Jim Jeffries and Tom Johnson
A couple of notes on work related to the Negro Leagues Database. We’ve put up two recent updates, the first with statistics for the American Series in Cuba from 1904 to 1915, all the exhibition series played in Havana by major league and Negro league teams. The second update, just last week, included a large amount of new biographical research, much of it having to do with birth and death information, handedness, and player heights and weights. Here are notes on a couple of the more significant pieces of research included.
1) There’s been a lot of talk (in the comments here and elsewhere) about Jim Jeffries, the A.B.C.s southpaw who won 21 games against Negro league opposition in 1921. I’ve already talked about his birthplace (Louisville, Kentucky) over at Seamheads. As part of the new update to the DB, I’ve also been able to establish his time and place of death. He passed away in Pulaski, Tennessee, on November 28, 1938, his death record still listing his profession as “Baseball Player.”
2) For several years I’ve been looking for Tom Johnson, the American Giants’ righthander who went 14-4 in 1916, 13-2 in 1920, and 46-20 overall in the years we’ve covered so far. He was the only important American Giants player in these years who had gone completely undetected in any of the official records I’d been able to examine (draft cards, census records, etc.). I had found a couple of mentions of him as a District of Columbia native, and this letter, from his brother Wilber “Steamboat” Johnson, also a ballplayer, who was serving overseas in the A.E.F. in 1918:
(Tom also served in Europe during World War I, drafted into the 365th Pioneer Infantry.) Wilber’s playing for the Washington, Baltimore, and Belmont Giants seemed to further associate the family with the Baltimore-D.C. area, but that lead went nowhere. I had Tom’s name and his playing record, but nothing else—no idea how old he was, where he was from, when or where he died.
That’s how it stood for several years, until I recently unearthed his death certificate. Turns out his full name was Thomas Jefferson Johnson and he was born in Bryan, Texas on April 22, 1889. He died of tuberculosis in Chicago on September 22, 1926, just 37 years old. Though he seems to have retired from baseball after the 1921 season, he continued to be involved in the game as an umpire, and his death certificate still listed him as a “Base Ball Player” with the American Giants.