A Tiger before a Giant


In honor of Super Bowl Sunday tomorrow, I thought I’d put up a little football-related post …

While doing research on an upcoming article for Pennsylvania Magazine, I came across a semipro team called the Main Line Tigers, who appear to have existed in various forms in the Philadelphia area for at least a couple decades spanning the 1920s to the 1940s.

In June 1946, the Philadelphia Tribune reported on the Tigers’ 7-6 win over the Havorford Cubs on the Bryn Mawr Polo Grounds on Memorial Day. Among the stars for the Tigers that day was … Pro Football Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell!

In addition to eventually being a superb defensive back for the New York football Giants, Tunnell also excelled in baseball for Radnor High and the Coast Guard.

I couldn’t find any more references in the Tribune’s archives to Tunnell playing for the Main Line Tigers, but the fact that he was a good enough baseball player to compete for a semipro team reflects the kind of superb, all-around athlete Tunnell was.

I haven’t had a chance to do extensive research and reading about the Main Line community in Philadelphia and the social context in which the Tigers played, nor Tunnell’s youth and background, but a cursory search shows that the “Main Line” string of communities in suburban Philly earned its name from the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which shoots in a northwest direction from downtown Philadelphia.

The “Main Line” communities include Lower Merion Township, Radnor Township, Gladwyne and Villanova, which apparently are among the wealthiest communities not only in Philly but in the entire country.

Encompassing parts of some of those townships along the Main Line is the census-designated place of Bryn Mawr, Tunnell’s native community — and one featuring average family incomes well over $100,000 and home values approaching $900,000 on average.


Downtown Bryn Mawr

Other Bryn Mawr natives or one-time residents are everyone from entertainers like Katharine Hepburn, Teddy Pendergrass, Jim Croce, Jayne Mansfield, Kat Dennings (hubba hubba!) and one of my absolute fave musicians, Warren Zevon, to politicians like longtime Michigan Senator Philip A. Hart, Congressman and diplomat Richard Swett, and none other than President Woodrow Wilson.

Radnor High School, Tunnell’s prep alma mater, is one of the best public high schools in the country and one that has been integrated for a long time, apparently including Tunnell’s time there in the early 1940s.

Tunnell was from the Radnor Township neighborhood of Garrett Hill, which seems to be very different from other Bryn Mawr and Main Line communities in that it’s decidedly working class and industrialized. It also has long been integrated, including during Tunnell’s youth.

According to a September 1966 article on Tunnell in the Philadelphia Tribune:

“Tunnell was a pretty good athlete as a kid. He played baseball, basketball and football at Garrett Hill, Pa., a place that never used the word ‘integrated.’ In those days everyone lived together — Irish, Italians, Germans, English, Negroes, you name it.”

The article then refers to Tunnell’s “fun, but poor life, on the Main Line …”

Much of Tunnell’s background is doubtlessly filled in by his 1966 autobiography, “Footsteps of a Giant,” but I haven’t been able to get my hands and/or eyes on a copy of the book. I’m also sure football historians and Giants fans also might know more about Tunnell’s youth and adolescence.

But from what limited info I have, it all begs the question of whether the Main Line Tigers might, by some chance, have been integrated, or at least played against white teams. Again, Tunnell’s autobiography and/or football historians could know such things, so to a large extent I’d defer to them.

But for now, it’s still quite intriguing. Anyone know more about this?

Fantastic news … and how the Barrows got their name


Wesley Barrow’s as-yet unmarked grave

All kinds of landmarks events coming in today! One, this is officially my 200th post on this humble little blog. But even more importantly, Gretna City Councilman Milton Crosby reported to me that the Wesley Barrow grave marker is at last ordered and on its way!

We still have a fair ways to go to fulfilling this project — we may need a little more money for the final payment when the stone arrives, we still have to get it in the ground at New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Gretna, and we need to schedule and promote an official dedication ceremony — but at long last the ball is moving forward and, God willing, our plans and hopes will soon come to fruition with proper recognition for a New Orleans Negro League legend.

In honor of this development, I’m going to do a post about a key and fascinating part of Wesley Barrow’s life — his residence on and work at the Georgia Plantation, a massive sugar cane-growing enterprise in Lafourche Parish.

Wesley Barrow’s family traces back to a clan of sharecroppers in West Baton Rouge Parish, with Parker Barrow as the patriarch, at least after the family emerged from slavery after the Civil War. Parker, né circa 1845, had prodigious progeny — at least nine kids, by my count so far — including Wesley Barrow Sr, who eventually established his own family in the parish. That family included Wesley Barrow Jr., the man who would become the NOLA baseball guru.

This is where the story gets paradoxically both convoluted and revelatory. How did the African-American Barrows get their surname, and how did Wesley Barrow Jr. end up toiling at the Georgia sugar plantation all the way down in Lafourche Parish?

Let’s start with Wesley Barrow Jr.’s World War I draft card, which, in addition to misspelling his name as “Westley,” indicates that he is indeed a Junior. His birthdate is listed as Nov. 11, 1899, although that conflicts with existing Social Security Records, which list it as Nov. 11, 1900. That’s a quibble in relation to this tale, however.


On the draft card, dated Sept. 12, 1918, Wesley lists his address simply as “Mathews, La.,” occupation as “field laborer,” his employer as “C.S. Mathews” and his his place of employment as “Mathews, La.”

Enter the backstory …

“C.S. Mathews” would be wealthy planter Charles S. Mathews, who belonged to an aristocratic family that dated back to George Mathews (1739-1812), a general in the Revolutionary War whose son, Judge George Mathews, served first as a justice of the Superior Court of Louisiana Territory, then as a justice on the state of Louisiana Supreme Court.


Georgia Plantation token

The Mathews family was apparently held in such high esteem that it had an entire town named after it in Lafourche Parish, located on Bayou Lafourche. That’s where Wesley Barrow and his kindred dwelled in the 1910s, on a plantation overseen by the white Mathews family for generations, culminating in the early 20th century with Charles S. Mathews and his mother, Penelope.

The Mathews family owned numerous plantations, including the Butler-Greenwood in West Feliciana Parish, Coco Bend and Chaseland on the Red River in Rapides Parish, and Georgia Plantation near Raceland in Lafourche Parish. Because Raceland is adjacent to modern-day Mathews, it was most likely, then, on Georgia Plantation that Wesley Barrow’s family toiled as sharecroppers.

The 1920 federal Census — the one taken less than two years after Wesley Barrow signed his draft card — seems to document the population of the massive Georgia Plantation in Lafourche.

Fifty-seven-year-old Charles S. Mathews is listed as residing in the seventh ward of Lafourche Parish, along with his 41-year old wife, Kathleen. Charles’ occupation is listed as “owner” of a “plantation.” Living next to him is an Edward Dickinson, a white man who’s the manager of the plantation.


Bayou Lafourche

There’s also hints that life on the plantation was, shall we say, colorful; on the same listing page as Mathews and Dickinson. The sprawling farm business housed a carnival troupe complete with a manager and “showmen”; a wrestler and printer for a “show”; a pilot of a showboat; stenographers, engineers, teachers and a “timekeeper”; and a manager of a general store. All of those residents are white and clustered around the Mathews residence.

But the vast majority of the people listed on the plantation are laborers either in the fields or in a sugar refinery, and most of those residents are black, with all of them in effect being sharecroppers.

Scattered among these field hands are a handful of Barrow residences, although none of them list either Wesley Barrow Sr. or Jr. However, 55-year-old Wesley Senior is stated on the 1930 Census on the Lafourche plantation as a “laborer” and a “sugar planter.”

The 1910 Census, though, could be even more revelatory in terms of how the Wesley Barrow family got its surname, because the documentation of the Georgia Plantation in Lafourche Parish that year lists both Mathewses and Barrows of both races together in the same household or living close to each other. Such a condition again presents evidence that slaveowners — and, after the war, wealthy white plantation owners — produced offspring of mixed-race heritages.


Butler Greenwood Plantation house

That linking originated at the Butler Greenwood Plantation in West Feliciana Parish; while that operation was owned and managed by the Mathews family — it was, in fact, the Mathews’ family’s primary business — it apparently also featured well-off white planters springing from Robert Hilliard Sr., who was born in 1795 and died in 1823, leaving a young widow, the former Eliza Pirrie.

The bloodline continued with Robert Hilliard Barrow Jr., a colonel in the Army who lived from 1824 to 1878 in West Feliciana Parish. Col. R.H. Barrow Jr. married his cousin, Mary Eliza Barrow, who was originally from Edgecombe County in North Carolina.

The Hilliard Barrow family tree eventually led to the highly decorated Gen. Robert Hilliard Barrow, the 27th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps who died in 2008 after growing up on his own family’s plantation in West Feliciana near St. Francisville.

But way back in 1850, the Census lists Col. Robert Hilliard Barrow Jr. and family living in West Feliciana Parish. R.H. Barrow is listed as a “planter” who owns a whopping $220,000 of real estate, which, accounting for inflation, translates to more than $6 million today. Listed on the same page are two other Barrow “planters,” Bartholomew, who owns $3,000 of real estate; and David, who possesses an incredible $300,000 of land, or nearly $8.2 million today.

By the time the 1860 Census rolled around on the eve of the Civil War, the Barrows had massively expanded their economic empire near St. Francisville. R.H. Barrow owns $126,000 in real estate and a staggering $326,000 in personal property, which in all likelihood includes numerous slaves. Meanwhile, David Barrow is obscenely wealthy for his era, owning a total of more than $1.5 million in property, or a massive $38.3 million in today’s dollars.


Tangentially, later Census reports bear out the fact that the white Barrow clan mixed with their slaves and, later, women sharecroppers. For example, in 1900 in West Feliciana, a white family headed by Robert Barrow lives right next door to a black family with a James Barrow as patriarch. In the 1920 counting, West Feliciana includes two families next to each other, one a Barrow clan, the other Hilliards. Most of the members of both families are listed as mulatto. Finally, in 1930 a “Negro” family headed by one Hilliard Barrow is living in West Feliciana.

With the wealthy white Barrow men producing mixed-race children with their slaves, the black Barrow bloodline begins, resulting in, among other strains, the one starting with Parker Barrow and running through Wesley Barrow Sr. to Wesley Barrow Jr.

The clan apparently migrated to West Baton Rouge Parish, where Parker Barrow laid down what seems to be lifelong routes. However, the family of one of his offspring, Wesley Barrow Sr., then moved to the Georgia Plantation in Lafourche Parish, where Wesley Sr. stayed as late as 1930, when that Census lists him as a laborer on the sugar plantation.

Wesley Jr. worked on the plantation well into his teens, but he eventually migrated to the big city of New Orleans, perhaps in search of better employment and, hopefully, a little baseball. When he arrived in NOLA, he lived for a time as a boarder in the city of Gretna on the Westbank and toiling as a common laborer before hopping across the river to Socrates Street in New Orleans in the early 1930s.

And that, my friends, is where the story of Wesley Barrow Jr.’s long life, career and legend in NOLA began. But that is a long, lovely tale that must be told later … Perhaps when we have a grave marker dedication celebration!

Progress on Ed Stone … kind of

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June 27, 1942, New Journal and Guide clip

Have I made any progress on the Ed Stone story? Well, yes and no. Am I any closer to figuring out when, where and/or how he died as well as where he’s buried? Nope. That’s the bad news.

The good news is I’m definitely getting movement on filling in his background, both in terms of roots and ancestry, as well as his playing career. In fact, on that count, I’ve found a pretty fair amount of stuff, so much so that it might take two posts.

So, first things first. I did an e-mail interview with scholar and author Neil Lanctot, who kind of specializes in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic Negro Leagues. If was a somewhat clipped interview because, as he wrote me, “I don’t know much about Stone.”

“He was not a star in the Negro Leagues,” Lanctot added, “but he was obviously a solid ballplayer — he was recruited to play in Mexico, which was basically AAA-level baseball.”

Lanctot added that Stone worked in a defense plant during WWII while also playing baseball, and that he reportedly went to Howard High School in Wilmington. (That’s something I’ll try to look into.)

As far as Stone’s playing career, the only thing Neil could really offer was that in 1942 — the year of the newspaper clip above — he earned $185 with the Newark Eagles, compared to the team’s highest-paid player, the one and only Willie Wells, who cashed in $275 a month.

Then there was the big question I asked Lanctot: Do you have any knowledge of the details of Stone’s death and/or burial? Neil said, unfortunately, that he did not.

So it looks like I’m running out of options to find out the ultimate fate of Edward Stone, outfielder in the Negro Leagues, especially because I’ve failed in my attempts to get in touch with either of his sons.

So in the meantime, I’ve done some more database research about Ed Stone, including his family history and his playing career. In this post, I’ll take some snapshots from his time on the diamond.

One pretty cool things I found out is that Stone’s paid baseball career might have started earlier than I thought, and not in Wilmington. Previously, my first sighting of Stone — or a guy I assume to be him — is in a May 1932 article in the Philadelphia Tribune about the Wilmington Hornets’ 22-15 loss to a team called the Bartram Artisans. The third slot in the Hornets’ lineup is filled by a center fielder named Stone, who tallied one hit and one run.

But it looks like the Wilmington native’s career began at least a year earlier, in 1931, with the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City. That would have made Stone just 21 or so at the time.

A July 1931 story in the New York Amsterdam News features a report on the Bees’ 4-2 loss to Hilldale, in which the New Jersey squad’s center fielder and leadoff hitter is named Stone (who cracked two hits and scored a run in the contest). The same man also appears to be listed in an article in the Tribune a month later about the Bacharachs’ 7-4 triumph over the North Phillies in which Stone goes hitless but scores a run.


Then, in January 1932, Pittsburgh Courier columnist Rollo Wilson pegs an outfielder named Stone preparing to suit up for a revitalized Harrisburg Giants team being assembled by Col. William Strothers. However, later articles from 1932 list a player named Stone manning the infield, not the outer garden. In addition, 1932 features multiple articles including center fielder Stone back with the Wilmington Hornets batting clean up.

The calendar then leafs over to May 1933, with more proof that Ed Stone started his pro career in Atlantic City. A report in the Philly Trib describes the formation of an aggregation called the Wilmington Giants, who are “composed of players from the Bacharachs, Philadelphia Giants, Newton Coal Company, Lincoln University, Delaware City Monarchs, and many of the original Hornets.”

It adds, “The team boasts of such veterans of the game as Naylor of Lincoln University, Stone and Loatman of the Bacharachs” and a bunch of other seasoned players. The likelihood that this Stone is indeed Ed Stone is fairly high, given that he’d be playing for his hometown team of Wilmington. The article would thus link Ed Stone somewhat conclusively to the Bacharach Giants.

But the Wilmington Giants apparently didn’t last very long, or at least center fielder Stone hopped back to the Wilmington Hornets within a month later, because he’s listed in a Tribune cover of a Hornets’ victory over Enoch Johnson‘s All Stars.

What’s pretty cool, though, is that, according to a June 10, 1933, column by Wilson, the Hornets are managed by none other than the Ghost himself, Oliver Marcell, who, claims an article subhead, is “Putting Wilmington on [the] Map.” Along with asserting that the new gig has revitalized Marcell and his career, it also pegs “Eddie Stone” as a member.

Stone’s presence on the Hornets’ roster is confirmed in a Baltimore Afro-American article that same day, a reportage of the Wilmington team’s embarrassing 8-2 defeat at the hands of the Johnson Stars. Stone, though, led his squad with two hits.

But then, of course, we have more team-hopping: Just a couple weeks later, the Philadelphia paper includes a left fielder named Stone in the lineup for the Bacharachs in their upcoming five-game set with the Hilldales. By now it’s starting to get tough to track Stone’s team-hopping, but in August 1933 Stone slashed three hits in the Atlantic City squad’s 8-0 whitewashing of a team from Salem.

From there, Stone’s Negro Leagues career took off, beginning with a fairly lengthy — well, at least for him — stint with the Brooklyn-turned-Newark Eagles. In an ensuing post, perhaps this weekend, I’ll take a look at Stone’s notorious reputation for bailing on Stateside teams and heading south of the border to play, where he made more money and received more respect than he ever could staying in the States.

A very warm welcoming … and a pop quiz


I’m cooking up another something about Ed Stone that I’ll try very hard to post on Monday. My article for Delaware Today magazine is do a week later, so I better get moving on this stuff anyway.

But tonight I want to report on the incredible meeting today of the Pelican-Schott chapter of SABR on National SABR Day. This was my second chapter since joining SABR, and it couldn’t have gone better. I and my Negro Leagues rabble-rousing have been roundly met with open arms, intrigued visages and lively discussions. I even gave a Negro Leagues quiz, which I’ll attach to the end of this post for anyone interested in trying their luck. Today most of the other chapter members, well, bombed the quiz, but then again, I bombed Brother Neal’s quiz as well.

I also told the group about the efforts to put a marker on Wesley Barrow’s grave, and everyone was thrilled and impressed that that was happening. After the meeting, one member offered additional financial help, and chapter President Derby Gisclair — who, despite being a Yankees fan, was sporting a Cubbies hat in honor of Ernie — said to keep chapter members updated so the group can take part in the dedication ceremony.

I was also playfully yet forcefully challenged to put my money where my mouth is and bring in concrete stats for Negro Leaguers so they can be compared to those of MLB players. I then, in a group email, later admitted that stats, as Austin Powers might say, aren’t my bag, baby. I’m more fascinated by the social conditions that have always swirled around and influenced Negro Leagues history greatly. My focus on this, I think, is well represented by this recent post I did about the county in Mississippi that was home to recently deceased Negro Leaguer Henry Presswood and how it had a well known reputation for lynchings, so much so that it was dubbed “Bloody Kemper.”

I should quickly note that the chapter members who, as one later perfectly termed in an email, “threw down the gauntlet” and challenged me about stats were the same ones who also went out of their way to thank me for my refreshing contributions to a group that they admitted had previously been painfully devoid of any talk about the Negro Leagues.

That’s probably what I liked the most about today’s meeting — it was both welcoming and challenging. I’m also unbelievably amazed by how much these guys know the game of baseball. It blows me away and impresses me incredibly. At times during the meeting today it was hard for me not to feel a little intimated by their knowledge and understanding of the sport. In short, and to use francais, these guys know their s***, and it’s already challenged me to up my game and bring it like they do every meeting. And I love it, because being around them will, quite simply, make me a better historian and journalist, and for that, I am already deeply grateful and indebted to them. Thanks, my new friends. 🙂

Finally, after the meeting Derby and I discussed how the Zephyrs definitely want to make a concerted effort to get more Negro League figures in the Zephyrs-sponsored New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, and they want to work with me closely on coming up with a list of first-year Negro Leaguers nominees. My initial thoughts … Allen Page, Oliver Marcell, Johnny Wright, Dave Malarcher, J.B. Spencer, Winfield Welch and, of course, Wesley Barrow. We’ll see what happens in the near future.

OK, enough self-indulgent rambling — here’s that quiz I gave the group this morning. The first six questions are ones about the nationwide Negro Leagues scene, and the second half-dozen are about NOLA and Louisiana Negro Leaguers. So … how well will you do? Answers next week …

1. What team won 10 Negro National League titles between 1937 and 1948?
a. Pittsburgh Crawfords
b. Birmingham Black Barons
c. Homestead Grays
d. Chicago American Giants

2. What notorious racketeer and numbers runner built the Pittsburgh Crawfords into a pennant-winner?
a. Gus Greenlee
b. Rube Foster
c. Ed Bolden
d. Cum Posey

3. What late Negro Leagues great was the very first “beneficiary” of the now nationally known Negro League Baseball Grave Marker Project?
a. Jimmie Crutchfield
b. Sol White
c. Mule Suttles
d. Spottswood Poles

4. What was Hall of Famer Willie Wells’ best-known nickname?
a. Ese Hombre
b. Cool Papa
c. The Black Ty Cobb
d. El Diablo

5. What Hall of Fame great did Buck O’Neil name as the greatest player he ever saw, regardless of color, league or time period?
a. Josh Gibson
b. Dick Redding
c. Pete Hill
d. Oscar Charleston

6. In which city was the first Negro National League launched in 1920?
a. Chicago
b. Kansas City
c. Philadelphia
d. Pittsburgh

1. What NOLA-based team claimed the “national colored championship” in 1888?
a. Pinchbacks
b. Dumonts
c. Cohens
d. Crescents

2. Who was the hotel owner who became NOLA’s greatest 20th century African-American baseball promoter, team owner and executive?
a. Wesley Barrow
b. Allen Page
c. Fred Norris
d. Walter Cohen

3. What Napoleonville, La., native managed the Birmingham Black Barons to two Negro American League pennants in the 1940s?
a. Winfield Welch
b. Wesley Barrow
c. Pete Robertson
d. Willard Brown

4. Which New Orleans University alum succeeded the great Rube Foster as manager of the Chicago American Giants?
a. Oliver Marcell
b. Allen Page
c. Winfield Welch
d. Dave Malarcher

5. Which team won the 1933 Negro Southern League title?
a. New Orleans Creoles
b. New Orleans Black Pelicans
c. New Orleans Crescent Stars
d. Algiers Giants

With what team did Algiers native Herb Simpson integrate the Single-A Western International League in 1952?
a. Spokane Indians
b. Seattle Rainiers
c. Portland Rosebuds
d. Victoria Athletics

A tribute to El Diablo


Editor’s note: Thursday is the 26th anniversary of the death of Hall of Famer and Negro League legend Willie Wells. In honor of the day and of the man, the following is a short essay by my dear friend Rodney Page, the son of an unsung black baseball legend in his own right — New Orleans promoter, team owner and executive Allen Page. Allen Page and Willie Wells were themselves close friends, and in this commentary, Rodney, who now lives in Willie Wells’ hometown of Austin, speaks of himself meeting Wells and being privy to an amazing conversation between Willie and Allen. Many thanks to Rodney for doing this and digging deep into his memory and his heart.

Willie Wells

A Personal Story – A Forever Memory
“Good – Better – Best.” Those were the words Stella Wells said her father, Willie Wells, often spoke. “You always do your best!” was the strongest memory of her father’s words.  Those were the words spoken to me on a personal visit I shared with then-91-year-old Stella Wells, the only daughter of Willie Wells, on June 17, 2013 in Austin, Texas. Keeping her father’s memory alive drives her life. Her stories and memories of her dad inspired me greatly that day. That inspiration continues in my life on a more frequent basis as I continue to research and uncover much about my father, Allen Page, and his contributions to Negro League baseball and his overall legacy.

Willie Wells and Allen Page will always be connected in my heart and mind as a result of a day in the heat of June 1977 (unfortunately I do not remember the exact date) when I took my father, Allen Page, to visit Willie Wells at his home on Newton Street in Austin.

My dad was passing through Austin from Los Angeles on his way to Mississippi to visit his birthplace and kin. There had been recent newspaper articles about Willie Wells and his Negro League baseball exploits, and I assumed that he and my father knew each other, and yes, they did.

The knock on the doorframe was barely a tap as the door and windows were open. It was a very quaint house without air condition. It was the home of a Negro League legend. More importantly, it was the home of a man of great presence, intelligence and wisdom. That day has instilled in me one of the strongest, most powerful memories of my life, as I draw on it so often. It also gave me a glimpse into a very real and rich Negro League history from the perspectives of two of its major contributors.

Willie Wells came to the door, shirtless, and when he and my dad saw each other they cried like babies with the joy of seeing each other for the first time in almost 30 years. If tears could speak, I can only imagine what they might have said in that moment. What a poignant moment that I’ve revisited many times since. They immediately began reminiscing about a time that had passed. The names and stories flowed. Time seemingly stood still for them and for me. So many names, so many stories. I will offer a few as memory serves.


Of course they spoke of Satchel Paige, reliving the tale of Satchel calling in the fielders and then striking out the batter. And, yes, much discussion and laughter concerning Satchel’s famous hesitation pitch. They also spoke specifically about the character that Satchel was known to be.  Another highlight was the remembrance of Cool Papa Bell and the tale that he was so fast that he could turn off the light switch and be in bed before the light went out. As you might suspect, great laughter and joy.

They went on to speak of Josh Gibson, syphilis and his death. Mules Suttles, Buck Leonard, Buck O’Neil, Judy Johnson, Alex Pompez and so many others were topics of conversation. The oral history was and continues to be so rich and memorable. Willie Wells went on to speak of his playing down in Mexico and how he and the others were treated with so much respect, and like real men. Unfortunately, they were both keenly aware of the treatment they had often received in America. My high school baseball coach, Pat Patterson, a Negro Leaguer himself, also spoke of the different feeling and treatment in Mexico.

Of course, the topic of Jackie Robinson came up, and the oral history was spoken and confirmed. My father brought it to the front that Willie Wells was a much better player than Jackie, but he was too old to be chosen to break the color line. The history continued with the fact and confirmation that Willie Wells helped groom and prepare Jackie Robinson to make the leap to the major leagues and break the color line. All of this was shared and discussed in very matter-of-fact manner with no anger or animosity toward anyone. Even then, I was struck by the calm, resolve and acceptance of both men. Acceptance yes, resignation and/or fatalism – no!!! Both were men of great dignity!

I remember so clearly that the conversation progressed to the point of Willie Wells mentioning that he was not bitter about not making it to the major leagues and not having the opportunities that others were afforded in America. He realized with so much clarity and wisdom that he was ahead of his time. He was accepting of his place and time in life. The man was filled with so much intelligence, so much wisdom. He was a very deep, thoughtful soul.


His wisdom truly came to the front when he shared a profound statement with my father. He said: “You know Page, young people today don’t realize that you gain privilege in life by being responsible; today, young people want privilege before demonstrating responsibility.”

Wisdom of the ages, true and relevant today every bit as much as it was then. Wow! And those words of Willie Wells live on in and through me as I have shared them often in teaching, coaching, mentoring and inspirational speaking. Responsibility before Privilege – provides me with a familiar and constant mantra. They also give me opportunity to share about the richness of the Negro Leagues and some truly outstanding and significant human beings, let alone ball players.

What a day, what a visit! That day has proven to be one of the richest and most meaningful of my life. For me personally, that day/visit continues to grow in significance, impact and deep meaning.

Willie Wells. El Diablo. What a man, what a soul. May your wisdom, intelligence and dignity be honored as much as your baseball prowess. May your memory live on. Indeed, you were ahead of your time as were so many of your contemporaries. For me, for that one day, you were right on time!

With great respect and appreciation – and always Responsibility before Privilege,

Rodney Page
Jan. 20, 2015

The Ed Stone mystery continues


This afternoon I spoke with Denise Oliver-Velez, a cousin of the late Bernice Stone, Negro Leaguer Ed “Ace” Stone’s ex-wife, in my ongoing effort to discover exactly when Stone died, where he died and, most eerily, where he’s buried.

I found and contacted Denise via her Web site on her family. Our conversation didn’t yield any solid clues about Ed Stone’s fate. That’s partially because — and this is something I didn’t know — that Bernice and and Edward divorced and went their separate ways. That resulted in Denise never meeting or knowing Ed Stone at all because he was out of the picture for Denise’s entire life.

However, that doesn’t mean Bernice Stone never talked about her husband. Denise started by noting that she was significantly younger than her cousin, so much so that Denise always viewed Bernice as a de facto aunt and even called her Aunt Bernice.

Denise grew very close to her “aunt,” who, while not knowing much about baseball and was very reticent to discuss what happened to Ed post-divorce, frequently talked about her relationship with her ex-husband. Bernice especially regaled her family and the frequent trips she took with Ed to various points in Latin America, where Ed often plied his trade as a fairly talented outfielder.


A ship manifest to Puerto Rico featu

On that count, Denise said the stories told by her aunt revealed a great deal about the racial dynamics of our society and the drastic differences between the way African Americans were treated in the U.S. compared to Latin America.

In essence, Denise said, her aunt was thrilled to travel to the Caribbean or Mexico because in Latin America, black Americans were treated fairly and equally.

“She loved to talk about what it was like when they would go to Mexico, Puerto Rico or Cuba,” Denise told me. “It was a relief from dealing with the racism that we had in the United States. The one thing she missed [after Ed’s career and their marriage both ended] was traveling. That was the one thing she talked about.

“We weren’t allowed to mention the Yankees in our household because of the racism of the Yankees,” she added in describing an example of the bitterness her family felt as a result of the unfortunate social conditions. “We grew up Brooklyn Dodgers fans and went to a lot of their games.

“People today have to learn what it was like, because few of them do,” she continued. “People don’t understand now. They take [improved racial conditions] for granted.”

Denise said her household and other relatives were sports fans, and they inherently knew that for African Americans, success in athletics didn’t translate into respect from society.

“All of the issues of race and sports are just things you grew up accepting,” she said.

When our conversation steered back toward details of Ed and Bernice’s lives, Denise said she never knew very much, including, for example, where and how her aunt and Ed Stone even met. While Bernice was originally from Virginia and, later in life, Delaware — “as long as I knew her, it was in Delaware,” she said —  New Jersey and, eventually Las Vegas for her final years, Ed Stone’s past was somewhat of a mystery to Denise and the rest of her family.


1940 Census page with Ed and Bernice Stone

“I knew he was a Negro Leaguer, but that’s about it,” Denise said. “I wasn’t totally clueless. I knew he was a baseball player, but I never knew him personally.”

Because of that, Denise doesn’t know anything about Ed Stone’s fate at all, including his burial location. According to Social Security records, Ed Stone died in March 1983. Those records state that his last residence was in New York City and that his last Social Security benefit was received in Long Island City in Queens.

However, the Find-A-Grave listing for him states that Ed died on April 11, 1983, in the Bronx. I have yet to find any obituary for him that might give a clue to his cause of death or the disposition of his remains. I’m looking into whether I’d legally be able to get an official death certificate from NYC.

Sadly, though, Denise doesn’t even know where her Aunt Bernice is buried; Bernice lost touch with her family in the East when she moved to Las Vegas, where she died in November 2007 at the age of 95. I haven’t found any obituary for her, either.

Denise told me she has been in contact with Ed and Bernice’s two sons, Edward Jr. and Russell, and she even emailed Edward about me and my efforts in hopes that he would contact me. However, I haven’t heard from him, and neither has she, a situation that doesn’t really surprise her.

“If he doesn’t get in touch with you,” she said reluctantly, “there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s his decision. I’m powerless in this situation.”

Cannonball bits


An issue of Baseball Magazine featuring Ty Cobb

In the process of doing a little more poking around in various databases about Cannonball Dick Redding, I came up with a few peculiar items. The most … let’s say interesting of the bunch was from the 1916 issue of Baseball Magazine, and it really has to be read in full to believe.

This is under the section heading titled “Pick-Ups”:

Batted Out in the African League at Lenox Oval, New York, Where the Colored Lincoln Giants Explode Against All Comers.
“La-odeez and Genmen — bat-treez foh de white team, Whoozis and Ketchum — foh de Lincoln Giants CANNON BALL Redding and Walloping Doc Wiley.” “Yow, datta boy, Cannon Ball, explode, EXPLOHODE.” “Haw-haw-haw. Dey cain’t see nothin’ but smoke.” “Give ’em dot Dip o’ Death Drop now.” “Mistah Empiah, yo bettah drag dat Reddin’ baby offen them lil white boys. He’s libel to put holes in ’em.” “Take a taxi, boy, take a taxi. It’s de ony way yo all kin get to fuhst.” “Oh, man, jes looka dat old Cycloon Williams ramble. Ah guess Cobb ain’t got nuthin’ on Joe foh speed.” “Cobb!! You stop dot noise, Vol. Why, man if Cycloon evah is gotta do some sho nuff ramblin’ he’ll jes burn dis ball yahd right up. Cobb! Huh. Ty Cobb cain’t even STAHT wid Cycloon Joe.” “Oh you ole Santop. Bust dot lil old dug egg Sam.” “Not too hahd, Sam. Jes about foh miles.” “Bump it, Doc. Git a hit. Git a HIT. Dat pitcher ain’t got nuthin’ but his toe plate.” “Foh bits Doc Wiley get on, genmen. Mah money’s screamin’ at yuh. Bury dot ole onion, Doc. Youah totin’ mah poke chops.” “Keep tryin’ Reddin’. Keep workin’.” “Givem dot double twister, Cannon Ball.” “Oh, boy, if old Cannon Ball keeps goin’ it ain’t agonna be no ball game A-tall.”

Yes, that is for real. Aside from being annoyingly all in one paragraph, I’ve honestly never come across such a egregious and sustained incidence of Stepin Fetchit English as this. The level of racism and stereotyping it took to create this is so stunning that you almost have to just laugh at it for its absurdity and offensiveness. Besides that, it really requires no more comment.

Moving on from the blatantly bigoted to the factually shaky, there’s a Feb. 6, 1977, New York Times “Sports of The Times” column by the legendary Red Smith, in which he discusses the continued, stubborn exclusion of Negro Leaguers from the Hall of Fame, namely by the dissolution, at that time, of the special Negro Leagues committee that ushered in the induction of the first handful of blackball stars.

Smith talks about the exploits and talents of guys like Pop Lloyd and Martin Dihigo, but be also expounds on the virtues of other still-excluded (as of the time of the column’s writing 38 years ago) figures, including Dick Redding. Here’s an excerpt that relates to the myth-making that as sprung up around Cannonball’s supposed encounters with Ty Cobb:

“… When the committee has ceased to be, players like Richard (Cannonball) Redding, Rube Foster and Willie Wells will be out in the cold forever. How good were they? Well, when George Weiss was running all-star games on Sundays in New Haven he could always rely on the services of his friend Ty Cobb, unless Redding was pitching. Cobb flatly refused to face the Cannonball.”

The first thought here is that, fortunately, the Hall later changed its policy and started inducting Negro Leaguers again, including Foster and Wells. However, Cannonball Redding, despite frequently being mentioned in the same breath as other Negro Leagues superstars who are in the hallowed Hall, remains locked out, which, I feel, is a terrible injustice.


Red Smith

But beyond that, stories abound about Ty Cobb encountering — or, rather, refusing to encounter — Dick Redding, many of which are of dubious veracity and/or the result of inflated baseball mythology. Is this one true? Perhaps, but it’s just as likely that it’s just another tall tale that was created out of wishful thinking and then became enlarged and convoluted as history wore on.

Next up, we have an August 1977 commentary in the Los Angeles Sentinel by, impressively enough, Effa Manley, herself a future Hall of Famer. In the piece, Manley, much like Smith did a few months earlier, opine about the way the Hall of Fame insultingly continued to exclude dozens of Negro League greats.

The fact that the story is penned by Effa Manley herself is pretty impressive on its own. But in addition, she lists, position by position, the players she feels were Hall-worthy. Under the pitchers heading, she includes Dick Redding, about whom she later adds: “Redding was noted for his ‘no-windup’ delivery …”

Finally, on an inquiry about Cannonball pitching against Honus Wagner, one of the most gracious and honorable players in baseball history, I did some poking to find out if such an encounter happened between him and Redding.


I couldn’t find any conclusive evidence that it actually happened, but I did come across something else that’s pretty fascinating … A September 1923 article in the Pittsburgh Courier about a game between the Hilldale Club — complete with blackball legends like Judy Johnson, Louis Santop, Pop Lloyd and Frank Warfield — and the Brooklyn Royal Giants, featuring player/manager Dick Redding, who, the article asserts, was on the down slide of his playing career.

Thus, the writer, the great Rollo Wilson, expresses surprises when Redding masters the lineup of future Hall of Famers for a 4-2 victory. Wrote Wilson:

“Sir Richard Redding, Bronze Behemoth of Brooklyn, came back from the baseball grave last Saturday, pitching one of the niftiest games of his career. … The blinding speed, the wide-breaking curve, the baffling floater were once more his … By my faith, Richard was himself again.”

But also featured in the Royals lineup is a slick-fielding shortstop to whom Wilson refers as “Honus” Wagner. It’s obviously not the Honus Wagner that most people know, but my guess is that it’s actually Bill Wagner, a native New Yorker who did have a long career with the Royal Giants, including the 1923 season. Why Wilson refers to Wagner as Honus, other than the fact that the two shared a last name and a position, is unclear to me. But it’s still somewhat intriguing.

Anyway, if anyone has any other cool Cannonball factoids, notes or anecdotes, definitely let me know!

Regrets, loss, grace and baseball


Herb on his sunny porch

It’s an unfortunately common refrain.

“I should have gone when I had the chance.”

“I kept saying, ‘I’ll see him next week.’”

“I’ll always regret not talking to him before he died.”

We all have examples of people close to us in our lives — family, relatives, friends — who died before we had a chance to say goodbye, or to see him or her one last time.

But we still believe that those close to us will always be around, or at least be around next weekend when we have some free time.

And then they’re gone.

And our mourning begins. And not just our mourning, but our regret, our guilt, our sadness bourn of the belief that we let this relative or friend down.

I’m feeling that right now. I just attended the memorial service for Herbert Harold “Briefcase” Simpson, a New Orleans native and lifelong resident — of the Algiers section of the city, Herb would proudly point out — who played in the Negro Leagues before integrating two different minor leagues in organized baseball.

I accompanied Herb and his nephew, Felton Glapion, to Seattle last summer, when Herb was honored by the Mariners on their annual African-American Heritage Day. It was an amazing trip, one of the greatest experiences of my life and one I’ll treasure in memory as long as I live.

I had met Herb and interviewed him several times before, so we we already pretty good friends. Multiple times we sat on his porch and shot the breeze, and I listened raptly as he told — with his ever-present humility and grace — about his time playing baseball, and his time serving in Europe during World War II.

(And, truth be told, my guess is that Herb could very well have been prouder of his service to his country than he was of his trailblazing baseball career. In fact, in his living room he had a a whole display case full of baseball memorabilia and mementos and treasures from his hardball career. But his favorite keepsake to show visitors might have been a piece of shrapnel from a bomb shell casing he gathered while on the march to Berlin with his Army brethren.)

But our trip to Seattle last July, I felt, kind of bonded us into a deeper friendship and mutual respect, because I got to see Herb Simpson up close and personal, for several days while we worked through our full schedules of dinners, testimonials, baseball games, museum exhibits and other events. I’m 41. Herb at the time was 93, by my count. And at the end of each day in Seattle, I could swear I was more exhausted and wiped out than Herb.

As we flew home from our trip, as we gathered up out luggage at the baggage claim, as we went our separate ways outside the airport, I told Herb I’d see him again soon. I’d come and visit and say hi and sit on his porch and talk baseball and life.

That was in July. Herb Simpson, the last living member of the Seattle Steelheads, died last Wednesday, Jan. 7.

And I never went to see him in that time. I didn’t go like I said I would. I never saw my friend again.
Because of this, I will forever feel like I let him down. It will always tear at my heart, this regret and sadness and grief.

Herb isn’t the only great Negro Leaguer we have lost recent. Mississippi native Henry Presswood passed away two weeks or so ago in Chicago. Carl Long moved on to greener pastures this past week in his adopted hometown of Kinston, N.C.

That’s three living legends, three links to a time in our history that was both shameful and glorious, three surviving members of the Negro Leagues, three people to carry the memory of the greatness that black baseball was.


Herb and a fan in Seattle last summer

Their numbers are dwindling. Every year so many former Negro Leaguers pass away and take a piece of history with them, just as Herb, Hank and Carl did.

And it seems that each year brings more and more such passings. As that greatest of generations continues to age more and more, time speeds up, and we lose so many legends at ever increasing rates.

The baseball world has lost Herb Simpson. His adopted Seattle family has lost him. The New Orleans community has lost him. The Algiers neighborhood has lost him. His family and friends have lost him.

That, I’m very grateful and humble to say, includes me. But I’ve lost more than just his physical presence.

I’ve forever lost a chance to talk to him one last time, at least in this corporeal world. I’ve lost an opportunity to kick back on his porch, just shoot the breeze and watch the world go by.

Herb loved to sit on his porch, a smile ever on his face, and wave to everyone who drove or walked or biked by. It didn’t matter if he didn’t know that person personally. he still waved, still offered his open and warm heart, even to a stranger. Herb was a darn good baseball player. But he was an even better man, an even better human being.


Carl Long

And I dare say that those who knew Mr. Long and Mr. Presswood personally — I was regretfully not one of them — would say the same thing about those two wonderful men as well. Baseball bonded those three great men, and baseball bonded them to their fans, like me.

But even more bonded them to their family and friends. Love did. Love and warmth and compassion and, yes, just plain ol’ fun.

Goodbye, Herb, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t come see you one last time. Perhaps one day we’ll meet again, somewhere, sometime. For now, I will miss you and what you brought to my life.

So thank you, goodbye, and may peace ever be with you.