Posts Tagged ‘Josh Gibson’

Satchel Paige Joins the Indians

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was, to be sure, past his prime when the Cleveland Indians signed him in 1948.  An icon of the Negro Leagues, Paige reportedly signed on his 42nd birthday, making his major league début two days later.  Pitching against the St. Louis Browns, Paige entered the game in the fifth inning—he hurled two innings, allowed two hits, and frustrated the Browns.  Left fielder Whitey Platt, a .271 hitter in 1948 with 123 hits in 123 games, “had been so fooled that he threw his bat far down the third base line,” wrote A.S. “Doc” Young, Sports Editor for the Cleveland Call and Post.

Aggravation manifested after the game for the Browns, despite the victory.  Young described, “Over in the Browns’ dressing room, Manager Zack Taylor was still muttering about the ‘hesitation’ pitch, the one where Paige practically completes a follow through before releasing the ball.  That pitch, Paige said, was legal 20 years ago!”

Although the Indians lost the game 5-3, Paige’s performance overshadowed the defeat.  It was a formidable start for the next chapter of a storied career; the Indians beat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series.

In Paige’s Society for American Baseball Research biography, Larry Tye—author of the 2009 book Satchel:  The Life and Times of an American Legend—wrote, “His 6-1 record was neither a joke nor an afterthought; it was the highest winning percentage on an outstanding Indians staff and a crucial factor in the team capturing the pennant, which it did by a single game over the Red Sox.  Each game he won had fans and writers marveling over what he must have been like in his prime and which other lions of blackball had been lost to the Jim Crow system of segregation.”

Two tv-movies depict Paige.  HBO’s Soul of the Game, a 1996 offering starring Delroy Lindo, revolves around the decision to select the first black player for the major leagues; Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige are the primary contenders.  In the New York Times, Caryn James praised, “But unlike most baseball movies, this one resists melodrama and saccharine inspiration most of the time.  Mr. Lindo, who has had powerful smaller roles in films like ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Clockers,’ proves himself to be one of the best leading actors around.  In scenes between Paige and his wife (Salli Richardson), he is at once a realist about the pervasive racism of society and a relentless optimist about his own potential.  Though more saintly than his biographers would have it, this Paige deserves to be the deeply humane hero Mr. Lindo makes him.”

In 1981, ABC aired Don’t Look Back:  The Story of Leroy “Satchel” Paige.  Starring Lou Gossett, Jr., Don’t Look Back benefited from Paige’s insight.  Ken Watts of Associated Press explained, “As technical adviser, the flamboyant Paige gave Gossett valuable insight into his character.  In some parts of the film, shots of Gossett are intercut with actual footage of Paige on the mound.  The resemblance is so strong, it is difficult to separate the two.”

Paige reflected on his career while watching Gossett retreat it.  “Me and the rest of ’em (Negro League players), we had to stay around for so long before we was recognized as anything, if you want me to tell you the truth,” stated Paige.  “Bitter?  Naw.  We never had much of anything, but we did have lots of fun.  If I had to do it all again, I’d do it exactly the same way.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 9, 2016.

Cleveland’s Other Team

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Cleveland, home of the Indians, reveled in the exploits of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Lou Boudreau in the 1940s.  The Cleveland Buckeyes did not receive parallel acclaim—this, despite the team’s 1945 Negro League World Series championship.

“The public and media didn’t get behind us the way they should have the year we won the world championship,” said Ernie Wright, the Buckeyes’ owner, in an interview for Dwayne Cheeks’s article “The Cleveland Buckeyes Remembered: Played Second Fiddle to Tribe until Demise” in the January 18, 1982 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “All we got from the city of Cleveland was a banquet.  There was no parade or meeting with the mayor.  The players didn’t make any special appearances.  It was a far cry from what the Indians got when they won the World Series in 1948.”

Outfielder Sam Jethroe echoed this claim.  “The way the city responded, you wouldn’t have thought we won anything.  I was a part of bigger celebrations in the minors.  Winning minor league pennants in Montreal and Toronto were much bigger events,” said Jethroe in the same Plain Dealer article.

Celebrations were not absent, however.  Contrasting the memories of Jethroe and Wright, a contemporaneous news account in the Cleveland Call and Post described the event mentioned by Wright.  “The community paid its warmest tributes to the World Champion Cleveland Buckeyes at a banquet in their honor in the Hotel Majestic Rose Room last Sunday evening where team and management were thanked individually and collectively for the glory and distinction they have brought to this city,” wrote Bob Williams in the October 6, 1945 edition of the Call and Post.

Further, Williams noted, “Special credit was also given the Buckeyes in Cleveland City Council last Monday night when a resolution commemorating them was introduced and passed through the efforts of Councilmen DeMaoribus, Finkle, Gasaway, and Walker.”

With speed rather than strength, the 1945 Buckeyes swept the Homestead Grays to win the Negro League World Series.  In his 1977 autobiography 20 Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major-League Integrated Baseball, Buckeye catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe explained, “We weren’t known as a power outfit, although we had players beside myself who could park one on you quick, but what we were doing that caught everyone by surprise and got us by them was bringing back the old brand of ball playing made famous in Rube Foster’s heyday.  Back then, guys like Jelly Gardner and Jimmy Lyons could drive you crazy by choking up on the bat, hitting behind the runner, and running wild stealing on the base paths.  It was true the Homestead Grays could bomb you out of the park, but my team was very fast.  We could run the tongue out of anybody’s head.”

The Buckeyes compiled a 53-16 record in 1945, amounting to a .768 winning percentage.  Beating the Grays meant overcoming a lineup filled with future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Buck Leonard.  A Buckeye standout, switch-hitting outfielder Willie Grace batted .313 and hit the only home run in the 1945 Negro League World Series.  In an interview for Brent Kelley’s article “Willie Grace was Part of the Best Team in Cleveland History…in 1945!” for the November 10, 1995 edition of Sports Collectors Digest, Grace recalled, “We were tellin’ the world what a great ball club you had.  ‘Cause we beat you, but we was still tellin’ the world that’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a ballplayer was beatin’ a team like this.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 5, 2015.

Biz Mackey: Baseball’s Unsung Mentor

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Without James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, there would be no Roy Campanella.

A three-time National League MVP and an eight-time National League All-Star, Campanella played for the Baltimore Elite Giants when Mackey managed the team.  Campanella was 15 years old, not even old enough to drive.  He held his own in the Negro Leagues, thanks to Mackey’s tutelage.  “Biz Mackey was the master of defense of all catchers,” said Campanella.

Mackey’s introduction to Campanella is lost to history.  But Neil Lanctot surmises how these baseball icons met.  In Campy, his 2011 biography of Campanella, Lanctot poses the theory that Mackey was hurt, thereby in need of a replacement catcher for the Giants circa late 1930s.  Mackey learned of Campanella through the baseball grapevine.

Without Biz Mackey, there would be no Monte Irvin.  No Larry Doby.  No Don Newcombe.

When Mackey managed the Newark Eagles in 1940-1941, he mentored these future major league players who led integration in the major leagues by the end of the 1940s.  Fired by Eagles owner Effa Manley after the 1941 season, Mackey returned to play for the Eagles in 1945.  Mackey batted .307, a stellar batting average made even more impressive by his age—48.  Manley hired Mackey to manage the Eagles in 1946.  His governance led the Eagles to champion status in the 1946 Negro League World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs.  Newark’s tenure as the home of the Eagles ended just two years later; the team moved to Houston, where it played in 1949-1950 before disbanding.

Fired by Eagles owner Effa Manley after the 1941 season, Mackey returned to play for the Eagles in 1945.  Mackey batted .307, a stellar batting average made even more impressive by his age—48.  Manley hired Mackey to manage the Eagles in 1946.  Under his governance, the Eagles beat the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1946 Negro League World Series.  Its tenure in Newark ended two years later—the team moved to Houston, where it played in 1949 and 1950 before disbanding.

Born in Eagle Pass, Texas—the first American settlement on the Rio Grande River—Biz Mackey never reached the major leagues as a player or a manager.  But his influence is questionable, if not properly recognized.  Biz Mackey got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, decades after his baseball career ended.

Mackey did, however, receive accolades from his peers in the baseball community other than the Hall of Fame entry.  The book Blackball Stars cites Cum Posey as saying that Biz Mackey is the all-time best black catcher, including Josh Gibson on Posey’s Homestead Grays ball club.  Posey’s praise of Mackey over Gibson is like the Steinbrenner clan saying that the best shortstop of the 1990s was Nomar Garciaparra, not Derek Jeter.

Scholars, historians, and enthusiasts of the Negro Leagues will know of Raleigh “Biz” Mackey and dozens of other players that don’t get the marquee recognition of Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson.  Mackey deserves to be recognized in the pantheon of Negro League icons who played before Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in 1947, not only for his achievements on the baseball diamond, but also for his mentoring of those who changed the game of baseball.

Biz Mackey died in 1959.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 30, 2013.

Martín Dihigo Is the Best Baseball Player You Never Heard Of

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Keeping the flame of baseball history alive requires more than reading books, writing articles, and watching documentaries about well-known players, including Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig. For the flame to burn steadily, other players in the shadows cast by the spotlight must be recognized.

Such is the purpose of today’s missive.

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Happy Birthday, Baseball Hall of Fame!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Today, we celebrate the birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Opened on June 12, 1939 in Cooperstown, New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a time tunnel that journeys its visitors through a cornerstone of American history. More than a mere sport, baseball is a vehicle of social change.

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