Posts Tagged ‘Jacob Francis’

The Black Ump

February 10, 2014
USPS Negro League stamp featuring a black umpire

USPS Negro League stamp featuring a black umpire

There’s an interesting article online concerning Jacob Francis, who appears to be the first black man to umpire a game between two white teams. The article is by Sean Kirst appeared in 2011 in the Syracuse newspaper (It can be found via Google. I found it by typing in Jacob Francis umpire). It’s an excellent article and well worth your time to read. Here’s some of the information paraphrased for you.

In June 1885, the Syracuse minor league team played an exhibition game against the Providence Grays. The Grays were the current world’s champions, having completed a three game sweep of the New York Metropolitans in the first of the 19th Century’s versions of the World Series. Their ace was Hall of Fame pitcher Charles Radborne. Francis was a known umpire in the town and both teams agreed to his calling the game. Providence won 4-1 and there were no complaints about Francis’ umpiring. He seems to have umpired a number of other games, but by 1890 his services were no longer used. It’s possible racism cost him his umpiring position, after all the Anson/Walker confrontation was 1883. It’s also possible he was dead by 1890 or had moved from Syracuse.

A few remarks are called for at this point. 1870 and 1880 census data available at show Francis was a “mulatto” (we’d call him mixed race) but don’t state which parent was white and which black. He was born about 1851 in Virginia, although the 1880 census specifies West Virginia. West Virginia was split off from Virginia in 1863 to form the current state, so it’s possible he was born in Virginia but that the specific county later became part of West Virginia. Being born in 1851 of a mixed race couple it is probable he was  born a slave, but not absolutely certain. As manumitted freemen were, by law, required to leave Virginia, it’s most likely he was born a slave, but it’s also possible (but not very likely) that he was born free of a mixed race couple who was living in West Virginia. There were few slaveholders in West Virginia, but it wasn’t unheard of at all. His census data does not appear in 1860, at least that I can find. His wife Sarah was born in New York (location not specified) and was a year older than her husband.

I have no idea when or how he became interested in baseball, just as I have no idea how or when he ended up in Syracuse. He is, frankly, a very difficult person to find out much about. The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. He does not appear, again as far as I can determine, in the 1900 census.

I trust you will read the article I referenced above. If you happen to know anything more about Francis, I’d love to know. Please comment on this post if you do.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About George Stovey

May 18, 2012

George Stovey about 1890 (best picture I could find)

1. He was born George Washington Stovey in 1866 in New York (or maybe Philadelphia) to an unknown father and a woman of “mixed race” which in 1860s American made both he and his mother black. There is some question whether his name was Stovey or Stover.

2. He grew up playing in integrated semi-pro leagues around Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he became a premier left-handed pitcher.

3.In 1886 he joined the Cuban Giants, one of the first significant black barnstorming teams.

4. In June of the same year he joined Jersey City of the Eastern League, a professional minor league. He became the league’s first black player.

5. The next year he pitched for Newark with Moses Fleetwood Walker as his battery mate. Fleet Walker was the first black player to join a Major League team (in 1884).

6. During the 1887 season the Eastern League, the International League, and other minor leagues voted to ban the signing of further black players to their leagues. Stovey, Walker, and a handful of other black players were allowed to finish the season with their teams.

7. For the next several seasons he played off and on with the Cuban Giants in the Mid-States League (which was still integrated). He jumped from team to team almost yearly, a common activity for a ballplayer, especially a black ballplayer, in the era.

8. He finished his career in 1897 with the X-Giants and retired to umpire.

9. He became, during the 1897 season, the second black man to umpire a game between two white teams (Jacob Francis was first). He umped off and on into his 50s.

10. Retired, he did a lot of things including help create youth league teams, run moonshine during Prohibition (which got him in trouble with the police), and work in the local sawmill.

11. He died of a heart attack in 1936.

12. By general agreement he is considered the finest black pitcher of the 19th Century, but statistics on his career are almost impossible to find. His stats for 1886, the only year for which they are at all complete (according to Baseball Reference), give him a record of 22-20 with an ERA of 1.44, 69 walks, 246 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.004. Various sources give him 60 to 100 total wins, but apparently only the 1886 season is verifiable.