Posts Tagged ‘Charles Thomas’

The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues: a Review

February 20, 2014
Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues

Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues

There are a lot of good works on the Negro Leagues. Most tell the stories of a particular player, or of a team, or of a season. James A. Riley has compiled a wonderful book that presents biographies of each Negro League player. It’s well worth having if you’re interested in Negro League players.

Published in 2002, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James A. Riley is a big book, both physically and in length. It’s heart is a series of baseball biographies of black ball players from 1872 until 1950. Players as early as Bud Fowler and as late as Ernie Banks show up. Some of the biographies are very short, as little is known of the player, some are much longer. As some players are so obscure their first name is unknown, a few of the bios list only the last name of a forgotten player and a few simple facts such as who he played his handful of games for. Other than a few of the more well-known players all the biographies are strictly baseball oriented, meaning there is little information about their parents, children, wives, and non-baseball related jobs. There are also a small selection of photographs and embedded in the biographies are occasional statistics.

If the heart of the book is a series of player biographies, the “gravy” is another series of short articles on various Negro League teams covering some of the early barnstorming teams as well as the more well-known and well established teams of the “classic” Negro League era of the 1920s through the 1940s. Finally there are also biographies of various executives, umpires, and contributors who were instrumental in making the Negro Leagues what they were to the players and their fans.

Want to know info on Josh Gibson? It’s there. How about Effa Manley? It’s also there. Steel Arm Davis? He’s there too, as is Charles Thomas, the Ohio Wesleyan player whose embarrassment led Branch Rickey to later integrate the Major Leagues (Thomas played a few games in the negro Leagues before becoming  a dentist).

The book is well-worth the admittedly high $78.30 price at You can probably find it for less in used condition.


Dr. Charles Thomas-Catcher

January 17, 2010

Most of us know the Branch Rickey story about the black catcher who couldn’t get a room in South Bend, Indiana. Rickey credited the event and the player with making Rickey determined to integrate Major League Baseball. So who’s this guy that led us to Jackie Robinson? Meet Dr. Charles Thomas, dentist and sometime catcher.

Charles Thomas was born in Weston, West Virginia in 1881. In 1884 his family moved to Ohio where Thomas grew up. In high school he was a star player and in 1904 began attending Ohio Wesleyian University, where they had a baseball team managed by Branch Rickey. Thomas became the team’s primary catcher, playing an occasional game at first or in center field. He hit 321 for a career. That number is the best research can find on him. I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on its accuracy. No other stats seem to be available.

After leaving college he played for few years starting in 1916 for he Baltimore Black Sox. But, like Field of Dreams character Moonlight Graham, his calling was in medicine, specifically dentistry. He became a qualified dentist and practiced a number of places before settling in Albequerque, New Mexico where he practiced 40 years. He remained in contact with Rickey but seems to have played no part in the signing of Jackie Robinson other than being informed by Rickey. Charles Thomas died in 1971.

I was surprised how little was known about Thomas, considering how famous the South Bend incident has become over the years. He seems to have dropped into the obscurity in which most of us live our lives. It’s nice to take a moment and remember him. We all owe him a lot.