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.
Patrick Rock has continued his groundbreaking research on the 25th Infantry Wreckers in Hawaii. His most recent work chronicles the arrival of Wilber Rogan at Schofield Barracks in the summer of 1915 and his first appearances on the diamond. On July 1 he appeared at third base and on the mound for the First Battalion in an intramural game; on July 4 he joined the Wreckers’ varsity team for the first time, playing third base.
That’s Oscar “Heavy” Johnson at shortstop in both games (presumably not as heavy in those days as he would be later). As Patrick notes, “What is of note is the attention paid to Rogan's debut in the game of the 1st, making it abundantly clear that his arrival had been highly anticipated.”
(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 2, 1915, p. 12; click to enlarge)
(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, July 6, 1915, p. 12; click to
Definitely check out Geri Strecker’s article, “The Rise and Fall of Greenlee Field,” in the most recent issue of Black Ball. It includes many great photos, including a 1938 aerial shot of the Hill District that shows the former site of the Keystones’ Central Baseball Park as well as the first Ammon Field.
There’s much else to recommend about the issue. I’ll single out “Remembering the Bearcats: Black Baseball in France at the End of World War I,” by Pellom McDaniels III, which is about the 805th Pioneer Infantry’s baseball team. McDaniels includes brief profiles of three Negro leaguers (all erstwhile Kansas City Monarchs) who played for the 805th: Bill “Plunk” Drake, Otto Ray, and Hugh Blackburn, who had pitched for the Lost Island Giants in 1917.
Here’s an article from the Chicago Defender (June 7, 1919) reporting on a game played in Brest, France, between the 805th and the 803rd (“Taylor” of the 803rd, incidentally, might be the John Taylor who pitched for the Chicago Giants of the NNL in the early 1920s and later the Lincoln Giants, though this is not confirmed). Apologies for the quality of the image, but I think it is mostly readable, at least until you get to the box score.
From my own research I can add another ballplaying member of the 805th: Charley Lightner, who pitched briefly for the Kansas City Monarchs and the semi-pro Kansas City Allies in 1920. I don’t know whether or not he played for the 805th team in France.
Here’s an interesting comparison (link sent to me by Fred Brillhart) of three Kansas City Royals greats to their Monarchs equivalents (with a not-so-surprise ending). The account of Bullet Rogan’s career comes mostly from the Wikipedia entry—which, incidentally, I wrote! It’s my only (recent) foray into Wikipedia land, and I tried very hard to conform to their guidelines. So there’s no “original research”—everything is based on secondary sources (with 42 footnotes)—though unavoidably the article is guided by my interpretation of the sources. One perhaps controversial decision I made was to place Rogan’s birthdate firmly in 1893 instead of 1889.
Although this might seem at first like a minor detail, the difference of four years could strongly affect any assessment of his career. Rogan joined the Monarchs in July 1920; his dominance of the Negro National League really got started in 1921, and lasted more or less through the 1928 season. If he was born on July 28, 1889, as some sources have it, he would have started his NNL career at age 30 (almost 31), had his best years from age 31 through 38. Since most players do not peak in their thirties, it would seem highly reasonable, indeed likely, that these were not really the best years of his baseball career, and that he was even better in the Army in his twenties.
If, on the other hand, he was 26 when he joined the Monarchs, and he enjoyed his best years with them from age 27 through 34, it looks a lot more likely that available records pretty much capture how good he was at his peak.
Anyway, since a couple of people have asked me about it, I thought I’d go ahead and outline the evidence so you can make up your own mind.
The main source for Rogan being born in 1893 instead of 1889 is Phil Dixon’s book The Monarchs 1920-1938, which is the closest there is to a book-length biography of Rogan, and is the most wide-ranging collection of research on Rogan and the Monarchs of the 1920s and early 1930s that exists. (Phil is publishing a new edition with McFarland, which I don’t think is out yet.)
Phil states unequivocally that Rogan was born on July 28, 1893, in Oklahoma City, and his account of Rogan’s early years supports that birth date. Rogan’s first professional or semiprofessional team was Fred Palace’s Colts, a team of 18 and 19-year-olds, which he joined in 1911. Had he been born in 1889, he would have been 21 and 22 during the 1911 baseball season. It’s difficult to believe that a talent of Rogan’s caliber would have first appeared with a team of teenagers at age 21, especially when the established Kansas City, Kansas, Giants, a professional team that had defeated Rube Foster’s Leland Giants in a 1909 series, were right there in Rogan’s home town. Incidentally, according to Phil Dick Whitworth first joined the Colts at the same time in 1911—and he was born on August 28, 1894 or 1895.
Moreover, Phil’s account implies (though it doesn’t exactly state outright) that Rogan joined the Army right out of high school—either before graduation or directly after. He quotes a family friend of the Rogans, Orrin Murray, saying that “Rogan moved his age up by several years, left school and joined the army” (p. 8). He wasn’t the only future Negro Leaguer during this era who did this: Oscar Charleston, Jasper Washington, and probably Heavy Johnson also added years to their ages when enlisting. The first two were only 15 when they joined up, and claimed to be 18; Johnson was already 18, but claimed to be 21. While I don’t know much about this, I’d guess that you normally had to be 18 to enlist at all, but that until you were 21 you needed to have a parent or guardian’s permission.
Rogan enlisted on October 19, 1911, reporting his age as 22 years and two months, which would be consistent with a July 28, 1889, birthdate. I haven’t seen other military records, his World War II draft card, or his Social Security records, but it would not be surprising if the 1889 date were used in those as well. The 1889 date also appears on a passenger list arriving in Los Angeles from a Royal Giants’ tour in Asia, which indicates that Rogan probably used his “military age” on his passport.
On the other hand, census records (with one exception) are more consistent with an 1893 birthdate. The most important is probably the 1900 census, showing the Rogans still living in Oklahoma City, and giving a July 1893 birthdate for young Charles W. Rogan.
Here are the Rogans in the 1910 census, now living in Kansas City, Kansas. (Note that the children are all said to have been born in Tennessee.)
The one exception is the 1920 census, where, as Patrick Rock pointed out to me some time ago, Rogan is double-entered. He appears both at Camp Stephen D. Little in Nogales, Arizona, and at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri. He was probably physically (and temporarily) present at one of the locations, while at the other the census record was compiled from official records of some sort. Anyway, at Jefferson Barracks he is listed as 30 and (accurately) born in Oklahoma, while in Arizona he is listed as 26 and born in...Alabama?
Here’s the 1930 census, with Rogan living in Kansas City, Missouri:
On the eve of the first East-West all-star game, Russell J. Cowans wrote in a brief profile of Rogan that he “was born in Oklahoma City, Okla., July 28, 1893” (Pittsburgh Courier, August 26, 1933, p. A5).
But, aside from Phil Dixon’s information about his early life and career, the best indicator that Rogan was probably born later than 1889 is in the 1890 Oklahoma Territorial Census, where we find his father Richard Rogan unmarried, without children, and still living with his widowed father and family, which had only recently moved to Oklahoma City from Sumner County, Tennessee:
UPDATE 12:28 p.m. I forgot to include Rogan’s grave marker, which gives a birth date of July 28, 1894, presumably from family sources:
Patrick Rock has come up with some fascinating material on the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Wreckers in Hawaii during the teens. The Twenty-Fifth was one of the four all-black Army regiments (also including the Twenty-Fourth Infantry and the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry) known collectively as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” All four regiments maintained good baseball teams in the 1910s and 1920s, but the Wreckers were the preeminent Army baseball team of that time (at least among teams that stayed together for a number of years, as opposed to temporary wartime aggregations), featuring in its lineup such luminaries as Bullet Rogan, Dobie Moore, Heavy Johnson, and Branch Russell, along with a number of other future Negro league players. The Wreckers enjoyed their heyday at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, from 1915 to 1918, and at Camp Stephen D. Little, Cochise Santa Cruz County, Arizona, from 1918 to about 1921 (or perhaps later).
Patrick has been scouring Hawaii newspapers for reports on the Wreckers and their participation in both Army leagues and competitions involving civilian teams. I wanted to post one article he found (from the Honolulu Commercial Advertiser, July 18, 1915) about a dispute that erupted between the Twenty-Fifth and the other (non-black) Army teams at Schofield Barracks, who wanted to restrict the Wreckers’ practices and stop them from paying their players and exempting them from guard and fatigue duty. It has long been understand that the Twenty-Fifth Infantry team was essentially a professional club, and here we have the regiment’s representative, Lt. Charles Wyman, being quite frank about it. “Certainly our ball players are professionals,” he says. “They have received pay for playing.”
Anyway, check out the whole article. (You should be able to enlarge by clicking.)
A few months ago Patrick Rock sent me copies of all the baseball coverage from the St. Louis Argus, 1919 through 1922. One of the first things I wanted to check was the U.S. Army Championships in late June / early July, 1920, and the concurrent movement of several players from the Army to the St. Louis Giants (Stewart, Moses Herring, and Heavy Johnson) and Kansas City Monarchs (Dobie Moore and Bullet Rogan).
There was nothing about Moore and Rogan, and Stewart still doesn’t have a first name, but otherwise the Argus confirms nearly everything I had speculated about, and adds some interesting new information.
--Johnson and Herring actually first appeared for the St. Louis Giants on June 24 against the Cuban Stars; in fact, Herring was hit by a pitch during the winning rally in the ninth inning (and may have scored the winning run). I hadn’t previously had even a line score for this game, so this is new:
(St. Louis Argus, June 25, 1920, p. 5)
--Here the Army team that the Giants played on June 28, featuring Branch Russell, Carl Glass, and Dorsey Battles as well as Johnson, Herring, and Stewart, is referred to as the “U. S. Army Champions,” and is explicitly said to consist of players who were in St. Louis to compete in the Army athletic meet (meaning that Heavy Johnson, for example, must have been competing in some event). Also, there were supposed to have been two games between the Giants and the Army team, but I’ve found a record of only the game on Monday.
(St. Louis Argus, June 25, 1920, p. 5)
--Here is some commentary from the St. Louis Giants’ owner, Charlie Mills, on his new acquisitions. Headline first:
And then the relevant section from the article:
(St. Louis Argus, July 2, 1920, p. 5)
--Here is the first non-circumstantial evidence that Moses Herring of the 25th Infantry was indeed the St. Louis Giants’ Herring:
(St. Louis Argus, July 9, 1920, p. 1)
--Here is also confirmation that all winners of events at the Army Championships were to have been given berths in the Olympic trials held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, later in July.
(St. Louis Argus, July 9, 1920, p. 1)
As I have noted before, the trials took place on July 17 and 18, which conflict with St. Louis Giants games in which Moses Herring appeared. So he definitely chose to play baseball in the Negro National League rather than compete to be in the Olympics. I still don’t know whether Herring’s co-champion in the running hop, step, and jump, future Negro Leaguer Branch Russell, went to the Olympic trials or not.
--Finally, the following piece:
(St. Louis Argus, July 9, 1920, p. 5)
This tells us two things:
1) That “Johnson was kept out of the game after Monday by the army authorities,” which hints at an explanation for why Heavy Johnson, according to Dave Wyatt the best prospect of all the Army ballplayers joining the Giants and Monarchs at that time, did not continue with the Negro National League (he would join the Monarchs in 1922)—presumably Johnson did not get himself properly discharged, for whatever reason;
And 2) as I had speculated, Herring competed in (and won) the running broad jump on Monday, July 5, then rushed to Giants’ Park to join the game against the Cubans already in progress, coming in for Eddie Holtz at third base.
Here’s another photo I don’t recall seeing before, from the Indianapolis Ledger (July 10, 1915, p. 4):
These, of course, are the Linares/Molina (western) Cuban Stars; that’s Tinti Molina in the suit and hat, between Pastor Pareda and Agustín Parpetti.
The photographer, J. C. Patton, was actually pretty well-known. In 1915 he was the only African-American present at the National Photographers Association of America convention (held in Indianapolis), and samples of his work can be found on, for example, the Ohio Historical Society website. He took this photograph of the 317th Engineers baseball team on July 31, 1918, at Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio:
While I’ve seen a few references to this team, I don’t think I have any box scores or names of players, so at this point I can’t identify any of these men.
On June 1, 1942, 10,000 soldiers watched the Chicago Cubs lose an exciting game to an Army team at Camp Grant, Illinois. The “doughboys” pulled it out in the ninth inning on a single by their manager, Joe Skurski. At third base for the soldiers was a Japanese-American named Jack Kakuuchi (the Tribune refers to him as “Jake Kakuchi”), who walked in the fourth inning and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly.
(Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1942)
I learned about this from Bill Staples, who believes that this game represents “the first time a Japanese-American competed against and defeated a major league team.” To top it off, Kakuuchi’s family, including his wife and son, were (as you might have guessed) interned at Manzanar while he served in the military.
Bill first emailed me about the Cubs’ Camp Grant game a week ago Friday (February 6). A few days later, Bill learned that Jack Kakuuchi had passed away that very day. “Perhaps he was waiting for someone to rediscover his 1942 box score,” said Bill.
Jack Kakuuchi, born Alexander Hideya Kakuuchi on May 5, 1920, in San Francisco, California, was, according to Bill, “an all-around athlete who excelled at baseball, football, basketball, sumo wrestling, and golf,” and later became a “legendary” golf and football coach at Citrus College. Bill will have much more detail on Kakuuchi in a book he’s working on about Kenichi Zenimura and Japanese-American baseball.
More than two years ago, I presented a circumstantial case that slugger Heavy Johnson played briefly for the St. Louis Giants in 1920, then returned to the Army for another two years before signing with the Monarchs in 1922.
Well, here is a passage from an article in the St. Louis Argus (June 2, 1922) about Opening Day, 1922, with the Monarchs, featuring Heavy Johnson, visiting the Stars:
“Johnson will be remembered as the husky soldier boy catcher who was with the Giants for a short time last year. He returned to the army and on his release he was picked up by the Monarchs.”
The reporter says “last year,” which would be 1921; but it seems highly probable that he’s talking about 1920, when an Army ballplayer named Johnson played in two games for the Giants (one as a catcher), knocking out a game-breaking triple. Dave Wyatt wrote at the time (July 10, 1920; see below) that “Uncle Sam has just recently turned loose a whole flock of baseball players from his army of athletes; St. Louis Giants grabbed three classy boys, one a catcher who is said to be the peer of them all.” The three were infielders Moses Herring of the 25th Infantry, Stewart of the 24th, and “Johnson,” the catcher, “the peer of them all.” It looks pretty certain now that he was indeed talking about Heavy Johnson.
Many, many thanks to Patrick Rock, who has recently supplied me with the complete baseball coverage of the St. Louis Argus for 1921 and 1922!
Here is the Dave Wyatt article (Chicago Defender, July 10, 1920):
This is the first entry in a new category called “Forgotten Negro Leaguers,” about players who appear sketchily or incorrectly in the usual reference works (say, with only a last name, or with the wrong first name), who have been mistaken for or conflated with other players, or who don’t appear at all in any guise.
For the first entry it seemed appropriate to choose Moses L. Herring, the 25th Infantry sergeant and athlete I identified here as the “Herring” who played third base for the 1920 St. Louis Giants. The case, I should note, is still circumstantial, in that I haven’t found any positive statements in the contemporary press that give Herring of the Giants a first name or identify him as an Army ballplayer. But it is nevertheless a powerful case, at least in my opinion. Herring, it appears, passed up a chance at the Olympic trials in 1920 (his event was the running hop, step, and jump) to play baseball in the Negro National League.
Unfortunately Herring was not a brilliant ballplayer. He appeared in 16 of the St. Louis Giants’ 60 games against NNL opposition in 1920, batting .171/.237/.229 in 41 plate appearances, with a single extra-base hit (a triple), two walks, and two stolen bases. He played 15 games (103 innings) at third base, fielding at an .850 clip and compiling a range factor of 2.97 (corresponding figures for all the Giants’ third basemen were .919 and 3.44). He appeared once as a pinch-runner. 1920 would be Herring’s first and last season with a top-flight Negro League team, and may have been his last in professional baseball at any level.
Name: Herring, Moses L. Residence: St. Louis, Missouri Inducted at: Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1915 Place of birth: Abbeyville, South Carolina [probably Abbeville] Age at induction: 21 5/6 years [putting his birth in August or September, 1894] Served in: Company E, 25th Infantry Promoted to sergeant: February 1919 Honorably discharged: (no date) (The missing discharge date is unfortunate, as it could more definitively establish Moses Herring as the ballplayer.)
In the 1930 census, there is a “Mose Herring,” 35, working as the manager of a dance hall in St. Louis; he is listed as a World War I veteran. He is, however, listed as born in Missouri, though it should be noted that he was boarding in someone’s house, and it’s quite possible that whoever was interviewed by the enumerator didn’t know where he had been born.
Lastly, here is his record in the U.S. Veterans Gravesites database:
Name: Moses L. Herring Service Info: Sgt U.S. Army World War I Death Date: 12 January 1931 Cemetery: Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri
David Skinner let me know that researchers have found another possible death date for Heavy Johnson: March 13, 1962, again in Cleveland. I checked this out, and found this record, in the U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites database:
Name: Oscar Johnson Born: November 5, 1896 Died: March 13, 1962 Service Start Date: September 17, 1917 Buried in: Beverly National Cemetery, Beverly, New Jersey
The birthdate, of course, is similar to the birthdate found in the SSDI (November 2, 1896), though there it is coupled with a completely different death date (January 1964). The service start date, September 17, 1917, is well after Heavy Johnson is known to have served in the 25th Infantry in Hawaii (beginning at least in October, 1915), and conflicts with the service record I found that puts his enlistment on December 10, 1913. And finally, this Oscar Johnson is buried in New Jersey. If Heavy Johnson passed away in Cleveland, it seems unlikely that he would have been shipped to New Jersey for burial (there certainly would have been more convenient national cemeteries); in addition, Heavy Johnson has no known connection to New Jersey.
It turns out that a World War I draft card exists for an Oscar Johnson born on November 5, 1896 (Heavy Johnson, of course, would not have had to register for the draft):
He was from Philadelphia, his father was a Swedish immigrant, and his race is recorded as white.