The one thing that I love about sports are the arguments.
No sport has better arguments than baseball because the vast majority of the stars of negro leagues baseball history didn’t play in the majors.
So i thought we would have some fun.
I want everyones input on the questions – some we may agree to disagree on but it is going to be interesting to read the responses!
The first “Who was…” question pits two of the quickest players in baseball history against each other.
Who was quicker? Lou Brock or Cool Papa Bell?
The two were very close. Brock was a pallbearer and offered the eulogy at Bell’s funeral.
They were also close on the diamond – from a statistical standpoint – both consistently leading their respective leagues in stolen bases and made life living hell on opposing pitchers.
It’s fitting that we talk about these two in the same way as one paved the way for the other.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
One can go back through sports history and pick great moments that surrounded African-Americans.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics.
Pick any number of dates in the illustrious career of Muhammad Ali.
Hershey, PA and 100 points for Wilt Chamberlain sticks out and of course Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier is unparalleled.
But today, just because of the two major events that occurred is the greatest sports day in African-American history.
Think about it – Henry Aaron, a slugger who got his start in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, was about to break what many thought was an unbreakable mark. Babe Ruth was a bigger than life character who White America idolized. It was the home opener for the Atlanta Braves in 1974, Aaron had received bags of hate mail. So many threats that his family went into hiding. How dare a Black man break Ruth’s record. As great as the athletic achievement was – I think that the bravery and determination that Aaron showcased was even more profound.
A year later, on this same day – April 8, Frank Robinson became the first African-American to manage a Major League club.
The Cleveland Indians hired the Hall of Famer after he was traded from the California Angels half way through the season because of his open campaigning for the job. He would be a player / manager for the Tribe and in his first at bat in an Indians uniform – yep, home run against the Yankees.
In 1981, Robinson did it again and was tabbed the first African-American manager of a National League club with the San Francisco Giants.
His numbers on the field got him to Cooperstown – but to me, Robinson may be the most under appreciated baseball legend ever.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
Beginning in 1886, the Chicago White Stockings were the first major League baseball team to get ready for their season in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
“Supposedly, one of the reasons they came originally was that Mr. (Albert) Spalding, the owner of the White Stockings, wanted the alcohol microbes that some players had accumulated through the winter would be gone before the season,”Mark Blaeuer, researcher for the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail said. “Years like 1911 there were baseball colonies in town – major league , minor league and there weren’t many ball parks to share.”
Then and still today – it is all about the “healing” hot springs water in the historic Arkansas community.
“Many players would come before or after spring training to take the bath,” Blaeuer said. “Not to get you clean mind you but many like Babe Ruth felt it had healing powers. The power to heal and help you lose weight and you know Babe wasn’t exactly a skinny guy. The thing with Ruth, was yea he would work at it hard and lose weight but by the time he sampled the food and nightlife (mainly the casinos) of Hot Springs – he would gain it all back!”
There were an amazing amount of players that traveled in and out of Hot Springs each spring and throughout the winter.
Literally just below 50-percent of those enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame in one way or another are associated with Hot Springs and spring training.
The list is amazing – from the afore mentioned Ruth to Honus Wagner who went as far as to buy football uniforms for the local high school in of course black and Pirates gold (which are still their colors today) to Cy Young all came to Hot Springs.
Three of the greatest African-American ball players also came to Hot Springs in the 1950′s to test the waters in Don Newcombe, Roy Campenella and Larry Doby.
Not only did Major and Minor League players venture to Arkansas but so did Negro League teams.
Around the country, African-Americans played baseball for whoever and wherever they could including the Hotels they worked for. This was the case of the first recorded all African-American baseball game in Hot Springs.
“That first game was in 1891 between a couple of local Hotels in town – the Park and Eastman,” Blaeuer, now a retired National Park employee who spends his time these days researching baseball said. “Then it just exploded with teams and players.
A whose who of Negro Leagues teams spent time training in Hot Springs – the Memphis Red Sox, Cleveland Buckeyes, New York Cubans, Baltimore Elites, Buck O’Neil and the Kansas City Monarchs. The New York Black Yankees, Chicago American Giants, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Detroit Stars also hopped on the bus and went South for spring training and played games versus local teams.
The interesting thing is that they CHOSE to go to Arkansas a state at the time that wasn’t exactly a Mecca of integration and racial harmony.
“The attitudes were not the same in Hot Springs as as other places in the South. Many of the bath house and hotel employees and were African-American,” Blaeuer said. “It was a more comfortable place to be than many would think or believe.”
One Negro Leagues great who fell in love with Hot Springs was the legendary Rube Foster.
“Foster loved it here,” said the baseball historian. “Beginning in the 1890’s when he was playing for teams in Texas on into the 1920’s when he was running the Chicago American Giants.”
There have always been hints, rumors and stories of interaction between Negro League players and teams competing against White players and teams. One of those that unfortunately can’t be substantiated is that Foster in his playing days worked out for the Philadelphia Athletics.
“In the 1940′s and 50′s, the Monarchs played games at Jaycee Ballpark against the local Minor League Hot Springs Bathers,’ Blaeuer commented. “In 1930, the first year that the Homestead Grays came to Arkansas, they were supposed to play against the all- Jewish House of David ball club who were barnstorming around the country but they were rained out and had to leave town.”
There were a lot of barnstorming games that took place in Hot Springs with a myriad of great players.
“The Jackie Robinson All Stars came to Hot Springs in 1953,” said Blaeuer. “They were an integrated club with the likes of Gil Hodges and of course the great Robinson. They played against a Negro Leagues All Star team and lost even with the best of the Negro Leagues players having gone on to Major League Baseball at that time.
Another game that has historic significance was played in 1952 as a teenager by the name of Henry Aaron and the Indianapolis Clowns hit over .400 and slugged five home runs as the Clowns beat the Birmingham Black Barons in a game of the marathon 12-contest barnstorming championship series.
As if that isn’t enough – by the way did you think there was this kind of baseball history in Arkansas? One of the great Negro leagues stories of all-time originated in Hot Springs. Mark Blaeuer takes us through it.
“In 1901 Charlie Grant, slick fielding second baseman was down in Hot Springs working at Eastman hotel as bar hop. John McGraw saw him and wanted to sign him. Charlie was light skinned and McGraw thought he could pass him as a Native American and planned to bring him back to Baltimore. The orioles owner gave him the name Charlie Tokohama, (after noticing a creek named “Tokohama” on a map in the hotel). The reasons are conflicting why his plan was foiled. Some say Charlie Comiskey put a stop to it while others say that African-American fans in Chicago were so excited that the color lines were going to be bent that maybe they talked too much about Grant’s talent.”
No matter who you believe – one thing is for sure. Hot Springs was before it’s time in baseball history.
To learn more about the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail and the great baseball history that exists in the Natural State visit their website.
No Pepper Allowed is a great website full of vintage Arkansas team shirts like the Hot Springs Bathers.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
Not everyone lives in or near Kansas City where the Negro leagues Baseball Museum calls home.
Many find their way through the doors at 18th and Vine during the summer time whether vacationing in KC or coming to town to catch the a game at Kauffman Stadium.
But just in case you can’t or you haven’t had the chance to hear museum president Bob Kendrick give the “VIP” (which means everybody!) tour – we thought we would put some pictures together for you so that you could see some of the exhibits and history that make the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum an American treasure.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has something for everyone including a fantastic gift shop as you enter. I saw the doors locked during the All Star game a couple of years ago and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp put down the plastic to buy a ton of clothing, lids and coats for his family and fans!
One of the first great exhibits that you can visit is the Grand Stand Theater where James Earl Jones describes as only he can the history of Negro Leagues baseball.
There is so much history to take in at the Negro Leagues baseball Museum including jerseys, hats and more!
There is so much history at the museum and it’s not all about baseball. Negro Leagues baseball was a precursor to the Civil Rights movement.
The great Rube Foster was WAY before his time as an administrator and owner.
There are many things that you can’t miss when you visit the Museum but one that you ABSOLUTELY have to see is the Field of Legends with statues of baseball greats.
Martin Dihigo was the first great player from Latin America and played all seven positions and played them all very well. His statue is one of many in the museum immortalizing Negro Leagues legends.
You wouldn’t think that a musician from Canada would have a deep passion for Negro leagues baseball but Rush lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee donated this autographed baseball collection of Negro Leagues players to the Museum and stops by when he’s in Kansas City.
Talk about ironic baseball history! How about this ball signed by Jackie Robinson and Ty Cobb among others. Buck O’Neil used to say that there is no doubt that Cobb signed the ball first!
Bob Kendrick and his great staff do a fantastic job of keeping the Museum going every day while bringing in more and more for people to see and learn about Negro Leagues history. But there is no doubt that it is the house that Buck built.
For more information about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum you can check out the website.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
22 players who played Negro Leagues baseball have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Check out some video biographies of those immortalized.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
The scouting report…
Great range to his left or right.
A student of hitters who knew tendencies before the days of film study in the clubhouse.
A magical glove anywhere on the infield.
As graceful as he is in the field his bat makes just as much noise rendering balls unplayable.
If you were to read this scouting report you might think of modern shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki or even a young Alex Rodriguez.
Hall of Famer Willie Wells was the precursor to them all – a rare combination of unbelievable ability in the field and a bat that set a Negro Leagues baseball record for most home runs in a season.
Born in 1906, the Austin, Texas native’s career spanned three decades from 1924 to 1948 mostly with the St. Louis Stars ( seven seasons – every year the Stars were in existence). There were players in Negro League history, like Cool Papa Bell who played for numerous franchises and for many of those stops – their teams were historic – Wells was one of those guys.
The 10-time All Star had remarkable career numbers - .319 career batting average, .510 slugging percentage, 98 home runs, 644 runs scored, 399 runs batted in, and 756 games played.
“I didn’t want to do anything but play baseball. That was my life and it was good to me. Baseball is still nothing but hit the ball and catch the ball.”
It was that kind of simple approach that made the game come so easily to him – much easier than it did or does to mere mortals.
The St. Louis Stars weren’t around long but they were a dominant offensive ball club filled with big bats led by Wells and Mule Suttles. The 1927 season was Wells greatest setting a Negro leagues record with 27 home runs in a year where he and his Stars teammates won the Negro Leagues title by dethroning the two-time defending champion Chicago American Giants in one of the best series in Negro Leagues history five games to four.
After the Stars resolved, Wells accumulated quite a jersey collection from Detroit to Homestead to the Monarchs of Kansas City continuing to run down anything and everything hit his way and putting up Cooperstown-like numbers at the plate.
It was when Wells joined the Newark Eagles that he played with arguably the greatest collection of players in his career and maybe in Negro Leagues history.
The “Million Dollar Infield” is the most star-studded combination in baseball history. Wells joined Ray Dandridge, Dick Seay, and old Stars teammate Mule Suttles to strike fear into opposing pitchers. Three of the four are now enshrined in Cooperstown with only Dick Seay (who was a defensive wizard) not being immortalized.
Wells hall of fame career (inducted by the veterans committee in 1997 and in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2010) also took him outside of the United States where he made his mark in Mexico and Cuba where fans nicknamed him El Diablo for his intense style of play. Along the way he garnered league MVP honors in Cuba on two occasions
Wells illustrious career was full of firsts from the home run record to his teammates to being the first professional baseball player credited for wearing a batting helmet after he sustained a concussion. The helmet was actually a construction helmet!
You can follow me at @daveabarr on twitter.
The following is a story that ran previously but wanted to post it again as Charlie Hustle debuts their line of Negro Leagues inspired clothing today. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
You can see the entire line and get your shirt on-line.
Charlie Hustle – Painting the Negro Leagues story using t-shirts as their canvas.
The one thing that has truly amazed me since the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum started this blog – and continues to amaze me to this day – is the love that people have for the teams and players that didn’t make millions of dollars. Who weren’t household names and whose history for the most part was forgotten.
Another shining example of that is a homegrown business in Kansas City – Charlie Hustle.
Just like their namesake Pete Rose – Chase McAnulty and crew are cranking out hit after hit and now offer a line of Negro League baseball merchandise that is second to none.
“As purveyors of classic garb, or as most call it ‘vintage’ – working with the Negro League Baseball Museum on this project was copacetic with what we are trying to do as a business, McAnulty said. “We love nothing more than to dive into the archives and find inspiration through history. Many of our current designs are based on a broad range of time honored events in sports and pop culture, so it made complete sense for us to look to the Negro Leagues and bring their stories to life.
The line – perfect for the holidays – offers everything a baseball fan would want in retro apparel. This collection is inspired by Charlie Hustle’s knowledge and passion for vintage baseball t-shirts matched with the teams and players of Negro League baseball.
“Of course, there are the Kansas City Monarchs and Homestead Grays,” McAnulty said as he counted his fingers remembering all of the teams in the project. “But what about teams like the Indianapolis Clowns? A barnstorming team that was a collective mix between show business and actual talent. They were the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. While fielding a legitimate team, respected enough to be a part of Negro League baseball, they also toured from town to town bringing comedy to the sandlot, entertaining thousands. Or what about the Million Dollar Infield for the Black Sox of Baltimore a nickname given to them by the media because of their prospective worth at the time had they been white ball players. The Negro Leagues have plenty of stories to tell and you’ll experience that throughout our line of t-shirts. They are conversation pieces.”
Much like the mission of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – who McAnulty and Charlie Hustle work closely with to ensure the accuracy of the logos – it’s all about educating baseball fans young and old about a time in baseball before Jackie Robinson where Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson roamed the diamond.
“It’s the most important part of what we are doing,” McAnulty said with a smile. “Our brand is built off of what inspires us and what can bring us back to our childhood. It’s a 50/50 split between memory and design, without one of these it has no soul, and soul is what gives value to the consumer. Therefore it’s important to give it the due diligence it deserves in order for us to provide that value. That kind of passion goes hand in hand with the products we put to market. I feel like we as business owners are educating ourselves on the Negro Leagues daily and the more we get entrenched in the history the more we want to share it with the world. Being able to teach a younger generation about what the Negro Leagues goes beyond baseball. It’s another way of learning history through sport.”
One of the very cool parts of the Negro Leagues line is the fact that it financially helps the Museum.
Chase McAnulty and NLBM President Bob Kendrick
“Absolutely – just like any museum, it needs constant funding and watering if you will to stay alive and expand. Being from Kansas City myself, this is where the museum belongs and it’s up to the people of our community to make sure it stays here, “ McAnulty continued. “ We take great pride in being able to help benefit the museum and will do everything we can to educate and help it to grow. The Negro Leagues are a huge part of the history of America’s greatest pastime and Kansas City was the hub for it. One line that reads on a poster in the museum is -
“It was the ambition of every black boy to be a Monarch, as it was for every white boy to become a Yankee..”
“While Kansas City is known for its mouth-watering BBQ and cool Jazz, as well as being home to the NLBM, it’s also an amazing city for entrepreneurs. We embody a spirit that resounds metaphorically with the Negro Leagues. It’s more than just t-shirts and being able to give back to our community in general while doing what we love to do is definitely…very cool!”
As a Kansas City native and baseball fan, McAnulty and his two partners and crew at Charlie Hustle are fans – yes there will always be a business aspect but at the heart of it all is a passion and appreciation for baseball now and of the Negro Leagues.
“I think the basis behind Charlie Hustle is to tell those great Negro Leagues stories using the t-shirt as our canvas,” McAnulty said. “The more you learn you can’t help but want to know more and in turn do more. Working with the Negro League Baseball Museum allows me to do that as a fan and as a business owner. I think it’s giving me a greater appreciation for the history of baseball and it’s evolution we see today.”
For more information about the Charlie Hustle Negro Leagues Project – check out thisvideo from Kickstarter.
Stay tuned for ways that you can win Charlie Hustle Negro Leagues gear right here at Monarchs to Grays to Crawfords!
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
When baseball fans talk about baseball in Ohio they usually talk about Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine or Bob Feller and the Indians. One team they don’t bring up was only in existence for seven years and in that time won two pennants and a World Series. That team…the Cleveland Buckeyes.
Check out the Buckeyes in action in this rare film footage.
The Cleveland Buckeyes were organized by Ernest Wright, a hotel and nightclub owner in Erie, PA, with Wilbur Hayes, a local sports promoter, serving as executive manager. Formed at the end of 1941, the Buckeyes spent 1942 as the Cleveland-Cincinnati Buckeyes. The team began playing in 1943 as the Cleveland Buckeyes and had a number of all-star players during the 1940s, including pitcher Gene Bremmer, first baseman Archie Ware, and catcher Quincy Trouppe. Perhaps the best of the Buckeyes was Sam Jethroe, the centerfielder who was the league’s most valuable player in 1945 (.393 batting average and 21 stolen bases).
Trouppe and Jethroe were easily the most impactful of the Buckeyes as both would see their dreams fulfilled by reaching the major Leagues. Trouppe, along with relief pitcher “Toothpick” Sam Jones became the first all African-American battery in American League history in 1952 for the Cleveland Indians while Jethroe used his speed and power to play for the Boston Braves for three seasons after Branch Rickey bought him from the Buckeyes for $5,000 and later sold him to the Braves.
With the team bus broken during their first season, the Cleveland Buckeyes were forced to travel in three cars to reach their games. One of these three cars was involved in a tragic accident on 7 September 1942. Catcher Ulysses “Buster” Brown and pitcher Raymond “Smokey” Owens were killed, while pitchers Alonzo Boone, Eugene Bremmer, Herman Watts and general manager Wilbur Hayes were seriously injured. The Buckeyes were scheduled to play four games in just over 24 hours against the New York Black Yankees in Buffalo, New York, Akron, Ohio and Meadville, Pennsylvania. They were on their way from Buffalo to Akron at the time of the crash, on Route 20 near Geneva, Ohio. The Buckeyes chose to finish their season after the accident, despite the loss of so many players. For the last two weeks of the 1942 season all of their scheduled games were on the road. The Buckeyes lost all of them.
In 1945 the Buckeyes finished in first place in both halves of the NAL season, compiling an overall record of 53-16, the Buckeyes earned a spot in the Negro World Series against the defending champions, the Homestead Grays. Behind the pitching of Willie Jefferson and Gene Bremmer, the Clevelanders won their first series games at Cleveland Stadium and League Park, then completed the sweep by winning the next 2 games on the road. The Buckeyes won the league pennant again in 1947 but lost to the New York Cubans in the Negro World Series.
Despite success on the field, the Buckeyes lost money in 1947, and by 1949 moved to Louisville, Kentucky. It returned for the first half of the 1950 season, but after winning only 3 of its 36 games, the team disbanded.
Charlie Hustle is introducing its new line of Negro Leagues inspired t-shirts tomorrow (www.charliehustleshop.com) and you could be one of the first to own this Cleveland Buckeyes tee.
Just share the Buckeyes story via Twitter between now and Saturday using #ClevelandRocks and you will be put into a drawing to win. The winner will be announced on Sunday morning via Twitter and right here at Monarchs to Grays to Crawfords.
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)
The world of baseball mourns today as they lose one of their own.
Jerry Coleman was a great baseball man and an American hero. He passed away today at the age of 89.
Coleman played for the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1957, managed the San Diego Padre in 1980 and has been a part of the Friars broadcast crew for many years and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 as a broadcaster.
You can put the baseball aside when you talk about Coleman if you’d like and focus only his service to his country.
Coleman was a Marine aviator in both World War II and Korea earning a multitude of medals including two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He is the only Major League Baseball player to see action in two wars.
In fact, the 1949 Associated Press Rookie of the Year in 1949 left baseball in order to participate in the Korean War as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Growing up in California, Coleman was brought up to b color-blind. Always an advocate for the Negro Leagues and the players that played in that beloved league – he remembers the first time that he saw Jackie Robinson in the article below from the U-T San Diego and Jay Paris from April 15, 2013.
Jerry Coleman never forgot his first sight of Jackie Robinson
LOS ANGELES – Mention Jackie Robinson and Jerry Coleman’s time machine shifts into overdrive.
Sure they stared each other down in the World Series, with Robinson leading the Dodgers and Coleman, the Yankees’ scrappy second baseman.
But Coleman’s exposure to Robinson, who was honored by major league baseball on Monday, goes back. Way back, to when Coleman was a senior at San Francisco’s Lowell High School.
“We were playing the Stanford frosh team in basketball and after our game, UCLA played Stanford,” Coleman said. “There was this African-American out there for UCLA and he was running all over the place, making everyone look stupid. He was five players in one.”
Coleman, the Padres’ announcer, still shakes his head.
“I later found out it was Jackie Robinson,” he said. “Then the next time I saw him, he was a Dodger.”
Or better put, the enemy. The Yankees and Dodgers shared New York City, with the Giants. But no one, according to Coleman, could match Robinson.
“We would have a meeting and talk about the players before the World Series,” Coleman said. “But the only Dodgers we talked about were Pee Wee Reese and Jackie. Not Roy Campanella, not Gil Hodges, not Duke Snider, not Billy Cox – it was Reese and Robinson. It was because those were the guys that could beat you. They were the creme de la creme.”
Robinson’s legacy rose to the top, but not for his baseball talents. When he took the field in 1947, he left a footprint that is rightly celebrated today, and every day, Americans boast of being the land of the free.
Coleman still shudders of the inequity black players absorbed. Coming from San Francisco, Coleman said he was color blind. Then he began his baseball journey and was shocked and disgusted how fellow Americans treated those of color.
“The more you think about him being the only person, the only black person in baseball, and what that would do to you,” Coleman said. “How do you live through that?
“You can’t stay in the hotels with your teammates when you were down South, in Kansas City or St. Louis. I remember when Elston Howard joined our team, he never stayed in our hotel. In spring training, he stayed with a doctor in town.”
Robinson was the talk of this town Monday, and every city that draws its breath through baseball. But Robinson’s impact stretched beyond the chalked lines, something Coleman stressed.
“I’ve said that 100 times,” Coleman said. “Robinson was the guy who led the path at a national level. He was years before Martin Luther King. Can you imagine what that felt like for Robinson?”
Bud Black, the Padres’ manager, appreciated the honor which accompanied facing the Dodgers.
Suddenly the talk of revenge regarding last week’s brawl in San Diego between these teams seemed small. It appeared frivolous to speak of Carlos Quentin breaking Zach Greinke’s collar bone when compared to Robinson smashing the color barrier.
“It’s a special day for baseball and I think for our society,” Black said. “To be playing against the organization he played for is special for all of us.”
Remember when last spotting the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp? He was jawing with Quentin outside the Petco Park clubhouses, promising to get even.
That bravado was absent Monday, and the No. 42 uniform hanging in his locker – and everyone’s locker – revealed why.
“I probably could have handled that differently,” Kemp said. “But I don’t want that to be the topic of the day. What Jackie did…”
He did it all, despite being the target of taunts and worse, with Rachel, his wife, at his side. That this charming, 90-year-old woman was in L.A. made Monday night ever warmer.
“I’m happy to be here,” she said. “It’s nice to be back.”
The pleasure is all ours.
Dave Barr (@davebarr)
In 2013, over 10,000 of you read our tribute to the Negro Leagues and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
In 2014 we look forward to our continued mission of shedding light on the great players, characters and teams of the Negro Leagues as well as the never ending efforts of Bob Kendrick and the staff of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
To you and your family – peace, prosperity and health – Happy New Year.
By the way, 42 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training!