Posts Tagged ‘John Donaldson’

The Stars

February 6, 2018

Stars logo

It’s February and that makes it Black History Month in the US so it’s time for my monthly look at the Negro Leagues. This time I want to begin by looking at one of the better, but more obscure teams, the Detroit Stars.

With the major migration of American black citizens to the North just before and during World War I, the American Midwest black population boomed, mostly in the major towns of the area. Detroit was one of them. There had been baseball, and black baseball in the area for years, but the city was never a noted hotbed of “colored” baseball. Chicago and Indianapolis were leaders  with the American Giants and Leland Giants (both of Chicago) and the ABCs in Indianapolis.

By 1919, Rube Foster was beginning to form the Negro National League. He had the teams in Chicago and Indianapolis willing to join. Kansas City was available. But there was no team in Detroit that was capable of playing at NNL level. Noted Detroit numbers man John Tenny Blount (known almost universally as “Tenny”) had the money, the clout in the black community, and the willingness to join Foster in creating a team that could compete in a major black league. Blount founded the Stars in 1919 and Foster was more than happy to help him.

With the American Giants stocked with talent, Foster agreed to “loan” Blount a number of good players including future Hall of Famers Pete Hill and Jose Mendez to form a talented team. The addition of players like Frank Wickware and Edgar Wesley made the Stars a formidable team.

Twice the team came in second, and once dropped below .500, but were never quite good enough to win. During the 1920s they added Hall of Famers Turkey Stearnes, Andy Cooper, and John Donaldson to their roster (Stearnes essentially replaced Hill, although it wasn’t exactly a one-for-one replacement).  Much of their problem was the inability to put all these greats on the field at the same time.

By 1931 the NNL was in trouble. Foster was gone, finances were drying up, the Great Depression, was killing attendance. The league folded after that season. Several of the teams hung on by barnstorming, but the Stars, despite being good, had never grabbed the attention of the town in such a way as to overcome all the problems. When the NNL failed, so did the Stars.

There were attempts to revive the Stars. In 1933 a new Negro National League was formed. The ABCs from Indianapolis moved to Detroit, adopted the old name, and failed after one season. They tried again when the Negro American League was formed in 1937, but the results were the same as 1933, one year and disbandment.

The Stars today, if they are remembered at all, are known for the great players that moved through their roster during their short existence. Never a top-tier team, they were competitive but that was all. It would take integrating the Tigers in the 1950s to reintroduce black baseball to the Motor City at the highest level.

Who Got Left Out?

February 28, 2014
"Cannonball" Dick Redding

“Cannonball” Dick Redding

Back in 2006 the Hall of Fame created a special “Veteran’s Committee” to look at Negro League baseball and determine if there were players, owners, managers, executives, and/or others that had been ignored by Cooperstown. A great deal of research went into the files handed to the committee. For the layman, the most important bits of the research was published as Shades of Glory. A panel of baseball historians eventually came up with a list of 94 African-Americans involved with baseball prior to 1946 for the committee (now called the Committee on African-American Baseball) to look over and pass judgment on. Of that list, 39 made the initial cut. The committee then selected 17 for enshrinement in Cooperstown. After all the hoopla of induction and fuss and feathers about who got in and who didn’t, a great stillness settled over the Hall. It was as if they were saying, “OK, team, we’ve done our bit. We put in a bunch of people, so now that’s all. There won’t be anymore.” Of course they never really said that, but any push to add further Negro League players or executives has come more from fans than the powers that be.

So it’s a fair question to ask what about the 77 nominees who didn’t make the cut in 2006? Are they now relegated to the dustbin of history or do they have a chance to make the Hall at a later time? Another question that needs to be asked is this, have we truly reached the end of those Negro League players who should be commemorated in Cooperstown?

If you look over the list of 77 non-inductees (and it’s available on Wikipedia under “Baseball Hall of Fame Balloting, 2006”) there are some really fine players being pushed to the sidelines. Where, for instance, are Bud Fowler and George Stovey, arguably two of the three finest black players of the 19th Century (Frank Grant, who made it, being the other)? Spottswood Poles was an excellent fielding, and not bad hitting outfielder in the early part of the 20th Century. Between 1911 and 1919 “Cannonball” Dick Redding was 40-20 in documented games, a .667 winning percentage. Bill Gatewood was almost as good. In the formal Negro Leagues of the 1920s through 1940s Newt Allen played middle infield, managed, and eventually moved to third base for the Kansas City Monarchs in a career that saw him play in the 1924 Negro World Series and the 1942 Negro World Series. John Donaldson was a crack pitcher for years, then became the first fulltime black scout in MLB when the White Sox signed him in 1949. And then there is Buck O’Neil, manager, first baseman, scout, coach, batting champion, and spokesman for the Negro Leagues.

It seems appropriate to end Black History Month (and my yearly journey through black baseball) by asking what do we make of these men being left out of the Hall of Fame? Perhaps nothing. Their stats are blurred, they are in many cases more legend than fact. But they were real players and they played at the highest level they were allowed. Maybe none of them are Hall of Fame quality players. In O’Neil’s case he is more than worthy as a contributor and ambassador, but maybe some of them are of sufficient quality as players. What I don’t want to see is the Hall of Fame now grow complacent and say “Well, we’ve got enough of these guys. Close the door.” I hope that the Veteran’s Committee that reviews the “Segregation Era” (pre-1947) will continue to look at Negro League players and eventually induct a few more.

The White Guy

February 7, 2012

It’s with a certain sadness that I write this. Adding another post will consign Mrs. Posada to the second page of this blog and that’s a shame. Well, I’ll manfully carry on anyway. With the return of February, it’s time for my month-long sojourn into black baseball. In honor of Black History Month, I want to look at some of the ins and outs of the Negro Leagues and other aspects of black baseball prior to about 1960. Having said all that, I’m going to start off with a white guy.

James Leslie Wilkinson (J. L. to most people) was born in 1878 in Iowa. He was something of a budding pitcher, hurt his arm, and decided to remain with the game by being a manager and owner. He started with a women’s team in 1909. There were allegations that some of the players were guys in drag (the “five o’clock shadow” was a dead give away), but the team did well. In 1912, he moved on to form the All Nation’s Team. It was one of the first barnstorming multi-racial teams. At various times there were white Europeans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Africans on the team. They were good, usually winning their games with big scores. The stars were Jose Mendez, and John Donaldson. In 1915 Wilkinson moved the team to Kansas City, but still barnstormed around the country. Over time, the “All Nations” aspect was disappearing as the team became increasingly black in composition.

By this point Wilkinson had met Rube Foster. The two men got along and when Foster formed the Negro National League in 1920, he wanted Wilkinson to take over one of the teams, the only white owner in the new league. Wilkinson took the best players from his All-Nations team, added a group of players from other teams, including Joe Rogan from the 25th Infantry Wreckers, an all-black Army team in Hawaii (there’s a post waiting to be written, but the info is sketchy, so maybe next year). Rogan was recommended to Wilkinson by Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. With the new team in place, Wilkinson named them the Kansas City Monarchs.

1922 NNL leadership

 
Above is a picture of the movers and shakers of the Negro National League in 1922. Wilkinson is seated on the left of the front row. Foster is third from the left on the same row. It’s a rare  and wonderful look at the men who made the Negro National League, the first of the famous Negro Leagues (there were other all-black leagues prior to 1920).
 
The Monarchs were good from the beginning. They won their first pennant in 1923,  repeating in 1924. With the creation of the Eastern Colored League, there were now two major Negro Leagues. In 1924 they got together for the first Negro League World Series. The Monarchs defeated the Hilldale Daisies (of Philadelphia) over a nine game series. The Monarchs repeated in 1925, but lost the rematch with the Hilldale five games to one. The Monarchs never again won the NNL pennant, but were contenders most years. As an owner, Wilkinson pioneered the use of black umpires (the NNL used white umpires at the beginning) in the league and pushed for a unified umpiring system that would increase the professionalism of the umps.
 
With the failure of the NNL in 1931 and the loss of Foster to mental problems, Wilkinson led the Monarchs back to the barnstorming days. That lasted until 1937 when new Negro Leagues began to form. The Monarchs joined the new Negro American League, winning the first pennant. They lost in 1938, then came back to win consecutive pennants in 1939-1942. In 1942, the Negro League World Series was renewed between the NAL and a new version of the Negro National League. The Monarchs won the first Series in four straight games. They fell back in 1943 through 1945, winning again in 1946. This time they dropped the Series to the Newark Eagles in seven games. While the Monarchs weren’t winning, they managed to find a pretty good shortstop in 1945 named Jackie Robinson. It was his only year with the team or in the Negro Leagues.
 
Robinson’s signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers hurt the Negro Leagues badly, eventually leading to their collapse. Wilkinson saw the end coming and in 1948 sold the Monarchs. Already ailing and almost blind, Wilkinson retired. He lingered to 1964, dying in a Kansas City nursing home. When the Hall of Fame made their big push to add Negro League players and executives in 2006, Wilkinson was one of the people elected to the Hall. It was, in my opinion, overdue.