A huge amount of information has been dug up in recent years about previously very obscure players, but much of it has generally gone unnoticed or unreported except in emails between researchers. I’m going to try to bring a lot of this research out into the light of day. Let’s start with Columbus “Lum” Croxton, a pitcher for the New York Cuban Giants in 1908 and 1909. He appears in the roster at the end of Robert W. Peterson’s Only the Ball Was White and in Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia merely as “Croxton,” with no other information about him. We can now fill in quite a bit about his life and career, even if we don’t know everything.
He first appears in the 1900 census in Hill Township, Little Rock, Arkansas, a district that would later become part of the town of Argenta (now North Little Rock). According to this entry, he was born in February of 1885 in Mississippi, and by the age of 15 was already working as a day laborer while still living with his parents.
It’s not known when Columbus Croxton started to play ball. We next find him already in the big time (relatively speaking), as a pitcher for the Cuban Giants of the 1908 National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs. As far as games against top black professionals went, he was as close to an ace as the team got, going 2-5 with a 2.64 ERA, leading the team in games and innings pitched. The highlight of his National Association season was perhaps a 2 to 1 win over the Philadelphia Giants in Atlantic City, with Croxton holding John Henry Lloyd and company to seven scattered hits.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, September 16, 1908, p. 11)
Croxton was still with the Cubans in 1909 when they were beginning to be marginalized by Nat Strong; but they were kicked out of the league entirely in 1910, and Croxton went home to Argenta. While there he had to deal with something most big leaguers don’t have to worry about now during the off season:
(Indianapolis Freeman, February 26, 1910, p. 7)
Croxton recovered, and in the spring joined several of his Cuban Giants teammates on the Bluff City Tigers of Memphis, Tennessee. In this article his name was garbled in a pretty unfortunate way:
(Indianapolis Freeman, March 5, 1910, p. 7)
(Indianapolis Freeman, May 14, 1910, p. 7)
That spring Croxton appears in the 1910 U.S. census living in Argenta at the same address as in 1900 (208 South Cypress Street), with his now-widowed mother (whose name is given here as Mary Croxton instead of Francis). His occupation is listed as “Ball Player.” His age here is given as 20, making born five years later than the 1900 census entry.
After a year with the Memphis Tigers, he moved back home to captain a “howling aggregation” known as the Argenta Grays. Another player on the Grays was Wabishaw “Bill” Wiley, a student at Arkansas Baptist College and future dentist and New York Lincoln Giants star.
(Indianapolis Freeman, April 15, 1911, p. 7)
The following season Croxton would have “a first-class club of his own,” staffed by “a bunch of stars of the South.”
(Indianapolis Freeman, December 16, 1911, p. 7)
(Indianapolis Freeman, April 13, 1912, p. 6)
The name of Croxton’s 1912 club remains unknown for now, but it might have been the Little Rock Quapaws, the team he led in 1913. (John “Pop” Ransom was manager of Croxton’s old team, the Memphis Tigers.)
(Indianapolis Freeman, April 12, 1913, p. 7)
It’s not clear when (indeed, if) he quit baseball. In 1915 he was still living with his mother in the same house, but by 1916 he had established himself as the proprietor of a pool hall, a fairly common line of work for current and former ball players. (He was still living with his mother.)
(Little Rock City Directory, 1916)
He grew “prosperous” in his new business, although like many other operators of such establishments, he walked a fine line with respect to the law. In early 1916 Croxton was arrested and charged for bootlegging.
But he never had a chance to answer these charges. Shortly before 8 o’clock in the evening on April 22, 1916, Croxton left a friend’s house on Arkansas Avenue to walk home. Ten minutes later another friend, leaving the same house, happened upon Croxton sitting under a bridge, in some distress. She left for help, but when she returned he was dead. Here let the Arkansas Gazette tell a more detailed version of the story:
(Arkansas Gazette, April 23, 1916)
(Arkansas Gazette, April 24, 1916)
The coroner’s jury would eventually give the definitive word on Croxton’s death:
(Arkansas Gazette, April 25, 1916)
Anyway—the point I have about Lum Croxton, if I need to have one, is not that his was an exceptional or especially dramatic life, apart from the circumstances surrounding his death (if not his death itself). It’s that even a relatively obscure, poorly documented member of a second-tier team in the early twentieth century, somebody who existed for decades as just a last name in most lists of Negro league players, can eventually have his story hold. Hundreds of others like him are only know emerging into the light from many years of neglect.