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?