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.
If you’ve got good images of people who played or managed in the Negro National League from 1920 to 1922, I’d love to hear from you. I’m looking for photos for my book, and it would be great to find a few less familiar images.
Sorry, another macabre story. Much like Joe Green, Elias “Country” Brown, an infielder/outfielder for east coast teams in the 1920s, was known for his on-field comedy act. He’d go to bat on his knees, or pretend to dig a grave for the umpire, or hold imaginary phone conversations, sort of like a louder, bawdier version of Bob Newhart.
James Riley writes of Brown:
His wife was an actress and, in the off-season, he pulled the curtain for her. Brown was involved in a tragic altercation with his wife’s brother that resulted in his brother-in-law’s death. When Brown knocked the man down, his head struck the sidewalk and the impact killed him. (Biographical Encyclopedia, p. 119)
However…in the New York Amsterdam News, January 1, 1938 (p. 3), we find this:
So instead of Brown killing his brother-in-law accidentally, his brother-in-law killed him, perhaps accidentally. Was Riley reporting a version of the story that had been so garbled that it turned the particulars of the incident completely upside down? And here we’re told that “Country Brown” was his baseball name, with his real name being Elias Bryant.
I’ve had zero luck so far tracking down either Elias Brown or Elias Bryant. Anybody happen to know what’s going on here?
You’ve probably read about the three-game series between the Chicago Cubs and Rube Foster’s Leland Giants in 1909. The Cubs swept the series 4-1, 6-5, and 1-0. Probably the most celebrated incident of the series took place in the first game, when Lelands’ outfielder Joe Green tried to score from third—with a broken leg. Here is the Chicago Tribune’s story for the game (October 19, 1909):
(click to enlarge)
The image of the black ballplayer who was barred from the majors trying desperately to hobble home on a broken leg to score against the greatest white team of the era—one of the greatest of all time—has to be one of the most enduring, and heartbreaking, of the whole era of segregated baseball.
Green went on to take over the Chicago Giants after Frank Leland’s death in 1914. He became famous for his comedy routines, and continued to coach and pinch-hit frequently even after he stopped being an everyday player. He ran the Chicago Giants well into the 1940s, and was a well-known and beloved figure in the Chicago community until the end of his life.
On September 12, 1962, Green entered the hospital.
(Chicago Defender, September 13, 1962)
According to the Cook County Death Index, “Joe Charles Green” passed away on September 18, 1962. The Defender published his obituary on September 25:
It’s hard not to conclude that it was the famous broken leg from 1909 that, more than 50 years later, finally killed Joe Green.
P.S. The Social Security Death Index gives “Charles Green” a birthdate of July 26, 1878, which matches the one in James Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia, meaning that the obituary gave his age accurately.
P.P.S.Patrick Rock and I located these articles about the circumstances of Joe Green’s death independently and more or less simultaneously. Patrick already updated Green’s entry at the BR Bullpen to reflect the cause of death; he suggested I put together a post here to present all the details.
Both as a follow-up to my recent Field of Dreams post and as another example of the uses of digitized databases, I wanted to say a little bit about the Lost Island Giants, the team with the evocative name operated by Robert Gilkerson in northern Iowa in 1917.
Gilkerson’s co-owner on this venture was William “Bingo” Bingham, a longtime outfielder for Chicago teams in the 1910s and early 1920s:
(Chicago Defender, May 12, 1917)
I’ve only been able to find a few mentions of the Lost Island Giants in small Iowa papers, and a solitary box score in the Chicago Defender (June 30, 1917):
As it happens, the first draft registration for World War I occurred almost midway between these two articles, on June 5. But for a long time I never found anything associated with this team; in fact, I really hadn’t noted its existence at all.
Then, a few months back, I was trying fruitlessly to track down a pitcher named Ruby Tyree who had appeared with the American Giants early in 1917. Thinking that “Ruby” was a nickname, and thinking that he would have registered for the draft in Chicago since he was playing there right around that time, I checked out the five men named “Tyree” who registered in Cook County (four of them black). But none of them were listed as ballplayers, and besides, the pitcher was supposed to have been quite young, and the youngest of these men was 31 at the time.
Finally, for some reason I don’t remember, it occurred to me to simply search for “Ruby Tyree,” in no particular state, with the “Soundex” function enabled for the last name. This uses an algorithm to find names that are in some way similar to the one you’re looking for, in case of misspellings or transcription errors. And I came up with one “Ruby Tyress,” residing in Ruthven, Palo Alto County, Iowa, a professional ballplayer working for Robert P. Gilkerson:
(click to enlarge any of the images in this post)
As you can see, his name is really “Tyrees”; “Tyress” is an Ancestry.com mistranscription. Given this information I was then able to pin down the ballplayer Ruby P. Tyrees, born 22 July 1891, died 23 November 1965, and buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery.
If one Lost Island Giants player could be found in Palo Alto County, it seemed possible that others could be there as well. A search for black men registered in the county yielded a list of nine names (out of 3,455 total draft registrations). Here’s a screenshot of the Ancestry.com search results:
As it turned out, fully seven of them (including Tyrees) listed themselves as professional ballplayers. This is the single biggest find I’ve made so far in the World War I cards; that is, the biggest haul from one search, one click. I’ve never seen one screen with so many players on it before.
Blackburn appeared briefly for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920.
Edgar Daniel Burch
I believe this is “Burch,” no first name, who appeared in 1914 with the Indianapolis ABCs (Riley, Biographical Encyclopedia, p. 133).
This, I think, is William Fox Jones, an American Giants’ catcher in the 1910s (Riley, p. 452).
THIS is the major find here, at least for me. I had been looking for Hurley McNair’s WW1 draft card for some time. He’s mistakenly digitized as “Alden McNair,” but the card in fact reads “Allen.” I think he is probably the “Mack” listed in center field in the Defender box score above.
Riley lists B. “Aggie” Turner (p. 794) with the Chicago Union, Chicago Giants, and All Nations in 1916 and 1917.
Now we have a first name for “White” of the Chicago Union Giants (Riley, p. 832).
Robert Gilkerson, incidentally, registered for the draft where he lived, Spring Valley, Illinois, which was also the headquarters for his other team, the Union Giants. Bingham may have registered in Chicago, where one “William Horace Bingham,” born in 1885 and working in the stockyards, can be found in September 1918.
Like a number of other major black teams in the early twentieth century (the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, the West Baden Sprudels and French Lick Plutos of Indiana, the Breakers and Royal Poincianas of Palm Beach, Florida, and the Havana Red Sox of Watertown, New York) the Lost Island Giants were a resort team, intended to entertain well-to-do vacationers. The mysterious-sounding, Field of Dreams-esque name seems to come from Lost Island Lake, located about four miles north of Ruthven, where these ballplayers all resided. Arnold’s Park, which the Defender named as the location of Gilkerson’s team in mid-May, is a historic resort and amusement park on Lake Okoboji in nearby Dickinson County. Whether or not the team moved around to various locations during the summer, I don’t know.
Check out the new issue of Black Ball, A Negro Leagues Journal, edited by Leslie Heaphy, which includes (among other things) a nice biographical piece on Biz Mackey, an article on the “colored sporting fraternity” of late 19th-century Cleveland (or rather, how it was portrayed in the Cleveland Gazette), and, most relevantly to this blog, an article by Geri Strecker on the uses of digitized databases, in particular Ancestry.com, for Negro League research. Oh, and there’s also a book review by yours truly of Severo Nieto’s Early U.S. Blackball Teams in Cuba, in which I attempt daring linguistic experiments such as beginning two straight sentences with the word “However.”
I’ll probably write up a more detailed consideration of the Nieto book, since the core of it (box score and statistics for Negro League visits to Cuba) is something I have covered extensively here, and a lot of what I have to say about it wouldn’t have really fit into the book-review format.