Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - Otha Bailey

Otha Bailey experienced Negro League baseball die up close.  Born on June 30, 1920 in Huntsville, Alabama, Bailey started his career by first playing with the Cleveland Buckeyes, Houston Eagles, and Birmingham Black Barons in 1950.  By 1952 he was signed again by the Black Barons and stayed with them until he retired in 1959.  African American players by then had firmly established themselves in the Major Leagues and Negro League baseball was no more than a semi-pro organization.
After Jackie Robinson successfully erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, Major league teams began to sign the most talented Negro League players.  African American and Latino players still encountered racism and discrimination after integration.  However; former Negro League players such as Robinson, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, and others went on to have stellar Major League careers.

Others like Otha Bailey, a 5’6”, 150 pound catcher whose nickname was “Little Catch”, never signed with a Major League team.  Despite his size, he was one of the best catchers in the talent diluted Negro Leagues in the 1950s.

Who was Otha Bailey’s battery mate with the Black Barons in the late 1950s that went on to country and western music fame?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Negro Legue baseball history fact for today - Neale "Bobo" Henderson

The baseball story of Neale “Bobo” Henderson is one of a childhood dream coming true but falling short of adult aspiration.

Born on June 24, 1930 in Fort Smith, Arkansas; Henderson was exposed to Negro League baseball at an early age.  On the Kansas City Monarchs’ frequent trips to Fort Smith, a favorite Negro League barnstorming stop, he was the team’s batboy. This allowed him to see Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and other Negro League stars up close.  It was his childhood dream to someday play with the Monarchs.

After moving to San Diego, California “Bobo” became a football and baseball star in high school.  The nearly six feet, speedy switch hitting outfielder played against Eddie Matthews and other white future Major League players who attended high school in Southern California.  Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, no Major League team pursued Henderson after graduation.  However, his childhood dream came true when he signed in 1949 with the Kansas City Monarchs. 

He began with the Monarchs at the time Negro League baseball was declining.  Despite a quote system that kept many of them in the minor leagues, the best African American players were being signed by Major League teams.  In Henderson’s 1949 – 1953 years with the Monarchs, which included time he spent in military service, six of his teammates signed with Major League clubs:  Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Gene Baker, Connie Johnson, Frank Barnes, and Bob Thurman. 

But despite his obvious talent, Henderson never played in the Major Leagues.

Which one of Neale Henderson’s former teammates on the Monarchs pitched two no-hitters in the minor leagues?

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Negro League baseball history fact for today - Dave Pope

Although born in Talladega, Alabama on June 17, 1921, David Pope grew up in the Homestead Grays barnstorming region of Western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh.  Signed by the Grays in 1945, the left handed hitting outfielder shared the dressing room with Negro League immortals Buck Leonard, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Josh Gibson.  Pope was used mainly as a utility outfielder and pinch hitter on the Grays in 1948 when the team won the last Negro League World Series.

It was Pope’s potential as a hitter that caught the eye of Major League scouts.  The Cleveland Indians signed him in 1950 and he made his Major League debut on July 1, 1952.  He hit .294 in 12 games, but he was sent back to the minors a victim of his own fielding errors and the unwritten quota system African American players faced in the early years of Major League baseball integration.
He returned to the Cleveland after mid-season in 1954 to help the Indians win the American League pennant.  He hit .294 in 60 games with 30 hits, four home runs and had three pinch hitting appearances in the 1954 World Series which the Indians lost to the New York Giants four games to none.
1955 would be Pope’s best year in the Major Leagues, but it would not be with Cleveland.   After getting off to a good start he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.  He finished the year hitting .264 in 120 games with seven home runs and 52 RBIs.
He was traded back to Cleveland the next year.  He played in 37 games and wound up back in their minor league system as the team promoted younger white prospects such as Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito.  Pope never made it back to the Major Leagues.

Along with Dave Pope, who were the four other members of the 1948 Homestead Grays that went on to play in the Major Leagues?