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
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
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 .339By 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
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
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 DetroitOne 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 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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