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
Here’s a photograph of the Virginia state historical marker for Pete Hill. Even though I wrote the text for it I don’t think I remember seeing an actual photo of it, unless Ron Hill or somebody sent me one and I forgot about it.
On November 19, 1911, six African American baseball players arrived in Havana, Cuba, to play for the newly re-organized Habana Base Ball Club. They posed for this photograph, printed in the Havana newspaper El Mundo on November 20, 1911.
Although the quality of the image above is quite poor (having been
printed, microfilmed, and finally scanned), if anyone ever comes up with
an actual print of this photograph, it might turn out to be quite
valuable. You’re looking at a previously unknown (or little-known)
image that includes three Hall of Famers plus three other very notable
Negro league players.
Of the six players, five actually appeared for Habana during the 1911-12 winter season; the sixth, Walter Ball, returned to the United States on January 16, 1912, not having pitched an inning, as far as I can tell. Here he is, on the passenger list of the S.S. Chalmette, bound for New Orleans:
Nit-picking time. This fine article about the lefthanded pitcher Jimmy Claxton, the mixed-race native of British Columbia who managed to sneak across the color line briefly with the Oakland Oaks in 1916 by passing as Indian, says that Claxton was the “first black man on a baseball card” (a claim echoed in the B-R Bullpen). Tom Hawthorn’s brief SABR biography of Claxton calls him “the first African-American baseball player to be depicted on a baseball card.” Claxton’s brief time with the Oaks coincided with the Zeenut candy company’s schedule for putting together its PCL card set that spring, and so he wound up on this now (relatively) famous card:
But I think this claim ought to be adjusted to read, “first African-American player on an American baseball card.” Because the first black men on baseball cards were in the Cabañas card set of 1909, printed in Cuba to commemorate the Detroit Tigers’ visit to Havana that fall, and two of them were Americans: Pete Hill and Bruce Petway.
Then a year later Punch Cigarros put out a set of cards that included, in addition to the many players of Afro-Cuban heritage, Hill and Petway again, along with John Henry Lloyd and possibly Grant Johnson (though this last one is unconfirmed; evidently no examples have been found).
All these predate the Zeenut Claxton card, though that still gets priority among American baseball cards.
Gary has got the Pete Hill Card Set fresh from the printer, and they look absolutely fantastic. He’s also offering a special extra card, featuring Pete in a 1906 Philadelphia Giants “World’s Champions” uniform (the Giants claimed the world baseball championship for 1905), if you order by December 31.
I’ve teamed up with Gary Cieradkowski (of Infinite Baseball Cards fame) and Ron Hill to produce a special set of Pete Hill cards. We’ve painstakingly researched Pete’s career to create 15 cards that tell his story from his early days with the semipro Pittsburgh Keystones, through his heyday with the powerhouse Philadelphia Giants, Chicago American Giants, and Havana Reds, to his stints as player-manager with the Detroit Stars and Baltimore Black Sox. We’ve also put together his playing statistics against Negro league, Cuban, and white major league teams.
If you read this blog you know Gary’s art, and you know the care and attention he puts into getting every detail as accurate as possible. It’s a beautiful set of cards, and in my opinion one of the best things he’s done. This set is also in a class by itself—I don’t think there has ever been a project focusing on one Negro league player like this.
They’re available for pre-order here—in fact, they ought to be shipping fairly soon, so you should be able to get your set(s) in plenty of time for the holidays.
One hundred years ago today, Rafael AlmeidaandArmando Marsansdebuted for the Cincinnati Reds against the Cubs in the first game of a doubleheader at West Side Park, Chicago. The Cubs won, 8 to 3, but both Cubans hit 1 for 2.
The significance of the Cubans’ appearance is sometimes only vaguely understood. They were not the first players of Latin American heritage to appear in the big leagues, or the first Cubans (Esteban Bellán and Chick Pedroes were both born in Cuba, and Louis Castro was born in Colombia). They were the first products of a Latin American professional league, the Cuban League, to get to the majors.
Cuban Leaguers had been appearing in the North American minors regularly since Juan Violá joined the Jacksonville Jays of the South Atlantic League in 1904, and of course Cuban professional teams that included black players had been a standard feature of the barnstorming circuit for even longer. Luis Padrón had very nearly beaten Almeida and Marsans to the punch by two years, trying out for the White Sox on July 22, 1909.
While the arrival of white Cubans in the majors was a major event, it was not as earthshaking as some hoped it would be. Here’s Lester Walton of the New York Age (September 28, 1911), outlining a strategy for stealth integration that resembles Dave Wyatt and Charlie Grant’s scheme back in 1901:
Of course it did not turn out this way. However - just the previous summer the Indianapolis Freeman had printed a rumor concerning Pete Hill being approached by a major league manager to pass as an Indian or Cuban.
As it happens, on the very same Fourth of July, 1911, while Almeida and Marsans were playing on Chicago’s West Side, the South Side witnessed another doubleheader between professional teams—Frank Leland’s Chicago Giants versus Rube Foster’s brand-new Chicago American Giants, at the old White Sox Park, only recently rechristened Schorling’s Park. Batting third and playing center field for the American Giants was none other than Pete Hill, who grabbed a home run, a double, and a single in the second game.
Hill, like Almeida and Marsans, was a veteran of the Cuban League, having at this point played four full seasons there. Here’s how Almeida, Marsans, and Hill hit in the Cuban League from 1906/07 (Hill’s first season) through 1910/11:
Combining Cuban League and major league exhibitions, here are their full batting lines in Cuba against roughly similar opposition from the 1906/07 through 1910/11 winter seasons. Keep in mind that all games counted here were played in the same ballpark, Almendares Park:
And Hill was not the only black American player who was clearly superior to Almeida and Marsans at the time, based on their records in Cuba. In fact, nobody who knew anything about Cuban baseball would have thought that Almeida and Marsans were even the best Cuban players or prospects. Certainly in 1911 José Méndez, Julián Castillo, Carlos Morán, Regino García, Eustaquio Pedroso, and Gervasio González, at the very least, would have been ranked ahead of them. But they, like Hill and the other Negro league stars, were all too dark to be considered for organized baseball in the U.S. So, while Fourth of July 1911 can be considered a milestone of sorts, it also stands as a monument to opportunities lost and denied, and injustice perpetuated.
NOTE: Images of the 1909 Cuban baseball cards for Almeida, Marsans, and Hill are from Cubanball.com’s fantastic page showing the cards from the Cabañas set commemorating the Detroit Tigers’ visit to Havana that fall.
Here’s a cool photo sequence from the Detroit Free Press (November 17, 1910) showing scenes from the Detroit Tigers’ fall 1910 trip to Havana.
(click to enlarge)
Especially interesting is the leftmost photo, which purports to show Grant “Home Run” Johnson batting left-handed. All sources I know about say he was a right-handed hitter, and all photos I’ve seen show him as such—though I don’t know of any in-game photos showing him actually at bat. This photo has definitely not been inadvertently reversed, as Oscar Stanage was of course a right-handed catcher, and his glove is shown here on his left hand. Unfortunately the printing-microfilming-digitizing sequence has so degraded the quality of what might have not been a very sharp photo in the first place that there’s no way to tell whether this is really Johnson, or maybe someone else on the Habana team, say Pete Hill or Carlos Morán, both left-handed hitters.
For what it’s worth, here are early photos of Hill and Johnson posing with bats (from the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 1905). The photo of Johnson would later be reprinted in Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball—I don’t think I’ve seen the photo of Hill elsewhere.
I don’t think I have seen a photo of Carlos Morán batting, but here’s Pete Hill, actually at bat in a game for the Leland Giants vs. the Cuban Stars, probably in late June, 1909.
The photo of Pete Hill is a detail from a team picture of the 1925 Baltimore Black Sox, courtesy of Ron Hill. Doesn’t Pete look like he’s wearing one of his old Detroit Stars caps, though? Everybody else in the photo is clearly wearing Black Sox caps.