Ted Strong Jr. holds a unique place in African-American sports history. Much like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Strong excelled in two sports for years; Strong starred in the Negro Baseball Leagues and for the legendary Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.
As such, Strong could be compared to fellow Negro League standouts like Cum Posey, the Homestead Grays magnate and early black basketball star who is the only person inducted into both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; or to Fats Jenkins, who prowled Negro League outfields and helped revolutionize hoops with the Harlem Rens and whom I’ve previously profiled on this blog.
Fortunately, a 2016 book by my friend and colleague Sherman Jenkins entitled, “Ted Strong Jr.: The Untold Story of an Original Harlem Globetrotter and Negro Leagues All-Star,” has illuminated the life and career of Ted Strong Jr., a forgotten legend who excelled in two sports at a time of strict, tragic segregation in American sports. What’s more, Sherman built the book upon a solid foundation of friendship and familiarity with Strong’s family, giving the volume a warm, intimate feel.
Below is a lightly-edited, email interview I recently conducted with Sherman about his book …
RW: What prompted you to research and write about Ted Strong? Do you have a personal connection to him?
SJ: I knew Ted Strong Jr.’s father, Ted Strong Sr. I grew up with Ted Sr.’s children from his second marriage. We grew up on the South Side of Chicago in Woodlawn. I wrote an article about the senior Strong (see attached). Strong Sr. liked the article and told me that I needed to meet Ted Jr., who was the oldest child from Ted Sr.’s first marriage. I was scheduled to meet Ted Jr. but two weeks before our meeting, he suffered an asthma attack and died at the age of 61. Ted Sr. and Jr. had the same first, middle and last name. The only designation was Senior and Junior.
Ted Strong Jr. (Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.).
RW: What were the biggest challenges you faced when undertaking this project? Did you have a hard time finding human sources for the project? What about other sources? How much is out there about Ted?
SJ: The biggest challenges were finding people who were still alive and who played with or against Ted Jr. Moreover, I wrote the article about Ted Sr. in 1977. Life happened, and it wasn’t until 2013 that I worked to complete my research and write the book.
RW: How would you describe Ted Strong as an athlete, and as a person?
SJ: From what I could glean from various news articles in the black press, he was competitive, a gentle giant and, as his friend Buck O’Neil told me, “Ted moved as the wind blew.” He was an easy-going guy. O’Neil also said that Ted Jr. was the best athlete he had ever seen. Several family members told me that he was a fun-loving man who made family get-togethers fun.
RW: Do you feel Ted has received the amount of recognition and respect he’s due? How do we tell people what an incredible athlete and human being he was?
SJ: No. Researchers and the general public seem to focus on the staple [Negro League] names: Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige. I try to focus on [Ted’s] stats: seven-time Negro Leagues All-Star, 1946 home run champion, member of the 1940 World Basketball Champions Harlem Globetrotters, member of the Globetrotter team that defeated the all-white Minneapolis Lakers featuring George Mikan in 1948.
RW: What has been the reaction to your book from the public? Has it been positive?
SJ: Reaction has been positive. People ask why they haven’t heard about him until now. Take a look at comments about the book on Amazon.
Ted Strong Jr. striking his baseball pose in his Globetrotters uniform. Ted, Jr. was among the many players the Globetrotters publicized to marketed the team to fans. In news releases promoting an upcoming Globetrotter game, the publicist would state that Ted Jr. had the largest hands in basketball. (Photo credit: Harlem Globetrotters).
RW: What were some of the more interesting nuggets of information about Strong that you discovered during this process?
SJ: Per Strong Sr., Ted Jr. had asthma, but it didn’t seem to affect him, although, an asthma attack took his life. He was very respectful of his elders. Moreover, he played himself in two movies about the Globetrotters: “The Harlem Globetrotters Story” and “Go Man Go!”
RW: Now the tough question: was Ted Strong a better baseball player, or a better basketball player?
SJ: I would say baseball. Seven-time Negro League All-Star, [for] which … the players were selected by readers of black newspapers across the country. Although, in basketball he was a rock in the post and marketed by the Globetrotters as having the largest hands in basketball.
Sherman Jenkins’ biography of Ted Strong Jr. can be purchased on Amazon here.
Sherman L. Jenkins has been a researcher of the Negro Leagues, and specifically Ted Strong Jr., and working with Ted Strong Sr. over the last 30 years. Jenkins is a member of SABR Negro League Committee, and the book “Ted Strong, Jr.: The Untold Story of an Original Harlem Globetrotter and Negro League All-Star” was published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers of Maryland in October 2016.