Here is a Chicago Tribune story about the signing of Charlie “Tokohama” Grant (March 24, 1901):
1) The story as Riley gives it is that Charlie Comiskey, “alerted by the response of black fans,” blew the whistle on Grant’s racial identity. Interestingly, Clark Griffith, player-manager of the White Sox, is depicted here as deeply involved in the situation from the beginning.
2) I don’t buy the completely casual nature of McGraw’s encounter with Grant. This is just a guess, but I suspect McGraw was quite aware of who Grant was, and may have purposefully sought him out as a player who might be capable of passing.
3) “Tokohama” seems to be the most common spelling, though “Tokahoma” (which is how Riley renders it) and “Tokohoma” were also used. The last seems to have been the original version of the name as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer (according to one source, anyway); supposedly, McGraw took the name from a creek he saw on a map in the Hot Springs, Arkansas, hotel where the Orioles were staying for spring training. I haven’t yet found any body of water in Arkansas with a similar name. (I did find a Tokahoma Avenue in Greeneville, Tennessee, which would be in old Cherokee country…) “Tokahoma” does resemble “Oklahoma,” originally a Choctaw, not Cherokee, word (the two languages are not related).
4) Some crucial context for the Charlie Grant signing: McGraw was managing the Baltimore Orioles, a brand-new franchise in the newly-major American League. With the number of major league teams doubled from 1900, teams were scrambling for talent. The Washington Post, for example, wrote of the Boston Nationals: “The cream of the team has been snatched away, and the prospect of securing men to take their places is not at all brilliant. The triumvirate are prepared to spend big money to get men, but the men cannot be had” (March 16, 1901). When you think about it, it makes sense that the color line would be tested at this time, however tentatively.
On March 29, the Boston Globe reported that “Toke” would accompany Jimmy Sheckard and Joe McGinnity from Arkansas to New Orleans, where the three would embark for Baltimore in time for opening day.
Two days later, on March 31, the Washington Post reported in its “Baseball Notes” column that “there is a report in circulation that Manager McGraw’s Indian player is not a Cherokee at all, but is the old-time colored player, Grant” (confusing him with Frank Grant). The same column noted that Grant, who had been listed among the outfielders, was now to be tried out again at second base. Somebody, however, was not letting go of the story. On April 2, the Post reiterated its “outing” of Grant: “It is being persistently stated that ‘Tokohama,” McGraw’s Cherokee Indian, is Grant, the old negro player.”
Then on April 4, the Post printed this:
By April 7, it seems, McGraw had given up, and Grant had returned to the Columbia Giants (Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1901):
Yet more than a month later (May 19), this report appeared in the Chicago Tribune (the Washington Post published the same story):
I haven’t discovered yet whether Grant did report, but on May 28, the Post’s “Baseball Notes” hadn’t forgotten about it:
So it seems that McGraw, well after Grant’s identity was known, kept trying to get him on the Orioles, his spin possibly being that Grant was not actually African-American, but rather an Indian playing for a “colored” team. It would be fascinating to get more of an insider’s account of McGraw’s maneuverings here. I wonder if the failure to sign Grant might have contributed to McGraw’s eventual disillusionment with the American League (he left the Orioles in mid-season 1902)? Not that he could have signed a black player in the National League, of course, but a dispute with Comiskey, one of the pillars of the new league, wouldn’t have gotten McGraw off to a good start with Ban Johnson’s organization.
From here the trail grows cold, at least for now; but I’ll be checking the Baltimore Sun in the near future to see how the story was reported from that angle.