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.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Monday, May 27, 2013
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.