The Last Negro League Baseball Game

The Last Negro League Baseball Game

By Lyle K. Wilson, Esq.



The published histories of the Negro Baseball Leagues generally end with 1955 or even earlier. The Negro American League (NAL) actually continued through 1961, with league and all-star games, but little has been written about this era. While the major and minor leagues had opened up to African-Americans beginning with Jackie Robinson, there is no doubt that the major league teams were slow in adding black players (with Boston being the last to integrate in 1959). Many major league quality players were never promoted from the minors, due to their color, and most of the major league teams were resistant to having more than just a few blacks on the roster. In light of this, the owners of the Negro Baseball League teams saw the continuation of their league as vital to the continued development of black players players and the provision of a broader opportunity for them to play professionally. This article covers the post-'55 history. At the end of the article are '55-'61 rosters. These are incomplete. I have spoken with Ted Rasberry, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, and Arthur Dove,II , grandson of the Raleigh Tigers' owner, but, unfortunately, not much is available by way of rosters, photos, scorecards, etc. Some has been carted off by memorabilia seekers, to be locked away in their den, for their personal enjoyment. Some has been discarded or lost. My hope is that this article will stimulate interest in this forgotten era and that others might supplement what I have discovered or send along information to me that I might use to supplement this article in the future.

As the '56 season opened, four teams comprised the NAL: Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, and Birmingham Black Barons. Memphis owner Dr. J. B. Martin would serve as League President throughout the remaining years, even beyond the demise of his team.

Initially, Birmingham intended to adopt a new nickname; the "Giants". The team had a new owner, Dr. Anderson Ross of Memphis. The franchise of the former owner, Floyd Meschack, had been lifted due to violations of various kinds. Meschack, however, owned the rights to the name "Black Barons" and threatened to sue if the name was used. Whether this was resolved peacefully or Ross just decided to "steam ahead" despite the threat, it was not long before all the articles were once again calling the team, the "Black Barons".

The teams all had managers who were Negro League veterans: Jim Canady-Barons, Goose Curry-Red Sox, Ed Steele-Stars, and Jelly Taylor-Monarchs. Taylor had succeeded Buck O'Neil who had been hired as a scout by the Chicago Cubs.

One of the strategies in '56 was to schedule games in towns where minor league teams had folded. Television and greater organization among major league teams were having an influence, and many good baseball towns were losing their teams. The hope was that there would be a market among those towns. Ted Rasberry was busy visiting or writing to over 100 cities, seeking to book league games.

During spring training, several Negro League stars were hoping to make good in major league tryouts. Among them were Herman Green (Yankees), Aaron Jones (Yankees), Ezell King (Orioles), and James Ivory (Giants).

The Monarchs had been the League champions in '55. Fifty-six was to see many new faces in the lineup, with 12 players from the previous year being sold to major league teams. Fifty players were vying for 18 spots as spring training opened. Enrique Morroto was back with the team, having been released by the Cardinal organization, due to arm problems. One of the bright spots was "flashy" shortstop, John Kennedy, who in '57, would go on to become the first black on the Philadelphia Phillies. By June 23, Kennedy was leading the NAL with a .464 average!

The center of operations for the Monarchs had moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rasberry's home, where League games were played at Valley Field. Rasberry had been involved already in black baseball as owner of the Grand Rapids Black Sox. He also owned a touring basketball team called the "Satellites".

One of the Red Sox pitchers was Charley Pride, who would go on to tremendous fame as a Country Western singer. He, thus, became a pioneer in another endeavor, once again helping to open new opportunities for African Americans. At the end of the first half of the season, the Detroit Stars were in first place. They would go on to take the second half as well and reign as the '56 champions.

The traditional All-Star game was again scheduled for Comiskey Park. Over the waning years of the League, there were high hopes of drawing 20,000 fans to the annual All-Star game. Usually, though, the actual turnout was in the 8,000-11,000 range.

By September 8, Kennedy had been overtaken by the Barons' Billy Joe Moore in the batting race. The top hitters were:

Billy Joe Moore		.373
John Kennedy		.356
Juan Soler			.355
Otha Bailey			.344
Harold Shade		.339
By the end of the season, the Monarchs had sold eight more players to major and minor league teams, including: Kennedy (Philadelphia), Willie Ivory (Brooklyn), and Juan Soler (Detroit--but he refused to report). Frank Barnes, who was sold to a minor league team, would eventually play in the "Big Show".

New interest was shown in the NAL in '57 as Willie Davis of Mobile and Jim Williams of Jacksonville applied for new franchises. The Mobile Havana Cuban Giants, to be composed of Cuban players, were added to the League, but Williams lost out when he failed to pay the franchise fee. The League still expanded to six teams, though, when LeRoy Robinson was awarded a franchise for his New Orleans Bears.

Veteran Dizzy Dismukes took over as the Monarchs' manager, and by June 27, his charges had lost only one game. League games were played in Kokomo, Indiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; Decatur, Alabama; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbus, Georgia; Tallahassee, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas; Whiteville, North Carolina; etc. Many throughout the Midwest and South were enjoying the opportunity to see these teams. Although the Stars were stationed in Detroit, they did not play a game there until June 28, when they appeared at Briggs Stadium.

The West would win the 25th All-Star game at Comiskey, with a score of 8-5. Memphis had many of the best hitters in '57: Jim Banks .434, Lonnie Harris .378, and Isaac Barnes .378, as of July 20. Coming off a 96-45 record for '57, the Monarchs opened spring training in '58 with 47 hopefuls.

There were again many changes in the League, as Mobile and New Orleans dropped out, and Detroit had a new owner--Globetrotter and Indianapolis Clown great, Goose Tatum. Tatum changed the nickname to the "Clowns" and would sign Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, another basketball and baseball star, in July, to play right field. Tatum held down first base. Prince Joe Henry was also signed, to help provide the comedy. The Clowns were popular, with a game against the Black Barons in Birmingham, drawing 10,000 fans.

In May, the Monarchs played an exhibition game against the Raleigh Tigers, who were managed by Wesley Barrows. Monarchs pitcher Jesse Townsend fanned 23 Tigers. Townsend was signed out of the Mississippi Industrial College, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. In July, an Old Ball Players Club banquet was held in Chicago. Olympic greats Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe were the speakers, and Rube Foster's widow, Sarah Foster, was in attendance, as was the great Bingo DeMoss.

A highlight of the '58 All-Star game was that Jackie Robinson threw out the first pitch. The game, played before 11,000 fans, was won by the East. Kansas City won the league championd the leading batter was Johnny Williams (BBB), .357. In the twentieth year of Dr. Martin's presidency, the League again expanded to six, adding the Raleigh Tigers, owned by Arthur Dove, and the Newark Indians. Newark, however, seems to have folded early. The Monarchs again had a new manager, Marion "Sugar" Cain. A curious advertisement appeared in the May 30 Defender, to the effect that Negro Major American and National League franchises were available in Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, D.C., Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, etc. President John Joy claimed that all home games could be played in major or minor league parks. Well, whatever it was all about, it never "got off the ground".

Little was reported about the '59 League games. The All-Star game was again played in Chicago. Piper Davis, another Globetrotter and NAL veteran, who was now Birmingham's manager, would manage the West squad, while Herman Green, who had taken over the managerial duties in Detroit, would manage the East. Detroit had now returned to the "Stars" as its nickname.

The starting pitcher for the West was the Barons' Willie Smith, who had been the winning pitcher for the East the year before. By 1963, Smith would be on the Detroit Tigers' roster in the majors. Rufus Gibson, of the Memphis Red Sox, was making his seventh All-Star appearance. The West won, 8-7, in 11 innings, before a crowd of 8,923. Ernie Harris, of the Barons, hit a two-run-inside-the-park home run and also scored the winning run from third on a single to left field by Bill White. Harris had reached third after an infield hit, a stolen base, and a passed ball. In an August 22, Defender editorial, Lee D. Jenkins began to sound the "death knell", writing that the five remaining teams were all in the "red" Rasberry was "on the fence". Still, there was some hope held out that a subsidy or other working relationship with the major leagues might be forthcoming. Perservering, the NAL opened '60 with four remaining teams: Kansas City Monarchs, Birmingham Black Barons, Raleigh Tigers, and Detroit-New Orleans Stars.

The managers for the '60 campaign were: Sherwood Brewer-Monarchs, Jim Canady-Barons, Wesley Barrow-Stars, and Eugene Holmes-Tigers. The corresponding owners: Ted Rasberry, Wardell Jackson, George Foster, and Arthur Dove. Dr. J. B. Martin, although he had lost his team, continued as League President. The 28th All-Star game played in '60 was the last to be played at Comiskey Park, ending an era that had seen all of the greats perform over those 28 years to large crowds who had come from far and wide to see the best that the Negro Leagues had to offer.

The '60 All-Star starters were:

East
Jesse Bass         ss  Birmingham
James Ivory        3b  Birmingham
Rufus Gibson       2b  Raleigh
Ralph Forston      1b  Raleigh
Robert Worthington c   Raleigh
Willie Harris      lf  Birmingham
Brown Jackson      rf  Birmingham
John Mitchell      cf  Birmingham
Ernie Westfield    p   Birmingham

West
Nate Dancy         2b		Kansas City
Don Bonner         lf		Detroit
Frank Williams     rf		Kansas City
Palmer Hubbard     cf		Kansas City
Ira McKnight       3b		Kansas City
Pat Patterson      1b		Detroit
Art Hamilton       c		Detroit
Ike Brown          ss		Kansas City
Bill Mathew        p		Detroit
One of the All-Stars, Ike Brown, would become the last Negro League player to make it to the major leagues, when on June 17, 1969, he donned the uniform of the Detroit Tigers. In a July 30, 1960 Defender article, Lee D. Jenkins recounted Dr. Martin's comments as the All-Star game was approaching "We pushed Negro ball players into the majors but we're still pushing Negro leagues. Even with Negro ball players throughout the "big leagues," we still have some good ball players. We have some young players who show every possibility of developing into the faster company. We also have some players that have had several tryouts in the majors. Everywhere we have played this year, the fans have been satisfied with the caliber of play we have shown," he relates "Keeping Negro baseball alive has been a driving issue with Martin and he is not about to give it up after thirty years of battle. The league has been suffering and the office of president has dropped to a no salary job but the headaches have tripled. "For several years, the East-West Game has been the source by which the teams could keep their heads above the red ink. The entire proceeds of the East-West Game are now prorated among the remaining teams." Martin has been dickering with several major league clubs with the hope of developing some financial assistance along lines similar to a farm club arrangement. One National league club has shown some interest but the league is somewhat reluctant to enter into a single arrangement and is hopeful for some like deal with at least one American loop organization. The '60 All-Star game was not the "Swan Song" for the League. The four teams continued into 1961, and am I glad they did. As a 10 year old, I saw the Raleigh Tigers play my hometown, Bellingham (Washington) Bells, twice in '61.

The Bells won the first game, 8-7, in extra innings after a controversial call at the plate sent the game into the extra frames. The umpire, Spedo Southas, a local police detective, called a runner safe at home, claiming that the Tigers' catcher, Bob Fowler, had missed the tag, setting off a rhubarb. The base ump, Sid VanSinderen, agreed with the call. Sid was a local school teacher and frequent basketball referee. Having played in some basketball games that Sid called, I can only say that the phrase, "the blind leading the blind" certainly comes to mind.

During the game, Raleigh's Len Wilson hit an inside-the-park home run. The Bellingham Herald reported it just as I remember; a long shot to dead center that rolled all the way to a flagpole deep in center field; "the Raleigh speedster had crossed home and was sitting in the dugout when the ball finally arrived back to the infield". Both dead center and right field were very deep in the old Battersby Field park where the Bells played their home games. Even Tony Kubek, R. C. Stevens, and several other major leaguers, who had been called up to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and were playing for Fort Lewis, Washington, could not clear the right field fence. We used to comment that "Babe Ruth, himself, couldn't hit one over that fence".

That first game was on Friday night. The second one was slated for Sunday, and all little leaguers, with their hats on, were admitted free. Well you can bet that I didn't miss either game. The second was preceded by a junior high championship game in which one of my brothers, Rollin, played, on a team coached by our dad, Allan Wilson. Unfortunately, they lost.

Just as my dad's opponent had taken revenge on his team, so, too, did the Tigers exact their revenge against the local nine. The Herald in its August 1 edition summarized the game this way, "A couple of tunes were floating around Battersby Field last night-- one sounding like "Happy Days Are Here Again" rattling off Raleigh Tiger bats while Bellingham Bell pitchers were moaning "Don't Be Cruel" as the Negro American League nine danced around the base paths and waltzed to an 11-3 win over the local squad." First baseman, Dick Jackson, and catcher Fowler each hit a home run in the game. Fowler's home run was another inside-the-park shot, again to deep center field.

The starting pitcher for the Tigers in their first game against the Bells was 22-year-old Pete Gilliam, a 6'5" right-hand fast-ball pitcher, who was said to have a 10-4 NAL record. Gilliam would have the distinction of being the East's starting pitcher for the 29th and last All-Star game, played this time at Yankee Stadium, rather than Comiskey. Teammate Bob Fowler was his battery mate, and Tiger pitchers James Drummond and Eugene Holmes also took a turn for the East. The first to appear on the mound that day was Governor Rockefeller who threw out the first pitch. Another Tiger, Fred Green, got the only hit in the game for the East.

Dick Hemphill and Don Poindexter pitched no-hit ball for the West, from the fourth inning on, having taken over for the starter who was credited with the win and who had two strikeouts and faced only 10 batters in his three innings of work. The biggest cheer of the day was for a looping hesitation pitch delivered by that starter in the second inning.

That starting pitcher for the West, whose career had spanned five decades of the Negro Baseball Leagues, was awarded the MVP award. He was, none other than, Satchel Paige. How appropriate that he would be the MVP and winning pitcher of the last Negro Baseball League game.


Lyle Wilson can be reached at:
16000 Bothell-Everett Highway, Suite 285, Mill Creek, WA 98012


Negro Leagues Rosters

1955

Birmingham Black Barons:
Otha Bailey, c
Red Barnes, p
Jim Canady, manager
Joe Elliott, p
Rufus Gibson, 2b
Wiley Griggs, 3b
Stanley Jones, p
Frank Marsh
Jesse Mitchell, cf
Billy Joe Moore, 1b
Dr. Anderson Ross, owner
Jim Sewell, ss
Charlie Williams, ss
Johnny Williams, of
Bill Wyatt, ss


Detroit Stars:
John Brice
Frank Evans
Minnie Forbes, owner
Herman Green, of
Manuel Guerede, p
Willie Harris, p
Jimmy Ivory, ss
Gene Johnson
Roy Johnson
Joe Mims, p
Pete Mumphord, p
Pat Patterson
Ted Rasberry, general manager
Ray Richardson
Hank Saverson
Harold Shade, 3b
Pedro Sierra, p
Juan Soler, 3b
Ed Steele, manager
Johfus Gipson, ss
Al Green, p
Lonnie Harris
Charles Jennings
Dr. J. B. Martin, owner
Frank McCullum, p
Charley Pride, p
Ace Robinson 
Gilbert Varona
Billy Washington	

1957
Birmingham Black Barons:
Otha Bailey, c
Jim Canady, manager
Joe Elliott, p
Dennis Harris
Jesse Mitchell, of
Bill Wyatt, ss

Detroit Stars:
Monte Bond, ss
Warren Carathers, of
Celedonio Conatienzo, p
Abdul Johnson, ss
Joe Louis, p
Dale Miller, of
Harold Shade, ss
Ed Steele, manager

Kansas City Monarchs:
Sam Allen
Oscar CBears:
Johnny Evans
Felix Ortez, ss
Leroy Robinson, owner
Jake Sanders, of

1959
Birmingham Black Barons:
Otha Bill Bailey, c
Jessie Bass, 2b
Bennington, p
Billingsley, p
Britton, p
Jim Canady, manager
Joe Elliott, p
Finley, p
Griffin, p
Wiley Griggs, 3b
James Gross, p
Willie Harris, cf
Willie Hill, p
James Ivory, 1b
Brown Jackson, rf
Johnson, p
Stanley Jones, p
Johnny Mitchell, rf
Bobby Sanders, ss
William Willie Scruggs, p
Taylor Smith, p
Willie Smith, p
Welch, p
John Williams, lf

Detroit Clowns: 
Eddie Alston, 2b
Baker
Sherwood Brewer, 3b
William Calloway, p
Cos Case
John Childress, p
Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, 1b
Caldonia Costienza, p
Curtis Cotton, p
Clyde Driscoll, p
Johnny Evans, 2b
Fleming, p
Arthur Lee Hamilton, c
William Willie Harris, p
Joe Henry, 3b
Marvin Higgins
Edward Hudson, c
Clarence Pijo King, rf
Larry LaGrande, cf
R. Louis
James Mason
William Matthews, p
Moss Murray, p
Nance, p
James Nolan, p
James Norman, p
Chet Poindexter, p
Bernard Bernie Porter, 1b
Lawson Presley
Ronnie
Ed Steele, manager
Reece Goose Tatum, cf
Vern Thomas, rf
Price West, lf
Walter Wilkins, ss
John Winston, p


Kansas City Monarchs:
Ben Adams, p
Willard Brown, lf
Marion Sugar Cain, p
Warren Carrutheralker
Cuhite, of
Eugene Williams, p
Frank Williams, of
Eddie Woods, of

Newark Indians:

Raleigh Tigers:
Do Busch, if
Bobbie Carter, of
Billy Eldridge, ss
Kenny Free, 3b
Ralph Forston, p
Eugene Holmes, p
James McNeil, of
Alvin Roane, p
Sam Thompson, p
John Walker, p

1960 
Birmingham Black Barons:
Jesse Bass, 2b
Jim Canady, manager
James Grace
Johnny Gilliam, of
Willie Harris, of
James Ivory, 1b
Brown Jackson, of
Wardell Jackson, owner
John Mitchell, of
Herbert Paymon, p
Willie Smith, p
Walter Stoves, c
Phiiams, of

Detroit-New Orleans Stars:
Wesley Barrow, manager
Don Bonner, of
Hezikia Evans, if
George Foster, owner
Art Hamilton, c
Bob Haywood, if
Herman Jones, p
Gregory Lowe, of
Bill Matthew, p
Pat Patterson, 1b
George Spriggs, of

Kansas City Monarchs:
Sherwood Brewer, manager
Ike Brown, ss
Nate Dancy, 2b
George Davis, of
Leon Franklin, p
Calvin Grant, p
Palmer Hubbard, of
Ira McKnight, c
Mel Miller, of
Jesse Mitchell, of
Ted Rasberry, owner
Tommy Taylor, p
Frank Williams, of

Raleigh Tigers:
Arthur Dove, owner
Jimmy Durante, if
Ralf Forston, 1b
Henry Garrett, p
Rufus Gibson, 2b and manager
Bill Gleason, p
Eugene Holmes, p and manager
Harry Robinson, of
Al Roane, p
Price West, of
Mose Wilson, of
Bob Worthington, c
Thomas Wright, p

1961

Raleigh Tigers:
Bob Allen, 2b
Ray Burch, p
Arthur Dove, owner
James Drummond, p
Ralph Forston, manager
Bob Fowler, c
Pete Gilliam, p
Fred Green
Eugene Holmes, p
Bill Irvin, p
Dick Jackson, 1b
Billy Miller, 3b
Billy Moore, ss
Chuck Randell, 3b
Perlee Warren, of
Len Wilson, of

Others, 1961:
George Davis
Rufus Gibson
Dick Hemphill, p
Gideon Jarvis
Satchel Paige, p (KC)
Bill Mathews
Ira McKnight, c (KC)
Don Poindexter, p
Raymond, p
Phil Welch, p (BBB)
E. Williams, p

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