Remembering Their Game

THERE USED TO BE TWO GAMES OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL, THE MAJOR LEAGUES AND THE NEGRO LEAGUES. THEY WERE SEPARATE AND MOST DEFINITELY NOT EQUAL. THE MEN OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES PERFORMED WITH SKILL AND PASSION, BUT FOR NICKELS AND DIMES. YET THEIR MEMORIES OF THOSE DAYS ARE RICH
July 05, 1992

JIMMIE CRUTCHFIELD

Birth date: March 25, 1910
Current home: Chicago
Occupation: Retired ballplayer
Playing career: Birmingham Black Barons, Indianapolis ABCs, 1930; Pittsburgh Crawford's, 1931-36; Newark Eagles, 1937-38; Toledo Crawfords, 1939; Indianapolis Crawfords, 1940; Chicago American Giants, 1941-42, 1945; Cleveland Buckeyes, 1943-44
Position: Outfielder

"It Was July 24, 1934. The hottest day on record in Chicago, and we were playing against the Philadelphia Stars. A doubleheader in those flannels? We didn't have a dressing room, but at the end of those two games we were wet like we took a shower. And we drove all the way to Philadelphia like that. We knew that it wasn't until we got to the top of the mountains that there was a place we could eat; had to send someone round back to get us some sandwiches. We took off our shirts and tied them onto the windows of the bus and drove off. You had to love the game to put up with all that. But it was love, love for the game. And we knew we were good enough to play in the majors.

"I remember in the '30s playing the Brooklyn Bushwicks, a white team with a lot of ex-major leaguers. We were playing a couple of miles from where the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing. A Sunday game, we drew 16,000 fans, and the Dodgers drew 8,000. Satchel Paige was the best drawing card in baseball. Branch Rickey knew something was wrong when we were outdrawing him on a Sunday. Years later, when we heard he signed Jackie [Robinson], we didn't think it was true. There were a lot of players better than Jackie; but he was the right one. He was a college boy, and we knew he could handle the situation. But Jackie Robinson killed our league. Soon each team could see what was happening. But it was a thrill to prove we could play baseball with anyone."

LEON DAY

Birth date: Oct. 30, 1016
Current home: Baltimore
Occupation: Retired bartender
Playing career: Baltimore Black Sox, 1934; Brooklyn Eagles, 1935; Newark Eagles, 1936-43, 1946, 1949; Scranton Miners, Eastern League, 1952; Canada, 1949-55: Winnipeg Buffaloes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Goldeyes
Position: Righthanded pitcher

"The best thing about playing in the big league parks was the showers. Really great showers, lot of water pressure. And they always had plenty of soap and towels. Sometimes we would see no water for a long time after a game. If we were staying in a private home, three of us would sometimes have to take a bath using the same water. But the big league parks, now they were special. There'd be soap all over. We'd load up, stuff it everywhere. I remember the Dodgers used Lifebuoy. And the managers would give us socks, those real nice white kind to play in. A lot of the major leaguers wouldn't wear them if they'd been worn before, so they'd just give them to us. Everything helped in those days. I started at $60 a month but probably saw only $40 the first few months I was there. Getting paid was tough. But once I got more established, I got paid regular.

"The toughest team to pitch to was the Homestead Grays. They had Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, and some days I should have just stayed home. You couldn't walk them both. You had to get one of them out.

"In 1946, Opening Day against the Philadelphia Stars, I threw a no-hitter. I didn't realize it, though, until the last out, when everyone came running out of the dugout. I said, 'What? What?' We celebrated good into that night. I threw quite a few one-hitters after that. In 1942 against the Baltimore Elite Giants, their leadoff got a single, and it was the only hit they got. Had 18 strikeouts that game. Had 19 in a game in Puerto Rico once. That was sure fun to me. Heck, I would have played for nothing."

GARNETT BLAIR

Birth date: July 31, 1921
Current home: Richmond
Occupation: Retired teacher
Playing career: Homestead Grays, 1940-48
Position: Righthanded pitcher

"Growing up in Pittsburgh, I always dreamed of playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I thought that's what I'd do. I didn't understand the color thing. I played on white teams all through high school—football, basketball and baseball. Never paid attention to color. Didn't even know about it until I tried to go to college. I applied to the University of Pittsburgh to get an athletic scholarship. They said, Nah, nah. They took another player from our team. I was all-city, he was all-nothing. I applied to Duquesne; they said, Nah, nah. That's when I knew society wasn't right.

"So I went to Virginia Union, played football, basketball and baseball, and in the summer played with the greatest team ever, the Homestead Grays. The Grays had so much offensive talent that anyone could pitch for them. They'd give you 10, 12 runs a game. Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Sam Bankhead, Cool Papa Bell, what a team. They called me rookie for five years, then I started getting the call for the big games. Once we played in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington, and for the three nights drew 100,000 fans. All those people and all that money, and we still stayed in places I wouldn't give a dollar to stay in today.

"A lot of the time we just stayed on the bus. We had a quartet, really good singers, who would sing some spirituals. That was fine until we tried to sleep.

"I wasn't with the Grays in the fall; I was always back in school. I knew in the long run a degree was going to help me more. I was right."

JOHN (BUCK) O'NEILL

Birth data: Nov. 13, 1911
Current home: Kansas City, Mo.
Occupation: Scout, Kansas City Royals
Playing career: Memphis Red Sox, 1937; Kansas City Monarchs, 1938-43, 1946-50
Position: First baseman and manager

"It was an exciting time. I was young, got a chance to travel. Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, New York City, Washington, Philadelphia. Those places were alive. It was the jazz era. All the black entertainers, we knew them, because we were entertainers too. They'd see us play in the afternoon, and we'd go see them play at night. I remember Bojangles dancing on our dugout at Yankee Stadium. We were warming up and there was a combo in the stands, and suddenly we look up and Bojangles is dancing and people are hollering. All kinds of stars came to see us—Joe Louis, Count Basic, Lionel Hampton. They were our friends. It was high living for those times. And we were very popular. They even changed the church times back to 10 o'clock so people could get to the ballpark.

"In 1946 I was playing with Satchel Paige's all-stars. A guy from Los Angeles wanted us to play there against Bob Feller's all-stars and said if Satchel and Bob would pitch the whole game, he could sell it out. Feller said he'd talk to Satchel. The Feller all-stars were getting 60 percent of the gate, and we were getting 40 percent. Satchel said, 'All right, I'll do it, but on one condition.' Feller said, 'What's that?' 'From now on when we play, you get 50 percent and we get 50 percent.' It was a deal. And the game was a sellout. I remember Satchel gave one up to Ralph Kiner. Satchel turned to me after it sailed out and said, 'Who's that?' I said, 'Satchel, that's Ralph Kiner, and he led the league in home runs this year.' Satchel said, 'Oh, yeah? Be sure to tell me when he comes up again.' "

HENRY (JUMBO) KIMBRO

Birth date: Feb. 10, 1912
Current home: Nashville
Occupation: Owner, Bill's Cab Co.
Playing career: Washington Elite Giants, 1937-38; Baltimore Elite Giants, 1939-50; New York Black Yankees, 1950
Position: Outfielder

"Man, I loved to hit. In those days everyone tailored their pitches low. I was fortunate to be able to hit the low ball. That's what I learned, hit low. I can hit a golf ball a mile—that's low.

"I was a fastball hitter. You couldn't shoot that ball by me with a rifle. Satchel Paige would walk me to get to Doc Dennis most every time. I could hit everyone, everyone but this real tall junkball pitcher from Memphis. Can't remember his name. Just remember I couldn't hit him. I'd hate to see him walk out to the mound on those days. He couldn't throw hard enough to break an egg, just those junk pitches. He worried you to death. I'd pop up, ground out. He was a nuisance, that's all. As hard as I tried, I couldn't hit him. Still bothers me.

"I was a pretty good fielder if the ball was hit in the air. Because I was fast, wooooo, I was fast. But those ground balls, man. I saw my best friend, a shortstop, lose two front teeth when the ball caught a bad hop. Fields in those days had rocks, gravel, all kind of stuff to make a ball kick up in your face. I got kind of ball shy. A grounder would come at me, and everyone would hold their breath.

"I was strong as an ox, though. When I was a kid, every day after school I'd go back and forth on those ladder things in the schoolyard; my arms and shoulders were huge. Strong, lots of stamina. I worked at it hard. That's what kept me playing so long.

"Those were good days. We just loved to play. We didn't mind nothing as long as we got to play."

BILL WRIGHT

Birth date: June 6, 1914
Currant home: Aguascalientes, Mexico
Occupation: Retired owner, hamburger stand
Playing career: Nashville Elite Giants, 1932-34; Columbus Elite Giants, 1935; Washington Elite Giants, 1936-37; Baltimore Elite Giants, 1938-39, 1942, 1945; Mexican leagues, 1940-41, 1943-53
Position: Righthanded pitcher, outfielder

"What I probably remember most was the day they bombed Pearl Harbor. Roy Campanella and I were standing in the outfield in Puerto Rico. Winter ball. Somebody had a radio, and we all ran over and listened. Later Roy and I found out we were stranded because all the planes were commissioned to go fight the war. So somehow we found a boat to take us back to the States.

"Those seas were rough, waves hitting up to here. One of our teammates, Bunny Ross, kept drinking rum out of the bottle. Said he wanted to be drunk when he drowned. For eight days we were on that boat; only had cold lunch food. We were zigzagging all over the place. One day Campanella said we ought to put all our money in a bottle and throw it overboard. He said somebody ought to get the money since we weren't going to make it anyway. But we did. We were so happy to get to Newport News. And so sick. My, oh, my.

"Campanella went on to the majors. I was too old by then, so I went down to Mexico again and signed up with the Diablos Rojos, the Red Devils. The people were so nice that I just decided to stay. One year I hit .390 in 90 games, 17 home runs. Would have been more but the fence was 450 feet away. We had altitude, but not enough. The president of the league, Jorge Pasquel, was also the manager of a team, the Veracruz Blues. In a Saturday game the fence was at 390, and he saw me hit two out of the park. The next day the fence was at 450. First time I got up, the bases were loaded. I hit a line drive and the guy backed up and backed up and caught it. On Saturday it would have been a grand slam. I was heading back to the dugout and looked over at Pasquel. He was pointing to his temple. 'Inteligencia,' he told me. We lost the game.

"I think people know now it was a mistake not to let all of us play in the major leagues, but we didn't ever hold a grudge. We had too much fun. And you know what? We never got hurt. I never saw a guy miss a game because of an injury. And we played two, sometimes three games a day for days and days. We were iron men."

JIM LAMARQUE

Birth data: July 20, 1920
Current home: Kansas City, Mo.
Occupation: Paint retoucher, Ford Motor Co.
Playing career: Kansas City Monarchs, 1942-50; Fort Wayne Capeharts, 1950
Position: Lefthanded pitcher

"I almost quit the Monarchs my first year. I was 19 years old, homesick and tired of being the youngest player on a team of older players. Tired of being taunted as 'Dizzy's boy,' after Mr. Dizzy Dismukes, the road secretary of the team, the man who hired me. We were playing in St. Louis, just 72 miles from the tiny town where I was raised, Potosi, Missouri. So I stashed my bag under the bed and hid until the team bus was gone. Just as I was getting the bag out, Satchel Paige walked in. He was our top pitcher, and I had been living with him since I joined the team. He drove his own automobile to the games, and he told me just to throw that bag in his car and to get in and hurry up about it. So I did. And I'm awfully glad.

"Satchel taught me other things too. I got to be a pretty good pitcher because of him. Except once. See, I had this pitch, a drop pitch I called it. Never seen anyone else throw it. You grab the ball between your fingers and thumb and throw it hard as you can, and it turns end over end and drops just as it crosses the plate. Nobody wanted to hit against me because of that pitch. I'd throw it on 3-2 because I knew it would work. Well, one time I was facing Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays—the best hitter I'd ever seen. They told me he had hit 75 home runs in a season. Well, I faced him twice, and I struck him out twice with that drop thing. Next time up, I had two strikes on him, and Satchel signals to me from the dugout, waste one. So I throw one shoulder high and out, but it was too close in. Gibson took that thing over the stands, over the park, over everything. Satchel just shrugged at me. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'He does me like that too.' "

TED (DOUBLE DUTY) RADCLIFFE

Birth date: July 7, 1902
Current home: Chicago
Occupation: Retired Ballplayer
Playing career: Played from 1928 to 1950 with 14 teams, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays
Position: Righthanded pitcher, catcher and manager

"It was the girls. Truthfully, the only reason we played ball at all was because we had the pick of the girls. We didn't make any money—$650 a month was my tops, and I was the top pitcher, the catcher and the manager—but we sure had fun with the girls. When Jackie Robinson came to the Monarchs in 1945, he wanted to room with me because he knew I had the most women. I had the gift of gab. We loved going up to Canada. The women outnumbered the men 32 to 1 up there. And we could go to any restaurant we wanted and walk right in the front door.

"I got my nickname when one day I caught Satchel Paige in a 4-0 win and then I pitched the second game and won 5-0. Damon Runyon saw it and gave me my name. He put me on the map. He said it was a great thing. I just thought it was fun. Leo Durocher told me later he would have signed me as a pitcher, catcher and pinch hitter and paid me $100,000 for each position. That made me laugh.

"We loved it most when we were playing doubleheaders. One time we played four games in one day. At 9:45 a.m. we played an exhibition against Stan Musial's high school team in Pennsylvania. At 1 p.m. we played the Ethiopian Clowns in a double-header. Then at 8:30 p.m. in Wheeling, West Virginia, we played an American Legion team. I went back to the house at 4:30 a.m., and my landlord wanted to know if I was hungry and did I want a steak. I said yes. I woke up later that day with me on the bed still in my wet uniform and the steak still on the dresser."

WALTER (BUCK) LEONARD

Birth date: Sept. 8, 1907
Current home: Rocky Mount, N.C.
Occupation: Retired truant officer
Playing career: Rocky Mount Black Swans, 1925-32; Baltimore Stars, 1932; Brooklyn Royal Giants, 1933; Washington Homestead Grays, 1934-50; Mexican leagues, 1950-55
Position: First baseman

"I was playing for the Baltimore team, and the owners moved us to New York. We traveled in two cars in those days, a seven-passenger Buick and a Ford with a rumble seat. Twelve men. When it rained, we had to pull all the equipment inside. They moved us into a hotel, and one day one of ours leaned out the window and heard the hotel people selling our cars to pay for the rooms. That was the end of the team.

"Three or four of us stayed in New York, and Smokey Joe Williams, who worked in a bar, called up Cum Posey, who ran the Grays, and got me a job playing for them. What a job! My dad worked in a railroad shop, and I always thought I'd go back there to work. But baseball was good to me. I hit .395 in 1948; we won the title nine years.

"Each team had two good pitchers and two sorry pitchers. I built up my average on the sorry pitchers, but it worked. We got paid $125 a month and 65 cents a day in meal money. Then ham and eggs cost 25 cents and a slice of pie was 10 more cents. We ate pretty good.

"My favorite team was an all-star team we sent to Mexico in 1945. We had Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Felton Snow and me on it, and we won our first seven games. The Mexican league people then made us give three of our players to the other team—Gene Benson, Quincy Trouppe and Marvin Barker. Good players. We still beat them."

WILLIE GRACE

Birth date: June 30, 1919
Current home: Eric, Pa.
Occupation: Retired machinist
Playing career: Cleveland Buck eyes, 1942-50; Houston Eagles, 1950
Position: Righthanded pitcher, outfielder

"We started out with this old hay truck, and we'd drive to some town 15 or 20 miles away. We had a guy at the game take up a collection in a hat, and after his take for expenses, we'd have about 25 cents left to get a bottle of belly-wash. How lucky we were, though. How much fun we had.

"As a kid, if you didn't play baseball you were a sissy. But when we weren't playing ball, we'd cut a few yards in the morning and spend 10 cents to go to the cowboy shows. Then we'd play ball until dark, sometimes after. If the ball busted, we'd just sew it back up. We didn't have innings, we'd just play for hours and hours.

"When I started with the Buckeyes, we got $2 a week for meal money. It didn't go too far. That's if we could find a place to serve us. I remember being in Mansfield, Ohio, right out of Cleveland. We played a twilight game, and we drove off to find some place to eat. We saw a cafe, but the owner saw us crossing the street, and he closed the place up. We got heckled a bit too. One guy on our team, Chippy, was a mean character. Some heckler in the stands was yelling 'black nigger' and 'throw the black nigger out.' When the side was out, Chippy walked right by our dugout and went up into the stands and threw that guy out of there.

"We had some fine, fine ballplayers. The last four or five years of the Negro leagues we had the best ballplayers in the world, and we didn't even know it. My father was a fireman on the railroad; he had to support seven kids. He never saw me play a ball game. I wish he had."

LORENZO (PIPER) DAVIS

Birth dale: July 3, 1917
Current homo: Birmingham
Occupation: Retired bookkeeper, retired major league scout
Playing career: Birmingham Black Barons, 1942-50; Scranton Red Sox, Eastern League, 1950; Oakland Oaks, Pacific Coast League, 1951-55; Los Angeles Angels, PCL, 1956-57; Port Worth Cats, Texas League, 1957-58
Position: All nine

"This is a beautiful story. When Tom Hayes signed me to the Birmingham Black Barons in 1942, he called Abe Saperstein, who owned the Barons and the Harlem Globetrotters, and told him I had a year of college basketball. Saperstein told him to give me another $50 a month and a tryout with the Globetrotters.

"I made both teams and for three years played both seasons with a week off in between to see my family. I quit when I found my legs shaking after a Globetrotters game at the end of the 1946 season. Then I started managing the Barons. I had played high school ball and Industrial League ball with Cat Mays. One day his kid, Willie, showed up and said he wanted to join us. He was only in 11th grade. I told him he should go back to school. Told him if he got caught playing ball for money he could never play high school sports again. He said, 'I don't care.' I said if his dad would call and say it was O.K., then it was O.K. with me.

"Cat called the next day and said, 'Let Willie play if he wants to.' First I tried him in leftfield as a backup, then I made him my starter at centerfield the beginning of the 1948 season. I posted the lineup in the dugout that first day and then walked out to the pitcher's mound and turned back to watch the reaction. They said, 'Piper is going crazy putting that little ol' boy in centerfield.' I said, 'That's my lineup.'

"We won the championship that year. Isn't that a beautiful story?"

PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGAs a Chicago American Giant, Crutchfield played at old Comiskey Park. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGA pitcher who could hit, Day went 13-0 and hit .320 in 1937. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGIn eight seasons Blair (here in a Richmond cafè) never gave up a home run. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGThe site of Municipal Stadium, where O'Neill's Monarchs played, is gone to seed. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGKimbro, here in the office of his cab company, loved to give the ball a ride. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGWright went to ploy in Mexico—and decided to stay. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGLaMarque engineered a career out of his unique drop pitch and pointers from Paige. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGNow living in Chicago, Radcliffe says his nickname put him on the map. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGLeonard retired to Rocky Mount, where he once starred for the Black Swans. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGGrace played with the greats, but he and his teammates couldn't always find a meal. PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGDavis used to play at Birmingham's Rickwood Field, home to the Black Barons.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)