Back in the early days of this blog, it was pretty common for me to post excitedly about the latest findings in, say, World War I draft cards, or census records, or passenger lists, or old newspapers. Posts about such things have dwindled in the past few years. This isn’t for lack of material; on the contrary, as I’ve worked more and more on the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database, the amount of time I spend researching biographical information has increased exponentially, and I get vastly more information from other researchers as well.
The fact is, I’m often overwhelmed by the amount of work to do on the DB, and simply don’t have the time to post as much as I used to. I want to change this. From now on I’d like the blog to better reflect the sheer volume of work that I and others are doing on the Negro leagues and Latin American baseball, as well as the vast amount of information that is gradually coming to light, especially (but not solely) from digital sources. So look forward to more frequent posting on smaller research finds, by me and by others.
To start off, here’s a brief rundown on a few recently-researched players, mostly drawn from my work on the mid-1930s, and featuring some finds by Caleb Hardwick and Scott Simkus. The point here is mostly to establish the basic facts of a player’s life—his dates, places of birth and death, correct name, etc.—not to provide a full-fledged biography.
Going back to James Riley and Robert Peterson, nobody has ever known his first name—until now. “Black Bottom” played for the Nashville Elite Giants in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the 1930 U.S. Census we can find one James Buford, “negro,” 23, born in Tennessee, a widower and a “Ball Player, Professional Team,” living with his mother in Nashville. He also appears in the 1910 census at age 4, living with his parents James and Alice Buford in St. Francis, Lee County, Arkansas (though he was born in Tennessee).
Sometimes spelled “Cephas,” this player remained hard to pin down until I found one “Goldberg Cephus,” 28, “Negro,” born in Maryland, and with a profession listed as “Left field, Baseball Professional” [sic], living in Philadelphia in the 1930 census. It turns out that his full name was Goldsbirgh Arthur Monroe Cephus. He was born on October 16, 1898, most likely in Preston, Caroline County, Maryland.
He served in the Navy during World War I, and died on December 9, 1983, in Philadelphia. Goldie Cephus is, so far, the only person I know of whose occupation was listed in the census as specifically a left fielder.
Jim Overmyer’s book on the Bacharach Giants, Black Ball and the Boardwalk, reveals that an outfielder for the Bacharachs in 1917 previously known only by his last name was in fact called William Clinton. As it turns out, there was one African American by that name in southern New Jersey at the time, one William Melvin Clinton, who registered for the draft in Vineland, a town one county over from Atlantic City (and the home of Welch’s Grape Juice).
By the time he applied for a Social Security number in the 1930s, Clinton was using the middle name “Montague” instead of Melvin, and was claiming a birth date in 1885 instead of 1888. I haven’t yet been able to find Clinton or his relatives (his parents were James Clinton and Emma Collins, according to his Social Security application) in the census or in any other records.
Baseball-Reference.com lists an “Arnie Dillard” pitching for the Lincoln Giants in 1927 and the Bacharachs in 1932. The 1930 census has Lamon Dillard, “Negro,” 32, born in Louisiana, and a “Baseball Pitcher,” living in Manhattan with his wife. Other documents establish his full name as Lamon Jack Dillard, and his birthdate as October 15 or 25, 1894 or 1896, in Houma, Louisiana; he died in April 1965 in New York City.
Nothing specific (that is, dates, places, full name, etc.) was known about the life of this right-handed pitcher, who toiled mostly for the Newark Eagles and New York Black Yankees for a decade in the 1930s and 40s, until Scott Simkus dug up enough documents (census records, marriage certificate, death certificate, at least one passenger list) to establish that his name was Robert J. Evans, and he was born on December 27, 1910, in Richmond, Virginia. He last pitched in 1943. According to Jim Riley in his Biographical Encyclopedia: “Off the field he was inclined toward drinking and, after leaving baseball, he was killed at a relatively young age in an off-season incident” (p. 270). And in fact he died on October 15, 1947, also in Richmond, at age 36. But the cause of death was not violence—it was leukemia.
Here’s his marriage certificate (which lists his occupation as “Baseball Player”):
The Bacharach Giants catcher “Wee Willie Jones” was said (by the Chicago Defender in 1927) to have come from “Daytona, Fla.,” and was a student at “St. Augustine college.” For years I couldn’t find anything else about him due to his extremely common name. Then he turned up in the 1930 census as William Jones, “Negro,” age 27, born in Florida, “Baseball Player,” living with his mother in Daytona Beach, Florida. And from there I was able to find his 1941 enlistment card in the New York National Guard, which shows his full name as William Walter Jones, and gives his occupation as “Pro. Ball Player.”
A light-hitting outfielder in the 1930s, Pete McQueen appears in Riley’s encyclopedia under just that name, while Baseball-Reference.com lists his given name as John Henry McQueen, with “Pete” presumably a nickname. The sleuthing of Caleb Hardwick has given us some more specific information: that he was born on March 26, 1909, probably in or near Carlisle, Arkansas, and that he also seems to have been named simply Pete, rather than John Henry. He passed away in May 1985 in West Seneca, New York.
A little additional research on my part shows that John Henry McQueen was a later player, ca. 1945-1953, mostly in the South, whereas Pete McQueen was by that time in his late 30s and 40s and living in Buffalo, New York.
His given name was thought to be “Cleveland Smith,” but nothing else specific was known of this player’s identity. However, in the 1930 census we find Cleo Smith, “Negro,” aged 30, born in Virginia, and a “Ball Player” with a “Club”, living with his parents Henry and Annie Smith in Washington, D. C.
“Spearman” played third base for the Newark Eagles in Yankee Stadium on August 16, 1936. Henry Spearman appeared at third for the Grays in a doubleheader in Philadelphia on August 8, then again in Pittsburgh on September 5, missing games against the Philadelphia Stars in Canton, Ohio, on August 18, and against the Cincinnati Tigers in Cincinnati on August 23. So I’d assumed that Henry Spearman had been loaned or dealt to the Eagles for a couple of weeks in August, then returned to the Grays by September.
But Caleb Hardwick has determined that the Eagles player was actually Fred Spearman, the son of Charles Kenston Spearman and nephew of Henry Spearman. Caleb’s sources include Fred Spearman’s obituary, census records, and at least one newspaper report for a game on August 10, 1936, in which “Fred Spearman” is mentioned playing for the Newark Eagles in Freeport, New York.
Caleb also points to a passage in Darren Ivy and Jeff Krupsaw’s book Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration (2002), which describes Frederick Spearman, formerly of the semipro Dubisson Tigers, getting
his big break in 1936, when he spent half a season with the Newark Eagles of the Negro League, making $200 a month. Spearman, an infielder, found it difficult to crack the Eagles’ infield, which featured Hall of Fame third baseman Ray Dandridge, Hall of Fame shortstop “Wee” Willie Wells and All-Star [also Hall of Famer] George “Mule” Suttles at first base. Most of Spearman’s time was spent on the bench, so he opted to move on with his life.
I haven’t found the exhibition game against Satchel Paige yet, but we do have the Yankee Stadium game, as noted above.
Frederick “Babe” Spearman was born on January 18, 1917, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the son of Charles and Beulah Spearman. So he was a second-generation Spearman (as was his older brother, Charles Spearman, Jr.). He doesn’t appear in Riley’s encyclopedia, Clark/Lester’s Negro Leagues Book, Baseball-Reference.com, or, of course, Seamheads.com (though he will be in the next update). He died less than five years ago, on November 10, 2010, in Jamaica, New York.
He was a well-known outfielder for the American Giants in the 1920s, yet little was known of his life other than his given name, James. In the 1930 census, however, we find James Thompson, “Negro,” 29, born in Alabama, a “Baseball Player” on a “Baseball Team,” lodging next door to a fellow ballplayer “George Benett” (George Bennette) in Chicago. So at least now we have an approximate age and a state of birth.
Not all of this information has made its way into the Seamheads DB yet, but it will get there soon. More to come in this vein…