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.
I’ve written quite a bit about tracking down the death of Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Dobie Moore; here’s something about his life, an anecdote from 1925 I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use yet. It puts at least a little flesh on the factual bones of Moore’s story.
A few months ago I was hired by Jimmy Allen to research the above photograph, which he’d had in his collection for decades. With his permission, I’m presenting my findings here, because it’s both a beautiful photograph and historically significant.
The team in this photograph is the 1923 Washington Potomacs, an independent club owned and managed by Hall of Famer Ben Taylor. It was taken in Griffith Stadium (then known as American League Park) in Washington, D.C., on opening day, May 10, 1923, before a game between the Washington Potomacs and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. A street parade was held before the game, after which Taylor was presented with “a beautiful horse shoe of American Beauties Roses…The design was over four feet high and contained over two hundred roses.” This can be seen to the right of the photo next to Taylor.
(Baltimore Afro-American, May 18, 1923, p. 15)
The Potomacs’ roster consisted of players Taylor brought from his previous team, the Indianapolis ABCs, including William Ross, Morris Williams, Ralph Jefferson, Morten Clark, Mack Eggleston, William Woods, Wayne Carr, and Taylor himself, along with several rookies (Pete Washington, Joe Goodrich, Bullet Campbell, Will Owens) and some journeymen from other, mostly east coast teams (Elias Brown, Alex Albritton, Joe Lewis, Buck Ridgley). An independent outfit, the Potomacs played 23 games against Eastern Colored League teams in 1923, going 9-14.
The following season, Taylor acquired a co-owner and financial backer named George Robinson, and the team entered the Eastern Colored League. After undergoing a roster overhaul, the Potomacs still only managed a seventh-place finish, going 21-38. In 1925 they moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and Taylor left the team. With Danny McClellan as manager they sank even further in the standings, and folded before the season was done.
When I set out to identify the photograph, the first thing I noticed that made it clear it was an image of the 1923 Potomacs was the presence of Ben Taylor himself (standing, far right). Taylor managed two teams in Washington, D. C.—the 1923-24 Washington Potomacs, and the 1938 Washington Black Senators. That it was the ’23 Potomacs was confirmed immediately by the presence of Morten Clark (in glasses, kneeling second from right), the only player in black baseball at the time to wear glasses when he played, and Mack Eggleston (standing, second from left), who retired from the big time in 1933. We also have the testimony of Leonard Goodrich, son of the Potomacs’ third baseman Joe Goodrich, who identified his father in the photograph (kneeling, fourth from left).
For comparison with the team photo, here are several photos of Potomacs players published in April 1923, showing what is clearly the same uniform (note the diamond on the sleeves, the socks, belt, pinstripes, and “Washington” across the chest):
(Baltimore Afro-American, April 20, 1923, p. 14)
(Pittsburgh Courier, April 28, 1923, p. 11)
This photograph has a great deal of significance for Negro league history, as it’s the only known team picture of the 1923 Potomacs, it provides the clearest images available of many of the players on the team, and it features the only known images for three players (Alex Albritton, Morris Williams, Buck Ridgley). Also, in the case of Joe Goodrich, this is the only known photograph of him in a baseball uniform.
STANDING, L to R
1. E. J. Butler
A publicity man brought from Indianapolis by Ben Taylor to serve as the team’s business manager. After 1923 he would return to Indianapolis to promote all-black auto races. Below on the right is a photo of E. J. Butler from 1924.
A right-handed pitcher from Texas, one of the San Antonio Black Aces players brought to Indianapolis by C. I. Taylor in 1920. There are no other known photos of Williams, but he was reported to have been 6’4” and over 200 pounds, so this seems to be the obvious candidate.
Albritton was a journeyman pitcher for east coast teams in the 1920s. Later in life he was confined to a mental institution, where he was beaten to death by an attendant in 1940 (the attendant was later acquitted of any wrongdoing). Only one photo of Albritton is known to me, and it is so poorly reproduced as to be useless, so this is a guess (in part because the pitchers all seem to be standing together). The other alternative would be Buck Ridgley (see also #5, kneeling). Unfortunately I only have this poor-quality detail for Albritton and William Woods (below).
Another Texas player who followed Ben Taylor from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., Ross was a right-handed pitcher and sometimes manager. Back in 1917 he had led a Texas Colored League all-star team north to play the Chicago American Giants and Indianapolis ABCs, which is probably when he met Taylor.
Here he’s compared with photos of 1) Ross with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs, and 2) a photo of Ross with the ’23 Washington Potomacs, from the Baltimore Afro-American.
Taylor signed Lewis, a catcher, from the Baltimore Black Sox, and he would return to the Black Sox before the 1923 season was finished. Here he’s compared to a photo of Lewis with the Hilldale Club in 1924.
Carr was another right-hander with a reputation for jumping from team to team, which he did in August (along with Morten Clark, below) to join the Black Sox, a league team. In the middle is a photo of Carr with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs, and on the right is another image of Carr with the Potomacs in 1923.
Owens was a rookie infielder brought by Taylor from his native Indianapolis. He would go on to a long career in the Negro leagues. Below on the right is a painting of Owens by Paul Debono (based on a photograph, which unfortunately I don’t have in my records).
The founder of the Washington Potomacs, one of the greatest first basemen in Negro league history, a member of the famous Taylor clan, and a Hall of Famer. On the right is Taylor with the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs.
A journeyman outfielder in the 1920s, mostly for east coast teams, Jefferson later became a sporting goods dealer and in the 1940s a Pennsylvania state legislator. He was another native Texan who had played for the Indianapolis ABCS. Below right he is shown with the Philadelphia Colored Giants in 1928.
An outfielder who had played for the ABCs in 1921 and 1922, Woods was recognized as “one of the fastest men in the game” and a great bunter (Baltimore Afro-American, April 6, 1923). He died of heart trouble at the age of 29. On the right below is a photo of Woods with the Washington Potomacs from the Afro-American in 1923.
A rookie brought up from Georgia, Pete Washington would go on to a long Negro league career as a fine defensive center fielder who hit with a little power. On the right is Washington with the 1929 Baltimore Black Sox.
A third baseman/shortstop from Texas whose career was derailed by an arm injury he suffered in the spring of 1923 (thus his absence from some of the early games). Then in the offseason between 1923 and 1924 he was struck by a car and badly hurt.
He was identified by his son, Leonard Goodrich. No other baseball photograph of Goodrich is currently known (even the family has none).
An infielder who spent much of his career playing for minor teams in upstate New York. According to several sources he was a left-handed second baseman, which was quite rare. I haven’t found a photo of Ridgley; here I’m guessing he’s kneeling in the front row between two other infielders (Clark, Goodrich). The other option is that this is Alex Albritton (see Standing #4).
Another player Ben Taylor swiped from his old team, the ABCs, Clark was famous as the only man in black baseball at the time to wear glasses while playing. He jumped with Wayne Carr to the Baltimore Black Sox in August. On the right is a photo of Clark from the Indianapolis Ledger in 1915.
This outfielder’s real name was Elias Bryant. Despite his severe expression here (and in other photos), he was well-known as an onfield comedian and an off-season vaudeville performer. On the right are photos of Brown with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 1921, and Brown with the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1930.
Jay Sokol of Black College Nines recently wrote me about this 1899 Chicago Unions promotional calendar, and asked about the player named “Arnett” on the bottom left:
Coincidentally, I had been looking at this same calendar (displayed at The National Pastime Museum) just a few weeks before, and had been wondering about Arnett as well. As an artifact, it’s astonishing, and very unusual for a black team in the nineteenth century. I wonder if its appearance in 1899 marks the heightening of local competition in black baseball circles, as the Columbia Club (an organization of young black businessmen) had purchased the Page Fence Giants and moved them to Chicago to become the Columbia Giants. Maybe the Unions needed to up their publicity game in order to keep fans from defecting to the Columbias and their slugging shortstop, Grant Johnson.
For his part, Jay had connected the “Arnett” of the Chicago Unions to a player named Arnett who appears in this photo of the 1897 Wilberforce University baseball team (a photo that may also show Sol White):
The Arnett here, Jay says, is actually Alphonso T. Arnett, the son of the famous AME Bishop Benjamin Arnett, or possibly Alphonso’s brother Benjamin Arnett Jr. (both were Wilberforce students). Here’s a picture Jay supplied of Alphonso Arnett (on the left), compared to Arnett of the Chicago Unions (on the right):
As it turns out, though, Arnett of the Unions is probably not one of the Arnett brothers, though he may have been related. His name was Pusey Dell Arnett, typically known as P. D. Arnett. He was born on July 20, 1875, in Columbus, Ohio. Here is an article from a couple of years earlier, 1897, with some information about Chicago Unions players:
(Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1897, p. 8)
I don’t have Arnett appearing with the Unions in 1897 (yet); instead, he seems to have become the business manager and outfielder for a team called the Chicago Clippers, to wit:
(Inter Ocean, July 10, 1897, p. 5)
(Inter Ocean, Spetember 21, 1897, p. 5)
While he appears not to have actually played for the Unions in 1897, he did eventually suit up for them:
(Inter Ocean, January 24, 1898, p. 4)
Yes, you read that date correctly—the Unions played in January, 1898. But they weren’t freezing in the middle of an Illinois winter. This was a game of indoor baseball, which was quite popular at the time. The Unions fielded a team for several years. Eventually indoor baseball was moved outside and developed into softball.
So far, I haven’t seen Arnett with the Unions during the summer of either 1898 or 1899, though I have hardly undertaken a thorough search. At any rate, it would appear that his baseball career was over fairly quickly. In 1900 he was listed as a waiter, while lodging in the home of one Charles Williams, born in Ohio (a candidate to be the C.E. Williams from Washington Court House, Ohio, who was listed with the ’97 Unions, above). Eventually he became an insurance agent, and seems to have done quite well for himself. He married and had at least two children, both sons. During World War I he travelled to Europe to do some kind of war-related work for the YMCA. His passport photo shows a resemblance to the photo of Arnett with the ’99 Chicago Unions:
There’s one last footnote to the life of P. D. Arnett. Widowed in 1927, he remarried—and his new wife just happened to be Florence B. Price, the first famous African American female composer. Though they separated after only about three years, they apparently never divorced. Price died in 1953, and Arnett passed away in 1957.
This may be old news to some, but I recently ran across this World War II draft registration card filled out in 1942 by Oliver Marcell, then living in Denver, Colorado, where he would pass away a few years later (in 1949).
This document is noteworthy for a few things. First, it adds still more evidence that his name was spelled “Marcell,” without the “e” at the end—here he clearly signs it that way, as he had on his World War I draft card and his U.S. passport application in 1920. Second, it adds evidence that he was taller than 5’9”, the common listing for him, showing him at 5’11 ½” (his passport application says 5’10”).
Last, there’s the note on the reverse that he had a “Scar on nose.” Marcell, as you probably know, was involved in a fight in Cuba in early 1930 with his Baltimore Black Sox teammate Frank Warfield. During the fight Warfield (whose nickname was “Weasel,” which might explain a lot) bit off a large chunk of Marcell’s nose.
Here’s how it was covered back in the U.S. (I haven’t checked Cuban coverage yet):
(Philadelphia Tribune, February 13, 1930, p. 10; this is a reprint of a story that appeared in the February 8 issue of the Baltimore Afro-American. I’ve used this version because the layout’s more convenient.)
The story after this was that Marcell, a bit vain about his looks, wore a patch over his injured nose and was too embarrassed to be seen in public, thus putting a premature end to his baseball career.
I don’t know about that. Yes, he left the Black Sox in 1930, which makes sense. Here’s Bill Gibson writing in the Afro-American (April 26, 1930; p. 14):
Gibson didn’t even think Marcell left because of the fight with Warfield—he argued he just wasn’t good enough anymore. He was, after all, 35 years old. But Marcell wasn’t through with baseball. He signed with the Royal Giants for 1930. In 1931 he served as player-manager of the Providence Giants, and in 1933 he co-managed the Wilmington Hornets of the Eastern Negro Baseball League, a minor circuit. As late as 1937, after he’d moved to Colorado, he can be found playing for semipro outfits. He may have been embarrassed by his appearance, but it didn’t drive him out of baseball.
If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out ESPN’s “The Diary of Myles Thomas,” an account of the 1927 Yankees from the (fictionalized) perspective of a minor figure on the team, the pitcher Myles Thomas. I’m not doing any of the writing on the “Diary,” but I have been helping with some research, as one of its central conceits is that Myles was a jazz aficionado who encountered black musicians and ballplayers. The latest entry shows us Rube Foster, confined in the asylum at Kankakee, Illinois, in 1927.
One of the main things I’ve done for them is figure out how we can plausibly have Myles encounter certain stories. It's fiction, sure, but we've been trying hard to make it believable fiction, to give it a sturdy grounding in nuts-and-bolts research. So we work out a lot of scenarios like, “Can we place Myles Thomas at the Negro League World Series in 1925? Or, failing that, can we place Myles in the same room as somebody who did see the ’25 World Series—before the end of the 1927 season?”
In the case of this particular entry, Jimmy Yancey, an early practitioner of boogie woogie piano, serves as the link between Myles and Rube Foster. Yancey was for many years a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry says he played baseball for the “Chicago All-Americans” during World War I, which seems likely to be a reference to Foster’s American Giants (although I haven’t been able to substantiate any playing time for him with any teams I’m familiar with). (Using Yancey, by the way, is a fantastic idea—one I had nothing to do with.)
Quick notes about a couple of things:
• Yancey tells Myles the story that Rube Foster taught Christy Mathewson how to throw his famous “fadeaway” pitch. This was debunked by Dick Thompson in the Baseball Research Journal in 1996 (Mathewson learned it from a minor league pitcher named Dave Williams in 1898). The guys behind the “Diary” (Douglas Alden and John Thorn) are aware of this, and consciously chose to have Yancey help spread the legend.
•Yancey also tells the story that Foster gained his nickname by defeating Rube Waddell and the Philadelphia A’s. This is well-trodden ground, of course; it appears likely (in my opinion) that Foster in fact defeated Waddell and the white semipro Murray Hills in 1903, but Foster never seems to have faced the Athletics (though the A’s did play the Philadelphia Giants several times in the 1900s). In 1907, however, he stated in print that he beat Waddell and the A’s in 1905. Since Foster himself told the story this way, it makes perfect sense that Yancey could have heard it directly from him.
The seller dated it “ca. 1908,” but it’s actually pretty easy to establish more precisely that the photograph shows the 1910 Cuban Giants. The key is the presence of captain Al Robinson, who played for the Cuban Giants only in 1910.
This postcard is quite significant, as it provides us with the first confirmed images (that I know of, anyway) of Bill Land, Al Robinson, Charles Reese, and Dawson (who still lacks a first name), and the first really clear photo of Jesse Bragg I’ve seen. It’s also perhaps the only glimpse we have of the 1910 Cuban Giants uniforms.
In addition to all that, it gives us more insight into other photos and teams, most notably this picture of the 1906 Brooklyn Royal Giants, discussed by Albert Flanneryhere.
The 1910 Cuban Giants postcard, I believe, confirms Albert’s ID of Al Robinson as the player standing in back, third from right, in the Royal Giants photo.
But look at the player identified as “Brown” with the Cuban Giants. He is quite obviously the same person as the guy standing in the middle of the back row (fourth from right, fourth from left) in the Royal Giants picture.
Albert had identified this player as the pitcher Peter “Pop” Andrews, though admittedly this was more speculative. I think the 1910 Cuban Giants postcard makes it quite clear that this is in fact Harry Brown.
Or is it? I have always thought the Brown who played for the Royal Giants from 1905 through 1909 was Harry Brown, but check out this article from early 1910, which identifies the Cuban Giants player as Mike Brown:
(Baltimore Afro-American, April 23, 1910, p. 6)
Given that Brown of the 1910 Cuban Giants also definitely played for the 1906 Royal Giants, this would seem to indicate that the Royal Giants player was Mike Brown. See also this note listing guests at the Colonial Hotel in Pittsburgh in early 1906, which included members of the “Royal Giants baseball club, of Brooklyn, N. Y.,” one of them named “M. Brown”:
(“Notes for the Afro-Americans,” Pittsburgh Press, April 29, 1906, p. 40)
(By the way, “R. Foster” is not Rube Foster, but rather the catcher Robert Footes.)
At first you might think that the identity of this player is obvious. There was an Andrew Williams, a pitcher who sometimes played in the outfield, who was active in 1918. That would be the player more commonly known as “String Bean” Williams, a right-hander for a number of teams in the 1910s and 1920s. In a way he was a kind of prototype for Satchel Paige: a lanky, have-glove-will-travel moundsman who was reputed to be quite advanced in age even during his prime. (While I have some leads, I’ve never been able to pin him down for sure in historical records or figure out how old he was.) Of course, as a pitcher String Bean was pretty good, but not nearly in the same class as Paige.
Anyway, the thing about String Bean Williams is that we know what he looked like. Here are various images of him, dating from 1911 to 1921:
To my eyes, this is very clearly a different person from the Andrew Williams on Brian’s postcard. Their chins are quite different, for example, as well as their eyebrows, noses, and, perhaps, complexions (though this last is sometimes hard to tell in old photographs, as lighting and angle can make a huge difference).
Williams is a common name, and there are several players named Williams in black professional baseball circa 1920. Most interestingly for us, Baseball-Reference.com lists a player called Andrew “Red” Williams playing for the Bacharach Giants in 1922 and the Indianapolis ABCs in 1924. In fact, though, the 1922 Bacharachs player is none other than String Bean himself, while the 1924 player is an infielder from the west coast named Adams Williams, nicknamed “Black Cat” (I personally haven’t found him called “Red” anywhere). Nevertheless, it’s possible there was an Andrew “Red” Williams active around that time—it’s just that he was wrongly attached to the 1922 and 1924 records. And maybe this other Andrew Williams, wherever he actually played, is the guy in Brian’s photo. But at this point it’s anybody’s guess. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know.
After two years of relative stability, 1940 proved to be a difficult season for the Negro leagues, as the trickle of players defecting to Venezuela or (especially) Mexico became a flood. Many of black baseball’s biggest stars—Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Willard Brown, Leon Day—spent most or all of 1940 south of the border.
Compounding this problem, the most famous of the Negro leaguers, Satchel Paige, spent his fourth consecutive season in exile. Injury and a refusal to play for the Newark Eagles, the team that owned his contract, had kept him off league rosters since 1936. Finally a complicated deal that awarded the Eagles two other players from the Crawfords—shortstop Bus Clarkson and pitcher Ernie Carter—resulted in Paige being allowed to suit up for league games with the Kansas City Monarchs, the club whose barnstorming B-team he had been headlining for two years. (Unfortunately we don’t yet have any box scores covering his league appearances late in 1940.)
The Homestead Grays may have lost Josh Gibson to Mexico, but they retained most of the rest of their roster, including Ray Brown (16-2, 1.88), Buck Leonard (.369, 8 homers), and Edsall Walker (11-4, 3.13). The Grays, now playing most of their home games in Washington, D. C., also added Howard Easterling (.344./.404/.511) and the 44-year-old Jud Wilson. The latter was supposed to make up for the loss of Gibson’s power but finished the year homerless and with a .260 average. Still, these players proved to be just enough to stave off the Elite Giants’ challenge and give the Grays their third pennant in four years.
Over in the Negro American League, the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs lost their two best everyday players, Willard Brown and Ted Strong. But KC compensated through the fine play of infielders Herb Souell (.340) and Jesse Williams (.368) and the pitching of Frank Bradley (4-1, 2.38), Jack Matchett (6-2, 2.58), and others, and won the pennant going away.
Once again, we owe our stats for the 1940 season to Larry Lester, Wayne Stivers, and the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group.
Up next: the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues. On deck: the 1941-43 Negro leagues and the 1937 Negro American League. 1940 NNL championship patch belonging to Wilmer Fields.
The 1907 Chicago Union Giants. Standing L to R: Will Horn, Topeka Jack Johnson. Seated, middle row, L to R: Albert Toney, Joe Green, Jimmy Smith, George Hopkins, Ginney Robinson, unknown. Seated, front row, L to R: unknown, Sam Strothers.
The puzzle about Topeka Jack Johnson is that, although you can outline his career in detail (at least for some years), it’s not really possible to figure out how good a baseball player he was. Currently there’s a grand total of 42 games for him against top flight black opposition in the Seamheads Negro Leagues DB. In these games he hit .247/.333/.331, for an OPS+ of 118—which sounds good, but it’s only 42 games, 178 plate appearances, scattered over 8 seasons. At best we have a very crude assessment that he was an above-average hitter in a little more than a month’s worth of games. Which is pretty much the same as saying we don't’ know anything.
Defensively, he’s even more out of focus, playing 19 games at second base, 12 at first, 8 at shortstop. He was tall and strong, sometimes described as a power hitter (relative to the times, of course), and probably had a decent arm (though he rarely appeared at third base). He tended to bat cleanup and play wherever he decided his team needed him. Aside from a few stints in Chicago, he played almost all of his whole career far from the hotbeds of blackball activity. He went to the east coast to box (once), but never to play baseball. He was never signed by any of the top teams of the time (the Philadelphia Giants, Leland Giants, Cuban X-Giants, etc.), He never went to Cuba. You’d have to concede that there’s not really any good evidence that he was anywhere near the class of the Pete Hills or Harry Buckners or the John Lloyds of the world. Maybe he was that good, but if so, the surviving record doesn’t back it up.
Instead, his significance rests on two other things: 1) his managerial career, most notably with the Kansas City (Kansas) Giants, who (with at least some justification) claimed the colored championship in 1909, and 2) his leadership in various efforst to organize black baseball leagues. His greatest achievements in both areas came during the 1909-1912 period.
We’ll pick up his story in 1907, after he returned from Philadelphia early in the spring. In March a scheduled fight in Omaha with the heavyweight Jim McCormick (the same guy he’d fought right before a game in 1906) was broken up by the police. A month later it was announced that Johnson was leaving Topeka and going back to the Chicago Union Giants as player/manager, although he still retained a partial interest in the Topeka Giants.
The Unions split their time between barnstorming trips through Illinois and surrounding states, and home stands in Chicago, where they played that city’s strong white semipro clubs, which often featured past or future major leaguers. On July 7, the Unions defeated the Artesians in Chicago 4 to 0, with Johnson swatting a home run. In the opposing lineup was a young Fred Merkle, playing third base. A week later Johnson got five hits off former Brooklyn Superbas pitcher Joe Koukalik (one of only nine major league players born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, unless I've missed somebody) as the Unions defeated another white semipro team, the Oak Leas, 7 to 2. At season’s end the Unions played their only known game against black opposition in 1907, defeating the St. Paul Gophers 10 to 4, Johnson contributing a double and a single to the cause.
Continuing his pattern of changing teams every year, Topeka Jack moved north to the Twin Cities for 1908, joining the Minneapolis Keystones (right) along with three of his players from the Unions: infielders Alex Irwin and George Hopkins, and pitcher Charles Jessup. Known in Minnesota as Chicago Jack, his main position was first base, but he appeared at all four infield positions plus right field. Todd Peterson was able to find box scores for 32 games against all opposition; Johnson batted .269 and led the team in triples and home runs. Facing off against the rival St. Paul Gophers, the Keystones lost the series 3 games to 2; in the three games that have box scores, Johnson hit 3 for 12 with a triple.
His next stop was Kansas City—Kansas, that is, where some local businessmen wanted to defeat the Kansas City Monarchs (from the Missouri side; the original club, not the one founded by J. L. Wilkinson in 1920). They built a new club with Johnson and several Topeka Giants, most notably Tullie McAdoo and the Norman brothers (third baseman Big Jim and pitcher Billy, also known as “Chin” or “Shin”), as the core. Johnson added some of his old Union Giants teammates as well as an Albuquerque catcher named Bill Pettus, whom he might have gotten to know through his boxing connections, as Pettus was also a promising fighter who had been to the west coast.
The Giants inaugurated the season by beating the rival Monarchs 8 to 3, getting 16 hits off their pitcher, a 17-year-old from Lexington, Missouri, named Bill Lindsay. His team may given the youngster a torrid time, but Johnson saw something in Lindsay, and would remember him later in the year. By April 29, the Kansas City Journal reported that the Giants had not yet lost (though the paper didn’t say how many games they had played). A couple of days later the Journal declared that “if Jack Johnson of the Kansas Giants could apply the whitewash brush, or send his men through a bleaching process, the chances are such men as McAdoo, J. Norman, Skinner and Pettus would not be in our midst very long.”
The Giants kept winning through the summer, playing mostly in the Kansas City area with a couple of road trips to St. Louis and Oklahoma. In June they faced Bill Lindsay and the Monarchs again, prevailing 1 to 0 after thirteen innings. On July 27, on the eve of the Giants’ biggest journey of the year, to Chicago, the Kansas City Journal reported that they had won 54 and lost none on the season. I’ve been able to document 29 wins, no losses, and 1 tie during that time (mostly due to the work of Patrick Rock in combing the Kansas City Journal for reportage on the Giants).
The 1909 Kansas City Giants, from the Kansas City Gazette Globe (August 21, 1909). The photo is mostly too blurry to allow for easy IDs, but I think the middle row is, L to R: Tullie McAdoo, Dee Williams, Tobe Smith, Topeka Jack Johnson, Tom Sterman. The player in the front, on the left side, might be Bill Pettus.
On July 28, en route to Chicago, the Giants defeated the Moquoketa, Iowa, team, 2 to 1. Arriving in the Windy City, they played their first game at Logan Square Park against the stiffest opposition they had faced that year, the Cuban Stars. In a pitching duel between Billy Norman and Cuban aceJosé Muñoz, the Cubans came out on top, 2 to 1. If the Journal’s earlier report was accurate, this ended their undefeated streak at 56 games (55 wins, one draw). In any case, it’s certainly the first loss of the year I’ve found for them.
The Kansas City Giants’ two weeks in Chicago gave them a dose of reality. They dropped 8 of 12 games against the Cuban Stars, including two pretty brutal losses to the legendary José Méndez, who struck out 21 Giants in 18 innings. They also lost twice to white semipro teams, most notably to the River Forests and their pitcher Arthur“Doc”Hillebrand, a college star who famously refused to play in the majors, despite many offers.
One might think that the Giants returned chastened to Kansas City. They had come out well under .500, and they hadn’t even played the true kings of the hill in Chicago, Rube Foster’s Leland Giants. The two teams had scheduled a five-game series, but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Instead, the Lelands came to the Giants’ Riverside Park in Kansas City, Kansas, in late August, for a three-game series. Jack Johnson and his team had their shot at redemption.
The 1909 Leland Giants. Standing L to R: Pete Hill, Andrew Payne, George Wright, Walter Ball, Charles Dougherty, Bill Gatewood, Rube Foster. Seated L to R: Danger Talbert, Harry Moore, Frank Leland, Bobby Winston, Sam Strothers, Nate Harris.
The Lelands took the first game, 5 to 2, as Walter Ball shackled K.C. on two hits. In the second game, Jack Johnson unveiled his newest acquisition: Bill Lindsay, now 18, whom he had poached from the Monarchs. The young hurler had the Lelands at his mercy, striking out 16 and allowing only a single unearned run. With the score tied and bases loaded in the eighth inning, Jack hit a Texas leaguer to bring in two runs, and the Giants won, 3 to 1. In the third game, another eighth inning rally netted Kansas City a 5 to 4 win. “Kansas Giants Champions,” trumpeted the Kansas City Journal. The Kansas City Giants subsequently claimed the “colored baseball championship of the United States.”
The Giants continued to win, though not quite at the frenzied pace they’d kept up before the Chicago trip. In September the San Antonio Black Bronchos of the Texas Colored League came to Riverside Park. The two teams split a four-game series, with the Giants defeating the Bronchos’ ace, Cyclone Joe Williams, 4 to 2 in the last game. (Jack Johnson went 0 for 4.) Overall, the Giants won 11 and lost 12 against top-flight black teams. The Leland Giants were 17-13 against similar opposition, not to mention champions of the tough Chicago City League, despite an injury-plagued season in which no fewer than three players (Rube Foster, Bobby Winston, and Joe Green) suffered broken legs. It’s difficult to take the Kansas City Giants’ two out of three victory over the Lelands as evidence of superiority.
The 1909 St. Paul Gophers (from Early Black Baseball in Minnesota, by Todd Peterson). Standing L to R: Steel Arm Johnny Taylor, Sherman Barton, Bobby Marshall, Phil Reid, Johnny Davis, Will McMurray, Dick Wallace. Seated L to R: Rabbit McDougall, Eugene Milliner, Candy Jim Taylor, William Binga, Julius London.
Not only that, but earlier in the season the Lelands had lost 3 games to 2 to the St. Paul Gophers in St. Paul, and the Gophers (11-2 overall against the best black opposition) subsequently claimed the informal colored championship. Rube Foster, at the end of the season, dismissed the Gophers’ claims. “These were only exhibition contests,” he claimed, “and no man who ever saw the Gophers play would think of classing them as world’s colored champions, or would think the playing ability of the other clubs was very weak. No doubt they need advertising” (Indianapolis Freeman, November 13, p. 7). He didn’t even mention the Kansas City Giants.
That’s enough for this post. In the next one I’ll talk about Jack Johnson’s role in founding (or attempting to found) various leagues as well as his career in boxing (and further encounters with the “real” Jack Johnson).
This week we’re adding further results of our collaboration with the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group (Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers) with the unveiling of the 1939 Negro league season. We’ve got both leagues, the NNL and NAL, plus the postseason series. This represents the first Negro American League season we’ve done for the database--we’ll be going back to fill in the NAL’s 1937 and 1938 seasons soon.
The NAL had started in 1937 with its two oldest charter members, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Chicago American Giants, facing off in the playoffs. The next season saw something of an upheaval as, for the first time in the history of the black majors, two Southern teams contested the championship, the Memphis Red Sox defeating the Atlanta Black Crackers for the pennant. For 1939, the Indianapolis ABCs moved to St. Louis to become the latest incarnation of the St. Louis Stars; the Atlanta Black Crackers, 1938’s runners up, became the Indianapolis ABCs; and the Jacksonville Red Caps played as the Cleveland Bears.
The two playoff teams from 1938 had rough times in 1939. For the Memphis Red Sox, it was a case of first to worst, as the defending champions collapsed to last in the league. Meanwhile, the ABCs/Black Crackers couldn’t even secure a home field in Indianapolis. After playing a round of league games on the road, they returned to Atlanta, where they entertained NAL teams in mid-June. The league, which had evidently counted on cutting travel expenses, was not pleased, and demoted them to associate membership. The ABCs/Black Crackers dissolved shortly thereafter, and their players were scattered all over the league.
The Monarchs, led by Hilton Smith, Willard Brown, Ted Strong, and the veteran Turkey Stearnes, dominated the first half, and ended with by far the best overall record in the league. In the playoffs they dispatched the St. Louis Stars, winners of the second half, with ease. (We are still missing a considerable number of Stars’ home games, so at this point our stats don’t reflect fairly on the Stars and their players.)
Over in the Negro National League Alex Pompez was back with his New York Cubans to replace the failed Washington Black Senators from 1938, maintaining the league at seven members. With his home park demolished, Gus Greenlee sold the Pittsburgh Crawfords to Olympic hero Jesse Owens and a financial partner, and they moved the team to Toledo. This proved to be a little too far away for the other NNL clubs, all clustered on the east coast, and in June the Crawfords switched to the Negro American League to replace the unfortunate ABCs/Black Crackers.
In the NNL pennant race it looked like the third straight year of Grays domination, accomplished by the usual suspects (Josh Gibson, Ray Brown, Buck Leonard). But at season’s end the league decided to put on a Shaughnessy-style playoff, pitting the top four teams against each other in an elimination tournament. The Baltimore Elite Giants, a .500 team in the regular season, hit their stride at exactly the right time. They upset the Newark Eagles in the first round, setting up a final series with the Grays.
The Grays edged the first game, held in Philadelphia, 2 to 1. The Elites took the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore’s Oriole Park, 7 to 5, with the second game ending in a 1 to 1 tie. Back in Philadelphia, the Elites’ young catcherRoy Campanellahit 4 for 5 with a double and a home run and drove in five runs to lead his team to a 10 to 5 win. The next day in Yankee Stadium, Jonas Gaines and Willie Hubert combined to hold the mighty Grays to just 3 hits in a 2 to 0 win, making the Elites the champions of the NNL. (To be fair to the Grays, they did not play a single home game during the whole playoffs.)
Although this was a third straight season of relative stability for the two leagues, no World Series was even contemplated, much less arranged.
Next up: the 1940 Negro leagues. On deck: the 1941 and 1942 Negro leagues, the 1919/20 and 1921/22 Cuban leagues, and the 1937 Negro American League.
Willard Brown and Ted Strong of the NAL champion Kansas City Monarchs.