16 Aug

golden oldies

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.

17 Jun

something to celebrate

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League, and baseball had planned a season-long celebration before COVID-19 threw everything for a loop. For their part, the Mississippi Braves were slated to wear replica uniforms of the Atlanta Black Crackers for their April 25 game at Trustmark Park. Hopefully, that tribute will be rescheduled whenever minor league ball returns. For the record, the Black Crackers were a fine choice, but any of a large number of vintage uniforms would have been appropriate. Back in the day – before major league baseball integrated in 1947 with the debuts of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby — Mississippians starred for the St. Louis Stars, Birmingham Black Barons, Kansas City Monarchs, Newark Eagles, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants and more. You could put together a pretty strong team of Mississippi Negro Leaguers, including a couple of Hall of Famers: legendary outfielder Cool Papa Bell of Starkville and left-handed pitcher William Foster, who grew up in Rodney and attended what is now Alcorn State. At catcher, you could go with Sam Hairston (Crawford). Put Bob “The Rope” Boyd (Potts Camp) at first base, Sherwood Brewer (Clarksdale) at second, Howard Easterling (Mount Olive) at third, Buddy Armour (Jackson) at shortstop and fill out the outfield with Bill Hoskins (Charleston) and Luke Easter (Jonestown). In reserve, there’s pitcher Rufus Lewis (Hattiesburg), outfielder Bubba Hyde (Pontotoc), pitcher/outfielder Dave Hoskins (Greenwood), outfielder Lacey Thomas (Meridian) and first baseman Henry McCall (Hattiesburg). This is a darn good bunch. Easter — a legendary home run hitter and the first black Mississippian to play in the majors — Boyd, Hairston and Dave Hoskins all got to the big leagues. Easterling was a perennial Negro Leagues All-Star, and Lewis was the ace of the Newark Eagles’ championship club in 1946. These guys deserve a celebration. P.S. You can donate to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum at nlbm.com.

12 Jun

worth noting

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.

13 Apr

on this date

On this date in 1952, Greenwood native Dave Hoskins became the first black player to appear in a Texas League game. His story is chronicled in an milb.com piece published today. Hoskins, a Negro Leagues alumnus, debuted for the Double-A level Dallas Stars on April 13 and beat San Antonio. The right-hander yielded just two runs while working around eight hits and seven walks. Hoskins went 22-10 with a 2.12 ERA for Dallas that season – he also batted .328 – and made the majors in 1953 with Cleveland, posting a 9-3 mark with a 3.99 ERA. (He claimed to be 27 at the time, but it was later revealed that he was 36.) Hoskins pitched briefly for the Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster that fall.

08 Feb

around the horn

Tony Sipp, the veteran left-hander out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who is unsigned for 2019, might be a nice fit with the New York Mets. “(A)s the final addition to a bullpen that has seen three major acquisitions this season, Sipp makes perfect sense,” a blogger writes on amazinavenue.com. “He’d give the Mets a 7th inning option that projects as above-average and has a recent track record of elite performance. … At a cost of $5 million or less, Sipp would make for a great last move.” Sipp is 35 with a career ERA of 3.67 and is coming off a strong 2018 season, when he put up a 1.86 ERA for Houston. Mickey Callaway’s Mets already have added free agent lefties Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan (a former Mississippi Braves star) to their bullpen mix. … Add Mississippi State product Nate Lowe and Delta State alums Dalton Moats and Trent Giambrone to the list of Mississippians receiving non-roster invitations to big league camp. Lowe and Moats are in the Tampa Bay system, Giambrone in the Chicago Cubs’. … Perfect Game lists three Mississippi natives on its High School All-America First Team, though only two of them play ball in the state. Jerrion Ealy, the much-ballyhooed senior at Jackson Prep, and Blaze Jordan, the power-hitting sophomore at DeSoto Central, made the grade, as did Kendall Williams, an Olive Branch native who plays for IMG Academy in Florida. Hayden Dunhurst of Pearl River Central made PG’s second team. PG ranks DeSoto Central (No. 20) and Gulfport (No. 32) in its preseason Top 50. … The final showing of “Kansas City: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues” is slated for Sunday at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson. The show, hosted by the City of Jackson Department of Parks and Recreation Champion Dance Center and Montage Theatre of Dance from Hinds Community College, is a musical presentation that, per the billing, “will retell the story of Black baseball greats such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, is chosen by Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who is determined to integrate the league.” Mississippi, it is worth noting, produced a fair number of Negro Leagues stars, including Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell, who worked with Robinson as he prepared to join the Dodgers, Hall of Famer William Foster, Howard Easterling, Sam Hairston, Rufus Lewis, Dave Hoskins and Luke Easter, the first black Mississippian in the majors.

02 Jan

almost famous

Roy Oswalt, recently elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, is arguably the best major league pitcher the Magnolia State has ever produced. The right-hander from Weir won 163 games, posted two 20-win seasons, won an ERA title, made three All-Star teams, won an LCS MVP award and pitched in the World Series. His career ERA was 3.36, and he had over 1,800 strikeouts. For what it’s worth, his career WAR is 50.1, which is higher than that of Jack Morris, who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last summer. Oswalt was on the ballot for the first time for the 2019 class. As good as he was – and his stuff was unhittable at times — his Hall chances probably aren’t so good. The numbers just don’t rise to that level. Consider this: Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, won 176 games – most by a Mississippi native — from 1923-38 and added another 34 saves. Four times he won 18 or more games. His ERA was 3.86, and he played in a hitters’ era. He pitched in two World Series, including 1929, the year he won 18 games and saved eight for the Chicago Cubs. Bush was on the HOF ballot one year and got 1 percent of the vote from the writers. Tough crowd, those writers. There are no Mississippi-born major league players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame – Cool Papa Bell and William Foster were Negro Leagues stars – and while Oswalt will get some voter support, that’s likely to remain the case in 2019. … The HOF ballots were due Dec. 31, and the announcement of new electees will be made on Jan. 22. P.S. Former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia were first-timers on the ballot for 2019 and ex-Gens star Billy Wagner was a notable returnee. A case can be made for both Wagner and Berkman making the grade at some point. No ex-Gens (or Jackson Mets, for that matter) are enshrined in Cooperstown.

02 Oct

end of an era

Seventy years ago this month, Jonestown native Luke Easter helped the Homestead Grays win the 1948 Negro League World Series, beating the Birmingham Black Barons (and a kid named Willie Mays) 4 games to 1. Negro Leagues legend Buck Leonard and future major leaguer Bob Thurman were also on that Grays team. It was a significant Series in a couple of ways. The NLWS title was the last for the great Grays franchise, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that won three – plus nine Negro National League pennants — in a 12-year span. The 1948 season was also the last gasp of the old Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in the majors in 1947 created opportunities for other prominent black players and began to diminish the talent in the Negro Leagues. Easter, who hit .363 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs for the ’48 Grays, would make the majors in 1949, becoming the first black Mississippian to do so. As a 34-year-old rookie in 1950, Easter slugged 28 homers for the Cleveland Indians. P.S. The National Urban Professional Baseball League, which launched on May 25 in Laurel and disbanded on July 1 due to a “lack of support,” plans to field teams again in 2019, according to the league website. The NUPBL has been rebranded as the Urban Baseball Association. All of the 2018 games for the four-team league were played at Laurel’s Wooten Field. The league was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races. One of the organization’s stated missions is to honor old Negro League stars and teams.

21 Jul

date of note

On July 21, 1951, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Crawford native Sam Hairston made his major league debut, becoming the first black American to play for the White Sox. Hairston played in only four MLB games – but his legacy is much, much larger than that. He is the patriarch of the only black three-generation family in MLB history. Hairston had two sons, Jerry and John, who played in the majors and two grandsons, Jerry Jr. and Scott, who also reached that summit. Sam Hairston, a catcher, was a Negro Leagues star, winning a Triple Crown in 1950, before signing with the White Sox. He was 31 when he debuted. He played on in the minors until 1960, winning an MVP award in 1953 and hitting .304 for his career. He scouted and coached in the White Sox’s system before his death in 1997. Eight years ago, the city of Columbus, just a few miles from Crawford, held a Sam Hairston Celebration day with plans to name a baseball field in his honor.

15 Apr

pioneer spirit

On the day we celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic feat of breaking the MLB color line in 1947, let’s also give a nod to Greenwood native Dave Hoskins. Hoskins was the first black player in two minor leagues, the Central League in 1948 and the Texas League in 1952. While there are reports about difficulties Hoskins bravely faced in both situations, he said this in a Society of American Baseball Research article: “All in all, I had no complaints.” “He was such a nice man, you couldn’t not love the guy,” a teammate, Joe Macko, said in that same piece. Hoskins got his start in the Negro Leagues and was a standout as both a pitcher and hitter. Recruited to the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League in 1952 by team owner Dick Burnett, Hoskins went 22-10 and batted .328. That got him a shot with the Cleveland Indians in 1953, and he went 9-3 with a 3.99 ERA as a 27-year-old rookie. (The SABR report says he was actually in his mid-30s by then.) Hoskins pitched for the pennant-winning Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster. His big league career was over after 40 games, though he did play a few more years in the minors. He died in 1970.

03 Oct

coming next spring?

Is professional baseball coming to Laurel? The new National Urban Professional Baseball League, which is scheduled to hold tryouts this week in Jackson and Laurel, says on its website (nupbl.com) that Laurel will be home next spring to one of its teams, with others in Texas and Millington, Tenn. Tryouts, open to anyone 17 or older, are slated for Wednesday and Thursday at Jackson State’s Braddy Field and Saturday and Sunday at Laurel’s Wooten Legion Field. The league was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races. The NUPBL will honor Negro League stars and teams from the past. Several Mississippians are listed on the website as already having been chosen to participate. The 90-game schedule is slated to start in May, though no further details were available.