Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Very briefly, I want to call attention to a new(ish) feature on the right hand side of the blog, “Bingles,” which is where I put links to noteworthy items related to this blog’s areas of interest (especially black, Latin American, and/or 19th-century baseball). This has actually been up for several months, but I haven’t gotten around to publicizing until now.
The 29-year-old rookie Pat Vendittecaused a stir the other day with his ambidextrous debut for the A’s, pitching two scoreless innings against the Red Sox with both his right and left hands. (He has since appeared in a second game, retiring the one batter he faced on Sunday.)
He’s not the first to try pitching from both sides, though it is understandably quite rare. Cheryl Wrightprofiled the other five major leaguers known to have tried it, four of them from the nineteenth century. There’s also an entire blog devoted to switch pitching, which chronicles a much larger list of ambidextrous minor leaguers and amateurs. The collection of players there includes two Negro leaguers, LarryKimbrough of the Philadelphia Stars in the 1940s and Ulysses “Two-Way” Greene of the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The other day, after Venditte’s first game, Bill Staples tipped me off about two additional Negro league switch-pitchers, heretofore unknown to researchers (or unknown to me, anyway). I’ll get to those guys; but first let’s take a look at the two known ambidextrous Negro leaguers.
There’s a great interview with Kimbrough in Brent Kelley’s indispensable book, The Negro Leagues Revisited. Kimbrough, a natural left-hander, became ambidextrous after he caught his left arm in a washing machine as a child. With his throwing arm in a cast for a year, he learned to throw right-handed. He thought he would never use his left arm again, but his mother patiently forced him up to build up strength in it, and within a few he could throw equally well with either hand. Pitching right-handed for Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia, Kimbrough decided to switch to his other hand when a left-handed hitter came up. He got him out, and went on to win the game.
He joined the pro ranks during the war. Although he still switch-pitched for the Grays and Stars, he didn’t do it that often: “They wouldn’t allow me.” Still, according to Kimbrough, he pitched both lefthanded and righthanded in the first game he started for the Philadelphia Stars, twirling a 6-hit shutout to beat Max Manning and the Newark Eagles. The Negro league umpire Bob Motley remembered that Kimbrough would “pitch the first nine-inning game of a doubleheader right-handed and then the second seven-inning game left-handed (or vice-versa).”
Kimbrough was also a switch-hitter, and played both infield (mostly shortstop) and outfield—as an infielder he threw righthanded, and as an outfielder he threw with either hand. He also sometimes filled in at catcher, and after his professional career was over he became a catcher for a semipro team. This might make him the most versatile professional ballplayer of all time, in a sense: he both threw and hit with both hands, pitched, and played outfield, infield, and catcher. (Martín Dihigo, by comparison, pitched and played every position except catcher, and also switch-hit at times, but to my knowledge never tried to throw with his left hand.)
He served in the U.S. Army from August 1943 to January 1946. Kimbrough said that he had a tryout with the Cleveland Indians organization when he was 28 (which would have been in 1952), but that they decided he was “too old” (even though he’d told them he was 22).
Larry Nathaniel Kimbrough was born on September 23, 1923, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; he died on January 29, 2001, also in Philadelphia.
Ulysses “Two-Way” Greene
Lesser-known than Kimbrough, Ulysses Grant Greene, Jr., switch-pitched for the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns from 1958 to at least 1960. Unlike Kimbrough (as far as I can tell), and reflecting the different circumstances of black baseball in its twilight compared to its 1940s heyday, Greene’s ambidexterity was promoted as a gate attraction. One newspaper story in 1960 highlighted “the hilarious antics of zany ‘Two-Way’ Greene, ambidextrous switch-pitcher,” and claiming also that he was the “jitterbug champ of South Carolina and in the words of another Indianapolis funnyman, first-sacker Natureboy Williams, ‘when Two-Way gets going in that rock-n’roll show, he looks like he’s got a thousand legs’” (Delaware County Daily Times, August 2, 1960, p. 26).
(Odessa American, May 15, 1960, p. 31)
I don’t know whether or not Greene continued pitching after 1961. He was only 22 then, after all.
Ulysses Grant Greene, Jr., was born March 26, 1939, in Tobaccoville, N.C. He died May 14, 2006, Lumberton, N.C.; he is buried in Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Cumberland County, N.C.
On top of Kimbrough and Greene, Bill Staples has found two more switch-pitching Negro leaguers, both playing professional ball in Texas. In 1929, a 20-year-old rookie named Horace Cole from Little Rock, Arkansas, signed with the Dallas Black Giants of the new Texas-Oklahoma League. He was originally publicized as a right-hander (note the casual racism sprinkled through the Dallas papers’ coverage):
(Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1929, p. 19)
But within a month his ambidexterity was being highlighted:
(Dallas Morning News, May 23, 1929, p. 18)
In early June, the Associated Press distributed a short article about Cole that ran in newspapers all across the country:
(Charlotte Observer, June 2, 1929, p. 24)
If this article was accurate about Cole’s usage (pitching three times in four days), it might explain why he was beginning to have arm trouble by mid-June:
(Dallas Morning News, June 15, 1929, p. 18)
I wonder if the manager decided that, with two arms for throwing, he could pitch twice as much? In any case, he continued to pitch well, for a while anyway:
(Dallas Morning News, June 20, 1929, p. 16)
But by July, he was again being called a right-hander:
(Dallas Morning News, July 6, 1929, p. 8)
(Dallas Morning News, July 13, 1929, p. 9)
The last mention I’ve found of him in 1929 has him missing out on his ninth win of the season, losing to the San Antonio Black Indians 6-to-1 on July 20. The following year, 1930, Horace Cole appeared briefly for the Black Giants early in the season, then disappears—or at least I didn’t find any further mentions. I wasn’t able to come up with any indication that his baseball career continued past 1930, though that’s hardly definitive.
Given the state of evidence right now, it looks like Cole experimented for about a month to six weeks with throwing from both sides, and—maybe—tried to use his ambidexterity to pitch more innings. For whatever reason, it seems that the experiment ended before the season was over, and so far nothing is known of what became of Cole after this.
Horace Cole was born about 1909, most likely in Little Rock, Arkansas (that’s where his family can be found in the 1910 census). He appears in the 1930 census, taken in the winter April 1930 following his 1929 debut with the Black Giants, still living with his family in Little Rock, and listed as a professional ball player. In the little bit of research I’ve done, I haven’t traced him past 1930.
Washington (no first name), Beaumont Black Aces, 1944
Bill also sent me this little item from 1944:
(Port Arthur News, September 15, 1944, p. 11)
At the moment, this is the totality of my knowledge about Washington—I don’t know his first name, whether he pitched before or after 1944, how good he was, or anything else about him.
Thanks again to Bill Staples for uncovering Cole and Washington and bringing them to my attention. Maybe in the coming weeks we’ll be able to add more to their stories.
It appears that his full name was Horace Lee Cole and he was born 1/11/1908 in Little Rock, per his Arkansas WWII Draft card. Despite the fact that he was living in Little Rock in 1943, I haven't yet found him in the 1940 census (his father and siblings are listed under the surname "Cale" in the 1940 census, but Horace is absent). I can't seem to find any death or burial for him either, although his immediate family is buried in Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock. He was still alive in 1954 when his brother Clarence died, per an Arkansas State Press item. Clarence, by the way, managed the Dubisson Tigers of Little Rock, and both Clarence and youngest brother Lawrence played with the C&C Hotel All-Stars of Little Rock in 1947.
Dwayne Isgrig sent along this advert from the Delphi Journal (Delphi, Indiana), August 1, 1912. The ad includes both the photo of Dizzy Dismukes I posted a while back and one of Steel Arm John Taylor pitching, an image I’ve never seen before. Thanks Dwayne!
His pitching career lasted well over two decades; in 1932, at the age of 39, he made his first appearance in the Negro leagues, pitching briefly for the Washington Pilots and Pollock’s Cuban Stars of Cumberland Posey’s East-West Colored League.
A while back I wrote about Benjamin Harrison attending a New York Gorhams game in 1891, which appears to be the only instance of a sitting U.S. president watching a professional all-black baseball team play.
Harrison saw the Gorhams defeat the Cape May, N.J., club, a team of white semipros. Some 41 years later, a sitting vice president saw the Hilldale Club face the Washington Pilots, both black teams, in Griffith Stadium, Washington, D.C. On May 19, 1932, Charles Curtis, second-in-command to Herbert Hoover, threw out the first pitch for the opening game of the East-West Colored Baseball League.
(Washington Post, May 20, 1932, pp. 11-12)
The Post notes that as Curtis made the toss, he faced “a battery of newsreels and cameras,” so it’s possible that footage exists of this event somewhere. Here’s a photo from the New York Amsterdam News (no doubt better images also exist somewhere):
(New York Amsterdam News, May 25, 1932, p. 12)
In 1936 Sherman Minton, a Democratic senator from Indiana (and later Supreme Court justice) threw out the first ball for the Washington Elite Giants’ home opener against the Newark Eagles. And in 1941 another senator, James Mead (D-New York), opened the season for the Homestead Grays (by then D.C.’s home team). Aside from them, I’ve found a few big-city mayors and some municipal judges who performed this task for various black professional teams, but Curtis (who was also a former Senate Majority Leader) appears to have been the highest-ranking U.S. politician to observe a Negro league game.
Charles Curtis, by the way, was the first vice president with Native American ancestry; he was an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation, and grew up on the Kaw Reservation in Kansas in the 1860s. A jockey during his youth on the plains, he retained an interest in sports of all kinds through his career as a lawyer and politician. Curtis’s ceremonial duties as VP included opening the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He was also the last vice president to wear facial hair during his term of office.
The VP’s toss, according to the Post, “nicely clear[ed] a a barrier of funereal-looking floral pieces, whose significance did not strike home until the ball game began to go to the Philadelphia team.” The day’s gloomy implications would eventually go much deeper. The Hoover Administration would be swept away by the electorate that November. The Washington Pilots’ abject loss that May 19 afternoon prefigured their own demise after a single season of existence, although they managed to outlive the East-West League, which folded in June. The Pilots also survived the untimely death of their player-manager, Frank Warfield, while on a road trip to Pittsburgh in July.
The presence of Charles Curtis at a Washington Pilots game brought together a doomed administration, a doomed league, a doomed team, and a doomed player, all in the shadow of the Great Depression. (The administration was a bit more deserving of its fate than the others, of course.)
A few weeks ago, writing about the Eastern Colored League’s failed 1926 entry, the Newark Stars, I commented that their main claim to fame was hiring Sol White for what would be his last job in organized baseball. As it turns out, the Stars, who played only 11 league games before folding, earned another footnote in baseball history. This gives them an awfully high ratio of historical significance to games played.
It was originally thought that the Harrisburg Giants would leave the league in 1926, and that the Newark Stars would either take over their franchise completely, or would at least sign several of their players. When Colonel Strothers changed his mind and decided to keep Harrisburg in the ECL, Newark was left scrambling for players. It was claimed that they sent scouts to Cuba and Puerto Rico. One player they came up with was a young Dominican pitcher named PedroAlejandroSan. However, Alejandro Pompez, owner of the eastern Cuban Stars, claimed San’s services as well. The Dominican wrote a letter to the ECL commissioners to clear up the issue, but the only person at the league meeting who could read Spanish was…Alejandro Pompez. So they tabled the matter for another month. But Pompez would not be denied, and by mid-March it was announced that San had been awarded to the Cuban Stars. He became the first Dominican player to appear in the major leagues.
In the meantime the Newark Stars had to find players somewhere. They had scouts active in both Puerto Rico and Cuba, it was claimed, and several Puerto Rican players were mentioned in lists of Newark players before the season started, including Ramón Guilfucci, Ramón “Monchile” Concepcion, a shortstop called only “Mellio,” Joseph Burrcino, and Jace Nestor. The first two are well-known Puerto Rican players, and “Mellio” might be Emilio “Millito” Navarro; I’ve had trouble identifying the last two. At any rate, as far as I know, none of these appeared in any Newark Stars games in 1926.
The Stars were not the only team in the United States in 1926 hot on the trail of Puerto Rican (and Dominican) players. A strong independent professional club, the Allentown Dukes, which starred several former major leaguers, had beaten Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in an exhibition game in 1923. As a result the team scored an invitation to tour Puerto Rico. This was reported at the time as the first visit to the island by an American professional team (although the Brooklyn Royal Giants had played in Puerto Rico in 1917). They travelled to Puerto Rico in both the 1923/24 and 1924/25 off-seasons. After the second trip, the Dukes returned to Pennsylvania having signed two players they had faced during their tour: Agustín “Tingu” Daviu, a Puerto Rican infielder, and Baldomero “Mero” Ureña, a Dominican pitcher. Ureña thus became, as far as we know, the first Dominican to play professional baseball in the United States, preceding Pedro San by one year.
And later that summer, the Dukes added another Puerto Rican player:
(Mount Carmel Item, July 1, 1925, p. 4)
(Mount Carmel Daily News, July 9, 1925, p. 8)
Gacho’s stay with the Dukes in 1925 was relatively brief, only a little more than a month:
(Mount Carmel Item, August 20, 1925, p. 5)
In 1926 the Dukes joined the Interstate League, a new circuit that featured three white teams (Allentown, Reading, and Camden) and three black teams (Harrisburg Giants, Bacharach Giants, and Hilldale). Games between the black teams counted in both Interstate League and Eastern Colored League standings. In preparation for the season, the Dukes’ owner, Ernest “Duke” Landgraf (the team was named for him—see this account of his career) brought in four Puerto Rican players:
(Mount Carmel Daily News, April 10, 1926, p. 3)
Although I haven’t so far identified “Claudio,” the other three are a catcher/outfielder named Manuel Enrique Net, the aforementioned Tingu Daviu, and “Joe Gacho”—whose name was really José Torres (“Gacho” being a nickname). Torres was, it turns out, more than a footnote in Puerto Rican baseball history. Along with the Faberllé brothers and Cosme Beitía Sálamo, Gacho Torres was one of los cuatro jinetes del beisbol (the four leaders of baseball) in the late 1910s and early 1920s. They served in the 65th Infantry, the Puerto Rican Regiment, during World War I, and after the war they were (according to the historian Solsiree del Moral) “recruited into the physical education training program at the University of Puerto Rico.” As teachers, they presumably played a role in spreading baseball through the island.
Courtesy of Jorge Colón Delgado, here’s a photo of Gacho Torres:
By 1926, El Gacho was a 29-year-old veteran. A left-handed pitcher and outfielder, he was still considered a remarkable player, both for his curveball and his speed on the base paths:
(Mount Carmel Daily News, May 3, 1926, p. 6)
(Mount Carmel Daily News, May 25, 1926, p. 6)
He played right field and pitched for the Allentown Dukes. Here he is getting a couple of hits for the Dukes against the Harrisburg Giants in an Interstate League game on May 1:
(Harrisburg Sunday Courier, May 2, 1926, p. 3)
On May 7 he took the mound and beat the defending ECL champs Hilldale 6 to 3 in another Interstate League game.
(Chester Times, May 8, 1926, p. 14)
On May 25 Gacho was reported to be in Brooklyn recovering from an arm injury (see above). But on May 23 he was in the Bronx, playing for the ECL’s Newark Stars in a doubleheader against the Lincoln Giants:
(Baltimore Afro-American, May 29, 1926, p. 8)
Emilio “Millito” Navarro is commonly thought to have been the first Puerto Rican player to appear in the U.S. Negro leagues, in 1928 (or 1929, depending on how you define “Negro league”). But here’s Gacho Torres, one of the most important figures in the early history of Puerto Rican baseball, in an ECL game in 1926.
He didn’t last with the Newark Stars—these are the only two Stars games I’ve found him in. But he may have caught on with another black team—Syd Pollock’s Boston Black Sox, a travelling team that was the predecessor of the Havana Red Sox, Cuban House of David, and Pollock’s Cuban Stars. The Black Sox featured Manuel Net, Ramón Guilfucci, Monchile Concepcion, and one “Torrez,” a supposedly Cuban slugger whom I suspect might have really been Gacho Torres.
(Mount Carmel Item, June 29, 1926, p. 5)
So we appear to have pinpointed the first Puerto Rican to play Negro league baseball, even before Millito Navarro. But the story doesn’t end there. For one thing, I’ve seen at least one remark in 1926 that Monchile Concepcion had already played for the Boston Black Sox in 1925, though I haven’t confirmed it.
For another, Jorge Colón Delgado tells me that one Rafael Cruz López played in the U.S. for the Cuban Stars in 1920, and before that, Jesús “El Tigre” Velazquez played for a team called the South City Giants in 1917. I know nothing about the South City Giants (anyone?), and the only López I know of with either Cuban Stars team in 1920 was the Cuban outfielder José “Lopito” López of the western Cuban Stars.
However, there was a pitcher named Cruz who appeared for Pompez’s eastern Cuban Stars in 1918:
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 21, 1918, p. 31)
(Jersey Journal, October 4, 1918, p. 7)
I can’t link Cruz to anybody on passenger lists for sure (yet), but this seems to be a very strong candidate for the earliest Puerto Rican player in U.S. black professional baseball. Until that can be confirmed, Gacho Torres is the man.
Thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado and also Tito Rondon for help with this post.
New to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database: the 1931 eastern black teams. Once again, there was no league on the east coast. As in the case of 1930, we are at this time including only games between these independent eastern clubs, so the Homestead Grays and the Cuban House of David, who played western NNL teams extensively, aren’t fully represented yet. The NNL’s Cleveland Cubs also toured the east coast, so most of the teams here have at least a few games against top black teams that aren’t yet counted.
The ’31 Grays are commonly cited as one of the great teams in Negro league history. To a core that included Oscar Charleston (.319/.379/.513), Joe Williams (3-1. 1.80), George Scales (.308/.368/.548), and the 19-year-old Josh Gibson (.287/.353/.548), owner/manager Cum Posey added Jud Wilson from the Baltimore Black Sox and lights-out leftander Willie Foster from the Chicago American Giants, along with catcher/pitcher Double Duty Radcliffe from the Detroit Stars. Wilson tore up eastern pitching to the tune of a .422 average in 23 games, while Foster went 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA.
In games purely between the eastern teams, however, the Grays finished behind the Hilldale Club, who went 30-11 (although the Grays did beat the Hilldales 4 games to 3 in head-to-head matchups). In 1930 Hilldale, with longtime owner Ed Bolden deposed, had hemorrhaged players and collapsed, managing only 7 wins against black professional teams. This year a new owner, Johnny Drew, lured Judy Johnson back from his job captaining the 1930 Grays to rescue the team. As his first order of business, he retained Biz Mackey and installed him at his best position, catcher. Mackey rewarded him with a .373/.448/.536 performance. Johnson also brought back old favorites Martín Dihigo (.306/.414/.519), Porter Charleston (6-1, 2.86), and Chaney White (.290), and signed Rap Dixon from the Black Sox (.234, 5 triples) and Walter Cannady (.314/.399/.446) and slick-fielding basketball star Bill Yancey (.276) from the defunct Lincoln Giants. Hilldale might have done even better if submarine ace Webster McDonald (4-0, 0.97) hadn’t spent most of the summer playing for a white independent team in Little Falls, Minnesota.
One of the most established institutions in black baseball disappeared in 1931. The New York Lincoln Giants, originally founded by the McMahon brothers back in 1911, did not field a team. Ironically they were the victims of their own success. The year before the Lincolns had played the Baltimore Black Sox in a July doubleheader in Yankee Stadium, the first games between black teams in that august venue. The games were a huge success (and were repeated in September during the championship series with the Homestead Grays), but afterwards the Lincolns fans, according to W. Rollo Wilson of the Pittsburgh Courier, “stayed away from the Protectory Oval in large numbers, refusing to go to that bandbox park after seeing their favorites work on a real diamond.” To top it off, the team’s owner, James Keenan, was bitterly disappointed by the loss of championship honors to the Grays. He publicly criticized his players and fired his manager, the venerable Pop Lloyd, further alienating the fans.
Within a few weeks of the end of the 1930 season, there was already talk of a new team arising in New York, one that was seeking Yankee Stadium as its permanent home. It was financed by the famous dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and his agent, the theatrical promoter Marty Forkins. Their first move, after securing a venue, was to hire John Henry Lloyd as manager. Lloyd convinced a number of his Lincolns players to join him. By April Keenan, facing the prospect of playing to diminished crowds with a drastically weakened team, had thrown in the towel. The Lincoln Giants of Cyclone Joe Williams, Dick Redding, Spot Poles, Bill Pettus, and many other stars, were no more.
In their place Forkins, Robinson, and Lloyd originally intended to present a club called the Black or Colored Yankees. This name was reportedly scotched by New York Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham, who objected because some of their home games were to be played in the Polo Grounds. It was also claimed that the Yankees themselves opposed the name, for whatever reason. The next idea, to call the team the “Brown Buddies,” mercifully died long before any games were played. Lloyd settled on “New York All Stars,” noting that “New York has been fed up on ‘Giants’ for the past quarter of a century, and as we are all going on the diamond to play baseball, a name devoid of any suggestion of clowning will be something that will mean much to the team” (Philadelphia Tribune, April 16, 1931, p. 10). The team’s warmup jackets were emblazoned “N. Y.,” but they still ended up most often referred to as the Harlem Stars.
They also went into business with Nat Strong, whose booking empire controlled independent baseball on the east coast. He had been for many years a very controversial figure among African American baseball men. Now, with Strong in charge of booking the Harlem Stars, other managers became reluctant to schedule games with them, despite their access to the big ballparks. Cum Posey categorically refused to bring his powerhouse Grays to New York City. In the absence of a league and a steady flow of quality opponents, the Stars drew poorly, and by the end of the season the team was tottering financially.
The slugger John Beckwith had been slated to take over for Lloyd as Lincoln Giants manager, but when Keenan withdrew from the field, Beckwith was snapped up by the Baltimore Black Sox. Beck continued to hit in Baltimore, but he was the only real bright spot for the Dark Hose, who continued their gradual downward slide from the heights of 1929.
The promoter Syd Pollock, based in Tarrytown (on the Hudson River in Westchester County, just north of New York City), had for some years been operating a traveling team called the Havana Red Sox. Pollock worked the same upstate New York barnstorming circuit as PopWatkins’s old Havana Red Sox, and probably took the name from them. Watkins’s team, however, featured no actual Cubans, whereas Pollock used both Cuban and U.S. players on his rosters. Some of the Americans played under silly fake “Spanish” names, southpaw Barney Brown turning out as “Brownez,” and Johnnie Bob Dixon as “Dixonez.”
In 1930 Abel Linares, owner of the western Cuban Stars for many years, passed away, and his manager, Tinti Molina, found himself unable to field a team in the U.S. for the 1931 season. Pollock saw an opening, and decided to combine the Cuban marketing hook with another well-known baseball brand, the House of David, the religious sect from Benton Harbor, Michigan, that famously fielded teams of bearded players. The “Cuban House of David” had no connection with the actual House of David, but Pollock apparently did get his players to grow “a great assortment of side-burns, mutton-chops, flowing-beards and what not in hirsute adornment” (Altoona Tribune, May 25, 1931, p. 10). And although John Henry Lloyd might have wished otherwise, the Cuban House of David was dedicated to keeping alive the old tradition of clowning; during the off-season the players were said to be hard at work back in Cuba practicing shadowball and other comedy routines.
In Pittsburgh the Homestead Grays were served notice by an upstart sandlot team calling themselves the Crawford Giants. Their owner, the gambling king Gus Greenlee, had ambitions that extended way beyond the Pittsburgh area. His money brought in some established figures, including southpaw Sam Streeter and Rube Foster’s old shortstop Bobby Williams as manager. The Crawford Giants were still using a city playground, Ammon Field, as their home park, where they had to collect “donations” rather than charge for tickets. In 1932 Greenlee’s team would lose the “Giants” and gain a new, purpose-built park.
Satchel Paige spent much of the season with the NNL’s Cleveland Cubs, but halfway through the year he began exhibiting signs of entering the “hired gun” phase of his career. In August he took the mound for the Crawford Giants, and in September appeared briefly for the Homestead Grays.
Among the refugees from the demise of the Lincoln Giants was Charlie“Chino”Smith, who joined Nat Strong’s Brooklyn Royal Giants, a team that was gradually withdrawing from big-time blackball into the barnstorming life. He spent the whole season with them, and was still batting third and playing right field in September. Before the winter was out he would be dead of stomach cancer.
Along with the Lincolns, black baseball lost its most peculiar setting, the Catholic Protectory Oval, a tiny field wedged between Gothic buildings at an orphanage in the Bronx. This had an effect on statistics. Nearly a third of the games between eastern teams we included in the database for 1930 were played at the Protectory. Negro league teams batted .347/.419/.531 in these games, as opposed to .297/.356/.417 at all other parks combined. The Lincoln Giants hit .381 at home. In 1931, the overall averages are .264/.323/.363. The loss of the Protectory doesn’t account for all of the big drop in offense we see from 1930 to 1931, but it is obviously a huge factor.
One more note on 1931: we haven’t chosen to include games involving the Bacharach Giants, Newark Browns, or Providence Colored Giants. These teams are all right on the knife’s edge between inclusion and exclusion. Other sources do include at least Newark and the Bacharachs, and it’s possible that after further review we will count them in the future.
On deck for the DB: the 1932 East-West League, 1901/02 and 1924/25 Cuban League, and much more.
From the Pittsburgh Courier, January 10, 1931, p. 14.
From the Outsider Baseball Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 9 (August 4, 2010):
This is the death certificate for Cristóbal Torriente, showing that he passed away of pulmonary tuberculosis at Riverside Hospital in the Bronx on April 11, 1938, having been hospitalized since July of the previous year. It probably tells you something about his last years that he was still listed as a “Baseball player,” despite not having worked at that profession since August, 1933. According to the reverse side, Ramiro Ramírez, another Cuban ballplayer, took charge of his body, claiming to be Torriente’s cousin. It was Ramírez who employed one A. R. Hernández as undertaker.
According to John Holway’s Blackball Stars, Rogelio Crespo said that “they draped a Cuban flag over his coffin, and a politician arranged to return the body to Havana” (p. 132). Torriente is reported to be buried in the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, where two monuments memorialize members of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. His death certificate, however, shows that he was supposed to have been buried at Calvary Cemetery (in Queens; “City Cemetery” is crossed out) on April 15. Presumably Torriente’s body was returned to Cuba instead, or else his remains were moved back to Cuba at some later time. But it might be worth checking out the Calvary Cemetery records to see if in fact Torriente never left the United States.
[Scott Simkus added this editor’s note in the original:] Ramiro Ramírez and Rogelio Crespo were both members of Syd Pollock’s 1933 Cuban Stars, featured in this week’s cover story. During the 1933 season, Torriente was in Chicago, managing a team called Falcon’s Giants, who played around the Chicago metropolitan area during the spring.
I originally published the above piece in the Outsider Baseball Bulletin on August 4, 2010. Today Ralph Carhart at the Hall Ball blog offers a much more complete look at Torriente’s final days. He points out that Riverside Hospital, located on the now-deserted and off-limits North Brother Island in the East River, also housed Typhoid Mary during the same time Torriente was there (she died in November 1938, seven months after Torriente).
Ralph did what I only suggested in my OBB article, actually contacting the two cemeteries in question, and finding out that neither burial ground has any record of Torriente’s interment. Given that Calvery Cemetery has interred some 3 million people since its founding in 1848, and the Colón Cemetery about 1 million since 1876, it’s certainly possible that over the years a few records have been misplaced. Nevertheless, there’s a mystery here that I barely suspected back in 2010.
We’ve added games between the 1930 eastern Negro league teams to the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database. It was an astonishing year in black baseball history, a year that saw the first Negro league games played at night, the first Negro league games played in Yankee Stadium, and the sudden emergence of one of the greatest talents in baseball history.
There was no eastern league in 1930, the American Negro League having disbanded after a single season—but the major eastern teams continued to play each other, leaving a decent number of games to compile. Ed Bolden, co-founder of the old Eastern Colored League, had lost control of the Hilldale Club to team official (and scorekeeper) Lloyd Thompson, and many of the team’s best players fled. Biz Mackey (.444/,496/.704) was the biggest star who stayed, although he was pressed into service at shortstop instead of his best position, catcher. The talent just wasn’t there for Hilldale, which won only 7 games against east coast black professionals while losing 28.
Another longtime owner, Alejandro Pompez of the eastern Cuban Stars, dropped out of baseball entirely in 1930. His business partner, the somewhat notorious promoter Nat Strong, worked with veteran shortstop and Cubans captain Pelayo Chacón to bring a Cuban team to the New York area. This one was called the Stars of Cuba (recalling the name of a 1910 team), and it was mostly noteworthy for bringing Martín Dihigo back to the Cuban fold (he had spent the previous two seasons with the Homestead Grays and Hilldale).
A player identified in press accounts as “Pelayo Chacón, Jr.” appeared briefly for the Stars in 1930, marking the first time I’ve seen that a father and son appeared in the same lineup for a Negro league team. (Willie Wells, Jr., would play alongside his father for the Memphis Red Sox in 1944.) We’ve been so far unable to identify him, except to note that he is clearly NOT this Pelayo Chacón, Jr., who was born in Venezuela in 1933, and was the brother of Elio Chacón.
The collapse of the ANL meant that the eastern clubs were free to raid the western NNL teams for players. The Baltimore Black Sox were especially enthusiastic about this option, grabbing Satchel Paige from Birmingham and Mule Suttles from St. Louis. Both performed well (Paige went 3-1, Suttles hit .370 with 4 homers in 13 games), but the lack of a settled league cut into attendance and thus the team’s revenue, and the Black Sox couldn’t afford to keep their pricey acquisitions past mid-June.
Like the Black Sox, the New York Lincoln Giants landed a big NNL star—the Detroit Stars’ eccentric slugger Turkey Stearnes, the man who talked to his bats, flapped his arms while he ran, and specialized in lofting home runs over the close right field fence at Detroit’s Mack Park. Stearnes flourished (.425, 6 home runs in 19 games) in the Lincolns’ equally eccentric home park, the Catholic Protectory Oval, with its 150-foot foul lines. But like Suttles and Paige, by mid-June Stearnes had jumped back to Detroit.
Even not counting Stearnes, the Lincolns boasted of some of the east’s top perfomers, including John Beckwith (.486/.537/.905), Charlie “Chino” Smith (.406/.526/.700), and Bill Holland (13-3, 3.98). On July 5 they met the Black Sox in the first Negro league game ever staged in Yankee Stadium. The doubleheader that day attracted a crowd of 20,000, said to be the largest ever to view games between black teams to that date. The games were so successful that when the Lincolns met the Homestead Grays in an informal championship series in September, two more doubleheaders were held in the House That Ruth Built.
The Grays featured an 18-year-old catcher from the Pittsburgh sandlots named Joshua Gibson, who had been drafted into service when the Grays’ veteran backstop Buck Ewing broke his finger during a game. In the Grays-Lincolns series Gibson announced his arrival as a superstar, hitting .361 with four home runs (one of them legendary) as the Grays won, 6 games to 4. Meanwhile Chino Smith suffered an injury that was later (probably wrongly) blamed for his premature death in 1932.
An important note on the 1930 stats we’ve added: they do not include the 1930 Negro National League, and they do not include games between the eastern teams and the NNL teams. Of the teams currently posted, this mainly affects the Homestead Grays, who played the NNL extensively, especially the Kansas City Monarchs. (So Cyclone Joe Williams’s famous 12-inning, 27-strikeout, 1 to 0 victory over Chet Brewer and the Monarchs is not yet in the DB.)
In addition to 1930, we have added games for 1896, 1897, 1898, and 1901—unfortunately, there were few black professional teams active during that era, and they didn’t play each other very often. Also, we have new games for 1912, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1926, 1934, 1935, and 1936. Many, many thanks to Todd Peterson, Paul Healey, and Scott Simkus for their considerable help in collecting box scores.
Next up for the DB: 1931 eastern Negro leagues, 1924/25 Cuban League, 1932 East-West League, and more.