The first East-West Game, an All-Star contest featuring the best players in the Negro Leagues, was played on this date in 1933, with Starkville native Cool Papa Bell batting leadoff for the East and former Alcorn State player and coach William (Willie) Foster throwing the game’s first pitch for the West. Before a crowd of about 20,000 at Chicago’s old Comiskey Park, Bell flied out in the matchup of Hall of Famers. The West won the game 11-7, with Foster going the distance and allowing just two earned runs, per retrosheet.org’s box score. He also had a hit. Bell went 0-for-5 but scored a run. Foster, raised in Rodney, is considered perhaps the greatest left-hander in Negro Leagues annals, while Bell, who played in roughly a dozen East-West Games, is regarded as one of the fastest players of all-time. They are the only Magnolia State-connected players in Cooperstown. The 1933 East-West rosters also featured such notable names as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Willie Wells and Mule Suttles, who hit the lone home run.
Not so long ago, New York Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star, was on a hot seat, as was manager Aaron Boone. For the better part of three months, the club struggled to score, foundering with runners in scoring position, frequently striking out or hitting into double plays. Well, that seems like ancient history now. The Yankees, finally fit and fortified with new additions to the lineup, are sizzling hot as they head into Truist Park in Atlanta, where the eyes of the baseball world will be on a two-game series between the hottest teams in the game. Both have won nine straight. The Yankees have climbed to 72-52, second in the American League East. The Braves are 68-56, first in the National League East. … Atlanta’s Mississippi connection, third baseman Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, is batting .342 during the win streak, with four homers, six RBIs and nine runs. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, now with Houston, faced his former team, Seattle, for the first time on Sunday. He gave up a run in his one inning but maintained the lead, which the Astros later squandered en route to a 6-3, extra-inning loss. Graveman has allowed two runs in nine innings for the Astros; he had a 0.82 ERA in 30 appearances for the Mariners. Graveman was upset when Seattle traded him in late July. … In his third game at Low-A Salem, former DeSoto Central star Blaze Jordan hit his second homer, this one a grand slam. The first-year pro is 3-for-11 for Salem after hitting .362 with four homers for Boston’s Florida Complex League team. … Just in time for the start of fall classes, Alcorn State has hired a new coach. Reggie Williams, a former major league outfielder, was named last Friday to fill the post previously held by Brett Richardson. He was not retained after a 7-20 season. Williams is a Southern University alum who played in the big leagues in the 1980s. He previously worked as an instructor and coach in the Cincinnati and Milwaukee organizations and was also an educator in the Memphis school system. Three of the state’s HBCUs will have new coaches in 2022. Stanley Stubbs moves from Rust College to Mississippi Valley State, and John Bates was promoted from Stubbs’ staff to replace him as Bearcats coach. … Three Mississippians were on the West roster for Sunday’s Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego: outfielder Emaarion “Mari” Boyd of South Panola, outfielder Dakota Jordan of Jackson Academy and catcher Ross Highfill of Madison Central. All are 2022 seniors. The West was no-hit by the East in a 9-1 defeat at Petco Park.
If either Ole Miss or Mississippi State were looking ahead to this weekend’s main event in Starkville, it did not show on Tuesday. The Rebels, behind Cael Baker’s six RBIs, thumped Austin Peay 13-1 and the Bulldogs, blasting five home runs, dismissed Arkansas State 18-10 in midweek “tuneups” before the huge SEC clash set for Dudy Noble Field. Game 1 of the three-game series is Friday at 6 p.m. SEC Network will televise it. Both teams enter with 8-4 league marks, tied for second in the West, and top 10 national rankings. Kids on sandlots across Mississippi dream of playing in such a series. This weekend, some get that chance. On paper, this is the classic great pitching (State) vs. great hitting (UM) matchup. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in ERA and tops in punchouts; the Rebels lead in runs and are second in batting. But Ole Miss’ pitching staff has its fair share of pro prospects, and State’s lineup has produced eight or more runs in a game 13 times. Chops are being licked on both sides. Anything can happen in this series – and probably will. … All eyes in the Magnolia State will not be trained on Starkville, however. Surging Southern Miss (21-10, 8-3 C-USA) has a four-game set at nationally ranked Louisiana Tech, which took three of four from the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg last month. Jackson State, led by Chenar Brown (.379, eight homers, 39 RBIs), is an amazing 15-0 in SWAC play and welcomes rival Alcorn State for a three-game set at Braddy Field.
The old Negro Leagues, which Major League Baseball is celebrating today, produced not only great players but great teams. Mississippians played major roles on some of the best. There is surely ample debate about which Negro League team deserves to be called “the best,” but the short list would have to include the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords. There were four future Hall of Famers on that team, five if you count Satchel Paige, who was on the roster but held out most of the season. The center fielder and leadoff batter for the Crawfords, the Negro National League champs in ’35, was James “Cool Papa” Bell, the Starkville native and Hall of Famer whose speed is legend. Clarksdale native David “Lefty” Harvey was a pitcher on that team, which also featured the incredible slugger Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Judy Johnson. Bell was also the leadoff man for the 1930 St. Louis Stars, another NNL champion with a stacked lineup that included Willie “The Devil” Wells, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe (from the Ken Burns films) and George “Mule” Suttles. Nicknames apparently were a Negro Leagues staple. William Foster, who grew up in Rodney and played and coached at Alcorn A&M, didn’t have a nickname — he was known simply as Bill or Willie — but did have a great arsenal of pitches as the left-handed ace of the 1927 Chicago American Giants. That team won the NNL pennant and the Negro World Series, with Hall of Famer Foster throwing a shutout in the decisive eighth game. The Giants’ roster also featured Pythias Russ, “Gentleman Dave” Malarcher, Walter “Steel Arm” Davis and Willie “Pigmeat” Powell. The 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes, with Jackson native Buddy Armour playing center field, won the Negro American League pennant and the World Series in a sweep against a Homestead Grays team that trotted out a 42-year-old Bell and Greenwood native Dave Hoskins. The Buckeyes, 53-16 in the regular season according to “Only the Ball Was White,” were led by future major leaguer Sam “The Jet” Jethroe and the brothers Jefferson, Willie and George, both pitchers. Hattiesburg’s Rufus Lewis was the ace of the 1946 Newark Eagles, who won the NNL title and the World Series in seven games against Kansas City’s Monarchs. Lewis won Game 7. Future big leaguers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin and Max “Dr. Cyclops” Manning were other stars on that great Newark team. … All MLB players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear today a patch commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League. The logo is based on the official logo created by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
William (Bill) Foster, widely considered the best left-hander in Negro Leagues history, was born on this date in 1904 in Texas. His mother died when he was 4 and he was raised by his maternal grandparents in Rodney, according to Negro Leagues historian James Riley. A ghost town no longer on the map, Rodney is listed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as Foster’s hometown. It was 12 miles from Lorman and Alcorn A&M, where Foster reportedly made the college baseball team while in sixth grade. In the Negro Leagues, Foster was credited with 143 wins, played on several championship teams and started and won the inaugural East-West All-Star Classic in 1933. He was selected to Cooperstown posthumously in 1996. Foster, who claimed to hold a winning record head-to-head against the great Satchel Paige, threw a variety of pitches. “Now, if you can keep a man off balance, he can’t hit the ball hard,” Foster told historian John Holway. “How do I keep him off balance? And with what pitches? It boils down to the fact that I had to have one motion to control every pitch.” After his pro playing days, he served as a coach and dean at Alcorn State from 1960 until just before his death in ’78. The Braves’ field bears his name.
Rivalries in baseball may not boil the blood as they do in football and basketball, but they still have a special feel. Red Sox-Yankees. Dodgers-Giants. Mississippi State-Ole Miss. Similarly, Jackson State-Alcorn State isn’t just another conference series. The longtime rivals meet this weekend to open SWAC play. Today’s Game 1 and Sunday’s series finale will be played at JSU’s Braddy Field, with the middle game on Saturday moving to Smith-Wills Stadium. Fans of the two schools don’t need to be reminded that Alcorn State won the 2019 football game – in convincing fashion – and Jackson State swept the two men’s basketball games this season. There’s a measure of pride at stake this weekend. The Tigers lead the all-time series 158-101-1, according to an Alcorn press release. JSU is 3-4, led by a dynamic offense that features C.J. Newsome (.500, eight runs, three steals) and Jaylyn Williams (.500, six RBIs). Steven Davila has been JSU’s steadiest pitcher, with a 1.23 ERA over three appearances. Alcorn’s staff ERA is 7.16, though Joe Smith, a product of Jackson’s Jim Hill High, has pitched well (3.60 in two outings). Travaris Cole paces the 2-3 Braves’ attack at .391 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Tristan Garcia (.438) had a four-hit game at Ole Miss last week. P.S. It was announced Thursday that the SWAC Tournament will be played at Smith-Wills for the next three years. The 2020 dates for the eight-team, double-elimination tournament are May 13-17. This isn’t the first time the event will be played at the old ballpark on Cool Papa Bell Drive. The 2000 and 2007 tourneys were played there. The 2006 event was held at Trustmark Park in Pearl. From 1988-95, the SWAC played its championship in Natchez.
So many iconic college coaches have worked in Mississippi over the years that the legacy of Willie E. “Rat” McGowan can get lost in the shuffle. McGowan, who died on Tuesday, was the Alcorn State coach for parts of four decades (1972-2009). When you start reeling off the names of the state’s coaching greats — Ron Polk, Boo Ferriss, Hill Denson, Bob Braddy, Mike Bianco, Mike Kinnison, Bobby Halford, Jim Page, et. al — McGowan belongs in the conversation. He accomplished impressive things at a small school with relatively limited resources for baseball. McGowan, who doubled as a football assistant coach during much of his time in Lorman, is Alcorn’s all-time leader in baseball victories with a 720-663-7 record. His last two teams each won 29 games, the school record. He was a four-time coach of the year in the SWAC and is in the conference’s Hall of Fame. The school’s baseball stadium bears his name. The only Alcorn player to make the big leagues – Al Jones, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1983-85 – played for McGowan, as did a dozen others who were drafted. A McComb native, McGowan played baseball and football for the Braves in the late 1950s.
Corey Wimberly, the former Alcorn State star and longtime minor leaguer, is coaching for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, which began play Wednesday. He has managed in the Boston Red Sox organization for the last two seasons, spending 2019 at Class A Salem. His charges lost in the Carolina League title series. Wimberly was an All-SWAC infielder for Alcorn who batted .462 with 42 stolen bases, 55 runs and 32 RBIs in 38 games in 2005. (Somehow, he did not win the Ferriss Trophy.) He was drafted as a sophomore-eligible in the sixth round by Colorado in 2005. Wimberly played 12 years of pro ball, reaching the Triple-A level (including a stint with Atlanta) but never getting the big league call. He batted .297 with 351 stolen bases for his career. He last played in the Mexican League three years ago. P.S. There are three Mississippi college products on the current AFL rosters. Ole Miss alum Brady Feigl, a right-hander in Oakland’s system, pitched a scoreless inning for Mesa in its opener. Ex-Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, a pitcher in the Cleveland system, is also on the Mesa club. USM product Bradley Roney, who pitched for the Mississippi Braves this season, gave up a home run but registered a hold for Scottsdale. M-Braves alum Trey Harris, Atlanta’s 2019 minor league player of the year, went 2-for-4 with a homer for the Scorpions.
The stakes are higher now for Delta State and many others in the state. Fresh off another Gulf South Conference Tournament championship, DSU will host an NCAA Division II South Sub-Regional starting Thursday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. The Statesmen (39-12), who won the GSC title for the 15th time last week, will play Embry-Riddle in their opener. Eckerd and Valdosta State meet in the other game. Tampa is hosting the other sub-regional with West Florida, Nova Southeastern and Spring Hill also in the field. Mississippi College, which went 2-and-out in the GSC tourney, did not get a regional bid. MC’s season ends at 28-17, and GSC player of the year Blaine Crim’s career ends, as well. He hit .379 with 11 homers in 2019. … Jackson State, 30-22 and a 2-seed in the SWAC Tournament, plays Texas Southern on Wednesday at New Orleans, while Alcorn State (14-29 and a 3-seed) meets Grambling. The tourney winner gets an NCAA bid, likely the only one the SWAC will receive. … The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament begins Wednesday at Fulton, with host and MACJC champ Itawamba Community College playing Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jones meeting Pearl River and Northwest drawing No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The region winner goes to the Juco World Series. Gulf Coast, powered by Brandon Parker and Cullan O’Shea, swept Meridian in their best-of-3 playoff, but the other three series went three games. Northwest beat Northeast, Jones topped Hinds (behind Coleton Ausburn’s Game 3 shutout) and Pearl River whipped East Central (thanks in part to another big homer by Dexter Jordan in the rubber game). … MUW, 16-11 in its second year of competition, opens play today in the non-scholarship USCAA Small College World Series at DuBois, Penn. … The MHSAA Tournament finals begin Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. DeSoto Central hosts Northwest Rankin today for a berth in the Class 6A finals against St. Martin, which is coached by former Ole Miss and Jackson Generals star Kary Bridges.
Jackson State will enter the SWAC Tournament next week as a 2-seed but sporting the credentials of a tourney favorite. The Tigers, who finished second to Alabama State in the Eastern Division, have won 17 of their last 20 games (two of those losses were to the Hornets). JSU also leads the league in hitting and ERA and is tied for second in fielding percentage. Clearly, it’s a well-rounded club, one capable of winning a third tournament title under coach Omar Johnson, who has never had a losing season in 13 years at the helm. The Tigers (29-21) play at Kansas on Tuesday and Wednesday in their final tuneups for the SWAC event, which starts May 15 in New Orleans. JSU opens with West 3-seed Texas Southern. Alcorn State, the No. 3 team in the East, plays Grambling in its opener. Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in the East, is ineligible for the postseason. The Tigers’ array of hitting heroes includes Jaylyn Williams (.411, 51 RBIs), Equon Smith (.374, 39 steals, 54 runs), Raul Hernandez (.363, eight homers, 51 RBIs) and Chris Prentiss (.372, 10 triples). Nikelle Galatas tops the pitching staff at 7-3, 4.30. Garth Cahill and Kevin Perez have five wins apiece. The wide net Johnson casts in recruiting is reflected in that group. Williams (Greenville) and Prentiss (Vicksburg) are Mississippi natives, Smith and Perez are from Florida, Galatas from California, Hernandez from Puerto Rico and Cahill from South Africa. The roster also lists players from Canada, the Virgin Islands, Nevada, Michigan and New York.