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.
This belongs in the “for what it’s worth” file, I guess. James Tate recently asked me about one of the umpires in the 1924 Black World Series, a man named Buck Freeman. I found out that there appeared to be some uncertainty about who he was. This is what Eric Enders writes in his SABR biography of the slugger Buck Freeman (the guy who hit 25 home runs for the Washington National League team in 1899):
“An umpire named Buck Freeman is known to have worked the 1924 Negro League World Series. Since Freeman was an active minor league ump at the time, and since the Negro Leagues used white umpires then, it was almost certainly the same Buck Freeman.”
He says “almost certainly”; he’s right, and I think I can remove the “almost.” In 1924 the organizers of the Black World Series hired white minor league umpires. Here’s a box score for one of the games, which lists the umpires’ league affiliations:
(Chicago Defender, October 11, 1924, p. 9)
Freeman was an American Association umpire. And here’s an item from earlier in the 1924 season which establishes that Buck Freeman the former home run king umpired in the American Association that year:
(Canton Evening Repository, April 18, 1924, p. 38)
UPDATE 7/3/2013 For the record, the other three umpires working the 1924 Black World Series were: Daniel J. McDevitt and John F. McBride, both of the International League, and Tim Doolan of the Southern Association, all veteran minor league arbiters.
Regarding the decisive Game 10 of the 1924 World Series, in which the Monarchs’ 37-year-old player-manager José Méndez made a surprise start and shut out Hilldale on three hits despite suffering from a “viral infection” (Larry Lester, Baseball’s First Colored World Series, p. 175), John Holway wrote the following:
In the final game the Monarch manager, 38-year-old Jose Mendez, one of Cuba’s greatest pitchers 15 years earlier, had no one left to start on the mound. “Well, Darling,” Foster smiled, “how do you feel yourself?” Mendez gulped. “If you say so,” he said, “I do it.” Foster called every pitch for him from the bench and Mendez hurled a three-hitter to beat young Holsey “Scrip” Lee 5-0, and take the series. (Blackball Stars, p. 32)
I’d always thought this story sounded somewhat unlikely, given that Méndez was himself the veteran of many big games and hardly seemed the type to “gulp” at the prospect of a high-pressure situation. I suspected (though of course without knowing for sure) that it emanated from Foster himself. I haven’t checked every contemporary newspaper thoroughly to see if this story, or some hint of it, made it into print at the time. But I did just run across this passage in the Philadelphia Tribune (November 22, 1924), from an article entitled “‘Rube’ Foster Comments on the World’s Series”:
So Foster himself didn’t claim it was his idea for Méndez to start, nor did he claim to have called pitches the whole game. And I’m pretty sure that, had those things really happened, Foster would not have hesitated to take credit for them.
It’s entirely possible that there’s some truth to it: maybe, for instance, Méndez consulted Foster about how to pitch to certain Hilldale hitters. This, of course, is hardly the same thing that the original story claims. Plus it’s not clear that Foster would have known the Hilldale lineup all that much better than Méndez; two of the starting lineup that day had been teammates of Méndez’s recently (George Carr with the Monarchs, 1920-1922, and Frank Warfield with Santa Clara in the previous winter’s Cuban League). Warfield, Clint Thomas, and Biz Mackey had all played in the NNL for multiple seasons fairly recently, so Méndez would have had as much chance to see them as Foster. Maybe Foster would have known more about his fellow Texans Louis Santop and George Johnson. On the whole though, the notion that Foster babysat Méndez through the Series-clinching victory is probably exaggerated.
I’m starting a new category called “Unsolved Mysteries,” which will include interesting but unresolved research questions (or half-baked research, if you prefer)*. The following is from the same Rollo Wilson column that provided the José Méndez bit the other day (Pittsburgh Courier, October 11, 1924):
I don’t think anybody’s ever put anything in print about Oscar “Heavy” Johnson’s having a ballplaying brother. According to Wilson, Heavy’s brother played for both the Indianapolis ABCs and the Dayton Marcos, but I don’t have any leads there—Louis “Dicta” Johnson and Tom Johnson, both well-known players who weren’t related to Heavy Johnson and whose biographies don’t fit Wilson’s description above, were the only men with that last name to play for C. I. Taylor’s ABCs. William “Big C” or “Wise” Johnson played for the Marcos in 1920; but that team existed at least from 1917 through 1926, and I don’t have rosters for most of those years.
Working the Atchison, Kansas, angle, I found Oscar Johnson’s family in the 1900 U.S. Census and the 1895 and 1905 Kansas State Census. They’re easy to find: there were at least three black Oscar Johnsons born in Kansas of roughly Heavy Johnson’s age, but only one can be connected to Atchison. Here they are in the 1895 Kansas State Census, living in Atchison:
And in the 1900 United States Census, again in Atchison:
The parents, Frank and Harriet, were born in Virginia before the Civil War, almost certainly as slaves. Their first few children were born in Virginia as well; going by the census data here, they must have moved to Kansas sometime between the birth of Cynthia (November 1883) and Harrison (March 1888).
And in the 1905 Kansas State Census, still living in Atchison:
Their states of birth were on the following page, which I’m not reproducing here, but they match the information in the earlier records, with the parents and older children born in Virginia, the younger children (including Oscar) born in Kansas.
So Oscar’s brothers were named, in order of age: James, Edward, John, Frank Jr., Harrison, and Samuel.
According to the 1900 census, Oscar’s mother had by then borne 11 children, with 9 surviving. In 1900, six were living with them: Matilda, Cynthia, Harrison, Samuel, Beulah, and Oscar. Three of the older siblings reappear in the 1905 census (James, Edward, and Frank Jr.), which completes the nine children living in 1900. If these numbers are accurate, then Oscar’s older brother John, listed as 16 back in 1895, seems to have passed away by 1900, as did another child, unnamed in any of these records. And by 1905, two other children, Samuel and Beulah, are not living with the family.
Unfortunately, most of these names—James Johnson, Edward Johnson, John Johnson, Frank Johnson Jr.—are extremely common and hard to trace. But I have found a World War I draft card for a Benjiman [sic] Harrison Johnson, born in Atchison, Kansas, on March 10, 1889 (the same month, though one year off from the birthdate for Oscar’s brother Harrison given in the 1900 census), and living in Youngstown, Ohio:
I have no way of knowing whether or not this guy was a ballplayer. But I do have one more reason, aside from the name and Atchison connection, for thinking he’s Oscar “Heavy” Johnson’s brother—which I’ll talk about in another entry, this one on Heavy himself, tomorrow.
P.S. The title of this post came from the Hollies’ song; but, if you believe Wikipedia, the phrase itself may have originated as the title of an article published in Kiwanis Magazine in September, 1924—only a month before the Rollo Wilson column with the anecdote about Heavy’s brother.
*-Eh, what the heck—I’ll just call it “Half-Baked Research.”