Posts Tagged ‘Negro League’

The Hall of Fame Case for Doc Adams

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

Victory, it is said, has a thousand fathers.  Baseball, too.

Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams is, for reasons passing understanding, without tangible recognition in Cooperstown, despite being a highly significant contributor to baseball’s genesis.  It is not an uncommon tale, of course.  The specter of Gil Hodges, an evergreen topic for debate about Hall of fame inclusion, stands on the sidelines of 25 Main Street as thousands trek yearly to this bucolic village in upstate New York, pay homage to baseball’s icons, and gander at plaques honoring Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and several other boys of summer.  This, regardless of membership on seven consecutive National League All-Star teams, seven consecutive years of 100 or more RBI, and a managerial career noted for turning around the woes of the New York Mets—his efforts culminated in the 1969 World Series championship.

Charles Ebbets, the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who conceived Ebbets Field—and sacrificed half his ownership to finance the ballpark—does not have a plaque at the Hall of Fame.  Quincy Trouppe, a standout from the Negro Leagues, often occupies a spot in Hall of Fame debates.

Adams’s denial, to date, contrasts the honor given to some of his 19th century brethren.  In his 2011 book Baseball in the Garden of Eden:  The Secret History of the Early Game, John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s Official Historian, wrote that the Mills Commission’s report, which, inaccurately, credited Abner Doubleday with a primary role in baseball’s creation, failed to highlight “William Rufus Wheaton or Daniel Lucius Adams, recently revealed to be larger figures in baseball’s factual beginnings than either [Alexander] Cartwright or Doubleday.”

Adams has been “recently revealed to be larger figures in baseball’s factual beginnings than either [Alexander] Cartwright or [Abner] Doubleday.”

Indeed, Adams’s role in baseball’s ur-phase, emerging through the dedication of Thorn and other baseball archaeologists, remained, until the latter part of the 20th century, mostly obscured by Cartwright’s vaunted position as the father of the National Pastime and the legend, long since debunked as myth, that Doubleday designed the game’s blueprint.

It was Adams, however, who set the 90-foot length between bases.

It was Adams, however, who helped shape baseball’s rules as president of the Knickerbockers, a team with historical prestige for playing in what was, seemingly, if not concretely, the first organized baseball game—it took place in Hoboken in 1846.

It was Adams, however, who set the number of players at nine.

It was Adams, however, who conceived of a game lasting nine innings.

Teetering on the edge of Cooperstown, Adams is becoming decreasingly enigmatic and increasingly valuable in determining baseball’s genesis, evolution, and governance.  In 2015, the Hall of Fame’s Pre-Integration Committee disclosed that Adams received 10 votes of 16—two votes short of the 12 needed for membership; the Society for American Baseball Research Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legends Committee named Adams its 2014 legend.

Adams’s effect manifested in a 2016 auction for his handwritten “Laws of Base Ball,” which SCP Auctiosn sold for $3.26 million.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 3, 2017.

Mickey, Whitey, and the Class of 1974

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

During the summer of 1974, excitement charged the air.  We watched with wonder when Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers, with dismay when President Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal, and with awe when the Universal Product Code débuted to signify a touchstone in the computer age.

For baseball fans, the Baseball Hall of Fame induction marked the summer.  In this particular instance, two Yankee icons, polar opposites in their upbringing but thick as thieves in their friendship, ascended to Cooperstown.  Mickey Charles Mantle and Edward Charles Ford.  The Mick and Whitey.

Mantle—the Yankee demigod with 536 home runs—thanked his father in his induction speech.  “He had the foresight to realize that someday in baseball that left-handed hitters were going to hit against right-handed pitchers and right-handed hitters are going to hit against left-handed pitchers; and he thought me, he and his father, to switch-hit at a real young age, when I first started to learn how to play ball,” explained the Oklahoma native.  “And my dad always told me if I could hit both ways when I got ready to go to the major leagues, that I would have a better chance of playing.”

With overwhelming power, Mantle compiled dazzling statistics:

  • Led the major leagues in runs scored (five times)
  • Led the major leagues in walks (five times)
  • Led the American League in home runs (four times)
  • 2,401 games played
  • 9,907 plate appearances

Mantle’s aplomb came with a cost—strikeouts.  #7 led the American League in strikeouts five times and the major leagues three times.

Like Mantle, Ford spent his entire career in a Yankee uniform.  Where Mantle came from the Dust Bowl, Ford came from the city.  Queens, specifically.  After achieving a 9-1 record in his rookie season of 1950, Ford lost two seasons to military service.  He returned in 1953 without skipping a beat, ending the season with an 18-6 record.

Mantle and Ford played together on the World Series championship teams of 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.

Joining the pinstriped legends were—as a result of the Veterans Committee’s votes—Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan, and Sam Thompson.

Bottomley, a first baseman, played for the Cardinals, the Reds, and the Browns in his 16-year career (1922-1937).  He was not, to be sure, a power hitter—his career home run total was 219.  But he sprinkled 2,313 hits, resulting in a .310 lifetime batting average.  Bottomley led the National League in RBI twice, in hits once, and in doubles twice.

Conlan was the fourth Hall of Famer from the umpiring brethren.  In his 25-year career, Conlan umpired five World Series, six All-Star games, and three tie-breaking playoffs.  Conlan’s page on the Hall of Fame web site states, “He wore a fashionable polka dot bow tie and was the last NL umpire to wear a chest protector over his clothes.  Besides his attire, Conlan was known for his ability to combine his cheerful personality with a stern sense of authority.”

Sam Thompson was a right fielder for the Detroit Wolverines and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1885 to 1898.  In 1906, Thompson played eight games with the Detroit Tigers.  Thompson finished his career with a .331 batting average—he led the major leagues in RBI three times, in slugging percentage twice, and in doubles twice.  Thompson also led the American League in hits three times—in one of those years, he led the major leagues.

The Special Committee on the Negro Leagues okayed the inclusion of center fielder Cool Papa Bell, who played for:

  • St. Louis Stars
  • Kansas City Monarchs
  • Homestead Grays
  • Pittsburgh Crawfords
  • Memphis Red Sox
  • Chicago American Giants

In Mexico, Bell played for:

  • Monterrey Industriales
  • Torreon Algodoneros
  • Veracruz Azules
  • Tampico Alidjadores

Bell’s speed was legendary; speed inspired his nickname.  Ken Mandel of MLB.com wrote, “While still a knuckle balling prospect in 1922, he earned his moniker by whiffing Oscar Charleston with the game on the line.  His manager, Bill Gatewood, mused about how ‘cool’ his young player was under pressure and added the ‘Papa’ because it sounded better, though perhaps it was a testament to how the 19-year-old performed like a grizzled veteran.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 24, 2016.

The Last Eagle

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Once upon a decade—the one that introduced Elvis Presley, car tail fins, and McDonald’s franchises—a ballplayer blessed with speed, grace, and athleticism rivaling Orsippus’s climbed to the apex of baseball, popular culture, and media.

The year was 1951.  The place was New York City.  The ballplayer was Willie Mays.

Talent alone does not make a major leaguer, however.  Responding to this reality, Leo Durocher, manager of the New York Giants, selected a member of his Polo Grounds posse to shepherd the 20-year-old Mays upon the rookie’s ascension from the Minneapolis Millers—the Giants’ AAA team.

Monford Merrill Irvin.  Monte.

In his 1975 book The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff, Thomas Kiernan wrote, “Irvin not only accepted responsibility for Mays, he took the move as a challenge.  For the first time as a Giant he had a teammate who, it appeared, was every bit as talented as he was.”

Under Irvin’s tutelage, Mays matured into the professional that Durocher et al. hoped he would be.  “Irvin would instruct Mays on game situations, shout out which bases the rookie should throw to, position against each enemy hitter—to make it easy for Mays to turn what would be extra-base hits with anyone else in center field into outs,” stated Kiernan.

Irvin played in the Negro Leagues before desegregating the New York Giants with Hank Thompson in 1949.  Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, testified, “Monte was the choice of all Negro National and American League club owners to serve as the No. 1 player to join a white major league team.  We all agreed, in meeting, he was the best qualified by temperament, character ability, sense of loyalty, morals, age, experiences ad physique to represent us as the first black player to enter the white majors since the Walker brothers back in the 1880s.  Of course, Branch Rickey lifted Jackie Robinson out of Negro ball and made him the first, and it turned out just fine.”

Appropriately, Manley’s statement is on Irvin’s Baseball Hall of Fame web site page.

Irvin led the Eagles to the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs—a shining moment for the kid from Orange, New Jersey, for whom playing playing baseball was oxygen.

When Irvin died on January 11, 2016, he took with him the status of being the last living monument to the Eagles.  In a statement, Mays said that his mentor “was like a second father to me.”

Jerry Izenberg, an iconic New Jersey sports writer, eulogized Irvin in the Star-Ledger, which gained international recognition when Tony Soprano ambled down his driveway in a robe and slippers to pick it up, often thumbing through the pages for the latest news on mafia arrests.

Decades after his career in the Negro Leagues, Irving maintained joyousness that could light up Chancellor Avenue.  Irvin’s exclamations occurred repeatedly in conversations with Izenberg, who recalled the thread of joy running through them, including an excerpt of a conversation from the early 1990s:  “I played in three countries.  I played in two World Series.  But I never found anything to match the joy and the laughter those years with the Eagles brought me.”

Monte Irvin retired with a .293 batting average after eight seasons in the major leagues; the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted him in 1973.  “I hope my induction will help to ease the pain of all those players who never got a chance to play in the majors,” stated the man largely responsible for the career of Willie Mays.

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

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.

Indians, Red Sox, and the 1948 American League Playoff

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Cleveland’s baseball curriculum vitae has many bright points.  Examples include Bob Feller hurling three no-hitters, Larry Doby breaking the color line in the American League, and Quincy Trouppe leading the Buckeyes to a Negro League World Series championship in 1945.

There is also, of course, the fictional Indians team led by Rick Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film Major League.  This squad won the American League Eastern Division in a one-game playoff against the Yankees; it lost the league championship, a fact that occurred off-screen—audiences found out in Major League II, which depicted the captains of the Cuyahoga exorcising the previous season’s ghosts by winning the AL championship against the Chicago White Sox.

In 1948, under the leadership of player-manager Lou Boudreau, the Indians brought a World Series title to northeast Ohio.  But the road to victory had more curves than the Cuyahoga River.

An aura of anxiety covered Cleveland on the evening of September 24th, like the fog at the beginning of Dickens’s novel Bleak House—the Indians, the Yankees, and the Red Sox stood atop the American League in a triple tie.  Bostonians, meanwhile, savored the possibility of an all-Beantown World Series between the Red Dox and the Braves when the latter clinched the National League title on September 26th, thanks to a three-run blast by Bob Elliott agains the New York Giants in the first inning.  It was a sufficient cushion for a 3-2 victory; the win gave the Braves a National League pennant for the first time since the “Miracle Braves” accomplished the feat in 1914.

At the end of the season, the Indians and the Red Sox shared the top spot in the American League; the Yankees trailed by two games.  A one-game playoff at Fenway Park determined which team would represent the league in the World Series against the Braves.  On the morning of October 4th, the date of the playoff, Harold Kaese of the Boston Daily Globe acknowledged the emotional impact of the pennant race.  “When today’s game is played, this town figures to be flat on its back from nervous exhaustion,” wrote Kaese.  “Before the patient recovers enough to take sports nourishment, the entire football season is likely to have passed unnoticed and The Country Club curlers will be getting ready for the Stockton Cup bonspiel.”

Gene Bearden, a rookie hurler, held back the Red Sox in an 8-3 victory for the Indians.  A 20-7 pitcher with a league-leading 2.43 ERA in 1948, Bearden struck out six, walked five, and allowed five hit in the triumph for the Tribe.  Boudreau had a career day—four-for-four with two RBI, three runs scored, and a walk; two hits were home runs.

Indians third baseman Ken Keltner knocked in three runs, scored one run, and went three-for-five.  Center fielder Larry Doby had a two-for-five day with one run scored.

The 1948 World Series between the Indians and the Braves culminated with the crown going to the former in six games.  Boudreau tipped his cap to Bearden, who won one game in the series and saved the sixth and deciding game.  “It was his series all the way,” declared Boudreau in Clif Keane’s account for the Globe.  “That’s all I can say.  It was his year.  Don’t give me any credit.  It was Bearden.”

Kaese, meanwhile, urged Red Sox rooters to avoid disgust, dismay, and disappointment, particularly if those emotions targeted utility player Sibby Sisti, who bunted into a double play to end the series.  “Think not unkindly” was Kaese’s repeated admonition.  For succor, Kaese pointed out deficits automatically placing the Red Sox at a disadvantage.  Plus, the Red Sox matched or surpassed the Indians in some areas.

“The Indians had to play National League ball to beat the Braves,” rationalized Kaese.  “They won because the had three excellent pitchers, whereas the Braves had only two—John Sain and Warren Spahn.  They won because they were a little sharper in the field, a little more timely at bat.

“The Braves scored as many runs (17) as the Indians.  They out-hit the Indians (.231 to .199).  They out-slugged the Indians (61 total bases to 57).”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on March 12, 2016.

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.

Roy Campanella and the Baltimore Elite Giants

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Roy Campanella was born in the same year as the team for which he played before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.  The Elite Giants débuted in 1921 in Nashville, where it stayed for a decade and a half before moving to Washington, D.C.  After spending 1936 and 1937 in the nation’s capital, the team moved about 40 miles north to Baltimore, where it won the Negro National League championship the following year.

In his 2009 book The Baltimore Elite Giants, Bob Luke described team found Thomas “Smiling Tom” Wilson as a businessman who straddled the line separating legal and illegal activities.  “He ran a profitable numbers operation, which was illegal, sponsored numerous events at his namesake stadium in Nashville, Wilson Park, and ran a popular nightclub, the Paradise Ballroom,” wrote Luke.

The Baltimore Afro-American ran a story in the February 5, 1938 edition—May Transfer Elite Giants From Washington To Balto—quoting Wilson, who explained the financial benefit of changing metropolises:  “Last year we lost money with the club operating from Washington.  I sincerely feel Baltimore far superior to Washington as a baseball town.”  Wilson added, “It’s been a long time since Baltimore has had a regular league team and I feel the people there need one and will support one.”

Five weeks later, the Afro-American confirmed the move, heralding the relocation to Baltimore—the team’s last city until its demise in 1950—amongst other decisions made at a three-day Negro National League conference:  “Tom Wilson’s Elite Giants, who operated from Washington the last two years, definitely have been transferred to Baltimore this season and will play out of either Oriole Park or Bugle Field as a home base.

“This gives Baltimore its first real big league club since 1931.”

Campanella credited his rookie season of 1937 with the Elite Giants as forming the foundation for his catching skills, specifically, learning under the tutelage of veteran catcher Biz Mackey, who managed the team.  Though he was 15 years old, Campanella possessed natural abilities that belied his young age.

In his 1959 autobiography It’s Good To Be Alive, Campanella wrote, “As that season wore on I began to share the catching with Biz Mackey fifty-fifty.  Instead of growing distant as I grew better, Biz gave me everything he could.  I was becoming a good instinctive catcher, doing the right thing without thinking about it.  But my hitting was something else again.  Biz tried to get me to cut down on my swing and meet the ball better.”

Campanella biographer Neil Lanctot investigated the Campanella-Mackey relationship for his 2011 book Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella.  Mackey according to Lanctot, did not mandate a “do as I do” guideline for the teenage protégé.  “Unlike some coaches, Mackey did not try to force his pupil to copy his style.  There were different ways of catching, Mackey felt, and each receiver should use the form that worked best for him.  However, the boy needed instruction in the mechanical and mental aspects of the position.  Roy soon discovered there was much he did not know about catching.  After watching Mackey for a few games, he began to wonder whether he knew anything about catching.”

Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Campanella after the 1945 season.  Campanella first played for the Nashua Dodgers, a farm team in the Eastern League, where he won the 1946 MVP Award.  Rickey called him up to Brooklyn in the middle of the 1948 season.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Roy Campanella in 1969.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 29, 2015.

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.

Robinson vs. Buckley

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Jackie Robinson, the black knight who rescued baseball from the claws of segregation, accomplished his mission neither immediately nor solitarily.  His was a burden of entrenched bigotry, racial taunts, and blind ignorance.  When Branch Rickey selected Robinson, his decision turned a corner of racism in baseball previously thought impossible to navigate. Robinson chose to do his talking with his bat, his glove, and his legs.  A man of unyielding dedication, he endured the bad so that others could benefit from the good.

After Robinson’s début year of 1947, major league teams siphoned players from the Negro Leagues, leading to their dismantling by the end of the 1950s.  The Boston Red Sox integrated last when Elijah “Pumpsie” Green took the field in 1959.  Latino players also became bedrock members of major league teams.  No longer under the umbrella of exclusion, minority players broadened the prospects for scouts and owners looking to amplify lineups with the best available players.

When Robinson retired after the 1956 season, one of his several post-baseball paths involved civil rights.  Robinson voiced his opinions in newspaper columns for the New York Post and the New York Amsterdam News.  Michael G. Long compiled an anthology of these pieces in the 2013 book Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball.  Long’s annotations give context to Robinson’s missives.

In his August 22, 1960 Post column for titled “Just How Important Is Civil Rights,” Robinson wrote, “It seems to me it is very easy to tell others to stop rocking the boat and concentrate on the passing scenery when you are comfortably riding inside and the ‘others’ are struggling to get on board.  It should take no special spectacles to be able to see that people who are barred—often by law—from full and equal participation in our national life are naturally going to be more concerned about removing those bars than they are in joining the debate over eliminating the national debt or what shall we do about Castro.”

Robinson, a civil rights pioneer, chose to continue his battle for equality by leaning on his writing, speaking, and celebrity status.  On August 4, 1964, Robinson appeared on The Les Crane Show with Shelley Winters and William F. Buckley for a discussion about Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.  Robinson was a Rockefeller Republican, i.e., a moderate conservative.

In his autobiography I Never Had It Made, Robinson explained his encounter with Buckley, a harbinger of the right wing, and his reliance on a sports strategy: “When you know that you are going to face a tough, tricky opponent, you don’t let him get the first lick.  Jump him before he can do anything and stay on him, keeping him on the defensive.  Never let up and you rattle him effectively.  When the show opened up—before Buckley could get into his devastating act of using snide remarks, big words, and the superior manner—I lit right into him with the charge that many influential Goldwaterites were racists.  Shelley Winters piled in behind me, and Buckley scarcely got a chance to collect his considerable wit.”

The Les Crane Show was a late night talk program on ABC during the 1964-65 television season.  Though the pioneer of a format later embraced by television icon Phil Donahue, Crane fell to NBC’s The Tonight Show, a national brand with a decade of broadcasting tenure, proved its dominance.  Donahue began his legendary career in Dayton in 1967, evolving into a daytime programming staple for nearly 30 years.

Crane’s daughter Caprice wears several writer hats, including screenwriter, television writer for the sequels of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, and author of five novels, including Confessions of a Hater and Stupid and Contagious.  She points out that her father used journalism to cover topics and people that others feared to explore.  “He created the shotgun mike,” says Crane of her dad, who passed away in 2008.  “He had guests who did not provide the typical fluff, for example, Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, and the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald.  He had the first publicly gay man on his show.  He was also an amazing listener who helped create a new television format that demanded more information for the listener.  The Les Crane Show didn’t last long because the person who tries the new thing always gets penalized.  People are afraid of the unknown until it becomes mainstream.”

A renaissance media man for the second half of the 20th century, Crane held interests and influences beyond journalism.  “My dad gave The Mamas and the Papas group its name,” reminds Caprice Crane.  “Casey Kasem credited him with inventing the Top 40 radio format at KRLA.  He also got into the computer business before it was big.  His company was Software Tool Works, which produced the Chess Master computer program.  He was always before his time.”

Crane’s innovative format allowed one of baseball’s biggest heroes to debate one of conservatism’s biggest allies.  Nowhere on television in the mid-1960s could audiences see this type of television fodder.  Unfortunately, The Les Crane Show fell victim to a common policy of television networks destroying tapes because of the shortsighted view that future generations would not be interested.  How wrong they were.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 20, 2014.

Coca-Cola and Baseball

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The Pause That Refreshes.  The Real Thing.  The Best Friend Thirst Ever had.

Coca-Cola.

With slogans changing nearly every year, Coca-Cola is entrenched in American culture through a barrage of advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, and celebrity endorsements.  During the height of American pride—some say jingoism— in Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” presidency, Coca-Cola plucked the country’s patriotic heartstrings in the 1980s with its Red, White & You slogan.

Naturally, baseball provides a fantastic distribution outlet for Coca-Cola to target thirsty consumers who want a cold beverage as a companion for hot dogs, Cracker Jack, and peanuts.  But Coca-Cola’s relationship with baseball goes beyond exclusive pouring rights in America’s ballparks and stadia.

AT&T park in San Francisco boasts an 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle.  Citi Field has Coca-Cola Corner.  In Buffalo, Coca-Cola Field is the home ballpark for the Bisons, a Triple-A team in the International League.  According to the Bisons web site, Coca-Cola Field has a seating capacity of 18,025.  Designed by HOK Architects, Coca-Cola Field débuted in 1988.  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs call Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania their home.

Beyond stadium naming rights, Coca-Cola ventured into the front office with ownership of the Atlanta Crackers, a team in the Negro Leagues.  The soft drink giant rescued the team from financial oblivion.  Honoring its history, Coca-Cola recounts the genesis on its web site coca-colacompany.com:  “When the Great Depression began, the economic slowdown hit baseball hard.  The Atlanta Crackers were floundering in a sea of debt and bad management.  By the end of the 1929 season, the team was sold to several local businesses, including the Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company and The Coca-Cola Company.  Famed golfer (and lawyer) Bobby Jones acting as vice president.”

The Crackers needed an investor with the financial strength to shoulder this financial burden.  With its headquarters in Atlanta, Coca-Cola saw an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to invest in the hometown team:  “When the condition continued to worsen, Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, stepped forward to buy the Crackers to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Coca-Cola also sweetened the investment portfolio of a baseball legend to epic proportions.  As shrewd with investments as he was in the batter’s box, Ty Cobb used his frugality to launch his roster of stocks.  In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article titled “A Money Player: Ty Cobb Was a Peach When It Came to Investments, Too,” Cobb’s autobiography ghostwriter Al Stump explained Cobb’s financial prowess, claiming that Cobb was worth $12.1 million when he died in July 1961.  He cited a Cobb quote regarding the initial Coca-Cola investment: “For example, Coca-Cola was a new drink on the market in 1918.  Wall Street didn’t think much of it.  I gambled the other way with a small 300-shares buy, then with bigger buys and then Coke jumped out of sight.  It brought me more than $4 million as time went by.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 15, 2014.