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.
William G. Nunn III, who played Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, has passed away of leukemia at the sadly early age of 63.
Nunn’s name is, or should be, very familiar to historians of black baseball, because his grandfather, the original William G. Nunn, was the longtime managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier as well as a sportswriter. His “Diamond Dope” column from the Courier in the 1920s is an important source on Pittsburgh’s black baseball scene in those years, including the early Homestead Grays. Nunn Sr.’s writing helped preserve memories of the Pittsburgh Keystones and the Hill District’s first Negro league stadium, Central Baseball Park.
Check out the very first edition of “Diamond Dope,” from May 30, 1925:
Some months ago Mark Aubrey sent me this fascinating 1928 photo of the General Directorate of Public Works baseball team in Gonaïves, Haiti (from the University of Florida archives). Its fascination stems in part from the fact that we don’t really think of Haiti as a baseball hotbed.
Haiti actually has plenty of connections to baseball. A number of minor leaguers have been Haitian by birth or ancestry, as well as at least a few major leaguers. Miguel Sanó is Haitian-Dominican, as is Félix Pie, who was born in the D.R. to Haitian immigrant parents. Touki Toussaint, a first-round pick for the Diamondbacks a couple of years ago, is Haitian-American (he was born in Florida, but spent part of his childhood in Haiti).
For all this, though, the truth is that, historically, baseball really hasn’t been played much in Haiti, where football (soccer) is by far the most popular game—even though Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with one of the world’s great baseball nations, the Dominican Republic. Why is that? Why is the D.R. all about baseball, while Haiti couldn’t care less?
Clay Thompson, a reporter at the Arizona Republic attempted to answer this question a few years ago. His explanation? That Haitians resented the U.S. occupation of their country from 1915 to 1934, which resulted in over 2,000 Haitian deaths. After this mess, they had no interest in adopting any part of U.S. culture.
Maybe so. However, as Thompson himself notes, the U.S. has launched military interventions into a number of Carribean countries, and in fact occupied the Dominican Republican around the same time (1916 to 1924). The invasion of the D.R. was, if anything, harsher than the occupation of Haiti—over 3,000 Dominicans were killed by U.S. forces. It’s not altogether clear why American intervention would turn Haitians against baseball, but not Dominicans.
I’ll suggest a few alternative theories:
1) Baseball itself might just not have a good reputation in Haiti. In the 1970s and 1980s many Haitian women labored as poorly-compensated piece workers in baseball factories, which might have helped squash any incipient affection for the sport.
2) Hispaniola is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries where baseball is popular, especially Puerto Rico and Cuba, both of whom sent players to the Dominican Republic in the 1920s and 1930s. While there is a Francophone baseball world, it’s mostly centered in Quebec, which is a little far away from Creole-speaking Haiti.
3) Longstanding (and heavily racialized) tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic probably limits interest in cultural crossovers. Just consider what happened in 1937. That year saw the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s reelection campaign sponsor an expensive baseball championship, with suitcases of money used to lure Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and other Negro league and Cuban stars. Then, only a couple of months after the baseball season was over, Trujillo’s soldiers systematically slaughtered Haitians living near the border—with some estimates placing the number of dead well into the tens of thousands. Baseball was the last thing on anybody’s mind as this was taking place. Still, it probably did not help spread love of the game in Haiti when the guy whose name adorned the nearest baseball league was also responsible for the mass murder of Haitians.
Looking at two interviews with Cool Papa Bell (one in John Holway’s Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, the other part of the University of Missouri-St. Louis’s oral history project), one is struck by how much he talked about his rookie season with the St. Louis Stars in 1922. A half-century later the events of that season, especially during its first two months, were still clear and vivid to him, down to exact or nearly-exact scores of particular games.
Bell had come to St. Louis from his hometown, Starkville, Mississippi, in 1919 or 1920. He worked in a packing house during the week and played baseball for money on weekends along with four of his brothers (Robert, Fred, L.Q., and Sammy) on the Compton Hill Cubs. A few years back Patrick Rock found what is so far Cool Papa’s earliest known appearance in a game account, for a contest between the Cubs and the white Union Electrics on Sunday, October 10, 1920.
He played for the Compton Hill team through 1921, until in the spring of 1922 he got his big break. The East St. Louis Cubs, another black semipro team in the area, “needed a pitcher to throw against” the big-league St. Louis Stars on Sunday, April 30, at the Cubs’ park. As Bell told John Holway, the Stars beat him easily, 8 to 1, but he struck out eight, impressing them enough that they made him an offer—whereupon he abandoned his meatpacking career and decided to “stick with baseball.”
Checking the Chicago Defender and St. Louis Argus, it appears that the Stars really won 9 to 1, getting 15 hits off Bell, four of them from the bat of Charlie Blackwell (a homer, a double, and two singles).
(Chicago Defender, May 6, 1922)
(St. Louis Argus, May 5, 1922, p. 12)
The Defender’s box score doesn’t list strikeouts, but the Cubs’ catcher Burgett did have six putouts and three assists, so it’s possible Bell did fan eight. Bell told Holway he couldn’t hit the Stars’ starter, Bill Drake, but did bounce a hit off the right field fence later in the game, when someone else was pitching. The Stars used three pitchers, so Bell’s hit came off either John Finner or Jimmy Oldham, the relievers.
Now a member of the St. Louis Stars, Bell recounts that he immediately accompanied them on a month-long road trip, starting with a doubleheader in Indianapolis on May 7. “Well, Indianapolis beat us the first three ball games,” Bell said, and so the manager Big Bill Gatewood finally gave him a chance in the late innings of the third game. In fact, the A.B.C.’s had whipped the Stars 12 to 2 and 8 to 5 in the opening double bill, then beat them again on May 8, 7 to 6, with Bell on the bench the whole time. It wasn’t until the Stars were losing badly for the fourth straight time on May 9 that Gatewood finally sent him in for George “Deacon” Meyers. It’s not certain exactly when Bell entered the game, but the A.B.C.’s were up 9 to 0 by the fifth inning, so it was probably somewhere in the middle of the game. Bell told Holway that he “started striking out Ben Taylor and those guys—Oscar Charleston just threw his bat away. With my curve ball!” The box scores credit Bell with three strikeouts in that game, which ended in an 11 to 5 win for Indianapolis.
(Indianapolis Star, May 10, 1922)
Next, Bell said, the Stars made a stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they played “a little old semipro team out there.” Gatewood had Bell start, to gain him some experience. This is Cool Papa’s account of the game, from Holway’s book:
We had these guys shut out at Fort Wayne. In the last of the ninth inning the outfield came in, said, ‘He’s going to strike out everybody anyway’. I didn’t strike everybody out in the whole ball game, but I was striking out so many, the outfield came on in. So I struck out the next two men. The third man hit a little pop fly and nobody went to get it, so he went on around and made a home run off it. I struck out the next man. Only one man hit the ball.
The game in question was played in Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Life Field on May 12, three days after Bell’s Negro National League debut in Indianapolis. The Stars crushed the Fort Wayne Colored Giants 11 to 1 in a rain-shortened, seven-inning game, with Bell throwing a complete game. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette said that Bell’s pitching “was of a high caliber, he displaying fine control and a good curve.”
(Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, May 13, 1922, p. 8)
The Journal-Gazette also reported that the opposing pitcher “saved himself a shutout by driving in a run with a three-base hit to the scoreboard” in the sixth (rather than ninth) inning, and the game was called for rain after the seventh inning ended. What Bell didn’t realize or didn’t remember was that the opposing pitcher was none other than Louis “Dicta” Johnson, the veteran spitballer, who had been temporarily hired the previous August by the Fort Wayne club along with two other A.B.C.’s pitchers, Morris Williams and Bob McClure. Of the trio, only Johnson stayed on in Fort Wayne through the end of 1921. He returned in 1922 and managed the Colored Giants for a couple of months before replacing Dizzy Dismukes at the helm of the Pittsburgh Keystones.
The next stop for the Stars was Chicago. As Bell told Holway, “We got to Chicago on a Saturday and he pitched Meyers, our ace pitcher.” Cool Papa’s memory was nearly correct on all counts. Meyers, with a record of 12-5 in a preliminary version of our compilation of the 1922 season, was easily the most effective (and by far the most used) pitcher on the Stars staff that year. The Stars did play the first game of their Chicago series on a Saturday (May 13), and Meyers did pitch, though he didn’t start; he relieved John Finner in the seventh inning of a 15-4 American Giants win. “They beat Meyers,” Bell said, “and Sunday they beat John Finner.” Actually on Sunday Jimmy Oldham started for St. Louis, and Chicago won the game 8 to 7 in the tenth inning off relief pitcher Bill Drake. But at any rate, according to Bell his first start in the Negro Leagues came the next day:
So [Gatewood] said, “Well, I’m going to pitch you tomorrow,” and I beat them 6-3. They had Jimmy Lyons, could drag the ball down the first base line; I’d get the ball and touch him out. He’d look around: “Now who touched me out?” They’d say, “The pitcher.” See, they had the infield built up with high ridges on the foul line, so the ball would roll fair when they bunted it. But I stopped them from bunting. Every time they’d bunt, I’d throw them out, and beat them 6-3.
In fact Bell won 6 to 2. Lyons did get one single, and, while Bell didn’t have any putouts in the box score (thus did not touch anyone out), he did have six assists, and started the game’s only double play.
(Chicago Defender, May 20, 1922)
The Stars would lose two more games in Chicago, Dave Brown beating Bill Drake 7 to 0 on Tuesday, and Ed Rile edging Deacon Meyers on Wednesday, 3 to 2.
Although Bell says that from Chicago the St. Louis Stars went on to Detroit, they actually went next to Kansas City for a two-game series on May 20 and May 21, in which Bell did not appear. They then returned to St. Louis and hooked up with the St. Louis Tigers, the local entry in the Negro Southern League, for another two games (Bell again not appearing). Their long road trip had been necessary because the construction of their new ballpark, the famous Stars Park with the trolley car barn in left field, was dragging on; after a month on the road, they finally gave in and hosted the Monarchs in the old Giants Park at 5900 North Broadway (by then the home of the Tigers).
Though Bell didn’t discuss this series in either of the interviews, he started the Stars’ home opener on May 31 and shut out the Monarchs, 3 to 0, on two hits, giving up only a single each to Heavy Johnson and Dobie Moore. In the fourth game of the series, Bell lost a 4 to 0 duel to Bullet Rogan.
(St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 1, 1922)
A week and a half later, the Stars hosted the American Giants, again in Giants Park. Bell was again chosen to pitch the opener, and he defeated Juan Padrón in a sloppily played 10 to 5 game. The following day (June 13) Bell again picked up a win at the expense of Rube Foster’s team (making him 3-0 against them to that point), pitching the last three innings of a crazy 19 to 16 slugfest and giving up “only” three runs.
The Stars Park delay was beginning to eat away at the team’s schedule. A mid-June series with the Cuban Stars was evidently cancelled, and the next series scheduled in St. Louis, with the Detroit Stars, was moved at the last minute to Detroit. This, it turns out, was the Detroit series Bell mentions in the Holway interview. He said that he “beat a guy name of Jack Marshall 5-4. I hit a home run off him. I could hit them.” A check of the Detroit Free Press shows that Bell started the second game of the series on June 26, beating Jack Marshall 6 to 5—and that he indeed hit his first Negro league home run in the game.
(Detroit Free Press, June 27, 1922, p. 16)
The Stars finished the season in fifth place at 26-35, eleven games back of the champion American Giants and nine games out of fourth. Bell ‘s 7-7 record made him a solid number two behind Deacon Meyers on the Stars’ pitching staff, as he clearly surpassed veterans Jimmy Oldham and John Finner.
Incidentally, several of these episodes have been cited by Bell and others as explaining the origin of his nickname: coolly striking out Oscar Charleston in his debut game; beating the feared American Giants in his first start; and shrugging at a newspaper headline hyping his upcoming appearance in Detroit. All three of these events are solidly documented; even his claims about the quality of his curve ball find support in the newspapers of the time.
Cool Papa Bell’s memories of his rookie season—fifty years after the events he describes and all off the top of his head, apparently, without the elaborately constructed spreadsheets and timelines collating dozens of sources that I’ve been relying on—are remarkably accurate and detailed. Although he played professional baseball for 29 seasons, spent years in Cuba and Mexico, and played on some of the greatest teams in Negro league history, he never forgot that first season with a struggling team in 1922.
(This piece was originally published in the Outsider Baseball Bulletin, July 28, 2010.)
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.