Sunday, July 31, 2005

Different cemetery...this is from Floral Park in Indianapolis, IN. It is the final resting place for the great Oscar Charleston. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Paraphrasing Abe

I attended this year’s 8th annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Research Conference in Chicago. There I had the honor of addressing a group of Negro League baseball enthusiasts and other interested persons at Chicago Burr Oak Cemetery. The event was a memorial dedication service honoring several Negro League baseball players whose graves had previously been unmarked. Dr. Jeremy Krock of Peoria, IL spearheaded a fundraising effort to provide gravesite markers for several of these great men. Prior to the unveiling of one of the markers, I offere the following comments which are printed here in response to a request:

Hmmmm … gathered at a cemetery to honor dead heroes … I beg your forgiveness of my paraphrase: Four score and five years ago our brothers brought forth in this nation a new league segregated by necessity but dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Nineteen players from that league are buried here in this field. We have come to dedicate a portion of this field, as a final resting place for eight of those whose graves have heretofore been unmarked but whose lives were marked with greatness. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead present here and around the nation, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. It is for us the living to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they fought … It is us … this band of sisters and brothers … the Negro League Research Community … whom I love like family... that must carry on the work in order to honor the great players of the Negro Leagues living & dead … in so doing, I am quite certain, that we will be making this world of ours a much better place and advance the cause of brotherhood and opportunity far beyond the baseball diamond. God bless these dead heroes. God bless the living. God bless us all!

Following the service we toured the cemetery visiting not only 17 Negro League players resting places but Heavyweight Champion Ezzard Charles, Harlem Globetrotter Inman Jackson, singer Dinah Washington, and musician Willie Dixon and most memorably the recently reinterred Emmett Till. Needless to say it was a very moving event.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pittsburgh Crawford Manager Oscar Charleston counsels Rap Dixon, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson and Jud Wilson. Three of them are Hall of Famers now; next year might find all five in the Hall. Posted by Picasa

Hall of Fame will be Honoring Additional Negro Leaguers


Screening and Voting Committees Appointed; Candidacies to be Reviewed for Election in 2006

(COOPERSTOWN, NY): The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Directors approved holding a special election of Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues candidates to the Hall of Fame in 2006. The announcement comes on the heels of the completion of a landmark study on the history of African Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960. Based on the results of that important study, the Board of Directors felt it was the right time to hold a special election.

“The record of the African-American contribution to our National Pastime was largely missing until recently,” said Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. “With extensive research and a statistical analysis now complete, the Board felt it was the right time to review Negro Leagues and pre-Negro leagues individuals with regards to Hall of Fame election. The guidelines adopted will allow for any worthy candidates to have another chance at election in 2006.”

Earlier this month, the Board appointed screening and voting committees. Under the guidelines established, a Screening Committee will construct ballots and a Voting Committee will meet vote on the ballots. Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent will serve as the non-voting chairman of both committees. Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer and Board member, has been asked to offer his advice and assistance to Vincent and both committees. Any candidates elected by the Voting Committee in February 2006 would be inducted in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend in July 2006.

Written recommendations for inclusion on the ballots from fans, and historians not a part of the committees, will be accepted through the month of October. Recommendations can be sent by e-mail to, or can be submitted by mail to: Committee on African-American Baseball, 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326. A letter or e-mail of receipt will acknowledge all proposals. All proposals will be made available to the Screening Committee and a final set will be kept for archival purposes.

The five-member Screening Committee appointed by the Board of Directors will meet in November to develop two ballots: One ballot of Negro leagues players, managers, umpires, executives; and one ballot of candidates who preceded the formation of Negro leagues. The Screening Committee will use the statistics and narrative from the landmark study to determine the ballots. The Screening Committee members include Adrian Burgos, Dick Clark, Larry Hogan, Larry Lester and Jim Overmyer, each of whom contributed to the reports and have a deep knowledge of the subject matter. Complete biographies of the five committee members can be found at

A 12-member Voting Committee, inclusive of the Screening Committee, appointed by the Board of Directors, will meet in February 2006 to review the final ballots of candidates. After open discussions over two days, committee members will cast paper ballots and vote “yes” or “no” for each candidate. Any candidate with “yes” votes on at least 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the Hall of Fame. The twelve voting committee members and their areas of expertise in African-American baseball history include:

Todd Bolton, Latin America
Larry Hogan, overall knowledge
Greg Bond, 19th Century
Neil Lanctot, Negro leagues eastern teams
Adrian Burgos, Latin America
Larry Lester, Negro leagues
Dick Clark, Negro leagues
Sammy Miller, Eastern and Western teams
Ray Doswell, overall knowledge
Jim Overmyer, Eastern teams and 19th century
Leslie Heaphy, women’s history, Negro leagues
Robert Peterson, overall knowledge

In July 2000, the Baseball Hall of Fame was granted $250,000 from Major League Baseball in order to initiate a comprehensive study on the history of African Americans in Baseball, from 1860-1960. The funds were to allow the Museum to expand the scope and depth of its knowledge and historical collection on this aspect of Baseball and American culture.

In February 2001, the Board selected “The Negro Leagues Researchers/Authors Group” research team, led by Dr. Hogan of Union County College (NJ), Dick Clark, and Larry Lester, to conduct the comprehensive study. The three historians led a diverse group of more than 50 other authors, researcher and historians in this first-of-its-kind academic study.

The research resulted in a raw narrative and bibliography of nearly 800 pages and a statistical database, which includes 3,000 day-by-day records, league leaders and all-time leaders. The research was culled from box scores from 128 newspapers of sanctioned league games played from 1920-54.

With the research now complete, the study includes sanctioned league game box scores from almost 100% of games played in the 1920s, in excess of 90% of the box scores from games played in the 1930s and box scores from 50-70% of games played in the 1940s and 50s, during which time the various leagues began to disband and newspapers ceased to report game information. The end result is the most comprehensive compilation of statistics on the Negro leagues that have ever been accumulated.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

1924 Harrisburg Giants: Oscar Charleston, rear far right; Rap Dixon, rear 2nd from left; Fats Jenkins, front 2nd from left; Colonel Strothers, rear center Posted by Picasa

ECL Coverage: 1925

In 1925 the Harrisburg Giants hitters terrorized the EAstern Colored League and the best independent, semi-pro and professional teams in the middle Atlantic states. The local papers provided excellent coverage. Here is an example from the pages of the Intelligencer Journal:

Monday, April 27, 1925 - Daily Intelligencer

Giants Win Opener at Rossmere

Thousands See Giants Come From Behind to Whip Wilmington;
Triple Steal in 8th. Starts Rally

Harrisburg Colored Nine Overcomes Five-Run Lead and Wins Opening Home Game at Rossmere; Final Score was 8-5

The Harrisburg Giants made their debut to local baseball fandom yesterday afternoon at Rossmere Base Ball Park, and delighted the thousands of fans present by coming from behind and overcoming a five-run lead to defeat the Wilmington Potomacs 8 to 5 in a game that was chock full of fast baseball, smart baseball and thrilling baseball. The game was for the benefit of the American Legion Band.

Tying the score at 5 all in the lucky seventh, the local representatives of the Eastern Colored circuit pulled a piece of baseball strategy that gave even the most quiet baseball fans an opportunity to release some of his pent up enthusiasm. With two down Jenkins singled, Dixon was advanced to first when he was hit by a pitched ball. The heavy hitting Charleston was walked purposely. The signal from the bench was given and the men on the bases started to move, beginning a triple steal. The play was successful and Jenkins crossed home plate. Dixon and Charleston later scored when Lindsay fumbled Canady’s hot liner. This play put the game on ice for the Giants.

Wilmington’s last chance at-bat came in the ninth and the Giant hurler retired the side without a run. The visitors started like sure winners in the first inning by polling out five runs. White the first man up was given a free ticket to first by Henry. Dallard got a single which was closely followed by another single off the bat of Hamilton. With the bases loaded, Brown connected for a base hit and scored Henry. Lindsay the next man up collided with one of Henry’s curves for a circuit clout clearing the bases. The spree ended the scoring for Wilmington for the day.

The Giant players came to bat with determination written on their faces in the dying half of the initial inning. Dixon singled to center, and Charleston the next man to bat, not to be outdone by Lindsay, sent the ball over the right field fence. After the free hitting on both sides in the first inning, both twirlers settled down to work, and for six innings the two teams battled back and forth, neither side being able to duplicate the first inning punch.

In the seventh frame, the locals tied the score. Jenkins walked pilfered second, and was sent home on Dixon’s base hit. Dixon stole second and scored from second on Taylor’s double against the fence. Taylor tied the score several minutes later when he crossed home station on Burnett’s single. The side was retired without further damage.

Then came the fatal eighth as far as Wilmington was concerned, and the fruitful eighth as far as the Giants were concerned. The triple steal which scored one man, and started a rally which later scored two more, is now baseball history.

Local fans put their stamp of approval on the Giants who displayed real ability in their first game of the home season. Both sides played wonderful ball and if the rest of the games booked for Rossmere this season can be judged by the opening one, then Lancaster baseball fans are in for some real pastiming. Grier and Henry twirled good ball with the exception of several innings in which all the scoring was done. Brown at third for the Wilmington nine gave the fans a real treat in fielding ability.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Willie Fordham & friend in 1952 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Greatest Outfield in the History of the Game

The outfield of the Harrisburg Giants from 1924 through 1927 in the Eastern Colored Leagues consisted of the great Oscar Charleston, Steelton’s Rap Dixon and two-sport superstar Fats Jenkins. It was an unparalleled and spectacular set of flyhawks.

In the history of major league baseball there have only been 8 outfields that were intact for four or more years and included at least one future Hall of Famer. Only one Negro League team met that standard – the Harrisburg Giants. Here is a complete list of such outfields (Hall of Famers in bold):

1891-95 Philadelphia Phillies: Ed Delehanty, Billy Hamilton, Sam Thompson
1910-16 Boston Red Sox: Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis
1924-27 Harrisburg Giants: Oscar Charleston, Rap Dixon, Fats Jenkins
1925-29 New York Yankees: Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, Bob Meusel
1928-31 Chicago Cubs: Hack Wilson, Ki Ki Cuyler, Riggs Stephenson
1929-32 Pittsburgh Pirates: Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Adam Comorosky
1954-58 Boston Red Sox: Ted Williams, Jimmy Piersall, Jackie Jensen
1957-62 Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Billy Virdon, Bob Skinner
1966-70 Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Matty Alou

The above certainly makes a case for the greatness of the Harrisburg Giant outfield. Oscar Charleston is universally considered the greatest outfielder in the Negro Leagues; baseball analyst Bill James ranks Charlie behind only Ruth, Wagner and Mays at any position in any league. Buck Leonard placed Fats Jenkins in his all-time outfield while both Charleston and Cool Papa Bell include Dixon in their all-time outfields. Charleston & Jenkins were 6 time all-stars; Dixon five times. All three participated in the initial East-West Classic. The three Giants hit a composite .353 during the four year period with Charleston hitting over .400. During the 1924-27 period, 25 outfielders played who later were named to the Hall; of them only 4 were African-American. Since integration, 12 of 17 HOF outfielders have been African-American. Thus clearly the Negro Leagues are under represented in the Hall from the twenties; the point being both Dixon & Jenkins are Hall of Famers if judged on merit. It is no stretch to imagine these three as simply the best set of teammates to ever play outfield together in baseball history.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Talkin' Baseball Posted by Picasa

2005-II Week Two Games 9-13

2005-II-9 07/11/05 West End Grounds Harrisburg, PA A-988
1960 Pirates 020 002 010 - 5 11 0
GIANTS 010 000 010 - 4 10 2 (3-6)
HR- Burgess, Beckwith (2)
WP – Harvey Haddix
LP – Daltie Cooper 0-1

* Hope to see Roy and many of you in Lancaster this weekend.
* Three unearned runs doom spoil Daltie’s nice effort … one error was his
* Burgess 4 for 5, including a HR, with Pole’s circus catch the only time he was retired
* Face recorded the save; first save of the year with Murtaugh being first modern manager
* game ended on a Clemente running catch and throw to double Poles

2005-II-10 07/12/05 West End Grounds Harrisburg, PA A- 1,109
1960 Pirates 211 100 200 – 7 13 0
GIANTS 010 000 000 – 1 4 0 (3-7)
HR- Rocky Nelson, Bob Skinner, Dick Groat!
WP – Bob Friend
LP – Sam Cooper

* Nelson’s 2 run first inning all that was needed
* John Beckwith injured; cut by Groat in 4th, return doubtful in series
* Beckwith had 2 of the 4 hits, went like lambs after the Brown Bomer’s exit
* Bill Virdon & Groat 3 hits apiece

2005-II-11 07/13/05 Cottage Hill Field Steelton, PA A- 765
1960 Pirates 000 000 000 – 0 6 1
GIANTS 012 000 000 – 3 6 0 (4-7)
HR- none
WP – Ping Gardner 1-2 3.63
LP – Vernon Law

* Gardner’s gem is the big story; perhaps the only story
His Line: 9 6 0 0 3 5 for the CG shut out win!!!
* Groat 3 of the 6 hits in a losing cause
* Fats Jenkins 2 hits, a walk and a steal indicate he may be coming alive as he crosses the Mendoza line for the season

2005-II-12 07/14/05 Cottage Hill Field Steelton, PA A- 1008
1960 Pirates 001 100 000 – 2 5 1
GIANTS 000 000 111 – 3 7 0 (5-7)
HR- none
WP – Three Finger Gisentaner 1-1 6.23
LP – Fred Green, in relief of Vinegar Bend Mizell

* Gisentaner’s Gutsy Routegoer: 9 5 2 2 2 5
* Down 0-2 in the bottom of the 7th: Dixon doubles, Charlie knocks him in
* 1-2 bottom of 8th: Dummy Day doubles, pinchhitter Poles knocks him in
* 2-2 bottom of 9th: with 2 outs, Rev Cannady doubles, Taylor purposely passed, Mack Eggleston knocks in the game winner!

2005-II-13 07/15/05 Island Park Harrisburg, PA A- 2,308
1960 Pirates 010 000 202 – 5 9 1
GIANTS….... 200 013 11x – 8 17 0 (6-7)
HR- Taylor (3), Jenkins (2), Mazeroski
WP – Corbett 2-0 3.60
LP – Gibbon

* Happy 78th Birthday Willie Fordham, Harrisburg Giants 1954-57
* Lancaster here we come!
* Cannady doubles in two in first; Jints never headed
* Pivotal second saw both teams strand three
* Taylor slams three-run shot in 6th
* Cannady totals 4 hits
* Maz participated in 5 DPs for the series

YEAR TO DATE - 6-7 .462 with 54 runs and 63 allowed
Team is hitting .267 with 11 homers
Team E.R.A. is a nifty 4.28

BOOK REVIEW: I Gave It My Best Shot by Willie Fordham

I GAVE IT MY BEST SHOT by Willie Fordham, Wordshop Press, 2000

Willie Fordham was an excellent African-American baseball pitcher that came out of mid-state Pennsylvania at precisely the wrong time for making it all the way to a major league roster. In this, his first book, he has provided a written account of his life and times that covers a critical juncture in United States history – the beginning of the end of segregation.

This is not your ordinary baseball book; in fact it is not really a book about baseball. It is a book about a man who was extraordinarily skilled at baseball and played at the highest levels of the game that his circumstances allowed. Moreover, it is a story of growing up in Pennsylvania in the ‘30s and ‘40s, maturing in the U.S. Army in the post-war era, raising a family and beginning a career in the ‘50s and receiving unnecessary but welcomed validation at the pivot of a new century.

The account begins in the rural river towns of Millerstown and Newport in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, and recounts many youthful adventures. Most of these coming with valuable lessons learned over 60 years ago but applicable to the youth of today. A recurring lesson is found in the title. It is an adage repeated by the author again and again. Give it your best shot. Never give up. The effort alone is worth it; the prize a bonus. It is precisely this lesson that makes this book an excellent gift for a young teen of any gender, race or ethnic background.

Clearly Willie Fordham had talent. His opportunities to display his talent were limited by racial segregation and the post-war glut of talent in organized baseball. However, his outstanding amateur career (Newport and Carlisle High Schools) earned him a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, a roster spot on the final edition of the Harrisburg Senators in 1952 and eventually a spot in the rotation of the latter day Harrisburg Giants of the Eastern Negro League in ’54 and ’55. Unfortunately, the book contains little information on the social aspects of being in the early wave of the re-integration of organized baseball and no mention whatsoever of his time with the Harrisburg Giants, an integrated entry, in a lower classification of the dying Negro Leagues. Given my enthusiasm for what Mr. Fordham covered in this book, I truly would welcome a second work focusing more closely on baseball and the transitional period between segregation and integration.

I can say unequivocally that had Willie Fordham graduated from Carlisle High School in 1995 instead of 1945 when he would have had an equal shot at 50% more major league jobs, I have no doubt that Willie Fordham would be toiling in the major leagues today. However, that is merely my opinion. As for ol’ Will, he – like Buck O’Neil in his book ‘I was Right on Time” – appears more than satisfied to have come along when he did and given it his “best shot.”

Available from the author (717) 545 7565 or publisher (717) 233 7611 for $15.00 per copy.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Harrisburg Blackball History by Ted Knorr & Calobe Jackson

The National Pastime traces its roots to the first half of the 19th century. While it may not have been invented by a civil war general; it certainly was popularized and proliferated by the Civil War. In post-war America, Baseball was THE National Pastime. In Harrisburg it was no different and in Black Harrisburg it was the same. Baseball was the sport of all races, classes and cultures in the young country.

The earliest ball game on record (and existing box score) involving a Black Harrisburg club is a contest between the Pythian Club of Philadelphia and Harrisburg’s Monrovia Base Ball Club. On October 5, 1867, George Galbraith of the Monrovians club wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Pythian Club alerting them of the Harrisburgers “desire to engage with you in a match game of ball on the first day named, Friday, October 22nd.” It appears the game actually took place on October 20th and was won by the Pythians 59 to 27. The well-known Octavius Catto played for the Pythians. Jacob White was the Pythians manager and T.Morris Chester likely named the Monrovian Club having spent 7 years in Monrovia the capital of Liberia. A Chester played third base for the Monrovians. All three men, Catto, White and Chester are honored with historic markers in Pennsylvania describing their storied careers off the diamond. Just two month’s after the game, the Pythians were denied membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players. The NABBP passed a resolution stating that they “unanimously report against the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.” The color line had been officially drawn. There was nothing unwritten about this line.

As baseball moved from an amateur pastime to an opportunity to make one’s livelihood, African-Americans joined the play for pay bunch as did other Americans. The first Black professional player was Bud Fowler who toiled for two teams in the International League in 1878. A Harrisburger, Jack Frye, was among the second pair of Black pros when he (for Reading) and Moses Fleetwood Walker (for Toledo) cashed paychecks in 1883.

The first professional Black team was the Cuban Giants in 1885. Their roster included two Harrisburgers - Frye and catcher Clarence Williams.

Baseball in those days was not entirely segregated; more than six dozen African-Americans appeared in games in so called organized baseball before the turn of the century. A very successful integrated team of that era was the Harrisburg Ponies of 1890. This precursor of the Senators fielded a team that included both Williams (who became the first African-American to play baseball on City Island) and Frank Grant the non-parallel second baseman who just may have been the best ballplayer period of the 19th century.

Another big event in 1890 occurred in April, when the newspaper reported that a certain Strothers was organizing a baseball team. That team evolved into the Harrisburg Giants. Strothers - Colonel William Strothers - was born in Culpepper. Virginia in 1868. He ran away from home in 1880 to work on the railroad. Returning East he settled in Harrisburg in 1888. He was quite the entrepreneur and renaissance man being a laborer, policeman, a dance instructor, a politician, a pool hall operator and businessperson. No matter what career path Strothers was taking at any point in time a constant was baseball. He ran the Giants from their beginnings in the 1890s until his death in 1933.

Clarence Williams was one of the best catchers in Blackball in the 19th and early 20th century. He played on several great teams including the Cuban Giants, Harrisburg Ponies, Big Gorhams, and the Cuban X Giants. Williams was called the "king of coachers" in 1889 by a reporter for the New York Age and also cited as such in a Harrisburg newspaper of 1890. The moniker applied not only to Williams strategies but also to his highly entertaining mannerisms in motivating his players. Williams caught many notable games. He was behind the plate in 1887 when Billy Whyte, of the Cuban Giants pitched a great game against the famous Detroit team. In 1903, he caught the first perfect game in the annals of blackball when he was behind the plate in the X-Giants Danny McClellan’s 27 batter effort versus York. Later that year he caught Rube Foster as the big right-hander pitched the X-Giants to the so-called “Colored Championship of Baseball.” The deciding game of the rather unofficial world series was played at Island Park in Harrisburg.

In 1906 the great Spottswood Poles made his professional debut for the Harrisburg Colored Giants as he played outfield under Colonel Strothers management. Earlier Poles, lived and played youth league ball in Harrisburg’s Springdale neighborhood, which was bounded by Walnut, State, 13th and 18th Streets.

The Giants had another fine team in 1909 featuring former Philadelphia Giant outfielder John Manning and Arthur “Buddy” Carpenter whose great-grandson Aaron Johnson is the current President of Harrisburg’s Little League.

In 1916, fourteen year old Herbert “Rap” Dixon burst upon the scene breaking in with the semi-pro Keystone Giants in Steelton. Rap was born in Kingston, GA and came north in the great migration when his father sought work in the steel industry. Dixon’s playing ability and bat were soon noticed by Strothers who was building his Giants into an independent powerhouse.

In 1922, they featured a third baseman named Chic Meade. What made Meade remarkable was he, apparently, was a white man passing for black. After his baseball career was over and during a stint in jail his true racial identity was discovered. Meade was the business manager for the Giants in 1925.

Another event that happened in 1922 was the November wedding of Harrisburg’s Jennie Blalock and the best outfielder in baseball Oscar Charleston of Indianapolis.

Prior to the 1924 season, Strothers franchise joined the Mutual Association of Colored Baseball Clubs AKA the Eastern Colored League. Also Oscar Charleston came to his wife’s hometown to play for the locals that year. He shared managerial duties that year with catcher Henry Jordan.

The Giants compiled the second best record in the Eastern Colored League during its 5 year span. The Giants success was due to the highest paid lineup in Blackball which scored runs at a pace higher than that of the ‘27 Yankees which set the 20th century major league standard up to that time. Hitters like Beckwith, Cannady, and Taylor complemented the outfield of Dixon, Charleston and Fats Jenkins. The outfield is one of only nine in baseball history that was intact for 4 years and included a Hall of Famer. It is truly one of the best outfields in all of baseball history.

The Giants peaked in ‘25 when they finished second to the Hilldale Club. The head to head matches that year between the Lawmakers, as the Giants were sometimes called, and the Darby Daisies (Hilldale) were the stuff of legend. Both teams featured Hall of Famers, should be Hall of Famers and near greats. The Giants had not only Charleston, Jenkins and Dixon but Ben Taylor and Rev Cannady who hit .397. Hilldale had Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, George Carr and a great pitching staff led by Nip Winters. Pitching was the difference but not the only difference as Harrisburg Manager Oscar Charleston pointed out in a rather pointed letter to the Black press. The E.C.L. was not entirely on the up & up. The influence of Hilldale owner Bolden was greater on scheduling league games and assigning umpires than it should have been. However, the best team won. The truth of the skullduggery that year was likely somewhere between Charleston’s contentions and Hilldale Business Manager Lloyd Thompson’s equally passionate disclaimers. Hilldale copped the pennant and defeated the defending champion Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League World Series. Make no mistake, though; the Harrisburg Giants of 1925 were a fine, fine ball club.

The Giants peak was ‘25 but they picked up ‘26 where they left off the previous year. They jumped out in front and led the E.C.L. for much of the year. It was Atlantic City which provided the challenge this year and in the end, the Bacharach Giants won the first of their two consecutive pennants. If possible, the ‘26 Giants were even more offensive than ‘25. The lineup lost the veteran Taylor, and his relatively low power numbers, and added the Black Bomber himself John Beckwith. If Leonard & Gibson were the Black Gehrig and Ruth a decade later; I’m not sure who to whom you compare the duo of Beckwith and Charleston.

In 1927, the year Ruth hit sixty homers, John Beckwith is said to have hit 72 (less than a dozen in ECL competition) homers; while Oscar Charleston led the league in homeruns with 11. This year proved to be the swan song for the Harrisburg Giants. After 4 years on eastern blackball’s center stage - and a composite winning percentage of .576 - the Harrisburg Giants left the ECL. The ECL itself dissolved shortly thereafter.

The batboy of the Harrisburg Giants in 1926 and ‘27 was the young Marshall Waters. Mr. Waters went on to a long, lengthy career in civic and political affairs in Harrisburg. Never did he allow his passion for baseball to lessen and even today will enter into a debate on the game with just a little encouragement.

Just prior to the ‘27 season, Biz Mackey of the Hilldale Club took a team of all-stars to Japan. This historical cultural exchange took place a good seven years prior to the more often noted Babe Ruth tour of ‘34. In collecting the best talent that he could find to take to the far east, Mackey selected the Harrisburg Giants right fielder Rap Dixon. In turn, ol’ Rap just about stole the show. Rap would entertain the fans prior to the games. He would circle the bases in just over 14 seconds and toss balls over the outfield wall while standing on home plate. When the games began he was even more dramatic. He belted a home run of such prodigious proportions that Emperor Hirohito presented him with a trophy to commemorate it.

Rap did not restrict his accomplishments to foreign turf. In 1929 he rapped 14 consecutive hits in a series versus the Homestead Grays and in 1930 in the first Negro League games ever played in Yankee Stadium, Rap slammed three home runs. In 1933 when the first East-West All Star Game was played, Rap started the game in right. To underscore the greatness of the Harrisburg Giants outfield of ‘24-’27, it should be noted that Fats Jenkins played left field and Oscar Charleston first base in that first all-star game. The game was played 6 years after the trio’s last appearance together in the Giant outfield.

Another indicator of the Giants greatness (and staying power) was the makeup of the Pittsburgh Crawfords roster in 1932. The Crawfords of that era are generally thought to be one of, if not the best, lineup in Negro League history. They featured five Hall of Famers (Paige, Gibson, Bell, Johnson and Charleston) but they also included five former Harrisburg Giants. In addition to the trio in the outfield, Rev Cannady and Willie Gisentaner appeared with the fords that season. In fact, despite having five Hall of Famers, Rev Cannady was referred to as the “Best All-Around Player in Baseball” on Crawford stationary that Spring.

Alas, 1933 was the last year for the original, Strothers-owned, Giants. Their last roster featured some pretty good players and well known names. The most prominent among them being Bill Lindsey. IN 1933, at the age of 65, Colonel William Strothers died. Interestingly, his passing came only days before the New York Black Yankees were scheduled to play in Harrisburg. Former Giants Fats Jenkins and Rev Cannady were on that Yankee team and paid their respects to their beloved Colonel in uniform prior to taking the field.

In 1934, Rap Dixon contributed to baseball in a way other than his own athletic talents when his keen evaluative eye found a young, schoolboy named Leon Day playing second base in the Baltimore sandlots. Day joined Dixon’s Baltimore Black Sox team and went on to a career that ended with enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Also on that ‘34 Black Sox team was Rap’s younger brother Paul Dixon who toiled in the outfields for several Negro League clubs in the 30s.

In the early forties the fires of Blackball were kept burning by a team called the Strother’s A.C. which featured Rap Dixon and his brother Paul in the outfield.

In 1943, the Harrisburg-St. Louis Stars were scheduled to compete in the Negro National League. However, they withdrew shortly after the season began to tour the country to raise money for the war effort. The Stars toured with a team managed by Honus Wagner that featured Dizzy Dean as a three inning pitcher.

Negro League baseball appears to be the highest quality of baseball played in Island Park during war years of 1943-1945 and beyond. These games were promoted by Rap Dixon and Bud Marshall, a local pharmacist. Many Negro National League games and exhibition games between Negro League teams and local military teams took place on Island Park. The military teams were often composed of major and minor league players. Games are often fund raisers to help war cause. Examples of such teams were Olmstead Air Force base, New Cumberland Army Base, and Indian Town Gap. Many Negro servicemen are stationed at Gap for Quartermasters training. These servicemen often come to town and observe Negro baseball games. The Army was still segregated at the time. Since many of these soldiers are from the south, it is their first opportunity to see teams in integrated contests.

On July 20, 1944 in Detroit, MI, Rap Dixon died. He was buried in Midland Cemetery, Steelton, PA on July 24, 1944.

In the late 40s, Spottswood Poles managed a high level amateur team which was often called the Harrisburg Giants in honor of its lineage. After Poles stepped down as manager, Rich Felton took over the reigns. It is in this latter day period of Negro League baseball when such local talents as Wilbur Fordham and Tom Healey (both of whom played for the Harrisburg Senators), Leo “Psyche” Burnett, Russell Royster, Robert Pierce and Reid Poles played.

In 1952, as the Negro Leagues decline was in rapid motion, the Pittsburgh Courier polled its readers to name the greatest players of the Negro Leagues. They eventually named 5 teams plus honorable mention. Among those honored were the following eight Harrisburg Giants: Oscar Charleston, 1st team outfield; Ben Taylor, 2nd team first base; John Beckwith, 2nd team utility; Rap Dixon, 3rd team outfield; Fats Jenkins, 3rd team outfield; Spottswood Poles, 4th team outfield; Rev Cannady, 4th team utility; and Bunny Downs, 5th team second base.

Also in 1952, former Harrisburg Giant keystoner McKinley “Bunny” Downs signed a cross-handed hitting shortstop to a $200 per month contract to play for the Indianapolis Clowns. This young player went on to a major league career with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. His name? Hammerin’ Hank Aaron!

Spottswood Poles passed on in September 12, 1962. Both he and his wife, Bertha, are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1963, Fats Jenkins, Captain, and the rest of the New York Renaissance Five were named to the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.

In 1975, Oscar McKinley Charleston was installed at Cooperstown in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1997, Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed appointed a panel of local historians and fans to honor Harrisburg’s Negro League history. On June 17, 1997, Harrisburg Giants uniforms took to the field again when the Harrisburg Senators played their Eastern League clash with the Portland Sea Dogs sporting replica uniforms. Honored that evening was the 83 year old former Giant batboy Marshall Waters. Mr. Waters tossed a near perfect pitch to open the game that evening. Tonight is the second annual Negro League Commemorative Night and we honor Spottswood Poles the venerable outfielder, gentleman, war hero and Harrisburg Colored Giant of 1906 and ‘07.

Reed’s appointed panel of mortals will continue over the years to honor the greats of Harrisburg’s Negro League past. In the future we will see pioneers like Frye and Williams, administrators like Strothers and Marshall, personalities like Blalock, greats like Charleston, Jenkins, Beckwith and Taylor, native sons like Dixon and the latter day players like Healey, Fordham, and Royster be so remembered. All we can do is rekindle the storied past as best we can that these gentlemen (and women) created against all odds in a very different time and place. As long as baseball is played on the Island the echoes of these “dusky heroes” will remain forever pronounced against the evening mist that shrouds the late innings of an August afternoon.

Ted Knorr is a longtime SABR member and has worked diligently for the past decade to bring these events to Harrisburg. Calobe Jackson, Jr. is a SABR member as well as civic leader and President of the Harrisburg School Board. “Jackie” is Chairman of the Harrisburg Negro League Commemorative Committee.

2005-II Week 1 Games 1-8

Welcome to my blog.

This space will document a baseball season played by an all-time roster of Harrisburg Giants versus many superb major league (and other Negro League) teams. The Giants, as you may know, were a spectacular Negro League team that had its heyday in the twenties when they were members of the Eastern Colored League. They were one of the highest paid teams in Black baseball during their period, were one of the few teams soley owned by a single African-American entrepreneur, and featured on their roster some of the best hitters ever accumulated on any team in any league in any era. They were perhaps the best Negro League franchise to have never captured a pennant. The season, to be played between July 4, 2005 and the end of the year will be simulated using the APBA Major League Baseball Game. In addition to reporting linescores of each game complete with pitchers involved in the decsion, homers and game notes various historical pieces will be interspersed to bring the season alive. This blog - as most are - is an egotistical effort that is intended to educate, entertain and perhaps stimulate further interest.

The season (154 games) will consist of 20 weeks each (except the final) containing two series – a 5 gamer v a MLB team and a 3 gamer, including a Sunday doubleheader, with another Negro League team. Here is the early season schedule for the always homestanding Giants:

July 4-8 New York Yanees of 1927
July 9-10 Hilldale Daisies of 1925
July 11-15 Pittsburgh Pirates of 1960
July 16-17 Chicago Leland Giants of 1910
July 18-22 Detroit Tigers of 1909
July 23-24 Pittsburgh Crawfords of 1935

… and now, Opening Day

2005-II-1 07/04/05 Island Park Harrisburg, PA A-3,325
1927 NY Yanks 000 003 034 - 10 15 2
GIANTS 010 000 104 – 6 13 2
HR- Ruth, Meusel, Lazzeri, Taylor (1)
WP – Waite Hoyt
LP – Willie Gisentaner 0-1

* Game breaks in 6th with a long Ruth HR, a Gehrig triple, and a Meusel single
* Three Finger Gisentaner weakened in 8th and 9th allowing 7 runs
* Waite Hoyt returned favor in bottom of 9th allowing 4 of his own
* Bob Meusel and Jumpin’ Dugan had 3 hits each
* Ben Taylor had 2 hits, 2 ribbies, and 2 runs
* Baseball has been played at Island Park, since 1890, Mayor Hoverter tosses first ball

2005-II-2 07/05/05 Island Park Harrisburg, PA A-1,649
1927 NY Yanks 111 023 000 – 8 16 2
GIANTS 000 002 000 – 2 7 0
HR- none
WP – Herb Pennock
LP – Ping Gardner 0-1

* Earle Combs 5 hits, Koenig & Lazzeri 3 each
*Herb Pennock CG victory
* Rap Dixon 3 hits, Ben Taylor two more hits (4 for 9)

2005-II-3 07/06/05 West End Grounds Harrisburg, PA A-1,109
Today (actually this is an error, Paige's birthday is July 7th) is Satchel Paige’s birthday; he would be 99 years old if the most popular sources are to be believed. His childhood buddy – Double Duty Radcliffe – who shares the same birth date claims Paige was two years older (i.e. 105 since Duty turns 103 today). Happy Birthday Leroy & Ted!!!

In the 1950s when the Harrisburg Giants were a solid semi-pro club Paige brought his All-Stars to town and sometimes pitched against the Giants and sometimes took the field as their pitcher against another team. Accordingly, particularly being down two games to nothing --- today ol’ Satch will pitch for the Harrisburg Giants as they take on the Murderer’s Row Yankees.

1927 NY Yanks 000 000 000 - 0 3 2
GIANTS 000 000 001 – 1 7 0
HR- none
WP – Satchel Paige 1-0
LP – Urban Shocker

* The game was played at West End Grounds, 4th & Seneca, in uptown Harrisburg near present day Emerald Park
* Paige 9 IP 3H 0R 2W & 12Ks for the CG win!
* After 26 outs, with the score knotted at 0-0 … Manager Charleston sent three pinchitters to the plate: Heavy Johnson doubled, Spottswood Poles was purposely passed and Blainey Hall won the game with a clutch single batting for Paige.

2005-II-4 07/07/05 West End Grounds Harrisburg, PA A-989
1927 NY Yanks 020 000 001 000 – 3 11 1
GIANTS 000 201 000 001 – 4 12 0
HR- Tony Lazzeri, Oscar Charleston (1), John Beckwith (1)
WP – Carter 1-0
LP – Wilcy Moore

* All games in this series are played in 1925 at one of four Harrisburg Giant home parks. The initial two contests were played at Island Park, where baseball has been played since 1890 and presently where the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League play. Yesterday and today’s games are being played at West End Grounds in uptown Harrisburg. Next up will be Steelton’s Cottage Hill Field at which today the local high school team plays football. On Sundays, in Harrisburg in 1925 professional baseball was prohibited by Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws so another site was needed. It turns out that a ballpark in Lancaster was available and legal; accordingly all Sunday games will be played at Rossmere Base Ball Park, present site of my alma mater Lancaster Catholic, and home of the Lancaster Red Roses early in the 20th century.
* Today’s game was actually played (i.e. the APBA game) in front of an unbelievable crowd of 1,200,000 persons on Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Art Museum (can you say Rocky?!) in Philly at last Saturday’s Live 8 concert. During Keith Urban & Rob Thomas sets I played the above thrilling game.
* Tony Lazzeri’s 9th inning HR sent it to extras
* In the 12th, Rap Dixon singled, stole second; Charlie was walked and Ben Taylor reached on an error … setting up Walter Cannady’s game winning, wall banging single. It was the 2nd straight walk off win for the Jints.

2005-II-5 07/08/05 Cottage Hill Field Steelton, PA A-1, 061
1927 NY Yanks 111 000 040 - 7 14 2 [3-2, Yankees capture the series]
GIANTS 001 001 001 – 3 6 0 [2-3]
HR- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Fats Jenkins (1), Ben Taylor (2)
WP – Waite Hoyt (2nd win of the series)
LP – Sam Cooper (0-1)

* Hoyt 9 6 3 3 0 1 2-0 2 CG for his 2nd win and clinching series for the Bombers
* Joe Dugan’s two run single in 8th breaks open one run game
* 4th consecutive errorless game for Harrisburg
* Bill James in his recent work – The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract – ranks the top players of all-time. He places Ruth first but – to his credit – ranks Harrisburg’s Oscar Charleston 4th behind onlt the Babe, Willie Mays and Honus Wagner. Accordingly I offer the comparative statisitics for the pair of greats –
#1Ruth 6-20 w 2 HRs, 5 walks, 5 runs/2 rbi .300 .440 .600 1.040
#4Charleston 6-19 w 2-2Bs, HR, 4 walks, 3 runs/2 rbi .316 .435 .579 1.014

2005-II-6 07/09/05 Cottage Hill Field Steelton, PA A-781
1925 Hilldale 200 010 100 – 4 11 0
GIANTS 000 100 000 – 1 9 0 [2-4]
HR- none
WP – Phil Cockrell
LP – Ping Gardner (0-2)

* Phil Cockrell scatted 9 hits and a walk aided by 3 DPs and a toss out at home
* Dibo Johnson threw Beckwith out at home to end the 4th
* Clint Thomas had 4 hits for the wining Daisies
* Rap Dixon had three hits in the losing cause

2005-II-7/8 07/10/05 Rossmere Base Ball Field Lancaster, PA A-2,261
A beautiful Sunday in Harrisburg in 1925 … let’s play two! Unfortunately Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws do not permit professional baseball to be played on Sunday’s in Harrisburg (or Philadelphia for that matter as, long before they did move to Kansas City, Connie Mack dabbled with the idea of moving the Athletics do to this restriction on Sunday baseball.)

Accordingly we are now introduced to the 4th home field of the Harrisburg Giants – Rossmere Base Ball Park in Lancaster, PA. From 1924-27 the Harrisburg Giants played their Sunday home games here at the former home of the Lancaster Red Roses. Today, and every Sunday, we are treated to doubleheader Negro League action as the home standing Harrisburg Giants play two against the Hilldale Daisies.

1925 Hilldale 000 002 500 01 – 8 11 0
GIANTS 000 022 201 00 – 7 12 0 (2-5)
HR- Willie Gisentaner
WP – Scrip Lee (in relief of Rube Currie)
LP – Carter 1-1 (in relief of Gisentaner)

* 3rd loss in a row was a toughie after coming back from 7-4
* Daisies opened 7-4 lead with 5 in 7th sparked by Warfield’s bases loaded trip
* Giants tied it on a Dixon double in 9th
* Giants had sacks loaded with one out in 10th but failed
* Hilldale won when their first four reached in the 11th, Thomas had game winner

Second Game
1925 Hilldale 110 000 020 – 4 8 0
GIANTS 000 100 000 – 11 15 2 [3-5]
HR- Oscar Charleston 2 (3)
WP – Geechie Corbett (1-0)
LP – Red Ryan

* Giants hit .264 for the week scoring only 4.4 runs per game … disappointing
Giants E.R.A. of 4.91 was as expected and realistic IMHO
* After a quiet initial 7 games, Oscar Charleston came alive in the middle of this game with a double and a run scored in the 4th and three-run blasts in both the 5th and 6th innings. For the week he hit .323 with team leading totals in ribbies (7), total bases (22), walks (5) and slugging (.710)
* John Beckwith did a little better batting .408 and leading the team production with 1.133.
* Next week’s schedule includes 5 with the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates and a visit from Rube Foster and the 1910 Chicago Leland Giants.