Kim Ng made history this past week, becoming the first woman GM in Major League Baseball. She is also the first Asian American GM. For the past nine years, Ng has been the senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB. Prior to that, she had positions as Assistant GM with both the Dodgers and Yankees.
In honor of Moses Fleetwood Walker’s birthday, yesterday I wrote about the baseball careers of Fleet and his brother, Weldy. In 1884, they became the first and second African Americans to play Major League Baseball. They were also the last African Americans to play in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Their careers were cut short by racism, but they weren’t going to just sit back and let that happen. In fact, in 1884, Weldy and a friend filed a civil rights lawsuit after a roller skating rink denied them access. Although the judge in the case agreed their rights had been violated, he did not order the rink to admit African Americans.
While still in the minors, Weldy spoke out against segregation in baseball as it was becoming official policy in several minor leagues. In March 1888, Weldy wrote a letter to the president of the Tri-State League that was published in Sporting Life. Referring to the league’s policy on segregation, Weldy wrote: “The law is a disgrace to the present age, and reflects very much upon the intelligence of your last meeting, and casts derision at the laws of Ohio – the voice of the people – that say all men are equal. I would suggest that your honorable body, in case that black law is not repealed, pass one making it criminal for a colored man or woman to be found on a ball ground … There should be some broader cause – such as lack of ability, behavior and intelligence – for barring a player, rather than his color.”
In his post-baseball career, Fleet became an inventor and worked for the U.S. Postal Service. In 1891, Fleet stabbed and killed a man in an altercation of four white men who were addressing him with racial slurs. He was found not guilty by an all-white jury. In 1895, Fleet was found guilty of mail theft and sentenced to one year in prison. Upon his release in 1896, he joined Weldy in Steubenville, where they owned the Union Hotel as well as the Opera House movie theater in Cadiz.
According to Wikipedia, in 1897, Weldy was on the Executive Committee of the Negro Protective Party, which was founded to protest the failure of the Ohio governor to investigate the lynching of an African American earlier that year in Urbana, Ohio. By the early 1900s, the brothers had become active in the Back-to-Africa Movement, which promoted the emigration of African Americans to Liberia. In 1902, they founded a The Equator, a newspaper that focused on racial matters. In 1908, Fleet wrote a short book entitled, Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present and Future of the Negro Race in America. In it he stated, “The Negro should be taught he is an alien and always will be regarded as such in this Country, and that equal social, industrial and political rights can never be given them.”
By the 1920s, the brothers were operating the Temple Theater in Cleveland. Fleet died a few years later, on May 11, 1924, in Cleveland. Weldy later moved back to Steubenville, where he died in November 1937.
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the grand jury indictments in the “Black Sox Scandal.” On September 28, 1920, a grand jury in Chicago indicted eight Chicago White Sox players on charges of fixing games in the 1919 World Series.
The eight players who were charged (though acquitted at trial) and eventually banned from baseball were: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Chares “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver. (I told you they had more interesting nicknames way back when!)
For more information on the scandal and trial, check out these resources:
Miguel Angel “Mike” González Cordero was born on this date in 1890 in Havana, Cuba. González had 17-year MLB career as a catcher between 1912 and 1932; played winter ball in Cuba from 1910 to 1936; played for the St. Paul Saints (1922-23), Cuban Stars (1911, 1912, 1914), Long Branch Cubans (1913), and New York Lincoln Giants (1936); was a coach for the Columbus Red Birds (1933) and St. Louis Cardinals (1934-37, 1938-40, 1941-46); and became the first Cuban to manage a Major League ball club when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938 and 1940.
According to the Society of American Baseball Research, González, along with Adolfo Luque, “is considered to be one of the two true patriarchs of baseball in Cuba, where he was a player, manager, and owner in the Cuban League from 1910 through 1960.” In fact, Ernest Hemingway in his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, asked the question, “Who is the greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike González?”
During the 1946-47 Cuban Winter League season, González resigned from the Cardinal’s coaching staff in protest of the Commissioner of Baseball’s ban of MLB players who had signed with the Mexican League in 1946. Several of the banned players were signed by Cuban teams, including González’ club. González was then ruled ineligible to work in Major League Baseball. González remained in Cuba and became the owner of the Havana Reds in 1946. He owned the team until 1961 when professional baseball was disbanded in Cuba after the revolution.
Mike González was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in Havana in 1977.
As I noted yesterday, nicknames just aren’t what they were 100 years ago. This week in particular, a lot of baseball players with interesting names were born.
Today is the birthday of Owen F. “Spider” Clark. Spider Clark was born on September 16, 1867. He was a utility player who played for the Washington Nationals in 1889 and the Buffalo Bisons in 1890. According to Wikipedia, “While he was primarily a right fielder, he played all over the diamond on defense, playing every position at least once, including one game as a pitcher for the Bisons.” Perhaps that’s how he acquired his nickname.
Tomorrow is the birthday of both Robert Henry “Farmer” Ray and John Frederick “Sheriff” Blake, born in 1886 and 1899, respectively. Farmer Ray was a left-handed pitcher from Colorado. He played only one season for the St. Louis Browns (1910). There was no information about how he earned his nickname. According to the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), Sheriff Blake’s nickname came to be when he manager George Stallings called him over, but could not remember his name, only that he was from West Virginia. So he simply said, “’Hey you moonshining sheriff, come here.’” Blake later explained that it was during Prohibition and West Virginia was known for moonshining.
Surprisingly, the only player with a nickname born on September 18 was Witt Orison “Lefty” Guise, born in 1908 in Driggs, Arkansas. Predictably, his nickname was due to the fact that he was a left-handed pitcher. Guise played for the University of Florida before signing with the Cincinnati Reds. He made only two appearances from the Reds in 1940, at the age of 31. According to Baseball Reference, he was in the minors in 1941 and 1950.
Rounding out our list of baseball nicknames is William H. “Yank” Robinson, who was born on September 19, 1859. Yank played during that time when teams also had more interesting names – he played for: the Detroit Wolverines (1882), Baltimore Monumentals (1884), St. Louis Browns (1885-1889), Pittsburgh Burghers (1890), Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers (1891), and Washington Senators (1892). SABR states that the origin of Yank’s nickname is unclear, but it could be related to the fact that he was born in Yankee territory (Philadelphia, PA) and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. The nickname first appeared in print in 1886 when he was playing in St. Louis, which had been under Union control during the Civil War.
Things were different back then. Sure, players of every era have acquired nicknames, and today’s players have gotten a chance to let everyone know theirs, but the nicknames of the past seem to have stuck and have become their names. I mean, sources like Baseball Reference and Wikipedia likely will not one day refer to Jim Palmer simply as Cakes Palmer.
Why don’t today’s baseball players have good nicknames, like players from the early 1900s? When I look at the website “Today in Baseball History,” I’m often struck by the fascinating names of players born in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this week, in particular, there seem to be several.
On September 14, Thomas Francis “Bunny” Madden was born in 1882 and George Peacock “Icehouse” Wilson was born in 1912. Catcher Bunny Madden attended Villanova University and played for both the Boston Red Sox (1909-11) and Philadelphia Phillies (1911), though there’s no information on how he earned his nickname. Icehouse Wilson played both baseball and football at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. He earned the nickname “Icehouse” from football coach Slip Madigan because he was cool under fire. Icehouse played only one game for the Detroit Tigers in 1934, though he was with the team for 10 weeks. His MLB career batting average is .000. He then returned to the minor leagues and retired from baseball in 1935.
Judd Bruce “Slow Joe” Doyle was born on September 15, 1881; Elwood Good “Speed” Martin was born on that date in 1893. Slow Joe was a pitcher and earned his nickname because he would take a long time between pitches. He played for both the New York Highlanders (1906-1910) and the Cincinnati Reds (1910). Speed played for the St. Louis Browns (1917) and the Chicago Cubs (1918-1922). I couldn’t find anything that explained how Speed got his nickname, but he was also a pitcher. Its interesting that both Slow Joe and Speed were born on the same day.
Of course, this only gets us through part of the week. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about Spider, Farmer, Sheriff, Lefty, and Yank.
This past Sunday I watched a documentary on PBS titled, “Babe Ruth at Sing Sing.” The documentary told the story of a 1929 exhibition game between the New York Yankees – and, of course, Babe Ruth – and a team of inmates at Sing Sing prison. The documentary also discusses ideas of imprisonment and reform of the time.
According to WTVP of Peoria, IL, there are other documentaries on PBS that discuss the relationship between sport, society, and community. However, you’ll need to check local schedules to see if they will be available in your area (I haven’t found the other two in my area, yet.) I’ve posted those trailers below. Also, don’t forget that you can stream Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary for free on PBS.