Posts Tagged ‘Effa Manley’

Outside Waiting

May 4, 2017

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown decided to right a wrong. They’d already begun making strides towards that goal in the 1970s, but made a big splash in 2006. What did they do? They created a special Negro Leagues committee to look over all the information available and decide on a long list (about 100) of Negro League players, managers, and executives to be enshrined at Cooperstown. They had people comb through all the info they could find to prepare a set of statistics and other pertinent facts (and not a few legends) to lay before the select committee. They got, in Shade of Glory, a pretty fair book out of it too.

So the committee met, whittled the list down to about 30 and then made one final vote. Sixteen players, managers, executives, and whatnot got in. It was a heck of a list. It is, at least in my opinion, one of the best jobs the Hall of Fame has done over the years. And you know there’s a “but” coming. “But” they also announced, sort of announced (they never actually said it officially), that they were now through with the Negro Leagues. They done what they could. They’d found the best people (including Effa Manley, the only woman in the Hall), gotten the best available stats, gotten the best experts, so they could now say that the Hall had the Negro Leagues taken care of, period.

In the years since 2006, there has not been one player who was primarily a Negro Leaguer who has appeared on any ballot in any of the versions of the Veteran’s Committee. Not a single one. Minnie Minoso showed up, but he could be excused because he had an excellent (and possibly Hall of Fame) career, but he was being looked at as a Major Leaguer. For 10 years that standard has held.

And they are wrong. There are a number of good choices for enshrinement in Cooperstown among Negro Leagues who are currently outside waiting for their chance. Not a one has even been considered by a Veteran’s Committee. Maybe none of them are of the quality necessary for the honor, but they ought to at least be considered. Take a look at the pre-1950 players showing up on the recent ballots and tell me that no outside Negro Leaguer was better (or at least as good) as the people on the list. Frankly, I don’t think you can do it.

This is a plea for the Hall of Fame to begin again to consider Negro League players for inclusion on the early Veteran’s Committee ballot. Don’t say “we have all we need” or “we have all there is.” Look harder, people.

And to give you some sense of who’s left out, here’s a pretty fair team of Negro Leaguers who currently aren’t in the Hall of Fame:

Pitchers: “Cannonball” Dick Redding, Bill Gatewood, Rube Currie, Phil Cockrell, Nip Winters, Bill Holland

Infielders: Lemuel Hawkins, Frank Warfield, Bud Fowler, Newt Allen, Bingo DeMoss, John Beckwith, Dobie Moore

Outfield: Heavy Johnson, Steel Arm Davis, Spottswood Poles, Hurley McNair

Cacher: Bill Pettus, Bruce Petway, Double Duty Radcliffe

Manager: Buck O’Neill, “Candy” Jim Taylor

That’s 20 of a 25 man roster (plus the managers). I left a few holes for you to fill in with your own favorites that I left out (like a Dave Malarcher or a Terris McDuffy).

I’m not saying all of them are Hall of Fame quality. What I’m saying is that all of them deserve a look.

BTW got the above picture from a blog called “The Negro Leagues Up Close.” Definitely a site worth looking at if you’re interested in the Negro Leagues. Type it in on Google.

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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.

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 Amazon.com. You can probably find it for less in used condition.

“Damn, the Boss is a Girl”

August 24, 2011

Helene Robison Britton

As something of a follow-up to the Roger Bresnahan post, let me take you way back in the 19th Century when the Robison brothers, Stanley and Frank, a couple of  street car company magnates (not a “magnate” type job these days) and owners of the Cleveland baseball club, also bought ownership in the St. Louis club. They managed to destroy the Cleveland team, but St. Louis survived. In 1908, Frank died leaving the team to Stanley. Stanley hung on through the 1910 season. The team wasn’t very good, but he liked the game, he made money, and he thought he could make it a winner. In March 1911 he died. As sad as it might be, for our purposes it is important to note he was unmarried and had no children. In his will he left majority owenership of the team to his brother’s only child, his niece Helene Robison Britton. She thus became the first female owner of a Major League Baseball team. One of the players is supposed to have uttered the deathless line “Damn, the boss is a girl.”

Helene Robison was born in Cleveland in 1879, the child of wealth and privilege. With both her father and uncle baseball men she grew up liking the sport and learned to score the game early. When the Cleveland team folded and her father and uncle began running only the St. Louis team, she maintained an interest and accompanied them to St. Louis to watch her team play. One source says she first proposed changing the team uniforms from Brown to Cardinal Red thus giving the team its current nickname. I can find absolutely no confirmation of that and it probably isn’t true, but it makes a good story.

In 1901 she married Schuyler Britton, a n attorney and printer (strange combination, isn’t it?). They had two children (one of each). In 1911, as mentioned above, she and her mother gained ownership of the Cardinals (with Helene Britton getting the bigger share of the stock). She moved to St. Louis and began running the team. As you might guess there was a lot of opposition to a woman running a  baseball team in 1911. Helene Britton seems to have decided to run the team anyway and after a brief honeymoon had problems with manager Roger Bresnahan and some of the players who didn’t like taking orders from a woman. Fellow owners also didn’t want her in their meetings. It was, after all, a man’s world and a man’s sport. She solved that part of the problem by having her husband elected club president in 1913. That allowed him to attend league meetings while she still ran the team on a daily basis.

Frankly the Cardinals weren’t very good in her years as owner. They finished as high as third in 1914 (a Federal League year), but did not consistently win. She did manage to increase attendance by instituting “Lady’s Day” at the ball park. She also was smart enough to agree to the manager’s suggestion she sign an up and coming slugger named Rogers Hornsby in 1915.

She was having trouble at home, however. In 1916 she separated from her husband and began divorce proceedings in 1917. Claiming he was an alcoholic and abusive, she was successful in her petition. That left her, again, the sole driving force in the Cardinals front office. In fairness to her, Schuyler Britton was always more figurehead than president while she ran the team. Years later Effa and Abe Manley would do much the same thing in the Negro Leagues (although they never divorced).

In 1918 she sold the Cardinals for $350,000, a large sum in 1918 and a great profit on her father’s original $40,000 investment. She remarried, moved to Philadelphia, and died in 1950 mostly forgotten by baseball. Feminism hadn’t yet found her. A biographer finally did this year. Haven’t read it yet but it’s called “Baseball’s First Lady” and is written by Joan Thomas.

It’s really tough to assess Britton’s role in baseball. On the one hand she was way ahead of her time. She may have been a “feminist”, but was more in the Margaret Sanger mold than in the modern “feminist” role. She certainly did run the team despite great resistance from both players and other owners. She showed real intelligence by putting her husband in the president’s chair, thus cutting down on some of the opposition to her. On the other hand, the Cardinals didn’t do very well. Much of that can be laid at the feet of her dad and uncle who weren’t very good at running  a baseball team, but some of it has to rub off on her. The team got better briefly, but only marginally. Frankly, I think baseball is better off for having her, but her on the field impact is much less than her historical impact.

The Last Great Negro League World Series

February 18, 2011

Although the signing of black players to Major League teams began the end for the Negro Leagues, they managed to hold a World Series as late as 1948. But by 1948 the Negro Leagues were on life support. They still had good players. Willie Mays played in the last Negro League World Series (his team lost). But as a whole the leagues were dying. At the end of 1948 the Negro National League folded. But prior to losing most of their best players to the white leagues, the Negro Leagues had one last great Series in 1946.

As with the Major League World Series (won in 1946 by the Cardinals), the Negro League World Series was a best of seven. The 1946 version featured the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. The Monarchs were a well established team that had been victories in previous Negro League World Series’ going all the way back to the 1920s. Manager and back-up catcher Frank Duncan’s team featured NAL batting champion Buck O’Neill at first, Hank Thompson at second, Herb Souell at third, and Series hitting star Chico Renfroe at short (Renfroe had backed up Jackie Robinson earlier). The outfield consisted of Willard Brown in center flanked by Ted Strong in right and a whole group of left fielders including pitchers Robert Griffith and Ford  Smith. The catcher was Joe Greene, who caught a staff that included Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Ford Smith, Chet Brewer, and James LaMarque.

1946 KC Monarchs

The Negro National League winning Newark Eagles weren’t nearly as famous. In fact, their owner, Effa Manley, may have been more famous than the team. They’d never won before, but put up a 47-16 record to take the pennant. Manager Biz Mackey’s (like Duncan the back-up catcher)  infield consisted of  Lennie Pearson at first, Larry Doby at second, Clarence Israel at third, and  Monte Irvin at short.  Cherokee Davis and Bob Harvey patrolled the outfield with pitcher Leon Day taking the other position on days he didn’t pitch. Regular catcher Leon Ruffin backstopped a staff that included Day, Max Manning, Lennie Hooker, and Rufus Lewis.

1946 Newark Eagles

The first two games were in Newark, with the teams splitting the games. Kansas City won the first game 2-1 with a fine relief performance by Paige, who also scored the winning run. Newark evened the Series the next day winning 7-4. The key to the game was a six run rally in the 7th inning. Paige relieved again, and this time the Eagles got to him with Doby providing a key home run.

The Series moved to Kansas City for games 3-5. The first two games in KC were blowouts. In game 3, the Monarchs racked up 15 runs and 21 hits in crushing Newark who put up five runs on seven hits. The Eagles got revenge in game 4, winning 8-1. Doby doubled and tripled for the key runs. Paige again relieved and was again ineffective. Game 5 saw Newark collect ten hits, but score only one run, while the Monarchs made five runs on nine hits. In a key development, right fielder Ted Strong left the Monarchs to play ball in the Puerto Rico winter league making it necessary for pitcher Ford Smith to take his post in right.

With Newark down 3-2, the Series went back to the East Coast. Game 6 developed into an offensive slugfest. Irvin and Lennie Pearson both slugged two homers, Buck O’Neill and Willard Brown each  had one. The Eagles evened the Series with a 9-7 win. That set up game seven, only the second time the Negro League World Series had gone the full seven games (1943). The key development occurred prior to the game when Paige didn’t show up for the game. No one seems to know exactly why. Stories about bribes, drinking, loose women, and all sorts of other things pop up, but there seems to be no definitive answer to Paige being MIA. The way he’d pitched in the Series, it might have made no difference. Newark scored first, but KC tied it in the sixth and went ahead 2-1 in the seventh. In the bottom of the eighth, both Doby and Irvin walked. Cherokee Davis followed with a two run double to put the Eagles ahead 3-2. KC failed to score in the ninth and Newark won its only Negro League World Series.

The Series had a usual assortment of heroes and goats. For the Eagles Irvin, Pearson, and Davis had great games with Irvin hitting .462 with eight RBI’s and three home runs. For the staff Lewis was 2-1 and Manning 1-1. Hooker was also 1-1, but with an ERA of 6.00. Ace Leon Day ended up 0-0, also with a 6.00 ERA. For the Monarchs, Renfroe hit .414, O’Neill had two homers, and Brown had three, despite hitting only .241. The loss of Strong was a blow, but as he was hitting only .111 when he left the team, it may have effected the pitching more than the hitting. Hilton Smith was 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and hit well when he played the outfield. But the rest of the staff didn’t do as well. Paige was also 1-1, but with a 5.40 ERA, a blown save, and of course missed game 7 entirely.   LaMarque won his only decision, but had an ERA over 7.

There would be two more Negro League World Series matchups before the NNL folded. Both were played with depleted rosters and neither lived up to the 1946 version. It was to be the final Negro League World Series with the top quality players available and in many ways was the true end of an era.

Jackie Robinson and the Death of the Negro Leagues

February 12, 2010

There’s an old phrase I remember from years ago in my science classes (my son is fairly sure there was only alchemy that far back), “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Seems that’s true in baseball too. For years the black community wanted the integration of Major League Baseball. The columns of Wendell Smith of Pittsburgh are a wonderful read when looking at this attitude. In 1947 they got what they wanted. They also got something they didn’t, the death of the Negro Leagues.

When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers he opened up a new pool of talent for Major League teams. Slowly, it’s true, but steadily the big league teams began signing black players and by 1959 every team had at least one on its Major League roster. For most Americans, then and now, this was progress. For the Negro Leagues it was slow and steady death. For every black player that went to the Major Leagues, there was one less white player with a job; but for every black player that went to the Major Leagues, there were also less fans in the stands at Negro League parks and that was deadly. Some estimates indicate a tripling of black faces in Ebbets Field in the first three years Robinson played in Brooklyn. If that’s true, then those fans, whose wages hadn’t changed, were not going to Negro League games and spending money at Negro League parks. In the post on Effa Manley I noted the Newark Eagles attendance dropped 52%. That’s fairly common. And if Negro League teams collapsed that put more and more black people out of work; not just players, but owners, executives, peanut sellers, etc.

Part of the loss of fan base is because of the falling off in quality of play. As more and more stars of the Negro Leagues ended up in the Majors or in the vast reaches of the Minor Leagues, the level of play in the Negro Leagues suffered. Taking a look at the 3 Negro League World Series’ beginning in 1946, the year Robinson played in Montreal preparatory to heading to Brooklyn, you can see this beginning.

In 1946 the Newark Eagles and Kansas City Monarchs squared off in the Series. By 1948 Monte Irvin and Larry Doby of the Eagles were gone to the Majors (Doby) or to the minors (Irvin). The Monarchs lost Hank Thompson, Willard Brown, and Satchel Paige (and manager Buck O’Neill became the first black coach in the Majors)  to previously all-white teams.

The aftermath of the 1947 Series saw the New York Cubans lose Minnie Minoso, Lino Donoso, Pat Scantleberry, and Jose Santiago to the white leagues and the Cleveland Buckeyes lose the services of Sam Jethroe, Quincy Trouppe, and Toothpick Sam Jones.

By the last World Series in 1948 the damage was already heavy and the two teams, the Homestead Grays and the Birmingham Black Barons, lost only three players: Luke Easter, Bob Trice, and Willie Mays (Yes, that Willie Mays). There was no Series in 1949. (A disclaimer here: I may have missed a player or two, but I think I have the majority of players off to the Majors or Minors from the six teams involved.)

Those players were being replaced by lower quality players and the leagues suffered. By 1949 the Negro National League collapsed. The Negro American League lasted into the 1950s, but was in many ways a repository of minor league talent with just a few significant players left. Independent teams were also failing. Major players like Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks were deserting the black teams for integrated Major League teams with greater prestige and more money.

A number of owners like Newark’s Effa Manley tried to stem the tide by requiring that the Major Leagues either honor Negro League contracts or pay the Negro League teams for the services of players already under contract. Most big league teams ignored her and her peers and simply signed who they wanted. In fairness to the Major League teams, the Negro League teams had not been real good at honoring each others contracts.

So within 3 years of Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Negro Leagues were on life support. Within 10 years they were moribund. A handful of black teams, many trying to make their way as baseball versions of the Harlem Globetrotters, managed to hang on into the 1960s, but the era of black baseball was over.  For every team integrated, the US moved toward a more incusive society, but for every team integrated a black team died and bunches of men were out of a job. It was a tradeoff and unintended.

In honor of Black History Month, I’ve devoted a week to black baseball. This post marks the end of my foray into the subject, at least for a while. Hope you’ve enjoyed them and learned something. I did.

Queen of the Hall of Fame

February 11, 2010

Effa Manley

In baseball history, there has never been anything quite like Effa Manley. She ran a team, ran it well, and became a star in her own right.  Other women owned baseball teams, but Effa Manley actually ran hers. She was controversial, brash, beautiful, and understood baseball.

She was born in Philadelphia in 1897 (or 1900, depending on who you believe). There are three stories about her background. One insists she was white, the second that she was black, and the third contends she was of mixed race. In a 1973 interview, she indicated that she was white, but the other stories persist.  Whichever was true, Manley identified with black America.

There are as many tales of what happened to her between 1897 and 1935 as there are stories of her racial makeup. Some of them may even be true. What is certain is that she worked in the millinery business in New York becoming a baseball fan in general, and a Yankees fan specifically. In 1935 she married Abe Manley, a black entrepeneur (again, there are conflicting stories about where he got his money). They formed the Brooklyn Eagles that same year. According to Manley the name came from wanting the team to fly high, but it should be pointed out that the major black newspaper in the area was the Brooklyn Eagle.

In 1936 the team moved to New Jersey as the Newark Eagles. From the beginning, Effa Manley ran the team, although Abe was co-owner and at least somewhat responsible for hirings and firings. She made player and contract decisions, was responsible for scheduling and promotions. She worked to improve the quality of play in the Negro National League and insisted that contracts be honored by all teams. On the field she understood the game and could make player and management decisions by simply watching the game. There are stories that she even called plays by crossing and uncrossing her legs to indicate a bunt.

Socially, she was active in the community, serving as treasurer of the local NAACP chapter, organizing a boycott of Harlem stores that refused to hire black clerks (as usual, she won), and holding an anti-lynching day at the ballpark. On a personal level, she became somewhat notorious, being linked publically with a number of her players, especially pitcher Terris McDuffie. One story goes that if she wanted her husband to get rid of a player, she’d start a rumor she was having a fling with the player and within a week he’d be gone. Don’t know if it’s true, but it’s too good a story to not pass along.

In 1946, the Eagles won the Negro League World Series, besting the Kansas City Monarchs. It was a team consisting of Hall of Famers Leon Day, Monte Irvin, and Larry Doby. All were players Manley pushed to aquire. It was the high point in her team’s history.

By 1947, the Negro Leagues were beginning to lose players to the white Major Leagues. Manley’s Eagles suffered the loss of both Irvin and Doby. Within a couple of years, newly found pitcher Don Newcombe was gone also. Eagles attendance suffered badly, dropping from 120,000 in 1946 to 57,000 in 1948, a drop of 52.5%. The team couldn’t sustain that kind of loss.

Manley seems to have realized that integration of white leagues was killing black baseball. She demanded that Major League teams honor Negro League contracts, that raiding stop, and that Negro League teams be compensated for the loss of players to the Majors. She was, by and large, ignored (Bill Veeck of Cleveland being an exception). By 1947 the losses were terminal and the Manley’s sold the Eagles. The team folded after the 1948 season.

In retirement, Manley remained active in the community and continued to promote baseball and agitate for recognition of black baseball. She died in April 1981 (Abe died in 1952). In 2006, a special committee designed to study the Negro Leagues elected her to baseball’s Hall of Fame, the sole woman enshrined. Her plaque in Cooperstown reads in part “tireless crusader in the civil rights movement who earned the respect of her players and fellow owners.” I have a feeling she would have liked that.

Negro Leagues World Series, Round II

February 10, 2010

After a 13 year hiatus, the Negro Leagues restarted a postseason series. The old Eastern Colored League was gone, replaced by the Negro American League. The Negro National League had been revived and by 1942 the two leagues agreed to work together, at least enough to play a World Series. Unlike the 1920’s series’ the new set would be four games out of seven for victory. The series’s ran from 1942 through 1948. The premier American League teams were the Kansas City Monarchs, the Birmingham Black Barons, and the Cleveland Buckeyes. In the National League, the New York Cubans and Newark Eagles each had good seasons, but the league was dominated by the Homestead Grays, who played in 5 of the 7 World Series’. Ironically both the Cubans and Eagles won their series’ while the Grays went 3-2. Below is a short summary of each series:

1942: Kansas City Monarchs defeat the Homestead Grays 4 games to none. Timely hitting by players like Buck O’Neill and Newt Allen, coupled with Hall of Fame pitching by Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith shut down the Grays power in a sweep. Grays players Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Sam Bankhead, Jud Wilson couldn’t get timely hits, while pitcher Ray Brown was vulnerable.

1943; The Grays win a seven game series against the Birmingham Black Barons 4 games to 3. The power hitting Grays, supplemented by an aging but still fast Cool Papa Bell squeak out a victory against a Barons team that featured Double Duty Radcliffe still playing after starring in the 1920s World Series.

1944: The Grays pound the Barons again, this time winning in five games.

1945: The Cleveland Buckeyes win their first pennant and stun the Grays in a four game sweep. Buckeyes stars Quincy Trouppe,  future National League Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe, and Arch Ware proved you could beat the Grays without great power.

1946: The Newark Eagles dethrone the Grays to win the Negro National League title. With future Hall of Famers Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Biz Mackey (yes, he was still around), and Leon Day, the Eagles take on the Kansas City Monarchs of Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Buck O’Neill, Chet Brewer, and Hank Thompson. The Eagles and Monarchs battle for the full seven games before Leon Day wins game seven making the Eagles champs. It was a unique series for two reasons. It was the only Word Series won by a team with a female owner, Effa Manley, and the last series before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

1947: The New York Cubans make the series for the only time in their history. Their Latin based roster includes Luis Tiant (father of the later American League pitcher), Minnie Minoso, Jose Fernandez, and pitcher Dave Barnhill. They face off against the Buckeyes who had won it all two years previously. Trouppe, Ware, and Jethroe were still around and were joined by pitcher Toothpick Sam Jones. The Cubans won 4 games to 1. The season had been rocked by the arrival of Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn and the departure of the first black players to the white leagues.

1948: The Grays returned to the series for the first time since 1945. Gibson was gone, but Leonard and Bankhaead were still around. They were joined by power hitting outfielder Luke Easter. They took on the Black Barons, also returning to the series, for the first time since 1944. Most of their old gang was gone, but they had a new outfielder named Willie Mays who looked promising. Despite Mays, the Barons lost 4 games to 1, thus giving the Grays the last Negro League World Series title.

After 1948 the Negro Leagues floundered. The National League folded, the American League hung on as nothing much more than a minor league. Many teams took to being independent and went back to barnstorming. The era of the great Negro League teams was over. So was their World Series.

Some Random Thoughts on the Negro Leagues

February 6, 2010

February is Black History Month around the US. It seems appropriate to look at the Negro Leagues during February, so I’m going to do a couple of posts. Let me start them with a disclaimer. I’m no expert on the Negro Leagues. I find them interesting and the info fascinating, but I’d never pretend to be an expert on the matter. That being said, a few comments follow:

1. There were several of them. Most famous were the Negro American League, the Negro National League (1920s version), the Negro National League (1930s-40s version), and the Eastern Colored League. There were a host of  others, but these four dominate most of the conversations about segregated baseball.

2. The leagues were led by the same sorts of people who led the white Major Leagues, entrepeneurs and opportunists. I’ve heard some less than favorable comments about a number of the owners because they made their money in less than “savory” occupations. A couple ran pool rooms (“You got trouble right here in River City”), some were loan sharks, others ran numbers. Of course if you were a black American in the era you had to live in specific places and keep to specific jobs, very few of which were of the “best” quality. I’m reminded of the Christian attitude towards Jews in the Middle Ages. Put them in cramped ghettos, make them hold specific jobs, and then be astounded when they ended up dirty and usurers. So I find it stunning when people are shocked (“Shocked to find there’s gambling going on”) to find so-called disreputable types running teams. I’m also remined that the owners of the white teams frequently weren’t among “the salt of the earth.”

3. Not all the owners were black and male. Two of the most successful franchises were the Kansas City Monarchs and the Newark Eagles. The Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson was white and the Eagles owner, Effa Manley, was female (she ran the team, but co-owned with her husband). Both ran very successful franchises, each winning a Negro League World Series and both eventually were elected to the Hall of Fame.

4. The quality of play seems to have been about on par with the Major Leagues. There are few reliable stats about the Negro Leagues, but anecdotal evidence and the few stats that do survive indicate that the top players and top teams were very much the equal of the Major League teams. Certain of the weaker teams may have been only minor league quality, but then the same can be said of a number of Major League teams in a given year.

5.  Judging by the impact black players, many of them coming over from the Negro Leagues, made in the majors, especially in the National League in the 1950s, it is evident that the top line players were equal with the best of the Major League players. Between 1949, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player to win the National League MVP and 1963 when Sandy Koufax won his (a 15 year period) black players won 11 National League MVP awards (Robinson, Roy Campanella-3 times, Willie Mays, Don Newcombe, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks-twice, Frank Robinson, and Maury Wills) to only four for white players (Jim Konstanty, Hank Sauer, Dick Groat, and Koufax). They also win five of the next six. I can’t prove it, but my guess is that black players would have also done well in the 1930s and 1940s.

6. Finally, there is no way to compare the Negro Leaguers with their Major League counterparts. They play in totally different leagues and even if the stats were available they exist isolated from each other. Does hitting .350 in the National League in 1935 mean the same thing as hitting .350 in the Negro National League? I don’t know, and neither does anybody else. I would guess that Josh Gibson, Louis Santop Satchel Paige, and Hilton Smith were the equal of any of their contemporaries in the Major Leagues, but I can’t prove it. Great shame.

It’s important to celebrate the Negro Leagues, not to deify them. Josh Gibson doesn’t need an apotheosis, he was good enough as is. But let us remember to celebrate them. Hopefully we won’t see their like again.

End of a Decade

December 31, 2009

Today marks the end of the decade whose first three numbers are 200. A lot of people are doing their all-decade this and that. Who am I to go against the tide? So here’s my choice for baseball’s all-decade whatever.

Story of the decade: Has to be the steroid issue. It has tainted the statistics, the record book, awards, and the Hall of Fame voting. Frankly I don’t trust much of anything that happened in the first few years of the decade.

Franchise of the decade: I was tempted to go with the Yankees, who won 2 World Series’ and lost another, but finally decided to go with the Red Sox. They won 2 World Series’, completed an improbable comeback in 2004, and in general took a franchise that hadn’t won in 80 years and picked up multiple rings.

Player of the decade: Albert Pujols easy. No steroid taint (at least not yet, PLEASE GOD), great numbers, a ring, and one of the greatest home runs I ever saw (sorry, Brad Lidge). An honorable mention here to Joe Mauer who may end up the greatest hitting catcher ever. We’ll have to watch that closely.

Pitcher of the decade: Mariano Rivera. What he did in the late 90’s he’s continued to do for this decade. His team didn’t win as often, but as a rule that wasn’t his fault. An honorable mention here also is in order. This time to Curt Schilling. Better pitchers in the decade, but his influence on the winning Red Sox should be noted (and he had a heck of a 2001 World Series).

World Series of the decade: Speaking of the 2001 World Series, it gets my vote as the best of the decade. Several great games including the three in New York and a memorable game 7. One of the few times Rivera failed.

Playoff series of the decade: 2004 American League championship. Down 3 games to none, the Red Sox roar back to win the series 4 games to three. That had never happened before. What a great series and what a great showcase for David Ortiz.

Cinderella of the decade: 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Came out of absolutely no where to get to the World Series. Would have been a better story if they’d won, but still a nice tale for the grandchildren years from now.

Bonehead of the decade: The tied All Star game. YUCK!!! Then they compound it by making an exhibition game determine home field for the World Series. Incredible.

Footnote player of the decade: Wasn’t sure what to call this, but it’s basically a hymn to those players you love to watch, but know aren’t really going to be anything but a footnote in baseball history. For me it’s David Eckstein. Love the guy’s intensity, his grit, his resolve. His winning the MVP for the 2006 World Series was an all-decade highlight for me.

Hall of Fame vote of the decade: Putting in a whole boatload of Negro League players at once. Great of baseball to finally recognize the depth of quality play in the Negro Leagues beyond just the most famous names and to finally recognize the executives that made the Negro Leagues work. It also gave the Hall of Fame its first female member in Effa Manley.

Manager of the decade: Terry Francona who wins 2 World Series’.