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:

Forbes

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

Enjoy!

A macabre tale for Halloween

Philadelphia Inquirer_1940-2-5_p1

Just had this published on philly.com, 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. 🙂

Gentleman Dave comes home

KIC Image

KIC Image 2

A few clips from the Louisiana Weekly in September 1934, when the Chicago American Giants, managed by Louisiana native and NOLA product “Gentleman” Dave Malarcher, came to the Big Easy to play the New Orleans Crescent Stars in a big showdown series.

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, agatetype.typepad.com. 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

Leon_Kellman

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.”

Uh-huh.

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