minor league variety), he made the Negro Major Leagues in 1942 with the Birmingham Black Barons. During his days in Birmingham he played shortstop, second base, and first base.

4. In 1943 he hit .386. The sources vary on Negro League stats. In this case I gave the highest average I could find. Other sources have him bat as low as .173 (see what I mean about Negro League stats). Whatever he hit, he helped lead Birmingham to its first Negro American League pennant. They lost the Negro World Series to the Homestead Grays.

5. Birmingham repeated in 1944 and again lost the Negro World Series. Davis had a bad year with the bat, but was still considered a superior second baseman.

6. Between 1946 and 1949 inclusive, Davis made the East-West All Star Game each season. The East-West game was the Negro Leagues version of Major League Baseball’s All Star Game.

7. In 1948 he became player-manager of the Black Barons and led them to the last Negro World Series. Again they played Homestead, and again they lost.

8. Willie Mays joined the Black Barons in 1948, thus making Davis his first professional manager.

9. In 1947 he was optioned to the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) as one of the first black players acquired by the organization. A dispute over whether he needed minor league experience or was ready to play for the Browns immediately led to the Browns not exercising their option.

10. In 1950 he became the first black ballplayer signed by the Boston Red Sox. He was 33.

11. He bounced around the Boston minor league system and never made the Major Leagues. He retired in 1958.

12. Between 1968 and 1985 he did scout work for the Tigers, the Cardinals, and the Expos.

13. Piper Davis died in 1997.

Davis' final resting place

Davis’ final resting place

The Black Barons

February 8, 2016
Birmingham Black Barons logo

Birmingham Black Barons logo

Throughout most of the history of the Negro Leagues, those leagues were strongest outside the American South. Of course, with all the legal restrictions of Jim Crow that made sense. It was simply harder to create a successful team without running afoul of some rule, written or otherwise. There were exceptions. Memphis and Baltimore had successful teams, as did some other towns. But easily the most successful was the team from Birmingham, Alabama-the Black Barons.

The Birmingham Barons were a successful minor league franchise and in 1920, a new black team was formed from players in the local black industrial league using a play on the white team’s name. It rolled off the tongue with great alliteration and it was an instant success. They were part of the Negro Southern League through 1923. It was a black league formed by Rube Foster as something of a minor league that would draw the best black Southern players who could then be filtered into Foster’s Negro National League. The team played in Rickwood Park, a stadium that was rented to both black teams and to white teams (obviously not at the same time). By 1924 they were considered good enough to join the Negro National League itself. They lasted two years then slid back to the Southern League because the team was unable to keep its finances in order (a common theme among early Negro League teams, especially in the South).

They got back to the Negro National League in 1927. They brought with them a right-handed pitcher named LeRoy Paige who bore the nickname “Satchel.” In 1927 the NNL ran their season as two halves with the two winners facing each other in a post season series, the winner of  which went on to the Negro World Series against the winner of the Eastern Colored League. Behind Paige and slugger Roy Parnell the Barons won the second half, but lost the playoff to the American Giants. It was the highpoint of the 1920s for Birmingham. They stacked up losing seasons for the rest of the 1920s.

The NNL folded after the 1930 season and Birmingham moved back to the Southern League where they stayed through 1936. They moved back to the newly formed NNL in 1937, stayed through 1938, then, with both financial and management problems they ended up back in the Southern League. In 1940 they joined the new Negro American League.

It led to their greatest period of success. Under manager Wingfield Welch they won NAL pennants in 1943 and 1944. Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Lester Lockett, and Jake Spearman led the team into the ’43 Negro World Series, which they lost to the Homestead Grays. The addition of Dan Bankhead and “Double Duty” Radcliffe,  helped them to another pennant in 1944. Again they lost to Homestead in the Negro World Series. They had one last great year in 1948 when, with Davis now managing, they took a final NAL pennant. This time they had Joe Bankhead, Lyman Bostock, and a rookie outfielder named Willie Mays (yes, THAT Willie Mays). Again they couldn’t get past Homestead..

By 1948 the Negro Leagues were faltering. It was the last Negro World Series between the NNL and the NAL. The NNL folded, but the Black Barons hung on in the NAL. They’d lost much of their talent to the white minor (or major) leagues but hung on in Birmingham through the 1950s. In 1953 they picked up a pitcher named Charley Pride (later a significant country music singer). Lacking much money, the team gave the Louisville Clippers a team bus for Pride. In 1959, now named the Giants, they won the championship of what remained of the Negro League (five teams). The next year, 1960 was the end for the NAL. The team hung on two more years by barnstorming, but finally folded in 1963.

Usually, when I hear about or read about Negro League teams, the Crawfords, the Grays, the Monarchs, even the Eagles or Elite Giants names are mentioned. The Black Barons are seldom mentioned. That’s unfortunate. The Birmingham Black Barons were a very good team, putting five former players (Satchel Paige, Mule Suttles, Willie Mays, Bill Foster, and Willie Wells) into the Hall of Fame. They won three pennants in the NAL and a second half championship in the first version of the NNL. Their attendance was generally good and the caliber of play was equally good. They deserve a mention now and then.

 

RIP Monte Irvin

February 4, 2016
Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

Monte Irvin with the Newark Eagles

I realize that Monte Irvin died a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to save my few comments on him until Black History Month. Considering his pioneering position it seemed appropriate.

I remember Irvin slightly. I don’t recall his glory years in either the Negro Leagues (that was before my time) or while he starred with New York (the Giants, not the Yankees) but I remember seeing him on TV as his Giants career was closing and I remember the Cubs year. He was never a favorite of mine. I was more interested in Willie Mays and Al Dark, Sal Maglie and Johnny Antonelli on that 1950s Giants team than I was in Irvin. I don’t think I ever had an Irvin baseball card (but I did have all the others I mentioned).

As I got older and he was long retired I began to understand the tragedy of the segregated Negro League stars and guys like Irvin, guys who actually got to play in the white Major Leagues but did so after their greatness was diminished by age or by the catcalls and slights of the earliest integration period. I found out later that many people thought Irvin would be the man to finally break down the “color barrier” and integrate the Major Leagues. He supposedly had all the right qualifications. He was a good player, he was quiet, he didn’t showboat, but he was 26 in 1946 and people were beginning to think he’d missed his chance. Jackie Robinson was about a month older than Irvin, both born in 1919 (Robinson in January, Irvin in February). So it seems it came down to Branch Rickey’s preference for Robinson over Irvin and he never got to be “the one.”

He won a Negro World Series (1946) with the Newark Eagles while playing shortstop with Larry Doby at second and Hilton Smith pitching. All three, along with owner Effa Manley and manager Biz Mackey, made the Hall of Fame. When the Giants picked him up they didn’t need a shortstop (there was Al Dark), but they needed outfield help. Irvin went to the outfield and roamed it with Mays and with Don Mueller (in the 1954 squad). They lost a World Series in 1951, won another in 1954. He hit .293 in the regular season but was a .394 hitter in the Series. For his career he managed 99 home runs, peaking at 24 in 1951, led the National League in RBIs in the same year with 121 and every year of his career he walked more than he struck out (except his final season when he broke even with 41 of each). His OPS+ is 125 and he ended with 21.3 WAR.

He made the Hall of Fame in 1973 as a Negro League inductee. He only had eight years in the Major Leagues so it was the only way he could go in. In retirement he did some scouting for the Mets and became the man for public relations in the Commissioner’s Office in 1968. It made him the highest black officer in Major League Baseball. He retired in 1984 and died at 96.

We are, as fans, better off because Monte Irvin graced a baseball diamond. He gave us a lesson in class and in dignity. Rest in Peace, Monte.

 

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1924

February 2, 2016

It’s time for this month’s addition of My Own Little Hall of Fame. As it’s also the beginning of black history month in the US, we’ll put the two things together while introducing the Class of 1924. I admit it’s a somewhat strange class.

George Davis

George Davis

Between 1890 and 1909, George Davis was a premier player. Moving between shortstop, the outfield, and third base he was considered an excellent defensive player. He led the National League in RBIs in 1897 while playing with the New York Giants. Later he joined the Chicago White Sox and helped lead them to a World’s Championship in 1906, hitting .306 in the World Series and driving in six runs.

Sol White

Sol White

King Solomon “Sol” White was a noted second baseman in 19th Century black baseball. Later he managed several teams in various segregated leagues and won a pennant in 1906 in the integrated International League. In 1907 he published History of Colored Base Ball the first compendium of black baseball in the United States.

Now the usual commentary:

1. What took so long with George Davis? As mentioned before, Davis was incredibly obscure in the period of the 1920s. It’s like he didn’t ever play ball. Even the guides don’t mention him except if it’s appropriate in a statistical list. After his retirement he spent several years coaching the Amherst College baseball team. In 1924 I found a reference indicating he’d been gone from Amherst for five years. I decided that this single reference was enough to bring his name back and I took the opportunity to add him to a Hall of Fame to which he clearly belongs. OK, it’s a stretch, a long stretch, a very long stretch, but I took it because I believe George Davis is a Hall of Famer. Because that’s true, I’ve broken one of my own rules. But, then, it’s my rule.

2. Sol White has the same problem every other Negro League player or executive has who I’ve added to my personal Hall of Fame, he’s black in an era where that wasn’t seen by most of the US as a good thing (to put it mildly). But when I set this Hall up I decided I would add black players despite the prevailing attitudes of the 1901-1934 era and White is certainly someone who should be a member. His book is the only major source for black professional baseball all the way to the 1960s. That alone gives him space. He could, in fact, have gone in earlier, but I wanted to hold him for black history month (February).

3. The 1925 class is going to be somewhat like this one. There are no just “have to” players (either everyday types or pitchers) coming up in 1925. I do have to look at someone who, the totality of his career being considered, is a person that may make it. At the same time that individual’s performance isn’t necessarily Hall-worthy if his playing or managing or contributions are looked at in isolation. There are three or four of those coming up and I’ll have to determine which, if any, are going into a 1925 era Hall of Fame and who isn’t.

4. Here’s the preliminary list of everyday players available in 1925: Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlin, Jack Doyle, Elmer Flick, Hughie Jennings, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Sherry Magee, Tommy McCarthy, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren.

5. The pitchers: Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White.

6. The contributors: Bob Emslie, Hank O’Day, and Tim Hurst (umpires and Hurst was a manager for a while); Hughie Jennings and George Stallings (managers); Cal McVey and Lip Pike (early players); Ben Shibe and Clark Griffith (owners); Henry C. Pulliam (NL President); William R. Wheaton (pre-Civil War pioneer).

7. And 1926 (April) is the year I have to make a final decision on the Black Sox players. Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte are the only three that I have to realistically consider. I don’t think any of the others (Felsch, McMillan, Gandil, Williams, Risberg) have any chance of making it.