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Monday, November 20, 2017

A Late Birthday Shout for Cristobal Torriente

One of the many topics of discussion by sportscasters during the recently completed 2017 World Series involved Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig.  The club is still hoping he will continue to mature and more consistently display his tremendous baseball playing talent.  Puig, a native of Cuba, is one of the most recent in a pipeline of outfielders from that Caribbean nation to successfully play professional baseball in the United States.  Yoenis Cespedes, currently with the New York Mets is also from Cuba.  Former players from the pipeline include Oakland A’s All-Star Jose Canceso, two-time American League batting champion (1964, 1965) Tony Oliva, the defensive star of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 World Series Game Seven win over the New York Yankees; Sandy Amoros, and two-time Negro League, seven-time Major League All-Star Orestes “Minnie” Minoso.

I forgot to give a birthday mention last week  for one of the first in the stream of outfielders through the pipeline; Cristobal Torriente, born November 16, 1893 in Cienfuegos, Cuba (same as Puig).  He played with a number of teams in Negro League baseball from 1913 to 1928; including the Chicago American Giants (1918 – 1925), Kansas City Monarchs (1926), and Detroit Stars (1927 – 1928).  In an early 1950’s poll of former Negro League baseball players and sports writers, Cristobal Torriente received high consideration as one of the best outfielders in Negro League history. 

Cristobal Torriente



In 2006, Cristobal Torriente and fifteen other individuals from the Negro League baseball era were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  I profile the 2006 inductees in my book “Last Train to Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  The following is an excerpt from my profile of Cristobal Torriente:

"At the end of World War I, Chicago was becoming an urban
mecca for African Americans. The lure of the possibility for
economic stability and a better life had fueled the migration of
southern blacks to the city. Rube Foster used the growing aura
Chicago had for African Americans to attract ballplayers to his
Chicago American Giants.  He felt the city gave him an advantage
When  talking to a player about joining his team.  Other owners
accused Foster of using what Chicago was becoming for African
Americans to steal their ballplayers.   Foster’s approach proved
successful with Torriente, who went to play for the American
Giants in 1918.  He had excellent seasons with the Cuban Stars,
however it would be with Foster’s team that Torriente would reach
his peak as a baseball player.

Having the most area to cover, centerfield is the most
challenging outfield position. Most managers choose their fastest
outfielder to play it. This was Rube Foster’s thinking in regards to
Cristobal Torriente. Although the Cuban mostly played right field in
his years with the Cuban Stars, his speed and strong arm were a
perfect fit for centerfield in Foster’s mind. With Torriente as the
anchor in centerfield, the American Giants went on to have a
consistently good outfield for many years. Good ballplayers such as
Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston, Jimmy Lyons, Floyd “Jelly” Gardner,
and David Malarcher all shared the American Giants’ outfield at one
time or another with Torriente.

When Rube Foster’s vision became a reality in 1920 and the
Negro National League (NNL) was formed, his Chicago American
Giants became its premier team from the start. They won the league
championship the first three years (1920 – 1922).  The lack of
documented league statistics prevents a true picture from being
given of Torriente’s performance on the field during the American
Giants’ years of dominance.  Research indicates he finished those
seasons hitting from .342 to as high as .411. Clearly, they were his
best seasons in the Negro Leagues."



To read the entire Torriente profile and the other 2006 inductees Last Train to Cooperstown

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Negro League World Series - Part Two

The Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champions!!!  After all the adversity the residents of Houston and the surrounding communities have  experienced due to Hurricane Harvey, it is great that the city can now add “home of the World Champion Houston Astros' to its many names promoting it.  Congratulations to long-time Astros fans like John McDonald who suffered with the franchise through the years of being the Houston Colt 45's, the JR Richard and Enos Cabell years, the Killer B’s, and the 2005 Astros being swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox.  It is the 55 year old franchise’s first World Series championship.  For the Dodgers, sorry long-time fan James O”Berry, this adds to the franchise’s World Series history frustration.  Although the Dodgers have won nineteen National League pennants, their six World Series titles fall short of their fans’ expectations.

This blog post is however not a final commentary of this year’s World Series.  It is the second part of last week’s post about the Negro League World Series which is an overlooked part of baseball history.

Negro League baseball held its first World Series in 1924 with the Kansas City Monarchs of Negro National League (NNL) defeating the Hilldale Club of Darby Pennsylvania from the Eastern Colored League (ECL).  Hilldale avenged its lost in the 1925 Series defeating the Monarchs.  In both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series the Chicago American Giants (NNL) defeated the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants (ECL).  When extreme economic times hit African Americans in the mid-1920's, Negro League game attendance declined sharply forcing many teams to go out of business.   The ECL disbanded after the 1927 season.  It tried to reorganize in 1929 as the American Negro League, but failed after one season.  The NNL economically limped into the new decade.  With only one official professional Negro baseball league operating and facing the beginning of the greatest economic depression in America’s history, the Negro League World Series went on hiatus.

 Negro National League founder Rube Foster died in December of 1930 and his league disbanded at the end of the 1931 season.  Two leagues were started in 1932, but without long term success.  The East-West League lasted only two months into the season and the Negro Southern League dissolved at the season’s end.

However in 1933 Gus Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburg Crawfords, organized a new  league consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States; and called it the Negro National League (NNL).  From 1933 – 1936, the Crawfords were a dominant force in Negro League baseball.  Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson all played with the Crawfords during those years.  They won the NNL pennant in 1933 and 1935.  In 1936, the NNL’s make-up changed to being teams in the Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.  The next season, Cum Posey’s Homestead Grays won it’s first of nine straight NNL pennants.




Also in 1937, the Negro American League (NAL) began operations consisting of teams in the Upper Midwest and Southern United States.  The Kansas City Monarchs emerged as the most dominant team in the league.  Starting in 1938, Buck O’Neil’s second year with the team, the Monarch’s won four straight NAL pennants. 

1936 Kansas City Monrchs

 Despite the existence by the late 1930s of again two Negro professional baseball leagues, the Negro League World Series did not return.  The economics of Negro League baseball worked against the year to year stability of both leagues as African Americans continued to feel the effects of the economic depression.  However, this changed due to the United States involvement in World War II beginning in 1941. The war led to the improvement of economic conditions for some African Americans over the previous decade because of the country’s desperate need for factory workers.   Due to the labor shortage in industries with federal contracts to produce military weapons, supplies, and equipment; an estimated 1.5 million African Americans had jobs in those industries by 1944. In addition, large numbers of African Americans migrated from the rural South to cities in the Upper Midwest and Northeast seeking employment in those industries.

1939 Homestead Grays

 As a result of the improved economic condition of many African American baseball fans, Negro League baseball peaked as a business during the 1940s.  With the fan base having more disposable income and also widening due to the growing northern migration of the black population, Negro League game attendance reached new levels far above the previous two decades.


With the greater stability for Negro League baseball, what about the Negro League World Series?  Stay tuned for Part Three.

To read more about the history of Negro League baseballLast Train to Cooperstown

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Last Train to Cooperstown - Book Trailer






 "Last Train to Cooperstown"  The perfect gift for the sports fans on your holiday shopping list.

Click on the following to order Last Train to Cooperstown 


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Negro League Baseball World Series - Part One


The World Series is the most anticipated event and the most exciting time of the season for baseball fans.  The American and National League pennant winners clash in what is traditionally referred to as the “Fall Classic” to determine who will get the crown of World Series Champion.  It is a huge part of baseball history.  This year’s Series, the 113th, began last Tuesday.  The Los Angeles Dodgers, a long time National League franchise which began as the Brooklyn Grays in 1890, is going against the Houston Astros who began as a National League franchise in 1962 (Houston Colt 45s) and were switched to the American League in 2013.  The Dodgers are after their fifth World Series title (Brooklyn Dodgers 1955, Los Angeles Dodgers 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988), while the Astros their first.  

But this blog post is not a commentary on the 2017 World Series.  It is to give attention to the other World Series also a part of baseball history.  On October 3, 1924; the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) took on the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania of the Eastern Colored League (ECL) in the first game of the initial Negro League Baseball World Series.  Although never the financial success of the Negro League East-West All Star Game (1933 – 1948), the Negro League World Series gave an indication of Negro League baseball’s attempt at relative stability in the face of its economic and racial discrimination barriers.  Held for eleven years, 1924 – 1927 and 1942 – 1948, it is the “forgotten” World Series.
By 1924, the acrimony between the two primary Negro professional baseball leagues had subsided to a level favorable to begin a championship series with the pennant winners of each.  Chicago American Giant owner/manager Andrew “Rube” Foster had formed the Negro National League (NNL) in 1920 consisting of teams in mid America (Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.).  Organized of teams along the eastern seaboard (New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, etc.), the Eastern Colored League (ECL) began operating in 1923.  Many NNL players broke their contracts to play for more money in the ECL angering Foster.  In addition, he had other financial feuds with some owners of ECL teams.  However, the leagues were able to forgo their differences to pursue the potential benefits from a championship series.
1924 Negro League World Series
In an attempt to maximize revenue (ticket sales), league officials decided on a best five out of nine series format; same as the Major League’s World Series in 1919 – 1921.  Also, in addition to the cities of the participating teams, some games would be played in cities with a large African American population.
In the inaugural Negro League World Series in 1924 there were a number of players who now have plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York).  The Kansas City Monarchs had pitchers Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, a 1998 Hall of Fame inductee, and Jose Mendez (2006), who also was the team’s manager.  Third baseman Judy Johnson inducted in 1975, catcher Biz Mackey (2006) and catcher Louis Santop (2006) were on the Hilldale club.  The latter two were involved in one of the key plays in the Series.  In Game Seven with the Series tied three games apiece, the Monarchs trailed 3 -2 in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.  The Monarch’s batter Frank Duncan hit a foul ball behind home plate within the reach of Santop which should have resulted in a Hilldale victory.  But the catcher dropped it, giving Duncan another swing.  On the next pitch Duncan hit a ground ball that got passed Biz Mackey who was playing shortstop to give the Monarchs a 4 – 2 win. 

Louis Santop
Hilldale recovered to win Game Eight and tied the Series.  Monarch’s manager Jose Mendez, supposedly past his prime at 37 years old, pitched  a 5 – 0 shutout in Game Nine for Kansas City to be the first Negro League World Series champion.  The teams played the Series in four cities; two games in Philadelphia, one in Baltimore, three in Kansas City, and three in Chicago.
Jose Mendez
They met again in the 1926 Series, but with a different outcome.  Accidentally punctured with a needle in the knee by his son, Monarchs pitcher and best hitter “Bullet” Rogan could not play.   Hilldale won the Series four games to one.  Biz Mackey, who had replaced the aging Louis Santop at catcher, hit .360 including three hits in the Series clinching Game Five.
Biz Mackey

Both the 1926 and 1927 Negro League World Series featured the NNL’s Chicago American Giants against the ECL’s Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.  Due to a debilitating illness to “Rube” Foster, Dave Malarcher took over as manager for Chicago.  Excellent pitching highlighted the Series both years.  In 1926, Atlantic City left handed pitcher Red Grier hurled a no-hitter in Game Three.  However, Chicago’s Bill Foster, Rube’s brother, was the pitching star for the Series.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996 and considered the best left handed pitcher in Negro League baseball history, Foster won two games as his team took the Series five games to three.  In Game Eight, the Series clincher, he pitched a five hit shutout winning 1 – 0.  In the 1927 Series, Atlantic City beat Foster twice.  However, he still won Game 1 and Game 8 as Chicago won the Series again five games to three.

Bill Foster




In most written accounts of the “Great Depression”, it does not officially start until the New York Stock Market crashes in 1929.  However, economic hard times had hit African Americans by the mid-1920s.  Negro League baseball game attendance dramatically declined as fans had no money to support the teams.  As a result many Negro League teams, under capitalized from the start, went out of business.  After the 1927 season, the ECL disbanded and the NNL economically limped to the end of the decade.  With only one official league operating and facing extremely difficult economic times, the Negro League World Series disappeared after those four years, 1924 – 1927.   However, this is not the end of its story.  Stay tuned.
To read more about Negro League baseball history Last Train to Cooperstown











             









































Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pete Hill: One of the Best Outfielders of "Deadball" Baseball Era

I did not totally forget to acknowledge the birthday of Negro League outfielder Pete Hill last week, born October 12, 1882.  If you follow me on Twitter, @Lasttraintocoop, you saw my tweet acknowledging it.  Please excuse my unintended slight of him on this blog.  Hill, a fine fielder and consistent .300 plus hitter, is now considered one of the best outfielders in baseball during the “Deadball Era” (1900 - 1919).

Pete Hill
The National Baseball Hall of Fame agreed in 2006 with that assessment of Pete Hill.   He along with eleven other players and five executives all from Negro League baseball were inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that year.  Hill’s induction gave him overdue recognition as a contemporary of Ty Cobb (1936 Hall of Fame inductee) and Tris Speaker (1937 Hall of Fame inductee), the best Major League outfielders of the early 20th Century.


The following is an excerpt from my book, Last Train in Cooperstown:  The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, in which I profile Pete Hill and the other 2006 inductees from Negro League baseball. 

“In 1901, Hill left Pittsburgh for New York to play for the Cuban X
Giants.  Being only 21, he could not break into the starting lineup to
play regularly.  But, the young outfielder caught the eye of Sol White,
manager of the X Giants’ main rival, the Philadelphia Giants.  White
recruited Hill to play for his team in 1903.

With the Philadelphia Giants, he began to mature as a ballplayer.
In 1904, he was the center fielder for what many say was the best
black team of the early 20th century era.  With Hill leading the way,
the Giants were proclaimed winners of the “Colored Championship
of the World” in 1904, 1905, and 1906.  This was the title given to
the top black team on the east coast.  Charles “Kid” Carter, James
Booker, Charlie Grant, Emmett Bowman, and Dan McClellan were
other good players on the Giants with Hill.

Another teammate of Hill was Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster at
that time was one of the best pitchers in black baseball.  He would
later become the “father” of Negro League baseball and a member
of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The friendship with Foster would have
a major influence on the remainder of Pete Hill’s baseball career.
After the 1906 season, Foster left the Philadelphia Giants to
become the manager for the Chicago Leland Giants.  He took six of
his Philadelphia Giants teammates with him, including Pete Hill.

Under the leadership of Rube Foster, Hill’s career blossomed
with the Chicago team.  He was the team captain and was taught the
ins and outs of managing by his friend.  Hill continued to build on
his reputation as a great hitter and the Leland Giants became one of
the most dominant African American teams in the country’s
heartland.”


Pete Hill


To read more about Pete Hill and the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown

Thursday, September 28, 2017

John I. Kennedy: First African-American Philadelphia Philly


The purpose of the postings on my blog and website is to promote the unshakable historical connection of African Americans to the sport of baseball.  Although I earnestly try to verify information I use on the posts through multiple sources, there are at times errors in the content I write.  Dates may be incorrect, outdated or undocumented information may appear, or important facts not included.  In those occasional instances, the post needs to be updated with the necessary corrections.  My post on November 24, 2015, John Kennedy:  First African American to Play for the Philadelphia Phillies fits into this category; it needs updating for corrections.  Kennedy is an unsung pioneer who has a place in baseball history as the first African American to play for the Philadelphia Phillies (April 22, 1957). 

Based on a number of internet sources, I indicated in the original post that Kennedy attended Edward Waters College in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  This is not correct; he attended Edward Waters High School.  Former Negro League player John “Buck” O’Neil indicates in his book, “I Was Right on Time” that during the times of racial segregation in the south there were only four white high schools in Florida that would allow African Americans to attend.  With none of them being in his hometown of Sarasota, O’Neil said he went to the high school at Edward Waters College.  In learning John Kennedy attended Edward Waters; researchers mistakenly assumed college not knowing it had a high school branch/division also.

In the original post, I referenced Kennedy’s time in Negro League baseball with the Birmingham Black Barons and Kansas City Monarchs.  However, I have discovered he also had a stint with the Indianapolis Clowns.  His All-Star season with the Monarchs got the attention of both the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Kennedy signed with Philadelphia on October 4, 1956.

John Kennedy (far right) with Phillies' teammates 1957


Also missing from the first post; a description about the “buzz” Kennedy created during spring training for the Phillies in 1957.  “Philadelphia Bulletin” sports writer Ray Kelly reported Phillies’ Manager Mayo Smith referring to Kennedy as, “the most exciting newcomer in the Southland”, that spring.  Smith praised him for having confidence in his ability and showing poise.  He also complimented Kennedy’s hitting and excellent reflexes.  “Pittsburg Courier” sports writer Al Dunmore said Kennedy was considered one of the “four top Negro rookies” discussed that spring training in Florida.  Brooks Lawrence, African American pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, described Kennedy to Dunmore as “a man verby  tough to get out”.   Although they had considered Kennedy a good player prior to that spring, the African American Major League players who had battled against him in past fall barnstorming seasons could see his improvement.  His backhanded fielding of a hard hit ground ball off the bat of Cincinnati Reds’ slugger Frank Robinson many considered the best defensive play seen in all the training camps that spring.  To go along with his strong defensive performances, Kennedy batted .385 and for the first time the Philadelphia Phillies had an African American on the regular season roster.


After Jackie Robinson erased the color line in 1947, the process of integrating Major League baseball went at a slow pace.  Major League teams used age as one   excuse to not sign or advance in their minor league systems former Negro League players.  To improve their chances, some African American and dark-skinned Hispanic ballplayers said they were younger than their actual age when signed by a Major League team.  Their actions did not denigrate or taint their Major League careers.  It is what they believed had to be done in fighting the racial discrimination that still existed in professional baseball.  Erroneously in my 2015 blog post about John I. Kennedy, I implied his Major League career fit into that category.  That is not true!  There is no documented evidence or proof that John Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age.  There is nothing to indicate that the team did not know 30 year old John Kennedy came to spring training in 1957.

There was some confusion about Kennedy’s age.  In my earlier blog I indicate Kennedy’s birth date as November 1, 1926 which is the one given of him by most sources and the accurate one.  However, I also state another birth date of November 12, 1934 for Kennedy from the book, “Crossing the Line:  Black Major Leaguers 1947 – 1959” (University of Nebraska Press – 2006).  Also, below is an excerpt from his profile in the 2000 Florida Times Union “Athletes of the Century” on-line article where Kennedy is listed as the 85th greatest athlete from the Jacksonville area:

On Kennedy: "John was a beautiful fielder with a good arm. I don't think the Phillies intended to bring him up until he did so well in spring training. I don't know this for fact, but I believe they released him quickly because they found out he lied about his age. He was 30, but he told them he was 21." -- Eugene "Stank" White, Kennedy's teammate on several Negro League teams.

Despite this contrary information that has led to different a conclusion with some sources, there is no documented evidence Kennedy misled the Phillies about his age.  In spite of Kennedy’s fantastic performances during spring training, the Phillies traded with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 5 for Chico Fernandez.  Five years younger and with more Major League experience than Kennedy, Fernandez began the regular season as the #1 shortstop.  Kennedy had played third base and second base in Negro League baseball, but the Phillies made no effort to use him at either position; even though the team’s 30 year old 2nd baseman Granny Hamner (.227) and 31 year old 3rd baseman Willie Jones (.218) were having a sub-par season. 





The Phillies also that season traded for Chuck Harmon, an African American outfielder, who had been in the Major Leagues three years.  With Harmon, the team appeared to have gone over its quota for African American and/or dark-skinned Hispanic players (no more than two) which the majority of Major League teams set in the 1950s.  The owners were afraid having too many players of color would drive away white baseball fans.  This made Kennedy, who according to some sources also had a sore shoulder and a seriously ill mother, the odd minority out.  Gone from the Phillies before mid-season, Kennedy played in only five games and had only two AT-BATS.  He spent three more full years in the Phillies minor league system (1958 – 1960) before retiring from professional baseball.  The team did not give him another opportunity to make its Major League roster.

If my original post about John Irvin Kennedy implied he misled the Phillies organization about his true age, I stand corrected.  A talented African American ballplayer whose career was stymied by discrimination that existed during the slow process of Major League baseball racial integration in the 1950s, John Irvin Kennedy has an untainted place in baseball history. 

For more information about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown




Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Edsall Walker: Part of "the Long Gray Line"


Edsall "Big" Walker

  Last Friday I failed to give notice of Edsall Walker’s birthday.   Born September 15, 1913 in Catskill, New York, “Big” Walker pitched for the Homestead Grays from 1937 – 1940 and 1943 – 1946.  He received the nickname because of his 6’0, 215 pounds physical stature.  They nicknamed George Walker, 5’11”, 185 pounds who also pitched for the Grays during that time “Little”.



A left handed pitcher, “Big” Walker had what opposing hitters called a wickedly sinking fastball that he consistently threw at 100 miles per hour.  However, he could not consistently get it in the strike zone.  He was wild enough with his pitches to caused batters to fear being hit, but threw enough strikes when needed to get them out.   That combination made him an effective pitcher.  With Hall of Fame left handed pitchers Willie Foster and Andy Cooper past their primes, “Big” Walker was one of the best southpaw pitchers in the Negro Leagues during his time. 

 

Walker came to the Grays in 1937 after pitching for a minor league team, the Albany Colored Giants.  Slugger Josh Gibson had returned to the Grays that same year in a trade after playing five years with the Pittsburgh Crawfords.   Starting with that season the Homestead Grays would win nine straight Negro National League pennants (1937 – 1945).  With the team known mainly during this stretch for its powerful offense due to Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jerry Benjamin, and others in the batting order, the pitching staff does not get the credit it deserved.  Hall of Fame pitcher Raymond Brown was the team’s ace with “Big” Walker one of the other key starters and its top reliever.  The Grays traded “Big” to the Philadelphia Stars in 1941.   After the United States became embroiled in World War II, he sat out the 1942 season to work fulltime in the Baltimore shipping yards and then returned to the Grays.



Walker’s only Negro League East-West All Star Game appearance came in 1938 as the starting pitcher for the East squad.  In the first three innings, he gave up five runs on four hits, three walks, and was the losing pitcher in the West’s squad 5 – 4 win.  It was a performance Walker hesitated discussing later in life because he was a better pitcher than he showed that day. 





 The winning tradition established by the Homestead Grays has been called “the long gray line”.  Although not a Hall of Fame or perennial All Star pitcher, Edsall “Big” Walker for seven years helped keep the line moving.


For more information about the Negro League baseball era Last Train to Cooperstown