Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Last week, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) named Los Angeles Dodger skipper Dave Roberts as the 2016 National League Manager of the Year. In his first season, I watched him manage the team with a low key approach. Even doing pressure situations in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the Chicago Cubs, Roberts kept an even keel and did not appear to get rattled. To me that is what I would call the C. I. Taylor style of managing. Now the question you may be asking is, “Who is C. I. Taylor”?
During the Negro League baseball era, African American teams faced constant criticism for being unstructured and undisciplined. Most of it came from Major League team owners as a way of justifying the “invisible color line” that kept African American and dark-skinned Latinos out of Major League baseball. The criticism also came from African American sportswriters in their on-going battle with Negro League team owners in trying to improve the status and condition of black baseball. Negro League players in reality were no more undisciplined than white ones in the Major Leagues. Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and many others had problems, but they were not publicized. There were no 24 hour Cable TV sports networks or social media around to spotlight an athlete’s off field activities. Although some of the criticism may have been valid, it unfairly stereotyped many Negro League teams. However, none of it could be applied to teams handled by Charles Isham Taylor; one of the best managers in Negro League baseball.
A native of Andersonville, South Carolina, C. I. Taylor like Dave Roberts did not have a standout playing career. Neither he a weak hitting second baseman, nor Roberts an outfielder with a below average throwing arm was considered an All-Star caliber player. Both of their baseball careers were odysseys that had several stops. After first being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1984, Roberts went on to play with five other Major League franchises (Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, Padres, and Giants) while developing a reputation of being a good teammate who played the game with hustle and enthusiasm. After retiring in 2009 he first worked as a baseball TV analyst and broadcaster before holding several administrative and coaching positions with the San Diego Padres.
C. I. Taylor began as the player/manager for the Birmingham Giants, one of that city’s first black professional baseball teams, in 1904. His three younger brothers were also with him; “Candy” Jim, “Steel Armed” Johnny, and Ben the youngest. As a part of the African American migration north during that time, Taylor took his brothers in 1910 and became manager of the West Baden Sprudels, a team sponsored by a resort in West Baden, Indiana. Although located in the remote area of southern Indiana, the Sprudels became one of the best African American teams in the country’s heartland. In 1914, Taylor became co-owner and manager of the Indianapolis ABC’s; named after the American Brewing Company.
His teams did not fit the Negro League stereotype. A strict disciplinarian, Taylor’s players had a dress code on the field and when they traveled. The son of a Methodist minister, C. I. demonstrated a manner different than most of his contemporaries, black or white. He did not curse, nor rant and rave at his players. He had a sense of calm and composure about him rarely seen on a baseball field during those times. Described as being fair, honest, and patient; C. I. taught his players the fundamentals of the game while having their admiration and respect. Always having an eye for good talent, he discovered an 18 year old center fielder from Indianapolis who became a Hall of Fame player; Oscar Charleston. C. I. also helped younger brother Ben to become a Hall of Fame first baseman. His list of former players that went on to be managers or coaches includes Charleston, Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey, Dizzy Dismukes, David Malarcher, Bingo DeMoss, and each of the other Taylor brothers.
Most importantly, C. I. Taylor’s teams won. From 1914 - 1916, his ABCs would battle the Chicago American Giants in a season ending series to determine Negro League supremacy. The Giants were managed by Andrew “Rube” Foster, considered the father of Negro League baseball. The two managers respected each other, but the contests between the teams were heated. Taylor’s team won in 1916.
When Foster formed the first official Negro League in 1920, C. I. Taylor played a key role. The ABCs were a charter member of the Negro National League (NNL) and he served as Vice-President. However, Taylor unexpectedly died in 1922 at age 47, a setback for Negro League baseball.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have not played in a World Series since 1987. Dodger fans are hoping Dave Roberts can lead the team to soon ending its 28 year drought. It is my hope the National Baseball Hall of Fame will realize that only one of the two best managers in Negro League baseball has a plaque at the museum in Cooperstown; Andrew “Rube” Foster (1981). Hopefully C. I. Taylor will someday get his.
To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”. To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) www.klmitchell.com