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
Probably the most iconic image from these tours is this, from 1927, usually identified as Biz Mackey with an unnamed Japanese player:
I should have known this, but as this article explains, the photo actually shows Japanese player and manager ShinjiHamazaki, a member of Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame, standing alongside a different Royal Giants catcher—O’Neal Pullen. (The 1927 team, by the way, took three catchers with them—Mackey, Pullen, and Duncan. I’m thinking Mackey probably spent a lot of time as an infielder.)
Here’s a detail of a Royal Giants panoramic photo, showing both Pullen and Mackey, along with AjayJohnson standing between them, and Lon Goodwin, organizer of both the Royal Giants and the Los Angeles White Sox:
In 1898 Cuban independence fighters, allied with the U.S., ended Spanish sovereignty over Cuba; in 1900 the Cuban X Giants became the first African American team to play professional baseball in Cuba, inaugurating a long tradition of Negro league visits to the island. The U.S. lifted its occupation of Cuba in 1902, and by the winter of 1906/07, black American players were being signed by Cuban League teams.
Although this is mostly an excuse to post the above photo (which I just ran across recently), I’ve also noticed that reference sources online don’t seem to have Jimmie Newberry’s death date. I’ve got his death certificate (which still lists him, at the age of 64, as a “Baseball Player”), which shows that he passed away at Oak Forest Hospital, Bremen Township, Cook County, Illinois, on June 23, 1983. His remains were cremated at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. And for what it’s worth, both his death certificate and his Social Security record give “Jimmie,” spelled “ie,” as his formal name.
Also, here’s another update to that old post on “Negro Leaguers in Japan”: “Rufus Gaines” was in fact JonasGaines, full name Jonas George Gaines, born January 9, 1915, in New Roads, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. He died on August 6, 1998, in Baker, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. He’s buried at Port Hudson National Cemetery in Zachary, Louisiana. (Biographical Information from Social Security and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs records.)
Thanks to James Tate, who wrote to ask about these guys and motivated me to get up to speed on them.
UPDATE 3:10 pm Thanks to Mark. A. in the comments: Jet also published a picture of Jonas Gaines and LarryRaines inspecting a globe with Abe Saperstein in 1953 as they prepared to follow Newberry and Britton to the Hankyu Braves. Looks like they got the names a little mixed up, understandably I guess.
There are many versions of Babe Ruth’s meeting with Dixie Dean, some of them pretty obvious exaggerations. The most important, I’d say, is Dean’s own account, given in an interview with the journalist John Roberts in 1977 or 1978, just a couple of years before Dean’s death. (You can listen to it here. Also see transcripts of other parts of the interview, here, here, here, and here.) He recalled meeting Ruth in 1934 after a game at White Hart Lane, the home grounds of Tottenham Hotspur. Ruth came down to the dressing room. “You’re that Dixie Dean guy,” he said. “Jeez, you’ll get some cash today.” (The crowd was huge.) When Dean said he’d get just £8, Ruth exclaimed, “Jesus Christ—I’d demand two thirds of this gate.”
In fact, Ruth visited England in 1935. It was part of his 1934/35 off-season world tour, which started with the visit of a major league all-star team led by Connie Mack and featuring Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, and many others to Japan and the Philippines in the fall. The Japanese portion of the tour was the most significant. Seven hundred thousand fans turned out for the 18 games to watch Ruth hit .408, smash 13 home runs, and play first base holding an umbrella, while Gehrig took to the field wearing rubber galoshes and Simmons reclined in the outfield grass between hitters. Moe Berg, the catcher/spy, lurked about Tokyo with a camera under his kimono. For some reason this crew managed to inspire the founding of Japanese professional baseball.
After the All-Stars played in Manila in December, the team split up, all the players going their separate ways. Ruth went on to Java, then to Europe via the Suez Canal, visiting Switzerland and Paris in January before arriving in England on February 7, 1935. He stayed less than a week. It was a hectic few days, though, packed full of events.
Most intriguingly, on February 8 he strapped on leg pads, picked up a cricket bat, and faced off against two fast bowlers. Needless to say he smashed their offerings all over the field. “Sure, I could smack that ball all right,” he said later. “How could I help it when you have a great wide board to swing?” His coach, the former Australian star Alan Fairfax, gushed about his star pupil. “I wish I could have him a fortnight. I could make one of the world’s greatest batsmen out of him.” Ruth tried bowling, less successfully. The afternoon ended with an argument about whether baseball pitchers were faster than cricket bowlers. There was a plan to bring Harold Larwood, one of the top bowlers of the day, down to London to undertake a test against Ruth, but it didn’t come off.
The matchup that never happened.
Of cricket, Ruth said, “I guess it’s a better game than I thought but I think I will stick to baseball. They tell me $40 a week [£8 a week, same as football’s maximum wage] is top pay for cricket. I believe I had rather be a club owner than a player.” There was subsequent speculation in the press that Ruth’s remarks would bolster the case for a rise in players’ pay in England, though that didn’t happen until after World War II.
The next day, February 9, Ruth was to go out to see “his first British soccer match.” Dixie Dean said he met Ruth at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane. Unfortunately Everton did not play Tottenham that day. Everton’s league match at Tottenham that season had already been played on August 25, 1934, when Ruth was still in the United States. On February 9 Everton were playing a game 200 miles northwest of London at their own home grounds, Goodison Park in Liverpool, thrashing Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2. The match at White Hart Lane that day was between Tottenham and Derby County.
My access to British newspapers of the period is pretty limited, and I haven’t been able to find any contemporary mentions of exactly which match Ruth attended on February 9, 1935. This website, though, claims it was the Tottenham/Derby County game at White Hart Lane: “Jimmy McCormick scored both Tottenham goals in this match at White Hart Lane, but Derby took a point in front of baseball star Babe Ruth courtesy of goals from Scots Hughie Gallagher and Dally Duncan.”
February 9 was the only day during Ruth’s stay in England on which Football League games were played. There weren’t any F.A. Cup ties during this period either. He departed for the U.S. on February 13, six days after he arrived; within two weeks he had signed with the Boston Braves for what was to be his major league swan song.
Now, it’s also true that I have no way of knowing whether or not Dixie Dean was actually in the lineup for Everton up in Liverpool that day. (He didn’t score, at any rate.) So it’s theoretically possible that he was not playing and made his way to London to meet Ruth at White Hart Lane—though that certainly doesn’t match his story that the two met in the locker room after a game in which Dean played.
So Babe Ruth did, apparently, attend a game at White Hart Lane, and he did make public comments about the paltry pay of English athletes (though cricketers instead of footballers). But I can’t establish that he saw a game in which Dixie Dean played, and can’t even place them in the same city at the same time.
This was Ruth’s only trip to England as far as I know, certainly the only one made during his active playing career. So it would seem to be the only chance for the fabled meeting to have happened in just the way Dean described it.
UPDATE 12:22 pm I should add that of course it’s possible that Babe Ruth visited England another time, though I haven’t seen any reference to such a trip. And the press in 1935 certainly made it sound as though Ruth had never been there before.
Like other delightful mutations that have come as a result of foreign artisans dipping into the American popular culture trough (i.e., contemporary, West African, hand-painted barber shop signs that depict hairstyles last seen on the ‘80s R&B stars, Boys II Men; or the surf guitar that pops up in the middle of a Bollywood musical), Japanese baseball cards take the basic idea of a baseball card and turn it into something new and uniquely Japanese.
Unfortunately from about 1970 it seems that Japanese cards increasingly imitated their blander American cousins. I wonder if there is any chance of a revival...
Reader Robert Klevens, who specializes in Japanese baseball cards, has sent in some information about “Charlie Lewis,” an early American player in Japan mentioned in this post. I didn’t think “Lewis” was a Negro Leaguer, as I couldn’t find reference to anyone remotely like him in Riley or other sources; and Robert confirms this.
Robert, who has been in touch with the player’s daughter, reports that his name was actually Charlie Luis (not “Lewis”), that he was Portuguese (or Portuguese American, I’m assuming), and that he was from Hawaii. According to Robert, “He played AA ball in Hawaii with the Honolulu Braves prior to going to Japan and playing with the Mainichi Orions in the early 1950s.”
Thanks to Robert. If anyone else has additional or better information about anything I talk about here, let me know!
I wanted to outline a couple of connections between the Negro Leagues and Japanese baseball that aren’t (I think) all that well-known.
First: for decades, the standard story about the rise of professional baseball in Japan has credited a 1934 tour of Japan by major league all stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, for sparking interest in the sport and leading to the first professional league two years later. But the Japanese baseball historian Kazuo Sayama, in the 1987 Baseball Research Journal, told a somewhat different story. He argued that much of the credit should go to Negro League teams that toured Japan in 1920s and 30s, particularly the 1927 Philadelphia Royal Giants, featuring HOFers Biz Mackey and Andy Cooper, along with Rap Dixon and Frank Duncan, among others.
While the 1934 white major league visit has gotten all the attention (and credit), cause-and-effect might actually have been reversed: Sayama noted that the tour was sponsored by the Yomiuri newspaper company, which was already planning to found a professional team (which would become the Giants). So rather than being the catalyst for Japanese pro baseball, maybe it would be more accurately viewed as publicity for a venture that was already in the works.
The white players, Sayama said, treated their opponents and the fans with contempt, running up scores against inexperienced opponents and insulting their hosts, both on the field and off. On one rainy day, Ruth played first base holding a parasol. Gehrig wore rubber boots. Al Simmons lay down in the outfield grass while a game was in progress.
The Negro Leaguers, by contrast, were said to have appreciated their hosts’ generosity, and enjoyed a respite from prejudice and discrimination. In Sayama’s view, the Negro Leaguers’ courtesy, professionalism, and sincerity may have impressed Japanese fans more than the boorish and arrogant behavior of the white big leaguers. Plus, the Royal Giants refrained from running up the score, a practice they probably picked up while barnstorming against white teams in small towns.
Most intriguing are certain parallels between Japanese and Negro League baseball, including a shared emphasis on teamwork, finesse pitching, and the sacrifice bunt, which suggest an even more substantial influence. Robert Whiting’s description of the tactics of Japanese managers in his book You Gotta Have Wa makes them sound a little like Rube Foster: Japanese managers have always emphasized avoiding mistakes while pressuring opponents to make them, and seem to put great stock in scoring first to demoralize the other side. Sayama quoted from an open letter sent by the Royal Giants to Japanese fans in 1927. In it the Negro Leaguers averred that “Japanese baseball has already got the very essence of the game,” and singled out for praise the Japanese teams’ “inside baseball,” “crafty pitching,” and “team play,” all hallmarks of the Negro League style. (Of course, as Sayama pointed out, he was translating the letter from Japanese back into English, without access to the English original.)
In 1927, the Royal Giants won 47 of 48 games. The single loss was to the amateur Daimai Club, with Michimaro Ono the winning pitcher for Daimai (giving him the first two Japanese victories over American professionals, having beaten Waite Hoyt and a major-minor league team back in 1922). Sayama has reportedly written a whole book on the Philadelphia Royal Giants—in Japanese, presumably. I’ll say it again—it would be really nice to get some Japanese baseball books translated into English.
The second connection between the Negro Leagues and Japan hasn’t been mentioned anywhere, to my knowledge. It turns out that when the Japanese leagues begin bringing in westerners to play in the early 1950s, ex-Negro Leaguers predominated.
Aside from Harrison McGaillard, an American catcher who for some reason played in Japan under the name of “Bucky Harris” in the late 1930s, and a few Japanese-Americans like former San Francisco 49er Wally Yonamine, the earliest group of U.S. players in Japan I can find is this quartet of Negro Leaguers:
John Britton (Hankyu Braves, 1952-53), 3b, a 33-year-old veteran of the Birmingham Black Barons (1940-50).
Jimmy Newberry (Hankyu Braves, 1952), a 30-year-old righthanded pitcher, also a veteran of the Black Barons.
Larry Raines (Hankyu Braves, 1953-54), who came to Japan as a 23-year-old shortstop, had played for the Chicago American Giants in 1951-52. He led the Pacific League with 61 steals in 1953, then won the batting title in ’54 with .337. Raines would later play for the Cleveland Indians, and returned to Japan to close out his career in 1962.
Rufus Gaines (Hankyu Braves, 1953). This ID is a little iffy. Japanese Baseball Daily’s encyclopedia says he was a Negro Leaguer. Riley’s Encyclopedia has no Rufus Gaines, but does list a Jonas Gaines, who played most prominently with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Listed in Japanese Baseball Daily’s encyclopedia as born January 9, 1921, whereas Riley lists Jonas Gaines’s birthdate as January 9, 1914. Both Rufus and Jonas are listed as batting righthanded and throwing lefty. Riley says Jonas was 5’9”, 158 lbs; while Rufus was supposed to have been 5’8” 156. A lot of little coincidences there.
It certainly makes sense that blacks would be among the first Americans in Japan, given the drastically reduced employment opportunities for them (especially older players) in the post-integration baseball world.
In 1954, two more Americans appeared in Japan:
Charlie Lewis (Mainichi Orions, 1954-55), born in Missouri May 30, 1925, a pitcher/catcher who set the Pacific League record for catcher’s errors in a season (22). Not a Negro Leaguer, as far as I can tell. I also haven’t yet been able to place him in the upper minors in the U.S.
Sal Recca (Takahashi Unions, 1954), born November 8, 1923, in New Jersey. Didn’t play in the majors; played for the “Hawaii Red Sox,” presumably an independent or semi pro team. He appeared in five games for the International League’s Newark Bears in 1946.
Then, in 1955, came infielder Roberto “Chico” Barbon, (Hankyu Braves, 1955-65) who played more games in Japan (1353) than any other foreigner. Barbon (born March 13, 1933) was the first Cuban to play baseball in Japan, brought there by the promoter Abe Saperstein (of Harlem Globetrotters’ fame). Barbon was said to have played for Negro League and Cuban teams, though I haven’t found any record of him yet. Figueredo does list an infielder named Humberto Barbón, born in Cárdenas on August 23, 1928, who played for Marianao in the 1953/54 season.
After this, the first American players in Japan I found, aside from Japanese-Americans, are Jack Ladra of the 1958 Toie Flyers, who was of Mexican and Hawaiian parentage; Glenn Mickens in 1959; Joe Stanka in 1960; and, of course, many more after that (including, briefly, ex-Negro Leaguers Larry Doby and Don Newcombe, the first famous American flops in Japan).
Aside from Japanese Baseball Daily, my source for much of the above is Daniel Johnson’s Japanese Baseball, which only lists batting and e.r.a. title qualifiers—so there may be other early American players in Japan. Feel free to add any you know about!
I happened across this discussion (from three years ago) of the first Japanese baseball player to play professionally in the United States. No, it wasn’t Hideo Nomo; nor was it Masanori Murakami, the San Francisco Giants’ reliever from the 1960s. We’re not talking first major league player, or even first minor leaguer; but first professional, period.
Apparently it was a man named Goro Mikami. To quote from one of the posts:
“He was from Kofu, Yamanashi, and played on a university team that toured the U.S. He liked his time in the U.S., and enrolled at a university in the U.S. where he could continue to play ball as well as study.”
This post goes on to note that his nickname in the U.S. was (ridiculously, but not surprisingly) “Jap Mikado.” Another post (by somebody else) says that he played 1914-15 for the “All-Nations” team, which they identify as the team that “eventually became the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League.”
Just before I came across this thread I had seen, while looking for something else, a box score in the August 5, 1916, Chicago Defender for a game between the Bacharach Giants and the “All-Nations” club of New York City. Here it is:
There is Mikami, leading off and playing second, along with “Red Cloud” in right and “Hong Long” on the mound. This is a very early edition of the Bacharachs, by the way; in fact, 1916 was the year in which black Atlantic City businessmen brought the Duvall Giants of Jacksonville, Florida, north, and renamed them after Harry Bacharach, mayor of Atlantic City. (The game story refers to the team as the “Mayor’s Giants” and the “Mayor’s Pets.”)
After a little searching on ProQuest, I discovered that Mikami first came to the United States when Waseda University’s team toured in 1911. After graduating from Waseda, he came to the United States and enrolled at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He joined the baseball team and eventually became its captain. The Chicago Tribune actually printed a short feature article on him in 1915, complete with photo (they spell his last name “Mikanie” and “Mikanio”). He was supposed to be a member of the class of 1917 at Knox; his appearance with the All-Nations of New York in 1916 may mean that he left college to play baseball professionally.
Anyway, Bob Whiting (who has written several books on Japanese baseball) says in the thread about Mikami that the Japanese baseball historian Kazuo Sayama has a book in Japanese called “The Mystery of Japan Mikado” (1997). (Very little, if any, Japanese baseball scholarship has been translated into English, by the way.)
Mikami’s All Nations team was not the same as J. L. Wilkinson’s All Nations club. In fact, I know of three teams called “All Nations” at around the same time: Wilkinson’s, based at first in Iowa and later in Kansas City, which was the most famous, featuring John Donaldson, José Méndez, and Cristóbal Torriente; another one in Chicago around 1918, which featured Stanley Beckwith, brother of John; and Mikami’s team, based in New York. I don’t know of any formal connection between them; Wilkinson’s success with the formula probably just spawned imitators.
This is a truly beautiful book that introduces a world of baseball art only rarely glimpsed in the United States. Japanese baseball cards mostly evolved out of cards manufactured for a children’s game called menko (the name has become attached to the cards themselves, also). Colorful, sometimes crude, other times finely detailed and nuanced, drawn in styles ranging from the cartoonish to the realistic, these cards came in different sizes and shapes (some are round, some in the shapes of airplanes, some are masks). Cards from the pre-World War II era and from the 1950s and 60s evoke a technicolor alternate universe of baseball superheroes; after that, Japanese cards unfortunately began to imitate their blander American counterparts.
Most pre-war cards seem to have depicted the popular university teams like Waseda and Keio, but there were amateur clubs, too, like the Mita Club, a team made up of Keio University graduates (shown in the round menko below). In 1922 Mita won a famous 9 to 3 victory over a touring team of American professionals that included Casey Stengel, George Kelly, Luke Sewell, and Waite Hoyt on the mound. Lefthander Michimaro Ono gave up only five hits for Mita, and his battery mate Zensuke Shimada hit a key home run off Hoyt to seal the victory.
On the subject of Japanese baseball: I’m always interested in origins and obscure prehistories, so I was interested to discover (not in this book, actually) that professional baseball in Japan actually predates the 1934 founding of the team that became the Yomiuri Giants. I scoured the paltry information on Japanese baseball history available in English on the web, and came up with the following, combining several different sources:
In 1920, Kiyoshi Oshikawa founded the Nihon Undo Kyokai, a.k.a. Shibaura Undo Kyokai (Shibaura Association), with the help of Atsushi Kono, a former pitcher at Waseda University who had captained that team on a tour of the U.S. in 1905. (Shibaura is a district in Tokyo.) By 1921, according to one source, there were four professional clubs in Japan. I’ve only found the name of one other professional club for certain, Tensho Yakyudan. Apparently most of them disbanded in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Shibaura club’s ballpark being confiscated by the government to use for relief efforts. After this, the club moved to the Takarazuka prefecture in the west, where it became the Takarazuka Undo Kyokai. It lasted until 1929, when it disbanded due to the Depression. One source says there was actually a professional league that played, off and on, from 1920 to 1929.