Reuben “Rube” Curry was a top-notch right-handed pitcher for several winning ballclubs in the 1920s Negro and Cuban leagues, including the Kansas City Monarchs, Hilldale Club, Santa Clara Leopards, and Chicago American Giants. In the addendum to Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia (p. 933), his name is given as George Reuben Currie, born July 17, 1898, in Kansas City, Missouri, and died September 1968, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This information, as it turns out, is entirely incorrect.
First off, George Dewey Currie was a white man, born on July 17, 1898, in Minneapolis. He lived there much of his life (as far as I can tell), working as a clerk and then a manager at a meatpacking plant, and passed away in September 1968—not in Minneapolis, but in Pinellas County, Florida, where he may have gone for vacation or to retire. It’s not at all clear how his birth and death information became attached to Reuben Curry, the Negro league ballplayer, and why the later’s name was transformed into George Reuben Currie.
Reuben Curry, the Negro leagues pitcher, is easily traced in available records. His actual birth date, October 10, 1897 or (more likely) 1898 in Kansas City, is fairly close to George Currie’s, so that may be a clue. It seems likely that the Social Security Death Index must have been implicated in the confusion at some point, as it doesn’t give a specific date of death (only month and year), and it doesn’t mention George Dewey Currie’s actual place of death in Florida, instead listing Minneapolis as his last place of residence.
It’s also true (and this is quite a coincidence, actually) that both worked for the Armour meatpacking company, Reuben Curry in Kansas City in the late 1910s before he played baseball, George Currie in Minneapolis for apparently much of his life. Reuben Curry wound up in Chicago by the mid-1920s, and lived there the rest of his life, working in the post office, and passing away on June 11, 1966.
Now for the spelling of Reuben’s last name: I’m the only person who spells Reuben the pitcher’s name “Curry”—literally every other reference or authority on the subject spells it “Currie.” Why do I insist on this?
Well, when I started systematically compiling a database I decided that, wherever possible, I would try as much as possible to bypass secondary sources and go straight to the original evidence—that is, what people were called (or called themselves) at the time, when they were in their heyday, when the Negro leagues still existed. In the matter of spelling, I try to go with how the player in question actually spelled his name. If he changed the way he spelled it during his life, I go with how he spelled it while he was an active player.
In the case of Curry, we have first his World War I draft card (above), dating from 1918 (the year before he went pro with Gilkerson’s Union Giants), which he himself signed “Reuben Curry.”
I’m aware that a lot of evidence in the 1920s points toward “Currie.” Newspapers spelled his name both “Curry” and “Currie,” but the latter is probably more common. Both Cuban baseball cards (like the one at the head of this post) and the 1924 Black World Series program spelled his name “Currie.”
Official records that give Reuben’s name as “Currie” seem to begin with Social Security records, which started in the late 1930s, long after his baseball career was over. His death certificate spells his name “Currie.” However, while Reuben Curry himself apparently started to spell his name “Currie” by the late 1930s at least (when he would have applied for a Social Security card), I don’t (yet) have evidence he spelled it that way while he was pitching. I do think it’s quite likely somebody will come up with some evidence he changed his name to “Currie” during his pitching career, but until something from his own hand crops up, I’m sticking with “Curry.”