In recognition of Black History Month, here’s a shout-out to Dave Clark, the ex-Shannon High and Jackson State star who is one of just 16 African-Americans to have managed in the major leagues. (Yes, that’s a shamefully small number.) Clark, about to begin his sixth season as third-base coach for the Detroit Tigers, was the interim manager in Houston for the last 13 games of the 2009 campaign. The team, limping to the end of a 74-88 finish, went 4-9 under Clark. Interestingly enough, he was the third Mississippi native to manage the Houston club; Harry Craft (1962-64) and Harry Walker (1968-72) were the other two. Clark was a first-round draft pick by Cleveland out of JSU in 1983 and played 13 years in the big leagues, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a rep as a fearsome pinch hitter. Since retiring as a player, he has managed in the minors (two championships) and in winter ball and coached for three different MLB clubs. He has been interviewed and/or considered for several major league managerial jobs since his stint with the Astros. That door might still open for him someday.
On Aug. 28, 1981, Kelvin Moore made his MLB debut for Oakland and went 1-for-4 in a loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Moore’s first game in the big leagues was also the first in The Show for any Jackson State alumnus, a milestone worthy of note during Black History Month. Moore – one of those rare players who threw lefty but batted from the right side — played in 76 games over three seasons for the A’s and hit eight home runs. His debut seemed to open a door for JSU, an historically black school with a modest enrollment. Between 1981 and 1996, eight JSU products reached the major leagues, according to baseball-reference.com, and several had significant careers. The colorful and controversial Oil Can Boyd followed Moore in 1982; he went on to pitch 10 years in the majors. Then came Curtis Ford, Dave Clark (a first-round draft pick), Marvin Freeman, Howard Farmer, Wes Chamberlain and Mike Farmer. Dewon Day, who pitched in 13 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2007, is the only other Tigers alum to make it, an unfortunate sign of the times in MLB, which has seen a decline in the numbers of African-American players in recent years. All nine of the JSU big leaguers were coached by Bob Braddy, a recent inductee into both the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame. Among SWAC schools, only Southern University, with 16, has produced more big leaguers than JSU. (Day played for both schools.) … The Tigers, now coached by Omar Johnson and coming off a 38-17 season, open their 2018 campaign tonight at the University of New Orleans and will then host Mississippi State at Braddy Field on Wednesday. Among the current Tigers, third baseman Jesus Santana and outfielder Lamar Briggs may have pro potential.
In recognition of Black History Month, here’s a tip of the cap to Howard Easterling, one of the state’s unsung stars from the days of segregation. Easterling, born in Mount Olive in 1911, was a switch-hitting third baseman who batted .315 over an eight-year Negro Leagues career, according to baseball-reference.com. He made his Negro Leagues debut in 1936 with the Cincinnati Tigers and in 1937 made the first of his five East-West All-Star Game appearances. Easterling played on the great Homestead Grays teams of the early ’40s, helping them win four Negro National League pennants and the 1943 Negro League World Series. The 1943 Grays, a team that included Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and a 40-year-old Cool Papa Bell, reportedly won 44 of 59 regular season games. They beat the Birmingham Black Barons in the World Series, winning a decisive eighth game – Game 2 was a 12-inning tie – with a late rally in which Easterling contributed an RBI hit, according to baseball-reference.com. Easterling, who served in the Army in 1944-45, played pro ball for several years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947 but never got a major league opportunity. He finished his career in the Mexican League in 1954. Easterling died in Collins in 1993.
Buddy Armour is a name that probably doesn’t ring a bell with most Mississippi baseball fans. He played in the relative obscurity of the Negro Leagues back in the 1930s and ’40s. Today, in honor of Black History Month, let’s put Armour in the spotlight. Born in Jackson in 1915, Alfred Allen Armour reached the “big leagues” of black baseball in 1936, when he signed with the St. Louis Stars. A 5-foot-9, 170-pound left-handed hitter, he would play until 1951 with more than a half-dozen clubs. He played primarily outfield but also saw some time at shortstop and third base. If you were putting together an all-time team of Mississippi natives who played in the Negro Leagues, Armour would have to be on it (see previous post). He was a three-time All-Star and, in what was probably the highlight of his career, a regular on the 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes team that won the Negro Leagues World Series. The Buckeyes went 53-16 overall and claimed both halves of the season in the Negro American League, according to Robert Peterson’s “Only the Ball Was White.” That club featured future major league outfielder Sam “The Jet” Jethroe, player/manager Quincy “Big Train” Trouppe, pitching brothers George and Willie Jefferson, Cuban shortstop Avelino Canizares and third baseman Parnell Woods. Armour batted .325 that season and went 4-for-13 in the World Series as the Buckeyes swept the Homestead Grays in four games.