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.
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.
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?