Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris, via Seamheads
In the continuation of a theme from my previous post on the Van Dyke Colored House of David, I’m finding even more examples of how the African-American baseball world was at both a vast universe and a small world. In terms of opportunities to play for all-black teams, there were many, many, and at several levels — pro, semi-pro, amateur, industrial, etc.
But in terms of how many pre-integration African-American players, managers and other figures frequently crossed paths, they formed a complex yet fascinating tapestry of black, and baseball, heritage.
Before I go game by game through the Van Dykes’ landmark 1934 season, I’ll look at a few of the players on the team. I’ve written about aggregation owner/promoter Harry Crump a couple times before, and, frankly, the more I dig, the more discrepancies I discover about Mr. Crump. There could very well be two different Harry Crumps who lived in or near Sioux City, one originally from Missouri and one born in Kentucky.
In addition, it appears that the Harry Crump of the Van Dykes, whichever Harry it was, ended up in Minneapolis, where he brought his franchise and seems to have settled and had a blossoming family. But Mr. Crump will be the subject of a future post.
Now, the players … I’ve been able to nail down three complete names from the 1934 Van Dyke team — pitcher Harold “Yellowhorse” Morris, Sandy Thompson and Jim Truesdale. I’ve uncovered a whole bunch of last names without first monikers; sports journalism of the 1930s frequently just listed last names in game reports, unfortunately.
For now, first up is Yellowhorse Morris, who definitely crossed paths with all kinds of Negro League figures I’ve touched on or written about before. Right away, I’ll note that I’m not sure how he got his nickname, but I haven’t consulted various books about him yet. It goes without saying that it sounds much like a Native-American appellation.
We’ll start in 1924, when Morris — who was born in February 1900 in Oakland, Calif., according to Seamheads, and I’ve been able to confirm his roots in the Bay Area — first started cropping up in newspapers. The April 19 Pittsburgh Courier states that “Harold Morris (Yellowhorse), said to be the find of the year, who hails California as his home state, arrived” the the Kansas City Monarchs camp), weighing 200 pounds, and still a youngster, having just passed the voting age, Morriss’ [sic] actions remind one of Bill Gatewood.”
The Sept. 20, 1924, Pittsburgh Courier then lists him as a pitcher for the “East-West Classic” (in reality the ad hoc Negro League World Series) for the Monarchs, and several other sources assert that he did pitch for Kaycee at one point or another in his career. It’s with the Monarchs in 1924 that his fate intersected with some of the all-time greats, including Jose Mendez, Bullet Rogan, Newt Allen, Walter Moore and Frank Duncan. The opposing squad, Philly’s Hilldale Daisies, was also, of course, stocked with legends, like Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey and Louis Santop.
But Morris didn’t stay with the Kaycees very long — in 1925 he signed up with the Detroit Stars, becoming one of the aces on the Motowners staff for fabulous manager Bingo DeMoss. In late June of that year, for example, Yellowhorse presided over a 7-2 thrashing of Indianapolis. The Pittsburgh Courier stated that Morris “pitched a masterly, game, allowing but six scattered hits, and at no stage of the game was he in danger.”
Later in the ’25 season, Morris also saw duty as a reliever. He appears to have stayed with the Stars into the 1928 season; in early August 1927, for example, he dominated the Memphis Red Sox in the first of a four-game series in Memphis, winning 6-1 and giving up only five hits.
By March 1928, Yellowhorse Morris was apparently being viewed as a major comer in Negro League baseball. Asserted the March 15, 1928, Philadelphia Tribune:
“Yellow Horse Morris, crack pitching star for the Detroit Stars, is going to have a great season according to reports received from the coast. Morris has developed into one of the game’s real stars.”
In September 1928, a passenger ship register has Morris traveling from Honolulu to L.A., but the reasons are unclear.
After that, Yellowhouse seems to have marked a precipitous decline. By 1930, he was relegated to cleanup mound duty for the Chicago American Giants, relieving — and here’s more meeting with legends by Morris — future Hall of Famer Bill Foster, among others.
After that, Morris’ tenure in the big time was just about finished. He cropped up again in 1934 with … the Van Dyke Colored House of David in Sioux City, where he appears to have been the ace of the pitching staff. However, a semipro touring team based in small-city Iowa with largely fake beards could be considered somewhat of a step down from the great Kansas City Monarchs and Chicago American Giants.
However, both Morris and Truesdale were apparently booted from the Van Dyke squad in late summer, before the Davids launched a massive barnstorming tour of the West Coast. Said the American Negro Press in September after a 9-3 HoD victory over an Oakland club team: “Dean twirled for the winners, being burdened with most of the mound duty since Harold ‘Yellowhorse’ Morris and Jim Truesdale were cut loose from the team just before reaching California.” A reason for the summary cutting isn’t given.
Morris seems to have taken that disappointment in stride, returning to his native Bay Area and immersing himself in the local semipro scene, beginning with — here’s that whole crossing paths thing again — Byron “Speed” Reilly’s Berkeley International League, when he pitched for Reilly’s squad, the Athens Elks.
Skip ahead about nine years, and we have Morris putting together a black all star aggregation starring none other than Satchel Paige on the mound. The squad clashed with another all star squad, this one led by the equally fantastic Bob Feller, where they in Oakland’s PCL stadium.
The next season, Yellowhorse Morris encounters … Jesse Owens and Abe Saperstein! And the entire rest of the West Coast Negro Baseball League, which I’ve written about numerous times, including here and here, as well as in all of my scribing about NOLA’s own Herb Simpson, who played for Seattle’s WCNBL squad.
Morris co-owned the San Francisco Seal Lions. After the Lions swept the Los Angeles White Sox in a late May twin will, the Cleveland Call and Post (probably using a wire service) reported:
“The efficient manner in which the San Francisco club is being run by Co-Owners Hal King, San Francisco sportsman, and Hal (‘Yellowhorse’) Morris, the latter a sensational pitcher in organized Negro leagues in the east for a number of years, and manager Cleo (‘Baldy’) Benson, is proving an incentive for the other five clubs in the circuit.”
But by June the Lions’ momentum was sputtering, and they found themselves in third place with a mark of 10-12, while the Oakland Larks were way out front with a record of 14-3. However, the Call and Post was still optimistic about Yellowhorse’s team, asserting that “it seems certain a ding dong second half is in the offing” partially because “San Francisco is improving right along …”
Unfortunately, the WCNBL didn’t last the summer, and the Sea Lions reverted to a touring team. But Morris was back in the limelight a few years later, when he morphed into a talent scout for the PCL San Francisco Seals, who were one of four teams to snap up young black stars in early spring 1945. The Seals inked fastball artist Percy Fisher, whom the Courier tabbed “a ten-strike discovery,” with “Yellowhorse Morris, celebrated Negro National League hurler of yore, recommend[ing] Fisher to the Seals.
Morris’ hardball acumen and experience was quickly recognized by bigwigs in the majors, and in April 1949 the Cubs inked Yellowhorse to a scouting deal. Stated the ANP under the headline, “Chicago Cubs Get Wise, Hire Morris as Scout”:
“Most recent development reported from the Cubs’ front office is the signing of Yellowhorse Morris, ex-pitcher for the Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs”
“Morris, who works out of San Francisco, knows baseball from way back, having played with both Negro and white teams and mixed aggregations.
“Old Yellowhorse played with the Monarchs when they won the first Negro World series, later joined the Detroit Stars and chalked up 26 wins against four defeats to top the circuit.
“Yellowhorse never was a man to let moss grow between his cleats. He pulled out of the motor city and did a two-year stint with the Chicago American Giants, but even Chicago couldn’t hold him.”
The article gives the impression that after leaving the Chicago men, he went on to bigger and better things. That could be a matter of opinion. According to the article, he spent two years “on a mixed team in Wildrose, N.D., and the following two barnstorming with the Gilkerson Union Giants. He called it quits after another year with the Negro House of David nine, named the Van Dykes.
“Since then,” the paper continued, “he made quite a name for himself as a talent scout and developer of raw material in the Bay area. And that’s where the Cubs heard about him.”
In June, the Chicago defender claimed Yellowhorse had jumped to the South Side of the Windy City, scouting for the White Sox? Who was by his side? None other than John Donaldson, the near-mythical king of black baseball in Minnesota and the rest of the upper Midwest, as well as the shining star of the famed All Nations aggregation.
By this time, Morris was also receiving ink in the mainstream press, albeit two decades past his prime as a player. In August 1949, Oakland Tribune sports columnist Emmons Byrne asserted that Morris went through a training camp with a Salt Lake City minor league team: “Chief Yellowhorse had a cup of coffee with the old Salt Lake club” but was released.
Emmons cited Morris as an example of the top quality talent organized baseball on the West Coast missed out on because of segregation, calling him a “top flight flinger.”
Emmons claims that began his pro career in Oakland with hotel owner Steve Pierce’s Colored Giants of West Oakland. When Pierce picked up stakes and bought the Detroit stars, the columnist went one, “Yellowhorse joined him.”
According to Emmons, at the time (1949) Morris was managing a pro team in Florida, “the name of which escapes me.”
After that, Morris drops of the radar and fades into history. I’d love to find out exactly why he was axed by the Van Dykes — or, if maybe was the case, he just bolted, figuring his playing career had fizzled out.
We might never know unless we find a descendant or relative. Which, of course, is a huge recurring theme among Negro League researchers … “If we could only find someone living …”
Next up for the Van Dyke Colored House of David of Sioux City, Iowa: Sandy Thompson, who shows up in 1935 in … New Orleans! I’ll tell about it soon …