“All of these former [Negro Leagues] players have interesting stories to tell. They didn’t have the opportunity. Now they will.” – Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB Executive VP for Baseball Operations, 2008
Does anyone remember MLB’s Negro Leagues Player Draft, which took place on June 5, 2008? According to an article on MLB.com, the draft was “a continuation of baseball’s effort to fix a historical wrong.” (Other efforts undertaken by MLB have included the induction of Negro Leaguers into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and the annual Civil Rights Game). For this “draft,” each MLB team selected a surviving former Negro Leagues player to represent all players who were denied the opportunity to play Major League Baseball.
Interestingly, it took a while to even find any information on this event, which coincided with MLB’s First-Player Draft in 2008. (Not even a Wikipedia page!) I pieced together who was selected in this draft from I variety of sources until eventually I found one article that listed all of the players selected. I never did found a player for the St. Louis Cardinals.
This list of “drafted” players appears below. If anyone has anymore insights or information, please share!
|Bob Mitchell||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|James “Red” Moore||Atlanta Braves|
|Bert Simmons||Baltimore Orioles|
|Jim Colzie||Boston Red Sox|
|Walter Owens||Chicago Cubs|
|Hank Presswood||Chicago White Sox|
|Charlie Davis||Cincinnati Reds|
|Otha “Li’l Catch” Bailey||Cleveland Indians|
|Mack Pride, Jr.||Colorado Rockies|
|Cecil Kaiser||Detroit Tigers|
|Enrique Maroto||Florida Marlins|
|Bill Blair||Houston Astros|
|Ulysses Hollimon||Kansas City Royals|
|Neale “Bobo” Henderson||Los Angeles Angels|
|Andrew Porter||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Joe Scott||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Bill “Lefty” Bell||Minnesota Twins|
|Robert Scott||New York Mets|
|Emilio “Millito” Navarro||New York Yankees|
|Irvin Castille||Oakland Athletics|
|Mahlon Duckett||Philadelphia Phillies|
|James Tillman||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Walter McCoy||San Diego Padres|
|Carlos Manuel Santiago||San Francisco Giants|
|John “Mule” Miles||Seattle Mariners|
|Walter Lee Gibbons||Tampa Bay Rays|
|Charley Pride||Texas Rangers|
|Harold Gould||Toronto Blue Jays|
|Mamie “Peanut” Johnson||Washington Nationals|
John Wesley Donaldson was born on February 20, 1891, in Glasgow, Missouri. Between 1908 and 1940, The left-handed pitcher amassed a won-loss record of at least 360 and 141, with about 4,500 strikeouts. He has been credited with 11 no-hitters, one perfect game, dozens of one-hitters, and at least 86 shutouts. And he batted around .334.
Donaldson began his playing career with his hometown Hannaca Blues and the nearby Missouri Black Tigers in Higbee, MO. In 1911, he joined the Tennessee Rats of Holden, MO. He reportedly had a record of 44-3 that year. Next, Donaldson went to Des Moines, IA, to pitch for the All Nations team for a salary of $150 per month. This barnstorming played teams throughout the Midwest.
Between 1915 and 1919, Donaldson played with teams from Iowa to Florida, including the Indianapolis ABCs, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the Detroit Stars, and the Chicago American Giants. In 1920, with the creation of the Negro National League, Donaldson joined the Kansas City Monarchs. He was with the Monarchs from 1920 to 1923, while continuing to pitch for All Nations part-time. Donaldson continued to play semi-pro ball throughout the 1920s and 1930s, perhaps into the 1940s. Researchers have uncovered records of him playing in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, and Saskatchewan.
Donaldson is the greatest pitcher you never heard of. In 1913, he pitched three consecutive no-hitters. Let that sink in for a little bit: Three. Consecutive. No-hitters. Over the course of his career, he had two 30 strikeout games, 11 games with more than 25 strikeouts, 30 games with more than 20 strikeouts, 109 games with more than 15 strikeouts, and a total of 203 double digit strikeout games. And counting.
Why “and counting”? Because researchers haven’t uncovered everything there is to know about Mr. Donaldson. Donaldson is from that unique period in time which baseball historians haven’t completely recorded and Donaldson was black, so the barnstorming teams he played for in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, weren’t always well organized, nor do complete records exist.
That’s where the Donaldson Network comes in – tune in for Monday’s post on this group of researchers keeping the memory of John Donaldson alive. In the meantime, enjoy the footage below of John Donaldson in action in 1925 in Fergus Falls, MN.
While researching Willard Brown‘s story, I ran across the video below from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. According to the Hall of Fame,
“Willard Brown regularly posted batting averages well above .300, helping the Kansas City Monarchs win six pennants between 1937-46. The slugging outfielder played in eight East-West All-Star Games, lost two years to army service during World War II and had a brief stint with the St. Louis Browns in 1947. A star in the Puerto Rico Winter League in the 1940s and ’50s, Brown captured a pair of Triple Crowns, topped the .400-mark twice and earned the nickname Ese Hombre (The Man). He finished his career with five seasons in the Minor Leagues, bashing 35 home runs in the Texas League in 1954.”
He may not be a household name, but Willard “Home Run” Brown was only the fourth black player to play in the major leagues. He made his major league debut on July 19, 1947, with the St. Louis Browns, two days after Hank Thompson became the first black player with the Browns. Unfortunately, Home Run Brown played only 21 games in the majors before returning to the Negro Leagues. His only MLB home run was an inside-the-park home run on August 13, 1947, against Detroit. Both Willard Brown and Hank Thompson were released by St. Louis on August 23.
Born in Shreveport, LA, on June 26, 1915, Willard Jessie Brown was born for baseball. In the 1920s, he was a bat boy for the Kansas City Monarchs during their spring training games in Shreveport. In 1934, at the age of 19, he joined the Monroe Monarchs of the Negro Southern League where he earned $8 per week as a shortstop and pitcher. The following spring, Brown was playing with the Shreveport Acme Giants when the owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, J.L. Wilkinson, noticed him and Buck O’Neil. Wilkinson signed both O’Neil and Brown to play for the Monarchs that season.
Brown played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1935 to 1949, and also played for the 1941 Veracruz Aguila in the Mexican League and participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League from 1947 to 1950. His career batting average with the Monarchs was .337. After leaving the Monarchs, Brown played for the 1950 Ottawa Nationals in the Class C Border League; the 1951 Jalisco Charros and 1951 Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes of the Mexican League; the Texas League’s 1953-54 Dallas Eagles, 1954-55 Houston Buffaloes, 1956 Austin Senators, 1956 San Antonio Missions, and 1956 Tulsa Oilers; and the 1956 Topeka Hawks of the Western League. He also served in the U.S. Army in 1944.
The details of Brown’s life and baseball career are at times contradictory if you read the various sources closely. Such is the case with many Negro League and Mexican League records. He died in a Veteran’s Administration hospital on August 4, 1996, in Houston, TX, at the age of 81. Ten years later he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with other Negro League players in the special election class of 2006.
On February 13, 1920, the Negro National League (NNL) was founded by Rube Foster. In February 1920, African American team owners met at a YMCA in Kansas City to discuss the possibility of organizing the many independent teams into an organized league. Due to Foster’s persistence, an agreement was signed to create the NNL 96 years ago today.
Segregation in the United States after the Civil War kept Blacks and African Americans from signing with Major League Baseball teams. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
When baseball first became organized in the 1860s, a small handful of African-American players took the diamond alongside their white teammates. But with Jim Crow laws and prevalent segregationist sentiment still left over from the Civil War, the careers of talented African Americans like Moses Fleetwood Walker, Bud Fowler and Frank Grant were short-lived. By the turn of the 20th century, unwritten rules and “gentleman’s agreements” between owners had effectively shut black ballplayers out of big league competition.
Still craving a means to play, African Americans formed their own teams and barnstormed across the country to find competition.
Though Black players established their own teams, their access to ball fields and ticket revenues were controlled by booking agents. At one point Foster stated, “we will always be the underdog until we can successfully employ the methods that have brought success to the great powers that be in baseball of the present era: organization.”
The charter members of the league were the Chicago American Giants (owned by player-manager Rube Foster), Detroit Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, Indianapolis ABCs, St. Louis Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, and Chicago Giants. Several teams were members of the NNL at various times in its 11-year history, including the Milwaukee Bears, the Birmingham Black Barons, and the Memphis Red Sox. The NNL played until 1931 when the financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression led to its demise.
While the Negro National League was the first to successfully organize, it was not the only Negro League. Some leagues and teams were more successful than others. As we continue to celebrate African American History Month, I will highlight a few of the teams and players of the Negro Leagues over the next two weeks.
Happy Birthday, NNL!