Luther Farrell is probably best-known for the rain-shortened, 7-inning no-hitter he pitched against the Chicago American Giants in the 1927 Negro League World Series. His career, though, was interesting beyond that. He emerged into the blackball world as an inconsistent southpaw with control problems, playing mostly for Midwestern teams (though he did briefly go east with the Lincoln Giants in 1919). After a couple of seasons in the Negro National League, he spent most of 1922 through 1924 with Gilkerson’s Union Giants, before finally coming into his own as a hybrid pitcher/outfielder for the Bacharach Giants, helping them to two pennants. The New York Amsterdam News (September 29, 1926, p. 13) described him this way:
“Farrell is a semi-converted hurler who failed to make the grade with other clubs in the league as a hurler but has shown to a big advantage with the Bees and has hit the ball so hard and timely that he has been stationed in right field when not taking his turn in the box.”But Farrell remains elusive, especially for a relatively well-known player. In part this is because he played for the Bacharachs, an Atlantic City team that was sometimes less than well-covered by the black press. There are very few Bacharachs photos in general; I’ve found only a couple of pictures of Farrell, relatively poor images from contemporary newspapers.
And tracking Farrell down in official records presents a bit of a problem, too, largely because he changed his name in mid-career. W. Rollo Wilson wrote about him in the Pittsburgh Courier (May 23, 1925, p. 12):
“Luther Farrell has been sent to the Lincoln Giants by Ed Bolden of Hilldale. Farrell is the bimbo who pitched for Joe Green’s Chicago Giants some years ago under the name and title ‘Luther’. He is a crooked arm hurler and swings a naughty bat.”
In 1923, the Chicago Defender mentions “Luther Farrell, [a] pitcher who finished last season with Gilkerson’s Union Giants,” among the many young players Rube Foster brought to spring training with the American Giants. This is the earliest example I could find of the name “Luther Farrell.” Before this, he usually appears in box scores and articles simply as “Luther.”
However—through the late winter and spring of 1920, the St. Louis Argus made several mentions of “Al Luther,” the new lefthanded pitcher on the St. Louis Giants, and in April remarked that Farrell and another player, an infielder named Lee Hill, “come from Dayton, Ohio.”
In the 1920 U.S. census, enumerated in January 1920, one “Alander Luther,” 23 years old and working as a chauffeur, can be found in Dayton:
Alander Luther was, according to the census, born in Pennsylvania. And in 1917 “Alaner L. Luther” registered for the draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
Alaner Luther, it turns out, was born not in Pennsylvania, but rather in Bartow, Florida, on July 13, 1896.
Now let’s jump ahead 16 years. Luther Farrell was pitching for the New York Black Yankees, and in the off-season had played winter ball in Puerto Rico. Here’s a passenger list showing him returning to New York on March 27, 1933, along with a number of other black ballplayers (Connie Rector, George Scales, Clint Thomas, Dave “Showboat” Thomas, Ted Trent, and Harry Williams):
According to the passenger list, Luther Farrell was born on July 13, 1900, in Bartow, Florida. The birthday and birthplace are the same—only the years are different, and this is not unusual.
Atlantic City directories of the late 1920s show Farrell living there:
By the 1940s he and his second wife, Helen, were moving back and forth between Atlantic City and Miami, Florida (they show up in Miami in 1942; Atlantic City in 1946; Miami again in 1947). One suspects some kind of seasonal employment, spending winters in Miami, summers in Jersey.
Finally, the Florida Death Index contains an entry for Luther Alner Farrell, black, who died in December of 1956 in Dade County (Miami), the middle name creating a link between the earliest record I can associate with Farrell (the World War I card for “Alaner L. Luther”) and the last.
All sorts of questions remain. Was he born Alaner Luther, or did he decide to use his first name Luther as his last name for a few years, for some unexplained reason? If he changed his name to Farrell, why did he do that?
I couldn’t say. I’ve been unable to locate any trace of anyone with the last name “Luther” living in Bartow, Florida, in the early twentieth century. But I did find this Bartow family in the 1900 census:
At first I thought this was clearly Alaner Farrell—perhaps Luther was an unused given name at first, one he later used as both a last name and a first name. But it turned out not to be the case. The twin brothers Allie Thomas Ferrell and Arda Ferrell lived on in Polk County, Florida, for many years, at least through the 1940 census, while Luther Farrell was pursuing his baseball career in the Midwest and on the east coast. They can easily be traced in various census and draft records, and Allie Ferrell was clearly not Luther Alaner Farrell. But it’s hard not to wonder if there might have been a connection of some kind.