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.
Dwayne Isgrig sent along this advert from the Delphi Journal (Delphi, Indiana), August 1, 1912. The ad includes both the photo of Dizzy Dismukes I posted a while back and one of Steel Arm John Taylor pitching, an image I’ve never seen before. Thanks Dwayne!
A couple of further notes on Steel Arm Johnny Taylor, the second-oldest of the Taylor brothers, right-handed pitcher, Biddle University baseball coach, Louisville White Sox manager, and in 1920 the founder of a team called the American Black Devils based in Peoria, Illinois.
1) He really was referred to in newspapers as “Steel Arm John” or “Steel Arm Johnny,” much more often than the simpler “Steel Arm Taylor,” which is why I elected to use that as his baseball name.
2) His name was John Boyce Taylor, not Jonathan, as you will see in some secondary sources. He was always, without exception, called John or Johnny in newspapers; he was always John in census records; and he signed his name “John” on both his World War I and World War II draft cards.
By the way, C. I., John, Jim, and Ben were not the only Taylor brothers. Here are all the (known) children of Isham and Adeline Taylor, with their birth years in parentheses:
Fran K. (1865) Mary (1868) Sarah J. (1870) Frances (1873) Charles Isham (1875) Samuel (1877) John Boyce (1879) Martha (born February 1882) James Allen (1884) Pomp (1886) Benjamin Harrison (1888) Julian H. born (1889)
I wonder what it was like to be one of the kids who didn’t become a professional ballplayer…
You may have noticed that this player has been identified as Ben’s older brother Steel Arm Johnny Taylor in more than one source. In fact, I originally used this very picture to illustrate John Taylor in the Negro Leagues DB.
This photo has been published several times, notably in Phil Dixon’s The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Photographic History (1992) and Dick Clark and Larry Lester’s The Negro Leagues Book (1994). In both books the player is identified as Steel Arm Taylor, probably for a couple of reasons:
1) He has been labeled “Taylor P.” John Taylor is the only one of the Taylor brothers now remembered as primarily a pitcher, so it makes sense this would be him.
2) There’s a report in the June 27, 1912, New York Age that the Lincolns had signed “Steel Arm Taylor” of the previous year’s St. Louis Giants, and that he then pitched the Lincolns to a victory over the Pittsburgh Giants on June 23.
However, I’ve become quite certain that the Lincoln Giants’ “Taylor P” is really Ben. Here's why:
1) It simply looks more like Ben Taylor, at least to me. Here are a few photos of Ben from various sources:
Meanwhile here are a couple of solidly ID’d photos of Johnny Taylor:
2) His height is wrong for Johnny Taylor. In the Lincoln Giants photo, he’s obviously taller than Spottswood Poles, who’s standing next to him, and comparable in height to Judy Gans. On their World War II draft cards Poles is listed (generously, I’d say) at 5’9” and Gans is 5’11”. John Boyce Taylor, meanwhile, is 5’5 ½”. I don’t have a draft card for Ben, but a photo of the four Taylor brothers standing together printed in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1910 shows that John was clearly several inches shorter than Ben (and C. I.), and about the same height as Candy Jim Taylor (whose draft card has him at 5’5”).
L to R: James Allen Taylor, John Boyce Taylor, Charles Isham Taylor, Benjamin Harrison Taylor
(Indianapolis Freeman, April 16, 1910)
In the following photo of the 1914 Indianapolis A.B.C.s, Steel Arm Johnny is standing on the far left, next to Dicta Johnson, who was 5’7” according to his draft card. Ben, meanwhile, is standing next to Edgar Burch, who was 5’10”.
In this photo of the 1909 St. Paul Gophers (from Todd Peterson's great book Early Black Baseball in Minnesota, but originally published in the same issue of the Freeman as the Taylor brothers photo, in fact on the same page), Steel Arm Johnny is standing on the far left.
Also look back at the photo of the 1910 Chicago Giants I posted the other day--John Taylor is standing, third from left, clearly shorter than Walter Ball and Harry Moore and about the same height as Bobby Winston (5’6”).
3) It’s now largely forgotten that Ben was primarily known as a pitcher in 1912. It probably wasn’t until he joined the A.B.C.s in 1914 that he definitively became known as a first baseman above all.
4) John Taylor was pitching for the West Baden Sprudels from late June to late August, the same time I have “Taylor” documented in Lincoln Giants box scores. There’s no doubt about the identity of the Sprudels’ pitcher—he’s referred to several times as “Steel Arm,” or “J. B. Taylor,” or “Johnny Taylor.” The New York Age claimed that “Steel Arm Taylor” pitched for the Lincoln Giants on June 23, 1912, but “J. B. Taylor” was the winning pitcher for the Sprudels in Indiana on June 30. I suspect the Age simply mistook Ben for Steel Arm, or wrongly applied the nickname to Ben (both had pitched for St. Louis in 1911).