Some stuff from my files …

Because I’m going through some personal stuff right now, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to write in terms of new stuff over the next few days, maybe a week. However, never fear, I have some items I can post here and there in PDF form.

Just about all of them are articles I submitted over the past few years that were either rejected or just fell into the black hole that is an editor’s desktop. The PDFs are sometimes long, with no pictures or other graphic elements, and many of them are someone dated, i.e. they were written a couple years ago, all of which I apologize for. But I hope you like them anyways. 🙂

The first couple I’m putting up there today have a Mississippi theme. One was gathered from the players and owners panel that took place at the 2012 SABR Jerry Malloy conference in Cleveland, in which Minnie Forbes, the last surviving owner of a major Negro Leagues team, spoke:


This next one I researched and wrote during and after a visit to Jackson, Miss., in 2012. It’s a brief overview of the pre-integration African-American baseball scene in that city and to some extent the entire state of Mississippi:

Jackson Negro Leagues


A macabre tale for Halloween

Philadelphia Inquirer_1940-2-5_p1

Just had this published on, a chilling take for All Hallow’s Eve. It’s about former Negro Leagues player Alex Albritton and his violent death in a Philadelphia mental hospital more than 70 years ago.

There are a handful of thoughts I wanted to add that I couldn’t fit in the story … First off, many thanks to Gary Ashwill for tipping me off to this topic. He, as usual, has been a huge help.

A few other reflections on the Albritton story, many of them stemming from some of the biased contemporary coverage of the day, much of which seemed to place the blame for Albritton’s death on him himself, not the attendant and/or the deplorable conditions and staffing at the hospital. The mainstream coverage also made sure to point out repeatedly that Albritton was a “Negro” without further discussing the obvious racial dynamics and undertones of the incident.

Philadelphia Inquirer_1940-2-6_p6

Many of the articles stress that Albritton was in the violent ward and subtly hint that he almost deserved the beating because he spuriously and without warning broke a heavy broom handle over the attendant’s head, causing a huge gash in the latter’s scalp that needed stitches.

Granted, such biased reporting reflects the general attitude of the media of the day that overall refused to question authority, especially that of government. It also is part of a consistent belief — one that still lingers to this day — that both the mentally ill and African Americans, especially men, are prone to instability and violence almost by nature.

Philadelphia Inquirer_1940-8-24_p13

All articles from 1940 issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer and courtesy Gary Ashwill.

Une raison d’etre

This post really isn’t about actual research or writing or history or anything. It’s about the researchers and writers and historians themselves. And I’ll be as delicate as possible as I write …

As I delve deeper into my still-nascent career as a Negro Leagues journalist and researcher, I’ve had three general goals: have fun, help inform people about the rich history of African Americans (and occasionally other ethnicities — I’m looking at you, Lip Pike) in baseball, and try to make a living.

On the first count, I can unequivocally say I’ve achieved it. On the second count, all I can say is I hope I’ve been able to do even a little bit of good. On the third count … no comment.

“No comment.” I heard that a lot in my previous life as an investigative news reporter. I encountered a lot, too, much of it stuff that made me shiver, feel like I had to take a shower after work, and just shake my head with an ever-growing resigned cynicism.

(And I’m not counting being a huge fan of the Indiana University football team. But doing that has has pretty much the same affect. One bowl invite in 21 seasons! C’mon, how hard is it to win six games?!?!? Six games!)

Yep, much of the work I have done in my journalistic career has made me a die-hard, disenchanted cynic.

I’ve just seen too much greed, fear, selfishness, jealousy and downright paranoia not to be one. I long ago lost any hope and faith in our government, our economic system, our religions, our educational facilities, our law enforcement, our military … pretty much all of society, quite frankly.

That’s what 10 years as an investigative journalist has done to me. Not to get too esoteric, but I’ve lost faith in our species, in humanity itself.

That’s why I had to stop what I was doing. I couldn’t be around any of that anymore, couldn’t write or report about it. It was killing me, and I grew to loathe it. I walked away. Done. I’d been, as the Metallica song says, broken, beat and scarred. And in many ways, it’s been for the rest of my life.

But I found my salvation somewhere. I found a place and a state of mind and a community and a life’s purpose that in many ways brought me back to life, renewed my faith in the possibility of basic human goodness, courage and passion.

The Negro Leagues.

More specifically, researching, writing about and sharing the story of the Negro Leagues. In this pursuit, I’ve found a community of folks who have the joy and the enthusiasm and the togetherness that I’d thought had disappeared completely from our society. There’s an atmosphere of sharing and open-heartedness and charity that has enriched my life and, at least in some small way, renewed my zest in my career and my relationships.

However, every once in a while, I see some of the stuff from my old life seep to the surface. Little flashes of distrust. Touches of envy. Hints of animosity.

These times are very limited in general, mind you, and certainly are compared to the dirty political and business world in which I immersed myself for so long.

But regardless, each time I see such moments, I feel a reflexive twinge of sadness, a fleeting remembrance of my painful past life. And it’s very disheartening.

However, I know that nothing can be a perfect utopia. Such things don’t exist and never will, certainly not on this plane of existence. Even if the Negro Leagues has given me hope in humanity, I know that all of us are, indeed, only human. Nothing and no one existence today is perfect.

And that’s probably a good thing, too. If everything and everyone was perfect, for what would we strive? Toward what goal would we work, what purpose would be have? Imperfection and the challenges it brings are why we live life — to face them and overcome them, then go on to the next challenge.

And regardless of any differences we might have, we are all united in the same purpose: To, shall I say, spread the gospel, the truth, the wonderfulness of the Negro Leagues and the African-American experience in our national pastime.

I should note, nay, stress that the Negro Leagues haven’t been my only source of inspiration and strength. My family, friends and loved ones have kept me afloat, kept me moving forward, kept my spirit up countless times. Without them, I would be nowhere, and for that I am eternally and fervently grateful.

Likewise, though, I’m also unbelievably grateful for everyone who has supported me, encouraged me and just plain befriended me in the Negro Leagues community, and there definitely have been many. I feel so blessed to have come into contact with so many people who exude so much love, support and grace. It’s come close to divinity for me.

It has, quite simply, kept me alive. All of you have. Thank you. 🙂

Bonner … James Bonner

Here’s a pretty intriguing post by Gary Ashwill that talks about Jimmy Bonner, a trailblazing African-American player in Japan that mentions an article I did for SF Weekly. But more importantly, it reveals the complex, interwoven tapestry of baseball among all people of color in the world. It is all indeed connected.

If you don’t already, make a habit of dropping by Gary’s blog, Gary has been a huge help and source of support in my work, for which I am extremely grateful and his his debt.

1947: The Panamanian showdown

Pat Scantlebury 1956

Pat Scantlebury


León Kellman

Many thanks to everyone who contributed names and thoughts to my post pondering whether there were any Negro Leaguers from Panama. I received several names of such players, including León Kellman, Frankie Austin and Pat Scantlebury, and a reader gave me this link to the Center for Negro League Baseball Research.

After doing some initial background reading about the players, I noticed that Kellman and Scantlebury are linked by more than just their native soil: Both of them played in the 1947 Negro World Series. Kellman put on the catcher’s padding for the NAL champion Cleveland Buckeyes, while Scantlebury took the mound for the NNL titlists, the New York Cubans.

The fact that both Kellman and Scantlebury were both top-notch players is indisputable; they both had long careers in the Negro Leagues, the Latin leagues, the minors and, in Scantlebury’s brief case, the majors.
For his part, Kellman received a good deal of credit for helping guide the scrappy Buckeyes to the NAL crown in ’47, an assertion made by, among others, the Cleveland Call and Post’s Jimmie N. Jones in January 1948.

Kellman 1

Aug.10, 1948, Philadelphia Tribune with a photo of Kellman

The following season, Kellman had gained enough respect among his peers that he was selected to play in the East-West All-Star game at the tender age of 24. In reporting the selection, here’s what the New York Amsterdam News had to say about Kellman:

“Kellman is a team player, a quiet lad who goes about his baseball with a minimum of fuss and bother. He can play both third and second and has evenly divided his 1948 play at those two spots. According to the Howe News Bureau, Kellman is batting .329 with 70 hits in 213 at bat [sic] including 15 doubles, 2 homers and 27 runs batted in. Kellman has stolen 10 bases.”

As Kellman aged and matured, his tactical mind and popularity among his teammates made him an on-field leader and one of the emotional hearts of several squads, including the Memphis Red Sox, where he was under the tutelage of the great Goose Curry.

When reporting a rumor that Kellman was going to succeed Curry as the Sox’ manager for the 1953 season, wire service correspondent Sam Brown noted:

“Kellman has been with the Red Sox for the past four years, coming to the Red Sox from the now disbanded Cleveland Buckeyes. He is a sturdy fielder, fair hitter and a canny field judge. Kellman is credited with being the ‘brain trust’ behind the Curry regime. We have not learned just when he will report, but it is understood that he will be on hand in time for a few training sessions before the first game of the training season …”

Scantlebury, meanwhile, had an even higher-profile pitching career as a hurler. It was obviously big news when he played ever-so-briefly with the Cincinnati Reds in the summer of 1956.

But word about his prowess on the mound had leaked into the front offices of the major leagues as early as the late 1940s, peaking in the summer of 1948, when the Indians’ Bill Veeck inked him, along with Henry Miller and Fred Thomas, to tryouts with the Cleveland organization.

KIC Image

The media reports Scantlebury’s signing by the Indians

The three were reportedly scouted by Abe Saperstein, who informed Veeck about the trio. When reporting the news of the inking of the three, the Call and Post noted that although Scantlebury was already advancing in age — despite a few fibs on the pitcher’s part, Scantlebury was 30 at the time — he could still be a bankable big-league player, penned legendary scribe Doc Young in June 1948, just after the signing.
The Amsterdam News’ Joe Bostic was even more effusive when lauding Scantlebury — whom Bostic had covered often because of the pitcher’s place on the New York Cubans’ roster — after the Indians’ made their move:

“Scantlebury is one of those baseball rarities — a pitcher who is a feared batsman. Because of his proficiency and effectiveness with the willow, he has been the ‘workhouse’ of the Cuban club for the past three years. There was scarcely a game that didn’t contain the name of ‘Scantlebury’ in the box score either as a pitcher or pinch hitter. …

“Standing six feet one inch and weighing 187 pounds, Pat is a big man — and a strong one. Aside from his natural ability, ballplayers respect him as a great competitor. He is superb in the clutches. …”

But then Bostic penned a paragraph that wonderfully linked Scantlebury to his fellow Panamanian:

“Pitching against major league batters won’t be a new experience for [Scantlebury]. He toed the rubber against the Yankees during the ’45 training season and met the Dodgers in ’46. Although he has pitched against the likes of DiMaggio, Keller, Walker and Josh Gibson, he rates Leon Kellman of the Cleveland Buckeyes as the ‘toughest batter I ever faced.’”

Talk about ideal dovetailing for the purposes of this blog post. 🙂

Scantlebury unfortunately didn’t stick with the Tribe, but his praise of Kellman was no doubt inspired at least partly by his showdowns with Kellman during the previous year’s Negro World Series, in which Scantlebury, as a New York Cuban, hurled against the latter, a member of the Cleveland Buckeyes.

The 1947 World Series was hyped up by the media, even though it looked, to the unbiased observer, that the Cubans simply had the stronger team. In fact, Doc Young (who, as a Cleveland Call and Post writer, might have been a little biased) picked the Bucks to win the series in a Sept. 20 article:

“Taken on their league records, the Buckeyes should prove to be the more impressive of the teams. They own a sensational season’s average of .701 … They won the [NAL] pennant early in September with an 8 1/2-game lead. … On the other hand, the Cubans had to fight until last week to clinch the flag in their league with a record of 36-18. …”

Alas, though, the Cubans defied Doc’s prognostication and won the series and the blackball crown, four games to one. But, funny enough, the Call and Post excused its hometown team from the drubbing:

“Although the Buckeyes were far in front in the American League, they gave the impression that they weren’t too much interested in winning either the Series or the late-season ‘exhibitions’ with National League clubs.”


Nevertheless, the kismet of two natives of Panama playing against each other for the big crown was pretty sweet, I must say, especially given how the careers of both Kellman and Scantlebury had them each traveling hither and yon quite frequently. The fact that their trajectories crossed paths in the fall of 1947 was kind of remarkable, don’t you think?

KIC Image

Iron Claw unchained

As I’ve stated probably too many times before, I’ve become enraptured by the fascinating but rather arcane tale of NOLA’s Edgar “Iron Claw” Populus, a one-armed pitcher who for an ever-so-brief time in the early 1930s was the king of the hill in New Orleans blackball.

This post and this post try to fill in the background of Populus’ life, career, ancestry and heritage. I’m continuing to uncover so much quite cool stuff as I dig further into the Populus past.

What I’ve found is a family tree of biracial/mixed race — or “mulatto” or “Creole” in the parlance of the day — that stretches back into slavery in the mid-18th century before the early biracial Populuses (Populi?) were freed by their masters circa 1775 and began lives as quite successful free blacks.

In fact, at least two of Iron Claw’s direct ancestors fought for their country in the Army, including one slave-turned-trailblazing War of 1812 major. But those yarns are for ensuing posts.

Today, I’m going to talk about the Claw himself; specifically, his breakthrough pitching season of 1931, when he seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate opposing batters on the semipro diamonds of the Crescent City. But Edgar didn’t just mop the floor on the mound; he was also apparently quite a capable hitter who could crush ’em for extra bases on occasion.

The story — or at least the one the public knew — starts in late May of that season, when Populus took the hill for the Southern Stars. I’ll let the May 30, 1931, Louisiana Weekly take it from there:

“Thousands of fans stood spellbound Sunday afternoon while Edgar ‘Iron Claw’ Populus stood the Corpus Christi Giants up with two scattered hits and shut them out 8 to 0 … on the Corpus Christi grounds.

“The one-armed pitcher gave up three walks and contributing to his team’s battery movements by clouting a triple.”

Iron Claw whiffed seven in his coming-out party as well.

A week later, Iron Claw pretty much duplicated his breakout debut, but this time he did it on behalf of his previous week’s foe, Corpus Christi, which was apparently sufficiently wowed by what they saw to lure him away from the Stars. This time, Populus obliterated the Tiger Lilies 9-0 in the second game of a four-team doubleheader. Sayeth the Weekly:

“In calsomining the Tiger Lilies 9 to 0, Edgar ‘Iron Claw’ Populus hung up his second straight shut-out victory in a week. …

“Populus stood the Lillienes up with four scatetred [sic] hits while his mates accounted for a trio of bobbles.”

By now Iron Claw was being pulled every which way by a bunch of teams clamoring for his suddenly scorching-hot services. A week after leading Corpus Christi, he was back with the Southern Stars in a tilt against St. Raymond Giants.

The Louisiana Weekly, in previewing the feature contest, penned that “… Populus, the one-armed shut-out artist, will attempt to feed goose eggs to the hard hitting Saints. Populus will take the hill in behalf of the Southern Stars who will attempt to halt the win streak of the Giants while the Stars have a little chain of victories of their own they are nursing …”

What resulted in the clash was a draining, bang-up pitchers’ duel between Edgar and the Saints’ “Eagle” Lambert, a tooth-and-nail hurling battle to went into extra frames, ending in the 10th with a 3-2 St. Raymond triumph.

To quoteth the June 20, 1931, Weekly:

“Whew! What a duel ‘The Eagle’ Lambert and ‘Iron Claw’ Populus staged in St. Raymond Park Sunday afternoon.

“Both of them struck out a dozen men in ten innings and neither team secured more than eight hits. …

“Populus, who has turned out to be a real shut-out artist in these parts lately, started out as though he would attach another whitewash victim to his long chain when in the seventh inning he had not as yet allowed the Saints to chalk up a run against him, while his team held a 2 run lead.”

That’s when St. Raymond, who had previously made a habit of tallying runs in the seventh stanza, pushed two runners across the plate. But then both Populus and Lambert clamped down again, and the hurlers’ scuffle was back on, said the Weekly:

“During the remaining two and a half innings the spectators saw as brilliant a duel as could be asked for in anybody’s park. ‘The Eagle’ and the ‘Iron Claw’ settled down to the task of shutting out the opposition until their mates could get on to the other’s delivery.”

But in the end, it was the opposing thrower, Lambert, that cracked the game-winning, RBI double in the bottom of the 10th.

The loss left Iron Claw burning for a rematch against the Giants, and he got it a week later. And once again, it was nothing less than a spectacular pitching exhibition.

This time, it took 13 innings to decide the outcome of a duel between the Stars’ Populus and the Saints’ Harry Roth that had Louisiana Weekly sports editor Earl M. Wright calling the clash the best he had seen all season.

The game was a see-saw battle, and Iron Claw got into some serious trouble once or twice but managed to work his way out of it relatively unscathed. He also managed to produce an RBI double at the plate.

Unfortunately, the microfilm version of the June 27, 1931, Weekly darkens out Wright’s article on the contest to a large extent, making it difficult to discern exactly how the whole conflagration concluded. But from what I could tell, the Stars, despite the fact that Roth and Iron Claw were still in close-to-peak form, apparently successfully insisted that the game be called after 13 innings with a 2-2 deadlock.

But the result amongst the populace — pun possibly intended 🙂 — was the growing legend of the Iron Claw, who had proved himself capable of both pitching shut outs and lasting steadily through marathon, extra-inning contests.

By mid- to late-July 1931, none other than the mighty New Orleans Black Pelicans were seeking Populus out, and they successfully landed his services for what appeared to be the rest of the summer.

By that time the Black Pels had been reformed from the core of Welsh’s Travelers, a successful barnstorming aggregation that was headed by a familiar face (and spelled incorrectly): Winfield Welch. On a July Sunday evening, the Pels crossed bats with a foe familiar to the Iron Claw — St. Raymond — for an historic occasion: The first night game in NOLA between two “race” teams.

And the Welshies didn’t waste time — they locked up a 4-1 triumph in just one hour, 40 minutes. Iron Claw turned in his usual steady, crafty performance, reported the Weekly:

“‘Iron Claw’ Populus, on the hill for the Pels, gave up a half dozen bingles, but scattered them so well among the Saints that he was endangered but twice, in the sixth and seventh frames.”

Eagle Lambert proved the luckless loser, handcuffing the Pel batters to just three hits, but they were all doubles, and the defense behind him was, well, stinky. The game was also marked by the tossing of St. Raymond manager Herman Roth by the umpire after the skipper heatedly contested a controversial call. Roth got so honked off that he threw the elderly ump to the ground.

In the same week, Welch, the Black Pels’ manager, used Edgar Populus in relief during a game started disastrously by Iron Claw’s older brother, Adam, who gave up four runs in six innings. That doesn’t seem too bad, especially given that at the time Adam was yanked by Welch, the Pels were only down 4-3 to Corpus Christi. But, reported the Weekly:

“… ‘Lucky’ Welsh rushed ‘Iron Claw’ Populus, brother of Adam, to the hill and the one-armed boy stopped the (Big Hits’) rally as dead as a bag of door nails.”

Corpus Christi outhit the Pels, but Iron Claw scattered the hits he gave up well, and in the end the Pelicans’ George Collins walloped a game-winning round-tripper to hand his team, and Iron Claw in relief, the 5-4 victory.

The last time in 1931 that Edgar Populus appears prominently in the Louisiana Weekly was the Aug. 15 issue, which covered the Black Pels’ slugfest victory over the Melpomene White Sox, a local sandlot squad. Populus coughed up seven hits, but fortunately his mates banged out 20 of their own to pile up 22 runs in two innings in a 22-5 win. The Sox, who were basically an amateur team based out of the Melpomene neighborhood, were simply outclassed by “‘Lucky’ Welsh” and his mighty lineup.

From there, Iron Claw’s baseball career gets cloudy, and eventually his life deteriorated into a series of encounters with the law and other difficulties. But for one glorious summer, he was the ruler of NOLA blackball, a virtual Zulu King of the national pastime.

My next post or two will now take another look into the Populus family’s distinct, intriguing Creole past, particularly the war service of two of Iron Claw’s direct ancestors.

Otha Bailey: The imprecise nature of Negro Leagues research


As I noted in my previous post, I’m working on an article for Alabama Living magazine about lesser-known Negro Leagues players from that state. One of the figures on which I’m focusing is Otha Bailey, a catcher who had a roughly decade-long run in the Negro bigs from the late 1940s to the late 1950s.

From what I can gather, Bailey was often a back up to other, higher-profile backstops in the Negro Leagues, including to Pepper Bassett with the Birmingham Black Barons in early 1952. But he did begin to come into his own as he matured, including later in the ’52 campaign, when Negro Leagues kingpin, NAL president and newspaper columnist J.B. Martin gushed about him in a June 1952 article:

“There is one young man, however. who I think will soon be the best backstop in the league. The folks down in Birmingham, Ala., tell me that he already is the greatest in the loop.

“Whether you’re from Birmingham or some other city, I think you probably should be sure to watch this player in action. His playing is amazing for a young fellow. This backstop who is catching the fancy of the fans is Otha Bailey of the Birmingham Black Barons.

“According to the latest batting averages he rates in a three-way tie for seventh in batting in the NAL with an average of .333. Figures on his stick work, however, do not tell the real story of his value to his team.

“Bailey is outstanding for his fiery spirit and hustle. He has a strong throwing arm which cuts down a base runner trying to steal. …

“A native of Huntsville, Ala., [sic], Bailey is only 21 years old. Last year he caught for the New Orleans Eagles. Bailey is a squat 5 feet 7 inches and weighs 1t5 pounds. He hit .278 with the Eagles in 1951.

“Now, this player should some day be a great star. I like players with fire and hustle. They can inspire their teammates to great things. …

“If he keeps up his early form, I am sure Bailey will be one of the stars you see on the field if you come to Comiskey Park in Chicago, Sunday, Aug. 17, for the East-West game.”

Martin’s prophecy did indeed come true — Bailey suited up as the starting catcher for the East team that August, and he ended up have a mixed day. He cracked a doubled at the bat and drove in a run, but he also allowed two passed balls behind the plate in the East’s 7-3 defeat in front of 18,000-plus fans.

Unfortunately, Bailey passed away on Sept. 17, 2013, in Birmingham. Hundreds of mourners reportedly jammed Rising Star Baptist Church in the city to, as reporter Bryant Somerville of ABC 33/40 wrote four days later, “say a final goodbye to one of the original Negro League baseball players.”


But here’s the catch — and that’s not an intentional play on words on Bailey’s nickname, “Little Catch,” which he earned from teammate because of his small but scrappy nature. It’s been impossible to pin down Bailey’s precise birthdate; a host of different sources list wildly differing dates.

The obituary his family provided to the Birmingham News/ states it as June 30, 1930, a figure backed up by But the U.S. Public Records Index pegs it at June 6, 1933, and the Social Security office lists it as June 29, 1928! Then, finally, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s online bio of him gives a date of … June 30, 1920!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t immediately find a direct birth record online as of now, so the mystery will have to remain. But what isn’t a mystery is that Little Catch loved the sport, and it loved him back. Pretty cool.

“That was his passion”


I’m working on a story about lesser-known Negro Leagues stars from Alabama for Alabama Living magazine in recognition of the new museum being built in Birmingham. (I’ll comment soon on whether this new facility will take away from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.)

While working on the article, I’m shining a little spotlight on Clifford DuBose, who played for the Memphis Red Sox and Birmingham Black Barons in the late 1950s, just before the final demise of the Negro American League. DuBose was from Montevallo, Ala., current population just under 5,000.

I just discovered that, unfortunately, Mr. DuBose recently passed, but I was able to speak with his brother, Glover, for a few minutes this past weekend. Glover was extremely effusive in praising his brother’s brief Negro Leagues career and his love of America’s pastime. Glover noted that Clifford was especially proud of his long post-professional tenure as a sandlot and Little League coach and volunteer.

“That was such a big thing going for him,” Glover said of Clifford’s time in the Negro bigs and beyond. “He was always a baseball man. That was his passion, baseball.”

That pretty much sums up in a nutshell how so many Negro Leaguers felt about the game. Wonderful. 🙂