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?