Posts Tagged ‘Harlem’

1946, Abe Saperstein, and the West Coast Negro Baseball League

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

While Jackie Robinson prepared to break into the major leagues by getting a year of seasoning with the Dodgers’ AAA ball club, the Montreal Royals, Abe Saperstein diversified his minority sports portfolio beyond the Harlem Globetrotters by spearheading the creation of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.  This venture consisted of six teams:  Seattle Steelheads, San Francisco Sea Lions, San Diego Tigers, Portland Roses, Oakland Larks, Los Angeles White Sox.  Fresno was the original home city for the Tigers.

The WCNBL did not endure past July 1946.

Saperstein—the Steelheads’ owner—persuaded investors, including Olympics star Jesse Owens, to participate in the first organization for black baseball on the West Coast.  Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization on October 23, 1945 inspired rather than discouraged Saperstein to construct the WCNBL; despite the beginning of the major leagues siphoning black players from the Negro Leagues, an expanding population on the West Coast after World War II offered, seemingly, a formidable fan base for Saperstein and his group.  In her 2013 book The Negro Leagues: 1869-1960, baseball historian Leslie Heaphy explained, “They founded the league not as competition to the white leagues but to provide an opportunity for blacks in the west to play baseball for money.”

With a prosperous record as the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, Abe Saperstein represented credibility for the nascent league.  Eddie Harris of the High Marine Social Club also played a key role in organizing the league.

Finding ballparks proved to be a tricky task.  In a June 27th article, the Los Angeles Sentinel noted that the White Sox had games scheduled in Whittier after beating the Lions at Hollywood Park.  “This policy of playing games in and around Los Angeles was forced on the owner [Carlisle] Perry as Hollywood Park and Wrigley Field are virtually closed to the home team due to Pacific Coast League commitments leaving the Sox without a Home Ground,” stated the Sentinel.

Low attendance compounded the difficulties, resulting in the league’s dissolution.  Though its tenure lasted less than the projected 110-game season, the West Coast Negro Baseball League indicated Saperstein’s business approach.  In his 2013 book Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League; 1960-1963, Murry R. Nelson wrote, “Saperstein always had contingency plans to maximize his revenue streams.  As owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, with at least two different squads, he had a team playing every day somewhere in the world.  He also was one of the key reasons that the NBA was able to pay its bills from the formation of the league in 1949 through the 1950s, as he had the Globetrotters play doubleheaders before many NBA games, often doubling or tripling the average attendance figures for those games,”

A year after the WCNBL, White Sox pitcher Nate Moreland, an Arkansas native, broke a racial barrier on the heels of Robinson’s début with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947.  A former teammate of Robinson’s at Pasadena Junior College, Moreland became the first black professional baseball player in California when he took the field in May for the El Centro Imperials in the Class C Sunset League.

In 1942, Robinson and Moreland had tried out for the Chicago White Sox at the team’s training camp in Pasadena.  Though they impressed White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes, they didn’t get any further.  Arkbaseball.com notes that the duo had a previous link in southern California—they played on a semi-pro team that won the California championship in 1939.

Moreland also played in:

  • Negro National League
  • Southwest International League
  • Arizona-Texas League
  • Arizona-Mexico League

According to baseball-reference.com, Moreland had a 152-104 record in his career.  Incomplete statistics render difficult a full evaluation of Moreland’s career.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 15, 2016.

The Amazing Season of Timothy Keefe

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

In 1888, Timothy Keefe won 19 consecutive games for the New York Giants.  Or did he?

On July 16th, Keefe left the mound in the second inning of a game against the Chicago White Stockings—he played the rest of the game in the outfield.  Buck Ewing, the Giants catcher and field manager, moved Keefe to protect him from wearing out during a fantastic pitching streak.  At the time, a pitcher did not need to be on the mound for a minimum of five innings to receive an official victory in his record.

Keefe’s outstanding performance, despite the squabbles that may arise regarding the impact of the July 16th game, underscored a fantastic year for the Giants as they penetrated the National League competition to meet the St. Louis Browns in the World Series.  New York’s beloved team emerged as the champion.

When the season began, though, Keefe created clouds of question marks that hovered over the New York sunshine when he held out for a higher salary.  In the April 11th edition of the New-York Tribune, Keefe remained fortnight but firm in his quest.  “I was just thinking about taking a train for Boston,” revealed Keefe.  “I guess I will remain over, however, a day or two, and see if the difference in salary cannot be settled.  I want $4,000 and will sign with the club when I get it and not before.  I am satisfied with the New York Club and have always been treated right by the management, but I think I am worth that amount to the club and will not sign until I get it.  I don’t want my release, and neither do I want to go to any other club.  I would rather play in New York than any place else in the country.”

Tribune editorial on April 15th praised the hurler, who went 35-12 in 1888.  “Keefe is a wonderful pitcher, of course, probably the best in the country today.  The local club cannot very well get along without him, and he never loses sight of that fact.”  Further, the newspaper took the position that Keefe and John Montgomery Ward, another holdout, would reach a compromise with the team’s management.

They did.

Keefe’s 1888 statistics reflect his dominance—leading the major leagues in winning percentage (.745), shutouts (8), and strikeouts (335).  Additionally, Keefe’s 1.74 Earned Run Average led the National League.

It was a time full of glory in New York.  To begin his 1952 book The New York Giants: An Informal History of  Great Baseball Club, Frank Graham described the 1880s from its societal elements to its grimy underbelly.  “This was New York in the elegant eighties and these were the Giants, fashioned in elegance, playing on the Polo Grounds, then at 110 Street [sic] and Fifth Avenue,” wrote Graham.

“It was the New York of the brownstone house and the gaslit streets, of the top hat and the hansom cab, of oysters and champagne and perfecto cigars, of Ada Rehan and Oscar Wilde and the young John L. Sullivan.  It also was the New York of the Tenderloin and the Bowery, of the slums and the sweat shops, of goats grazing among shanties perched on the rocky terrain of Harlem.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 1, 2016.

Indianapolis, Bush Stadium, and the Clowns

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

More than the site of a world-famous automobile race, Indianapolis is a Midwestern bedrock of popular culture.  Its benchmarks include being the hometown for David Letterman, the site of Elvis Presley’s last concert, and the setting for the CBS situation comedy One Day at a Time.

Additionally, Indianapolis enjoys prominence in baseball history as the home of the Clowns, a Negro League team perhaps best known as a starting point for Hank Aaron’s career; Aaron spent a few months with the Clowns in 1952 before the Boston Braves organization signed him.  A day at Bush Stadium, the home field for the Clowns, provided entertainment beyond good baseball.  In the biography The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant wrote, “The Clowns were a legendary Negro League team, known for being the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball.  The team featured good ballplayers but also high circus-style entertainment.  Toni Stone, a woman, played second base.  King Tut, an enormous man with a round belly, served as a mascot, wearing nothing but a grass skirt.”

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson played for the Clowns; she was the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues.  In addition to Johnson and Stone, Connie Morgan also wore a Clowns uniform; with three women, the Indianapolis Clowns predated the women’s liberation movement by a decade.

With her height of 5’3″ inspiring her “Peanut” moniker, Johnson lured fans to the ballpark by being a solid ballplayer.  In the article “Breaking Gender Barriers in the Negro Leagues in the June 12, 2010 edition of the New York Times, Alan Schwarz quotes Arthur Hamilton, the Clowns catcher:  “She was a drawing card, I have to say.  She didn’t have that much of a fastball, but she could put the ball over the plate.  She’d get out of the inning.  A lot of guys hit her, but she got a lot of guys out, too.  The Kansas City Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons loved to play the Clowns, because we’d have a big crowd.”

Johnson’s story symbolizes perseverance, certainly, in an era that saw America take its first steps, albeit tentatively, toward equality, no matter one’s race or gender.  “In the face of ‘no,’ she pursued her passion.  You can get derailed by people who don’t believe in you.  Her legacy is not well-known because we lose our heroes.  Today, there are instant stars because short attention spans impact how information is packaged and, consequently, how we consume it.  But Mamie Johnson represented a time that gave us the heart and soul of the game,” says Yvette Miley, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor of MSNBC.

Bush Stadium stands today, decades after its prime as a Negro League fixture.  Partially, anyway.  Real estate developers demolished part of the stadium, renovated the remaining part for lofts, and preserved stadium icons, including Art Deco columns and iron turnstiles at the main entrance.  Further, the developers preserved the infield diamond, a lure for any baseball fan wanting to look out the living room window and imagine the Clowns playing one more time.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 6, 2015.

The Tragedy of Roy Campanella

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Roy Campanella grew up in a section of Philadelphia called, appropriately, Nicetown.

“He was like a little Santa Claus.  Everybody loved Campy…This guy was just one happy, great, lovable baseball person.  And that’s about the way I can describe him,” stated Don Zimmer, a Campanella contemporary, in Neil Lanctot’s 2011 biography Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella.  Zimmer played with Campanella on the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1954 to 1957.

Breaking into the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, the jovial catcher played for the emperors of Ebbets Field through 1957, tapped unparalleled knowledge to guide pitchers, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award three times.

But Roy Campanella’s stellar career ended on an icy patch of an S-curve on Dosoris Road in Glen Cove, New York.  Just five minutes from his Glen Cove home—Salt Spray—Campanella lost control of his car, ultimately crashing into a telephone pole.  The accident paralyzed him.  In his 1959 autobiography It’s Good To Be Alive, Campanella wrote that he left his Manhattan liquor store “at about 1:30 in the morning of January 28th.”  He blamed road conditions for the accident that occurred a few minutes after 3:30 a.m.

“There were big patches on the road,” explained Campanella.  They looked like white spots.  I could see them clearly.  I wasn’t going fast, I don’t think more than 30 or 35 miles an hour, though I wasn’t looking at the speedometer.  I followed the road around the bend in the S and was headed for the right side of the road as I came out of the bend.  Then I suddenly lost control.  The car wouldn’t behave.  I tried to steer it away from the side of the road.  The brakes didn’t hold.  The surface was sandy and icy.  I fought the wheel.  The brakes were useless.”

Campanella stayed late in Manhattan on the evening of January 27th because he was scheduled to be a guest on Harry Wismer’s television show.  Wismer’s show aired on the Dumont Television Network’s New York City station—WABD—after the fights televised from St. Nicholas Arena.  The broadcast time depended on when the fights ended, but it hovered around 10:45 p.m.

Wismer made the request of Campanella during the previous night’s Baseball Writers Association of America Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  “He said the Harlem Branch of the YMCA had told him to call me,” wrote Campanella.  “They had a fund-raising drive on and felt I could help them by appearing on TV.  He asked me to appear the next night.”

At about 9:00 p.m. Wismer called Campanella’s liquor store to cancel the appearance.  He felt that delaying it by a week would create an opportunity to promote the show.  Campanella stayed at the store to help one of his workers, then went home.

Lanctot disputed the version of events that have Campanella leaving the store at 1:30 a.m. and heading directly for Salt Spray, described by the New York Times as “a $40,000 ten-room ranch house on Eastland Drive, East Island, Glen Cove.”  First, he credits “contemporary news accounts” of Campanella’s employees saying that their boss departed at 12:30 a.m.  Then, Lanctot theorizes that Campanella stopped at Smalls’ Paradise, a Harlem nightclub on 135th Street.  He stayed until 2:00 a.m.

“His next stop has been a well-kept secret,” stated Lanctot.  “When questioned, the ever-discreet [long-time Dodgers executive] Buzzie Bavasi admitted that Roy had told him in ‘strict confidence’ that he was doing ‘something he shouldn’t have been doing,’ and not Dodger-related promotional work that [Dodgers owner Walter] O’Malley hoped would be covered by insurance.  Bavasi would concede only that Campy ‘was visiting a friend.’  Several other interviews confirm the ‘friend’ was actually a lover or a pickup whose identity remains unknown to this day.”

Lancet’s thesis of the accident rests on Campanella falling asleep while driving:  “It is not hard to imagine that a man without rest for close to twenty hours, drained by work and a recent roll in the hay, would succumb to exhaustion.”

Paralyzed by the accident, Campanella refused to let his physical condition prevent him from contributing to the game he loved—he mentored John Roseboro, Mike Scioscia, and Mike Piazza.  Spirit endured where body could not.

Roy Campanella got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.  He died on June 26, 1993.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost on August 15, 2013.

When Gilligan Got Rescued

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

RemingtonGilligan’s Island aired on CBS from 1964 to 1967, giving television viewers a weekly escape to an oasis where silliness reigned.  About 1o years after leaving prime time, Gilligan’s Island resurfaced, thanks to creator Sherwood Schwartz pondering the fates of the castaways from the S.S. Minnow.

(more…)

Double Dribble: The Story of “The White Shadow” (Part 3 of 5)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The White Shadow depicted issues concerning Coach Reeves and his players without being preachy, moralistic, or condescending to the audience.

(more…)

Three Men On a Base

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

When Charles Ebbets died in 1925, Ebbets Field remained as an emblem of his dedication to bring high-quality baseball to Brooklyn.  The play on the field, less so.

(more…)