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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today - Bill Cash


In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact:  Bill Cash.


Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia; William (Bill) “Ready” Cash played his entire Negro League baseball career (1943 – 1950) with the Philadelphia Stars.  A good catcher known for his strong throwing arm, Cash also proved himself as an above average hitter. He played in the 1948 and 1949 East-West All Star Game, hitting two doubles in the latter to help the East squad to a 4 – 0 victory. 

He signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1952 when 32 years old and never rose above the Class C level during two years in the teams’ minor league system.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Negro League Bseball History Fact For Today - Henry Kimbro


In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact:  Henry Kimbro.


Born 2/19/12 in Nashville, Tennessee, Henry Kimbro spent the prime years of his Negro League baseball career (1937 – 1950) with the Baltimore Elite Giants.  Considered one of the best center fielders in the Negro National League during the 1940s, Kimbro played in six Negro League East-West All-Star games.
Defensively, he had speed for great range in the outfield and he challenged base runners with his strong throwing arm.  A good lead-off batter who consistently hit over .300, the left-handed swinger also had home run power.  Kimbro gained the reputation of being a doggedly determined competitor who was not friendly with opponents and combative with teammates.
During his years with Baltimore, Kimbro's teammates included Roy Campanella, Joe Black, and Junior Gilliam; all of which went on to play in the Major Leagues. However, Kimbro did not.  Scouts deemed him beyond his prime, over 35 years old, once the door to play Major League baseball opened for African-American ballplayers.     
Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but is woven into the fabric of 20Th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown






Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Celebrating Negro League Baseball History - Frank Duncan


In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact:  Frank Duncan

Frank Duncan spent 20 of his 28 years (1920 – 1948) in Negro League baseball with his hometown Kansas City Monarchs.  Born February 14, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri, he played on both Monarch teams that were Negro League World Series Champions; although almost two decades apart.



Known mostly for his defense as a catcher, Duncan’s strong throwing arm helped Monarch pitchers hold opposing base runners close to first or second base.  A smart catcher, he worked with Hall of Fame pitchers Jose Mendez, Bullet Rogan, Satchel Paige, and Hilton Smith during his years with the Kansas City team.

He first played with the Monarchs from 1921 -1934.  During that time the team won four Negro National League (NNL) pennants (1923 – 1925, 1929).  They defeated the Hilldale Club of Darby, Pennsylvania in the first Negro League World Series (1924).  Duncan got the key hit to drive in two runs and help the Monarchs win Game Seven of the best five out of nine series.

Although the Monarchs continued to operate when the NNL went out of business after the 1931 season, Duncan left to play for teams in New York and Pittsburgh.  He returned to the Monarchs in 1937, the first year of the Negro American League (NAL).  The next season he played with the Chicago American Giants, but returned to the Monarch’s in 1940 and became the team’s player/manager.

In 1942, the Monarchs won the NAL pennant and defeated the Homestead Grays in the Negro League World Series; the team’s second World Series championship.  Duncan led the team to another NAL pennant in 1946, but it lost a closely contested Negro League World Series to the Newark Eagles.

Duncan and his son Frank, a pitcher, were the first Negro League father-son battery in 1941.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but it is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.


To read about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

Celebrating Negro League Baseball History - "Cool Papa" Bell


In celebration of Black History Month, here is Today’s Negro League Baseball History Fact:  James “Cool Papa” Bell.

On February 13, 1974; Negro League outfielder James “Cool Papa” was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.



Many of the stories describing Bell’s speed were exaggerations (“He turned off the light switch and he got in the bed before the lights went off”).  But; clocked at 12 seconds circling all the bases, he is considered one of the fastest runners in all baseball history.

Bell started his playing career as a pitcher.  His manager called him “Cool Papa” because he kept his composure during pressure situations on the mound.  The nickname stayed with Bell even though he hurt his pitching arm and played outfield the rest of his career.

His Negro League baseball career spanned three decades (1922 – 1946).

From 1922 – 1931 he played for the St. Louis Stars.  He teamed with fellow members of the Hall of Fame shortstop Willie Wells and first baseman George “Mules” Suttles to help the team win three National Negro League championships (1928, 1930 – 1931).

While in his 30’s, Bell wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1933 – 1938); one of the best teams assembled in Negro League history.  Hall of Fame players Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson were all teammates of Bell at times during this period.  The Crawfords were National Negro League champions in 1935.

Still playing while in his 40’s, Bell helped the Homestead Grays win Negro League World Series championships in 1943 and 1944.

Negro League baseball is not just a part of African American history, but it is woven into the fabric of 20th Century American history.
To read more about the Negro League Baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Negro League Baseball History Fact For Today - Paul "Jake" Stephens


In his sixteen year baseball career (1921 – 1937) Paul “Country Jake” Stephens; born February 10, 1900 in Pleasureville, Pennsylvania, played with some of the best teams in the Negro League baseball era. The 5’7”, 150 pound light-hitting shortstop had quickness, range, and a strong throwing arm.   Although not considered one of the best all-around shortstops, he had the opportunity to be teammates with many Hall of Fame players.  Because of his outgoing, always joking attitude; he got the nickname “Country Jake”.

Stephens first played with the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pennsylvania from 1921 – 1929.  His teammates included third baseman Judy Johnson, catcher and infielder Biz Mackey, and catcher Louis Santop; all now in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The 1925 Daisies were Negro League World Series Champions.

From 1929 – 1932, he wore the uniform of the Homestead Grays.  Hall of Fame players “Smokey” Joe Williams, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Jud Wilson spent time with the Grays during those years.  Wilson became Stephen’s best friend.  The 1931 team is considered by many one of the best in Negro League baseball history.

Stephens along with his Hall of Fame Grays’ teammates were signed by Pittsburgh Crawford’s owner Gus Greenlee in 1932.  Stephen’s former Hilldale teammate Judy Johnson and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige were also on the Crawford’s that year making it one of the best Negro League teams assembled.

With his friend Jud Wilson and former Hilldale teammate Biz Mackey, Stephens played with the Philadelphia Stars in 1933 – 1935.  The 1934 team won the Negro National League championship.

Negro League baseball fans in the 1930s appreciated the talent displayed by Jake Stephens on the baseball field. They voted him as the starting shortstop for the East squad in the 1935 East-West All-Star Game, the annual national showcase for Negro League baseball.  

To read more about the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Negro League Baseball Fact For Today - Al Smith

Jackie Robinson crashed through Major League baseball’s closed door for African American and Hispanic ballplayers in 1947.  In order for baseball’s “great experiment” of integration to fully work, there had to be successful players to build on his accomplishments.  Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Henry Aaron contributed to it working by having Hall of Fame Major League careers. There were other African American players such as Alphonse Eugene Smith who also contributed.  Although he does not have a plaque in Cooperstown, the former Negro League player helped to permanently put to death the myth African Americans did not have the talent to play Major League baseball.

Born February 7, 1928 in Kirkwood, Missouri, Al Smith developed his versatility as a ballplayer while in the Negro American League with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1946 – 1948.  He played third base, shortstop, and outfield as the team won the Negro American League pennant in 1947.
Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Smith made his Major League debut on July 10, 1953; one of eight Negro League players that were Major League rookies that season.   With Al hitting lead off (.281 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs) while playing 131 games at third base or the outfield, the Indians won 111 games in 1954 and captured the American League pennant.

As he approached his 30th birthday, the Indians traded Smith to the Chicago White Sox after the 1957 season.  He had five productive years in Chicago and helped the White Sox win the American League pennant in 1959, ending its forty year absence from appearing in the World Series.  He finished second in the 1960 American League batting title (.315, 12 home runs, 72 RBIs) and hit 28 home runs in 1961.
The White Sox traded the two time All-Star (1955, 1960) to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963.  After splitting time with Cleveland and the Boston Red Sox the next year, Smith retired.  He died January 3, 2002.


On the five Al Smith baseball cards I have in my collection (Topps 1959, 1960, 1964) and Post Cereal (1961 – 1963), there is no mention of him playing Negro League baseball.  By omitting that information the cards do not paint a complete picture of his baseball career.  Like other African American and dark-skinned Latino baseball players in the late 1940s and 1950s, Al Smith successfully crossed over the dividing river of racial discrimination that had existed in professional baseball for nearly half of the 20th Century.  

To red more on the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown 




Monday, February 6, 2017

Happy Birthday Former Negro League and HOF Player Henry Aaron


Happy Birthday Henry Aaron!


Yesterday marked the eighty-third birthday of the Hall of Fame (inducted in 1982) outfielder.  Born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama; Aaron signed with the Boston Braves in 1952 after playing half of a season with the Negro League baseball Indianapolis Clowns.  Aaron spent two years destroying pitchers in the Braves’ minor league system.  While one of the first African Americans in the Southern Atlantic League (Sally League) in 1953, he hit .362 with 22 home runs and won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  However, Aaron thought at best he would be assigned to the Braves’ Triple A team in Toledo, Ohio.

On March 3, 1954 during an exhibition game in Florida; Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle sliding into second base on a force play.  Three years after his pennant clinching home run for the New York Giants, Thomson had come to the Braves in a trade to add power to their line-up.  It was a forgone conclusion when spring training began that the Braves’ opening day outfield would be Thomson along with Billy Bruton, and Andy Pafko.  But with Thomson out for with a triple fractured ankle, the Braves had to change their plan.

With the previous year’s main reserve outfielder Jim Pendleton not reporting to spring training in an effort to get a salary increase, the Braves’ turned to Aaron.  The next day in his first time in the starting outfield, he hit a home run.  Exceeding his expectations, Aaron left spring training as the Braves opening day left fielder. 


Aaron went without a hit in five at bats during the season opener in Cincinnati on April 13, but got two hits in the Braves home opener on April 15.  In St. Louis on April 23 against Cardinal pitcher Vic Raschi, Aaron hit his first Major League home run.  He finished 1954, his rookie season, batting .282 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.  He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year award voting behind Gene Conley, Ernie Banks, and Wally Moon.

For more information on the Negro League baseball era Last Train To Cooperstown

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Black History Month and Negro League Baseball

Check out my live interview yesterday discussing "Last Train to Cooperstown" on the podcast for BASEBALLHAPPENINGS.NET.  Baseball Happenings: Baseball Happenings Podcast: Kevin L. Mitchell - A...: Kevin L. Mitchell , author of Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era , is th...   Thanks to Nick Diunte for having on his website.











The death of former Negro League player Art Pennington is mentioned in the interview.  He died last month, January 4.  Pennington played outfield and first base for the Chicago American Giants from 1940 - 1946, 1950.  His passing is another loss in the dwindling number of former Negro League players still alive.  This makes it even more important for the story of Negro League baseball must continue to be told.  As the nation celebrates African American history this month, the Negro League baseball era should be included in the celebration.  Although established due to racial discrimination, it is an important  part of 20th Century African American history.


Art Pennington


For “African American History Month”, 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