Thursday, December 12, 2013

Harry "Suitcase" Simpson

Harry Simpson was one of the first baseball players that captured my attention as I became a young fan of the nation’s “favorite past time” in the 1950’s.  I remember learning of great players like Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Mickey Mantle when I was a six year old becoming aware of the game.  But “Suitcase” Simpson, as my brother called him, was one player that drew my interest.  

Born on December 3, 1925 in Atlanta, Georgia; the left handed batting Harry Leon Simpson was an outfielder/ first baseman who initially played professionally in Negro League baseball with the Philadelphia Stars from 1945 – 1947.   Signing his first Major League contract with the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Simpson became one of eight former Negro League players who made their Major League debuts in 1951.  The others were Bob Boyd and Sam Hairston (Chicago White Sox), Sam Jones (Cleveland Indians), Luis Angel Marquez (Boston Braves), Willie Mays,  Ray Noble, and Arte Wilson (New York Giants).  With Simpson and Larry Doby in the outfield, and Luke Easter at first base, the Indians were the only American League team to have African Americans as part of its everyday lineup in 1951 – 1953.

In May of 1955, Simpson’s contract was purchased by the Kansas City A’s; my hometown team at that time.  He had his best seasons in the Major Leagues with the A’s (1955 – 1957) and it is when I became familiar with him.  He hit .293 in 1956 with twenty-one home runs and 103 runs batted in and was one of two African Americans on the American League’s All-Star Game squad; Vic Power was the other. 
It could be assumed that Simpson got his nickname, “Suitcase”, because he was traded or changed teams six times in his eight year Major League career.  To my sorrow, the A’s traded Simpson to the New York Yankees in June of 1957, and the Yankees traded him back the following summer.  In 1959, he switched teams three times.   However, Simpson already had the nickname when he came to the A’s in 1956; only his second Major League team.  Because of his size 13 feet, Simpson was nicknamed while with the Cleveland Indians after the Toonerville Trolley comic strip character “Suitcase Simpson” who had feet the other characters said; “were large as suitcases”.
What nickname of a baseball player is your favorite?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

John Irvin Kennedy’s Negro League baseball career was wedged between his two times in white organized baseball.  After college (Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida), the slick fielding shortstop played two seasons in Canada on a team managed by former Negro League star Willie Wells.  Signed by the Major League’s New York Giants in 1953, Kennedy was released after one season in the team’s minor league system.  He played the next three seasons in Negro League baseball; 1954 – 1955 with the Birmingham Black Barons and with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1956. 

By 1957, the Philadelphia Phillies were the only National League team without an African-American player.  Kennedy was invited to the team’s spring training camp that year and made a strong effort to be their number one shortstop.  However, the Phillies discovered Kennedy was not 21 years old as he told them, but 30.  The team brought in a younger shortstop, however on April 20; Kennedy became the first African American player to appear in a Phillies uniform.  He appeared in four other games and then was sent back to the minor leagues with an injured shoulder; never to play in another Major League game.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A 38 year old rookie

After seven years in Negro League baseball, Patrico (Pat) Athelstan Scantlebury lied about his age in order for a chance to pitch in the Major Leagues.  The left hander (6’1”, 180 lbs.), born November 11, 1917 in Gatun, Panama (Canal Zone); spent his entire Negro League career with the New York Cubans (1944 – 1950).  Scantlebury was not a power hurler, but was difficult for batters because of his arsenal of pitches; curve ball, slider, screwball, and change up.  In 1947, he was one of the top pitchers on the Cubans’ Negro League World Series Championship team.  Scantlebury also pitched in three Negro League East West All Star Games (1946, 1949, and 1950).
After two seasons in Latin America (1951 and 1952),  Scantlebury  began pitching in Major League baseball’s minor league system in 1953 claiming to be 28 years old.  However, in reality he was 35.  By 1956, he pitched his way onto the Cincinnati Reds roster; a 38 year old rookie.  He was the last of five players on the 1947 New York Cubans to play in the Major Leagues; Minnie Minoso, Ray Noble, Lino Donoso, and Jose Santiago were the others.  There were also four other former Negro League players on that 1956 Reds team; George Crowe, Bob Thurman, Chuck Harmon, and Joe Black.  In addition, as a sign of what would come, 18 year old Curt Flood (5 games) and 20 year old Frank Robinson were on the team.  They were part of the first wave of African American players in the Major Leagues not from Negro League baseball.  There would only be five more former Negro League players to make their debut in the Major Leagues after Scantlebury.

After playing the one season with Cincinnati (6 games, 29 innings, 0 – 1 record), Scantlebury was sent back to the minor leagues.  While white counterparts with the same talent were called “crafty left handers” and were given numerous opportunities in the Major Leagues as relief pitchers, he was not given another one.  Scantlebury finished with a career minor league record of 112 wins and 80 losses.      

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born November 2, 1925 in Nashville, Tennessee; Clinton Hill “Butch” McCord played college football at Tennessee State University prior to beginning his Negro League baseball career with the Baltimore Elite Giants.  He was one of the last players in the pipeline to the Elite Giants from Nashville, the team’s original location (moved to Baltimore in 1938).  Teammates Jim Gilliam, Henry Kimbro, and Frank Russell were also from Nashville.  The left handed batting first baseman played with the Elite Giants in 1948 – 1949, and the Chicago American Giants in 1950.   When Negro League baseball declined, McCord played in the top minor league systems of several Major League teams from 1951 – 1961.  During those years he had productive offensive seasons with teams in the International League, American Association, Sally League (Southern Atlantic League), and Texas League.  His eleven season minor league career batting average is .306.

But “Butch” McCord never made it out of the minor leagues due to the slow process of integration by Major League teams in the 1950’s.  Many teams had an unwritten policy of not having more than two African American players on the roster.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Howard and Gilliam: Two World Series pros

During their time in Negro League baseball, neither Elston Howard nor Jim (Junior) Gilliam played in a Negro League World Series.  The last one was in 1948, Howard’s initial year with the Kansas City Monarchs who were edged out of the Negro American League pennant by the Birmingham Black Barons.  When Gilliam played with the Baltimore Elite Giants, the team could never overcome the Homestead Grays, Newark Eagles, and New York Cubans to win the Negro National League pennant.  But after going into the Major Leagues, Howard and Gilliam each won four World Series Championships; more than any other former Negro League player.    
Although a star high school athlete in St. Louis, Elston Howard was ignored by the hometown St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns upon graduating.  The Monarchs signed him as an outfielder.   After the 1950 season, Howard’s contract was purchased by the New York Yankees; the most dominant Major League franchise at that time who had won 13 World Series Championships.  In 1955, Howard became the first African American to wear the New York Yankee renowned pinstriped uniform.  He began as an outfielder, but was groomed to eventually replace the Yankee’s future Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra.  Howard played in ten World Series (47 games) during his career with the Yankees (1955 – 1967) and the team won four World Series Championships (1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962).  He was the first African American to be named American League Most Valuable Player (1963).   In August of 1967, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and played in his eleventh World Series that October. 

Born in Nashville, Tennessee; Jim Gilliam began playing with the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1946 as a seventeen year old second baseman.   He appeared in three Negro League East West All Star games and was signed in 1951 by the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Gilliam was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1953.  He hit .292 in the 1955 World Series win against the New York Yankees; the Dodgers only World Series Championship while in Brooklyn.  After the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Gilliam played on three Dodger World Series Champions (1959, 1963, and 1965).  He played in seven World Series (39 games) with the Dodgers.  The "Dodger blue" was the only uniform Gilliam wore in his 14 year (1953 - 1966) Major League career.

What are your World Series memories of Elston Howard and Jim Gilliam?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

An overlooked World Series history fact

There have been six baseball players who have appeared in both Negro League and Major League World Series games.

Satchel Paige – The most renowned personality in Negro League baseball, Paige pitched in the Negro   League World Series for the Kansas City Monarchs twice.  In 1942, Paige and the Negro American League (NAL) Monarchs beat the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League (NNL) four games to zero and in 1946 the Monarchs were defeated by the Newark Eagles (NNL) four games to three.  After signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Paige pitched in the 1948 World Series, retiring the two batters he faced.  The Indians defeated the Boston Braves four games to two.

Larry Doby – The first African-American to play in the American League, Doby played second base on the 1946 Negro League World Series Champion Newark Eagles.  Also along with Satchel Paige, he played in the 1948 World Series with the Cleveland Indians.  In Game Four, Doby became the first African-American player to hit a Major League World Series home run.  He batted .318 in the Series with six hits.  Doby and the Indians were swept in the 1954 Series by the New York Giants.

Monte Irvin – Two Years after playing at shortstop alongside Doby for the 1946 Negro League World Series Champion Newark Eagles, Irvin signed with the New York Giants.  In the 1951 World Series, Irvin    hit .458 batting (11 hits) in the Giants’ four games to two lost against the New York Yankee.  But in the 1954 World Series, Irvin and the Giants beat the Cleveland Indians.

Hank Thompson – Before his brief Major League stint with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, Thompson played second base for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro League World Series.  He returned to the Major Leagues in 1949 with the New York Giants and played in both the 1951 and 1954 World Series.

Willie Mays – While only seventeen years old, Mays was the center fielder for the Birmingham Black Barons (NAL) in the 1948 Negro League World Series, won by the Homestead Grays four games to one.  Mays played in the World Series three times in the Major Leagues while with the New York/San Francisco Giants; 1951, 1954, and 1962(won by the New York Yankees four games to three), and once in 1974 with the New York Mets (won by the Oakland A’s four games to three).  He made his famous over the shoulder basket catch in the 1954 Series.

Al Smith  With the Cleveland Buckeyes in the Negro American League, Smith played in the 1947 (won by the New York Cubans four games to one) and the 1948 (won by the Buckeyes four games to one over the Birmingham Black Barons) Negro League World Series.  While in the Major Leagues, Smith played in the 1954 World Series with the Cleveland Indians, and with the Chicago White Sox in the 1959 Series; won four games to two by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Negro League World Series

The 2013 World Series is scheduled to begin on October 23.  Will it be another series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, there have been three (1946, 1967, and 2004)?  The Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers have also played three previous World Series (1934, 1968, and 2006).  In the eighteen World Series they have played, the Los Angeles (Brooklyn) Dodgers (Robins) have never had the Red Sox or Tigers as an opponent.  We will know next week if the League Championship Series results will produce a new World Series match up or if history will repeat itself.
Negro League baseball also had a World Series.  During the black ball era, there were eleven Negro League World Series held.  The first was in 1924.  The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League (NNL) defeated the Hilldale Daisies of the Eastern Colored League (ECL) five games to four.  Hilldale got its revenge the next year by defeating the Monarchs five games to one.  The Negro League World Series games were played not just in the cities of participating teams, but also in other cities with large African-American populations.  This was to give more fans opportunity to see the games and maximize attendance; and ticket revenues.  After the 1927 season due to the economic instability of Negro teams that caused both leagues to disband, the Negro League World Series was discontinued.    

However; when some degree of economic growth returned to Negro League baseball in the late 1930’s, its World Series began again in 1942.  The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League (NAL) defeated the Homestead Grays (NNL) in four straight games.  When racial barriers were broken down to allow African-Americans to play Major League baseball in 1947, the end of Negro League baseball became inevitable.  Overall Negro League game attendance dramatically dropped and teams went out of business. The last Negro League World Series was held in 1948; the Homestead Grays (NNL) beat the Birmingham Black Barons (NAL) four games to one.

What is your 2013 World Series prediction?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Larry Nathaniel Kimbrough was an ambidextrous (pitched right handed and left handed) Negro League baseball pitcher in the late 1940’s.  Nicknamed “Schoolboy”, Kimbrough began pitching for the Philadelphia Stars in 1942, when he was nineteen years old.  He started with a flash pitching a shutout against the Newark Eagles.   After two seasons, he was drafted into the military and did not return to the Stars until 1946.  But Kimbrough did not reach his pre-military promise on the mound and never became a star pitcher.  However, he did pitch one game both ways; right handed and left handed.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Andrew “Rube” Foster; born on September 17, 1879 in Calvert, Texas, is considered by many “the father” of Negro League baseball.  The son of a Methodist minister, Foster formed the first official Negro professional baseball league in 1920; the Negro National League (NNL).  Foster also was owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants one of the most successful black teams during the pre-NNL era (1911-1919). 

But Foster’s success as a league organizer and team manager overshadows his career as a dominant pitcher.  He was the best pitcher on first the Cuban X Giants and then the Philadelphia Giants, two of the best black baseball teams in the early 20th Century.   Foster received the nickname “Rube” after defeating the Philadelphia A’s future Hall of Fame pitcher “Rube” Waddell in an exhibition game.

Andrew “Rube” Foster was inducted into the National Baseball hall of Fame in 1981.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born on September 16, 1896 in Hillsboro, Texas; Crush Christopher Columbus Holloway did not play the type of baseball in his Negro League career that fits his name.  Legally named “Crush” after his father attended a county fair and saw two old train locomotives crashed together head-on, Holloway was known for his speed; not his power.  He was an excellent bunter and aggressive base stealer that caused havoc to opposing infielders and catchers as a lead-off batter.  Holloway starting his Negro League career playing outfield with the Indianapolis ABC’s in 1921, a team that included Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston, Biz Mackey and Ben Taylor.  He spent eight of his eighteen Negro League playing years with the Baltimore Black Sox.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born on September 3, 1924 in Atlanta, Georgia; William “Bill” Greason was a right handed pitcher for the Negro American League Birmingham Black Barons (1947 – 1951).  At 5’ 10’’ and weighing 170 pounds, he helped the team win the pennant in 1948 and was the winning pitcher in their only victory against the Homestead Grays in that year’s Negro League World Series.  Greason also pitched three scoreless innings in the Negro Leagues’ East-West All-Star game in 1948.

After the 1951 season, Greason had some success in minor league baseball.  He was the third African-American to play in the Texas League.  In 1954, Greason along with Brooks Lawrence and Tom Alston were the first African-American players invited to a spring training camp by the St. Louis Cardinals.   On May 31 of that year, Greason made his Major League debut, at 29 years old.  However, within less than a month, he was sent back to the minor leagues for the remainder of his career.  His final Major League career statistics; he pitched in three games, giving up eight hits and striking out 2 in four innings with a record of 0-1.

Greason retired in 1959 and was called into Christian ministry.  He was pastor of a church in Birmingham, Alabama for 30 years and was cited by the Alabama State Legislature in 2001 for outstanding ministry achievement.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born August 26, 1928 in Longwood, Mississippi; Frank Barnes began his baseball career in 1947 as an 18 year old pitcher for the Negro American League Indianapolis Clowns.  While playing with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950, he was sold along with Elston Howard to the New York Yankees.  Howard went on to become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues for the Yankees (1955) and eventually one of the team’s star players.  But Barnes was kept in the minor leagues where he mostly stayed the remainder of his career despite having winning seasons.  At twenty-nine years old in 1957, Barnes made his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals.  In three seasons with the team, Barnes pitched in only 15 games and finished with a 1 – 3 career Major League record. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Photo of Curt Roberts

After bringing the first African-American ballplayers into Major League Baseball while President/GM for the Brooklyn Dodgers; Jackie Robinson and Don Bankhead in 1947, Roy Campanella in 1948 and Don Newcombe in 1949, Branch Rickey went on to become Vice-President/Board Chairman for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950.  On October 22, 1953, Rickey signed the first African-American player for the Pittsburgh Pirates; Curt Roberts.  Born on August 16, 1929 in Pineland, Texas; Curtis Benjamin Roberts had played three years in Negro League baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs from 1947 – 1950. 
In Rickey’s desperate efforts to improve his team, the Pirates finished last four of the five years of his tenure, he did not give the 5’8” and 165 lbs. Roberts a season to get prepared in the minor leagues as was done for his African-American players on the Dodgers/. Instead, Roberts played 135 games at second base in his 1954 Major League rookie season and he hit .232.  Roberts was used as a utility infielder the next two seasons, playing in only 37 games.  He was sent back to the minor leagues after the 1956 season when Bill Mazeroski, elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, became the Pirate second baseman for the next 15 years.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Born during the Giants' 1951 pennant run

Although I was born the summer of the 1951 New York Giants’ famous run to capture the National League pennant; the only games played on the actual day I came into this world, Monday August 6, were both in the American League.  The New York Yankees beat the Washington Senators 4 – 0 and the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 10 – 1.
On August 6th, the Giants were in second place (59 – 47), trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers by nine and a half games.  The Dodgers were the “Boys of Summer” team led by Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider.  The Giants had a 20 year old rookie in center field named Willie Mays, former Negro League star Monte Irvin in left field, and were managed by fiery Leo Durocher.

Two days after I was born, the Giants lost a doubleheader to the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.  They lost again the following day to the Dodgers and then dropped the opener of their weekend series against the Phillies in Philadelphia.  On August 12th, the Giants had fallen 13 games behind the first place Dodgers.
However, the Giants won 37 out of the next 44 games; which included a 16 game winning streak from August 12 to August 27.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers were only 22 – 20 after August 12 and the Giants were tied for first place with them by the end of the season; both teams were 96 – 58.  

A best two out of three playoff was held to determine who would go against the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series.  After the teams split the first two games, the Giants won Game 3 on October 3rd by what was called, “the shot heard around the world”.  Trailing 4 -2 at the Polo Grounds in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit a three run home run off the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca to win the National League pennant.  I was not quite 2 months old at that time and so was not aware of Thomson’s game winning blast.  However, long time Dodger fans painfully still remember it today.
That summer was also the rookie season for the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle and the last one for Yankee great Joe DiMaggio.  Willie Mays was the third former Negro League player named National League Rookie of the Year and Roy Campanella was the second former Negro League player named National League Most Valuable Player.  It was a good baseball season for those born that year, which will be turning 62 this year.
What happened during the baseball season the year you were born?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Near the birthplace of "The Rope"

My Fourth of July holiday was spent in Holly Springs, Mississippi; 38 miles east of Memphis, Tennessee on Highway 78.  Holly Springs is also three miles from Potts Camp, Mississippi; birthplace of the Negro League baseball hitting machine of the late 1940’s, Bob “The Rope” Boyd.  Born October 1, 1919, Boyd hit over .330 in his four seasons with the Memphis Red Sox (1946 – 1949).  The 5’9’’, 168 pound left hand hitting first baseman played in three Negro League East West All Star games, getting two hits in the 1948 contest.
In 1950, he became the first African-American player signed by the Chicago White Sox.  Although Boyd hit over .300 throughout the team’s minor league system, he was never able to get a permanent spot on their Major League roster.  In five years, 1950 – 1954, Boyd played in only 96 White Sox games.

However, beginning in 1956, Major League baseball fans got to witness the hitting skills of Bob Boyd when he was 36 years old playing with the Baltimore Orioles.  During four of the next five seasons, 1956 – 1960, Boyd hit over .300.  His nickname, “The Rope”, did not come when he played Negro League baseball; but from his white Oriole teammates based on the line drives they saw Boyd consistently hit when batting.  In 1956, Boyd (.311) and teammate Bob Nieman (.322) were the first Orioles in franchise history with over 100 at bats to hit .300.  In 1957, Boyd’s .318 batting average was 4th highest in the American League behind Hall of Fame sluggers Ted Williams (.388) and Mickey Mantle (.365); and Gene Woodling (.321).
Boyd had a ten year (1951 – 1961) Major League career batting average of .293

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

KCKAA Pirate Update

The Pirates, a team of 10 – 12 year old boys playing in the Kansas City RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner City) league, are 8 – 5.  Not bad for a team of mostly first and second year inner city players learning the fundamentals of the sport.  The keys to the team’s success have been pitchers who throw strikes and do not walk lots of opposing batters, the team’s hitting has improved, and its improved defense.  However, there are still too many dropped balls (trying to catch with one hand instead of two) and errant throws.  Also, some players still need attitude adjustments as they willfully do not want to follow directions.  Knowing they did not have perfect attitudes in their youth, the team’s coaches try to be tolerant.  However, they are not going to allow the patients to run the asylum.
There have been games where the team has been outmatched and ones the team won handily.  The best games however have been the close ones when both the Pirates and their opponent play well.  During those games, there was an infectious, exciting atmosphere that both the players and their fans were caught up.  An atmosphere that is no different than a Major League game.  An atmosphere that gives no credibility to anyone who says baseball is a dull sport.  An  excitement Pirate players will always remember about the sport.

How is your favorite little league team doing?


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

After two seasons in Negro League baseball, Gene Baker became the first African American player signed by the Chicago Cubs.  However, it would be three years before he took the field in a Cubs' uniform.  Born on June 15, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa; Baker was a slick fielding shortstop in 1948 and 1949 for the Kansas City Monarchs who were managed by John “Buck” O’Neill.  After signing with the Cubs before the 1950 season, Baker stayed in the team’s minor league system for over three years.  During that time the Cubs were getting less than mediocre play from their shortstops, but the team never promoted Baker.  Even the Cubs owner, P. K. Wrigley, began to question why Baker was still in the minor leagues. 
On September 20, 1953, Baker made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter.   Ernie Banks, who the Cubs had signed from the Kansas City Monarchs on September 3, was playing shortstop that day and hit his first Major League home run.  After Baker had left the Monarchs in 1950 to sign with the Cubs, it was Banks that followed as the Monarch’s new shortstop.  However, Banks beat Baker by six days (September 17, 1953) to be the first African American to play a Major League game for the Cubs.

The Cubs moved Baker to second base the next season making he and Banks the first African American double play combination in the Major Leagues.  Baker is credited with helping Banks develop into an All Star, Hall of Fame shortstop; while he was himself selected to play in the 1955 All Star Game.  After the 1957 season began, Baker was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a utility infielder and pinch hitter for their 1960 World Series championship team. 


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Only four former Negro League pitchers have taken the mound in a World Series:  Satchel Paige (1948 Cleveland Indians), Don Newcombe (1949, 1955, and 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers), Joe Black (1952 and 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers), and Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges (1962 New York Yankees). Born on June 2, 1931 in Jackson, Mississippi, Bridges was a pitcher and first baseman for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.  The hard throwing left hander was signed by the New York Giants in 1953, but spent five seasons pitching in the minor leagues before his Major League debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959.  After three seasons in the National League, two with Cardinals (1959 – 1960) and one with the Cincinnati Reds (1961), Bridges became the top relief pitcher for the 1962 New York Yankees.  In 52 relief appearances, he won eight games while saving 18 others and helped the Yankees capture the American League pennant.  The “Sheriff” made two appearances in the World Series pitching a total of three and one third innings as the Yankees defeated the San Francisco Giants to win the World Championship.  After being shot by a woman in a bar during spring training the next season, Bridges fell out of favor with the Yankees.  Appearing in only 23 games in 1963, he was traded to the Washington Senators after the season.                     

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

While Jackie Robinson was planning with the minor league Montreal Royals preparing to become the first African American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball, Eddie Klepp became the first white player in the Negro Leagues.  Klepp. a left handed pitcher, was signed by the Cleveland Buckeyes in 1946 off the sandlots of his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania where he played semi-professional baseball with African Americans players.  During spring training games in southern cities, Klepp was not allowed to play with his black teammates due to Jim Crow segregation laws.  However, his Negro American League debut was on May 29, 1946 against the Chicago American Giants in Grand Rapids, Michigan giving up one run in a relief appearance.  Klepp was released after his next outing when he gave up the leading runs against the Indianapolis Clowns.  Years later, former Buckeye Manager Quincy Trouppe said Klepp was released because he did not have the pitching skills to get hitters out consistently.                 



Monday, May 27, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Considered one of the most versatile players in baseball, Martin Dihigo was born on May 25, 1905 in Cuba.  He began as a 17 year old second baseman in 1923 with the Cuban Stars of the new Eastern Colored League (ECL).  However; by the time his 22 year career ended, 12 of which were in Negro League baseball, Dihigo had played every position except catcher and performed at each as an All Star.  In a 1981 poll of former Negro League players and black newspaper sportswriters, he got votes for the best outfielder, third baseman, and second baseman in Negro League baseball.  Dihigo had a strong arm for pitching and speed to cover ground in the outfield and steal bases.  A right handed power hitter, he was among the league leaders in home runs and batting average each year.  In addition to playing with the Cuban Starts East (1923 – 27, 1930), Dihigo also dawned the uniforms of the Homestead Grays (1928), Hilldale Daisies (1929, 1931), and the New York Cubans (1935 – 36, 1945).  He is one of only two players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (1977 inductee) and the Baseball Halls of Fame of both Mexico and Cuba.              

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The KCKAA Pirates update

The Kansas City, Kansas Athletic Association Pirates won their first game last week 6-3.  After being trounced 16 – 2 in the season opener, it was good the team was able to respond with a victory.  The players are working hard absorbing the fundamentals of the game and seeing their efforts result in a win enhances the learning process.  Their opponent out hit them, but the Pirates put together what appears to be the right combination for victory at this youth league level:  pitchers that throw strikes and fielders that catch the ball.  Both are fundamental elements of the game of baseball.
The players were excited about the win.  There is not much that matches the joy in a young ballplayers' face when he or she makes their first putout or gets their first hit.  Most of these players will never score a football touchdown or hit a three point shot in basketball.  However, they will remember their first taste of success playing baseball.

The Pirates have now experienced both losing and winning.  Hopefully, their desire for another taste of the latter will motivate them to practice even harder.  Stay tuned!

What do you remember about your first winning experience in playing youth league baseball?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Maurice Peatross was born on this date in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; 1927.  In 1944, while 17 years old, Peatross played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the short lived United States Negro Baseball League; which many believed was funded by General Manager Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers to secretly recruit African Americans to play for his team in the Major Leagues.  Peatross was called “Baby Face” because of his age.  The 6’1”, 230 pound first baseman went into the military after high school and returned in 1947 to discover that both his former team and the league had folded.  Peatross was then signed by the Homestead Grays as backup support for the aging Buck Leonard.  The legendary first baseman was 40 years old and still the main drawing card for the Grays.  During the season, Leonard would play seven innings and then Peatross would replace him.  Peatross would also at times relieve Grays’ veteran Jerry Benjamin in the outfield.  After one season with the Grays, Peatross was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and spent the next four years in their minor league system.  For a player his size, he did not hit with power; never hitting over nine homeruns in a season.  Peatross gave up playing baseball after the 1953 season to spend more time with his growing family.              

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

In the lore that helped create the history of  Negro League baseball, only the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson are bigger than that of James “Cool Papa” Bell who was born on this date in Starkville, Mississippi; 1903.  He is considered prominent not only in the conversation of the fastest player in Negro League baseball, but also the fastest to ever put on a pair of baseball spikes.  The speedy outfielder could circle the bases in 12 seconds, go from first to third on a sacrifice bunt, and score from second base on a sacrifice fly.  Despite the absence of complete and accurate historical records of Negro League games, it is believed Bell stole 175 bases in 200 games one year. 
Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympic sprinter who won four gold medals, had exhibitions before some Negro League baseball games where he would race the ballplayers and sometimes even horses.  The most anticipated race that never occurred was Bell against Owens.  Many fans and players believed Bell would win.

Bell’s nickname had nothing to do with his speed.  He began his Negro League baseball career as a skinny 5’11”, 135 pound nineteen year old pitcher for the St. Louis Stars in 1922.  In pressure situations on the mound facing veteran hitters such as Oscar Charleston, Bell would not panic or crumble.  His teammates saw he remained “cool” and the “papa” was added for sound effect.  The “Cool Papa” name stuck through his 24 year Negro League baseball career and beyond.  Bell was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The KCKAA Pirate update

The Pirates are a group of inner city 10 -12 year old boys, most of which are playing organized baseball for the first time.  Many are just learning the fundamentals of the game such as the proper way of catching, throwing, and hitting a baseball.  Sponsored by the Kansas City Kansas Athletic Association, the team’s coaches were weaned on the game playing in the area’s youth baseball leagues during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The team plays in a league funded by Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner City Program (RBI), whose purpose is to revive the interest of inner city boys and girls in playing baseball.
Making too many throwing errors and failing to catch the ball cost the Pirates their first game, they lost 16 – 2 to a team with more experienced players.  From the lost it was obvious the team needs more practice on the game’s fundamentals.  In addition, the coaches will be challenged to keep the players’ spirits up and continue to make baseball a fun experience for them in the face of stiff competition from opposing teams.  It is not important whether the players will be another Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente of the coaches’ generation, but that they have fun learning to play baseball.  Hopefully, part of that fun includes winning games.

What advice would you give the Pirate’s coaches?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

After leaving military service following the end of World War II, Robert Burns “Bob” Thurman began his Negro League baseball career as a pitcher and outfielder with the Homestead Grays.  Born on May 14, 1917 in Kellyville, Oklahoma; Thurman helped the Grays win the 1948 Negro League World Series.  When the team disbanded before the 1949 season, he signed on with the Kansas City Monarchs.
The New York Yankees signed Thurman as an outfielder after the 1949 season, but he spent the next five years in the minor leagues.  After being traded twice, he made his Major League debut in 1955 with the Cincinnati Reds; he was 37 years old.  Used mostly as a second string outfielder and pinch hitter, Thurman hit 35 home runs and drove in 106 runs in his five years with the Reds (1955 – 1959).  His best season was 1957 when as a 40 year old he hit 18 home runs. 

Thurman was such a great hitter in the 11 years he played Puerto Rican winter league baseball, he was inducted into the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

James Leslie Wilkinson was born on this date in Algona, Iowa; 1878.  He was not just the white high profile owner of Negro League baseball’s Kansas City Monarchs, but a major contributor to all of professional baseball.  The Monarchs were one of the initial teams in the first official Negro baseball league formed in 1920; the Negro National League (NNL).   When the NNL declined during the economic depression of the 1930’s, Wilkinson  kept the team together through playing semi-pro and local teams in towns throughout the mid-west from Canada to Mexico.  He was involved in the forming of the Negro American League (NAL) in 1937.  Under Wilkinson’s ownership, the Monarchs won ten Negro League pennants and two of the eleven Negro League World Series played (1924 and 1942).
Five years before the first night game was played in Major League baseball, Wilkinson had developed a portable lighting system that travelled with his team that allowed it to play night baseball.  Before Major League baseball created a minor league system to develop players, Wilkinson was using his other travelling teams to prepare players for the Monarchs

He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Playing Negro League baseball was not the highlight of James “Big Train” Dudley’s life.  Born May 12, 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland; Dudley played for his hometown Baltimore Elite Giants in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.  As the third string catcher behind future Major League star and Hall of Fame teammate Roy Campanella, and the Elites’ other fine backstop Eggie Clarke; Dudley did not get much playing time in his years with the team.  He never started a game in front of his hometown fans.  After baseball he was involved in pro wrestling beginning in the 1950’s.  As an executive with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Dudley became the first African American to manage a major arena in the United States; Washington D. C.’s Turner Arena.  He was also the manager and promoter for Bobo Brazil, running into the ring to excite the crowd upon Brazil’s entrance.  In 1994, Dudley was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

James McCurine was a power hitting outfielder for the Negro American League’s Chicago American Giants from 1946 – 1949.  Given the nickname “Big Stick”, McCurine hit over 20 home runs in each of his Negro League seasons.  The 6” 2’, 190 lbs. slugger had one of the strongest outfield throwing arms in the Negro Leagues at that time, but by 1949 he was playing with an injured shoulder.  This cost him a chance to play in the Major Leagues. The Boston Braves offered to sign him to play for their Class C, minor league team. However, McCurine knew the injury would limit his performance.  He played with the American Giants until the end of the 1949 season and then retired.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Norman “Turkey” Stearnes was born on this date in Nashville, Tennessee; 1901.  Although not built like a home run hitter, being 6 feet and only weighing 175 pounds, Stearnes was one of the most prolific power sluggers in Negro League baseball during his nineteen year career (1923 – 1942).  He was the league leading home run hitter a reportedly six times.  An excellent fielder with base stealing speed, Stearnes was the marquee player for the Detroit Stars (1923 – 1931, 1933, and 1937).  But, he also played for pennant winning teams; Chicago American Giants (1932 and 1933) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1938 – 1941).  Stearnes was the player that received the most votes from fans for the first Negro League East - West All Star Game in 1933 and got two hits in the game.  Played at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the game became a yearly showcase for Negro League baseball.  Stearnes was chosen to play in four of the first five of them; 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1937.  He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

William Powell was one of the Negro League players signed by Major League teams in the early 1950’s that did not make it out of the minor leagues.  After coming out of the military service in 1946, he pitched for the Birmingham Black Barons five years; leading them in 1948 to the Negro American League pennant.  The 6’2 ½’, 195 pound right hander started two games for the Black Barons against the Homestead Grays in that year’s Negro League World Series.  Powell also was the winning pitcher in the 1948 Negro League East-West All Star game.      

He was 31 years old in 1950 when he was signed by the Chicago White Sox.  Powell spent the next 11 years in the minor league system of five teams, the White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, and Minnesota Twins. 

There were other former Negro League players who had a fate similar to Powell.  Some were signed by teams that had a racial quota, only a specific small number of African American players could be on their Major League roster.  Others were on teams that were really not committed to playing African American players, signed them only as a public relations show; and purposely held them back.

There were also Negro Leaguers, like Powell, who were passed their prime playing years; but were still good enough to make a living playing a long time in the minor leagues. He pitched until 1961,  he was then 42 years old.      

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born on this date in Westfield, Alabama; 1931.  Before having an illustrious 22 year Hall of Fame career in Major League baseball which began in 1951, Willie Mays played with the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons.  As a 17 year old teenager, Mays was the center fielder for the Barons as they won the 1948 Negro American League pennant.  In the last Negro League World Series played, the Barons lost to the Homestead Grays that year four games to one.  After playing for the Barons in 1949, Willie Mays was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Giants in 1950.   

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

African American newspapers had an important but contradictory relationship with Negro League baseball.  The Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Baltimore Afro American, Kansas City Call, and other black print media on the one hand kept the Negro Leagues in front of black baseball fans.  They promoted black baseball teams, which were generally ignored by the major white newspapers.  However, black sportswriters (Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy, and others) also kept pushing for the racial integration of Major League baseball.  When the “invisible color line” was eventually broken and African Americans began playing in the Major Leagues, it was the beginning of the end for Negro League baseball. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A unique baseball record tying fact

On May 2, 1954 in a doubleheader against the New York Giants; St. Louis Cardinal right fielder Stan Musial hit five home runs.  There were 26,662 in attendance that Sunday afternoon at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to see him do what no other Major League player had accomplished.   In the first game, Musial hit three home runs and drove in six runs in the Cardinal’s 10 – 6 victory.  He hit 2 homers and drove in three runs in the nightcap, but the Giants won 9 – 7.  The baseball Hall of Famer finished the season with 35 home runs, 126 runs batted in, and a .330 batting average. 

In the stands at Busch Stadium that spring afternoon with his father was eight year old African American Nate Colbert.  Musial was little Nate’s favorite Cardinal ballplayer.  Ten years later, Colbert was signed by the Cardinals as an amateur free agent; but they lost him to the Houston Astros in the 1965 Rule Five draft.  Colbert never played a game in his hometown team’s uniform.  The Astros traded him to the San Diego Padres in 1969.

On August 1, 1972; in Colbert’s fourth season with the Padres, he tied the record he saw Stan Musial set in 1954.  Colbert hit five home runs in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.  He hit two home runs and drove in five runs as the Padres won the first game 9-0 and hit three homers driving in eight runs in his team’s 11 -7 victory in the nightcap.  For the second time in his six years with the Padres, Colbert hit 38 home runs in 1972 and he was a three time National League All-Star with the team. 

Records are meant to be tied or broken.   But Colbert being present to see the record set that he would eventually tie makes this a unique circumstance.   His career did not come close to that of Stan “The Man” Musial.  However, on that August day in 1972, Colbert was able to do what he saw his childhood favorite Cardinal ballplayer do eighteen years earlier.  He and Musial are still the co-holders of the record.

What baseball records have you witnessed being set or broken? 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Charley Pride travelled the roads of Negro League baseball before making his mark as American Country Music’s first African-American star performing artist. In the early 1950’s, Pride pitched first for the Memphis Red Sox and then the Birmingham Black Barons; his constant companion on long bus rides between games being a guitar.  He was a Major League prospect with what he called a “ a pretty good little curveball”, but hurt his arm while pitching in 1956 and never regained his big league potential form.  After serving in the military, Pride played baseball in the lower minor leagues beginning in 1958.  Following failed tryouts with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels in the early 1960’s, he left baseball and went on to make American Country Music history.  Pride currently is a part of the investment group owning Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A four home run day for Mays

On April 30, 1961; Willie Mays hit four home runs leading the San Francisco Giants to a 14 – 4 victory over the Milwaukee Braves.  He is one of 16 Major League players who have accomplished the feat of hitting four home runs in one game.  Also, Mays is one of four Hall of Fame players, the others being Ed Delahanty (1896), Lou Gehrig (1932), Chuck Klein (1936), and Mike Schmidt (1976); and one of four African-American/Latin American players to do it.  Mark Whiten (1993), Mike Cameron (2002), and Carlos Delgado (2002) being the others.

On that spring Sunday afternoon at County Stadium in Milwaukee with 13,114 baseball fans in attendance, the Braves pitched their 1957 World Series hero Lew Burdette against the Giants.  Mays hit a first inning solo home run to give San Francisco a 1 – 0 lead which was quickly erased by Henry Aaron’s three run homer when the Braves batted.  But Burdette could not hold the Giants giving up a two run homer to Mays and two solo homers (Orlando Cepeda, and Jose Pagan) before exiting in the fourth inning losing 5 – 3.  The Braves’ relief pitchers were ponded for eight runs by the Giants.  Mays hit a three run home run in the sixth inning off Seth Morehead and another two run homer in the eighth inning off Don McMahon,   His only at bat in which he did not hit a homer was in the fifth inning; he flied out to centerfield against Moe Drabowsky.   The only other Braves score was Henry Aaron’s second home run of the game in the sixth inning.

The Giants were in first place that day, but finished the year in third.  Mays ended the year second in the National League with 40 home runs, second to teammate Orlando Cepeda who led with 46.

What highlight of Willie Mays’ career is your favorite?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Negro League baseball history fact for today

Born in Palatka, Florida on this date in 1884; John Henry “Pop” Lloyd spent 26 years (1906 -1932) in Negro League baseball as a player and manager.  A player who excelled in all phases of the game; hitting for average and power, running with speed, fielding, and throwing; Lloyd is considered the best shortstop in Negro League baseball history, In his prime (1900 – 1920), Lloyd played for some of the best blackteams of the early 20th Century such as the Cuban X Giants, Chicago American Giants, Philadelphia Stars, and New York Lincoln Giants.  While still hitting over .300 in the later stages of his career, he played until he was 48 years old, Lloyd was given the nickname “Pop’ by the young players who came to him for advice. He was induced into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.