“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|
A baseball historian in Minnesota heard stories of baseball legend. After visiting the local historical society in Bertha, MN, that historian, Pete Groton, found proof of the player’s popularity in an advertisement from around the 1920s that read: “John Donaldson; Greatest Colored Pitcher in the World.” In order to find more information on Donaldson, Groton founded the Donaldson Network of researchers. By 2008, there was a network of about 500 research across the country digging through newspapers, archives, and old photos to recreate Donaldson’s career. According to the Network’s website:
“Our wish is that Mr. Donaldson will someday be properly inducted (and not “allowed”) into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that can’t be our final goal. The real goal must be to unearth as much information about Donaldson, and then try to tell the story from there. Each box score and article turn over a new page, and often open up another missing day (or, as we’ve found, dozens of missing days). It would be impossible for any one person to finish this task, alone, in one lifetime.”
The Donaldson Network received the John Coates Next Generation Award for exemplary research from SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee in 2008. In 2011, Pete Groton was honored in 2011 by the Society of American Baseball Research Negro Leagues Committee with the Tweed Webb Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts. They also have a pretty cool store on Zazzle.
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.”
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!
The baseball world mourns the passing of Monte Irvin on Monday. After playing for the Newark Eagles for more than 9 seasons (and serving nearly 3 years in the Army), on July 8, 1949, Irvin became one of the first African American players to play for the New York Giants (along with Hank Thompson), after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. He was selected a Negro League All-Star five times and an MLB All-Star once in (1952). He was the Negro National League MVP in 1941, the Mexican League MVP in 1942, and the Negro League RBI leader in 1951. In 1973 he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
I first learned of Monte’s career in the mid-1990s, when I was doing some research for a project on Negro League Baseball in the mid-Atlantic region. He had been supportive of our project, participated in an oral interview, and even made an appearance at one of our events. Thus, he became one of my favorite players.
I put the following timeline together rather hastily from a variety of websites, so it is not complete (nor has everything been double-checked and verified). Monte’s stats appear below.
Thanks again very everything, Monte… we will miss you.
- February 25, 1919: Montford Merrill Irvin was born Haleburg, Alabama
- 1934-1938: Attended East Orange High School; earned 16 varsity letters; made all-state in football, basketball, track, and baseball; set state record in the javelin throw
- Spent two years at Lincoln University in Chester, PA; participated in football, basketball, track, and baseball
- 1938: joined the Newark Eagles
- 1941: Negro National League MVP
- 1940-1942: Played in the Winter League in Puerto Rico
- 1942: played in the Mexican League, where he was named MVP (after salary negotiations with Eagles’ team own Effa Manley were unsuccessful)
- 1942: Married his high school sweetheart, Dee
- 1943-1945: served in the Army Engineers in World War II
- 1945-1947: played in Winter League in Puerto Rico
- 1947-1949: played in Winter League in Cuba
- 1949: Signed by the New York Giants; began the season in Jersey City and later called up to the parent team
- 1951-1968: community relations director with Rheingold Brewery
- 1954: Member of the World Series-winning New York Giants
- 1956: retired from MLB after 764 games, 2,499 at-bats, and 99 home runs, with a lifetime batting average of .293.
- 1957: played 4 games with the minor league Los Angeles Angels
- 1967-1968: scout for the New York Mets
- 1968-1964: worked in the MLB Commissioner’s Office as Assistant Director of Public Relations and Promotions
- 1973: elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- 1996: published his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish First
- 2010: The San Francisco Giants retired his number (20)
- Served as chairman of the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues and Hall of Fame’s Veterans’ Committee
- Inducted Into 9 Halls of Fame in the U.S., Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico
- Voted the “Greatest Athlete Ever in New Jersey” by the New Jersey Sports Writers’ Association
|1942||Veracruz Azules (Mexican League)||63||237||20||0.397|
|1949||Jersey City Giants||63||204||9||0.373|
|1949||New York Giants||36||76||0||0.224|
|1950||Jersey City Giants||18||51||10||0.510|
|1950||New York Giants||110||374||15||0.299|
|1951||New York Giants||151||558||24||0.312|
|1952||New York Giants||46||126||4||0.310|
|1953||New York Giants||124||444||21||0.329|
|1954||New York Giants||135||432||19||0.262|
|1955||Minneapolis Millers (AAA)||75||250||14||0.352|
|1955||New York Giants||51||150||1||0.253|
|1957||Los Angeles Angels (Pacific Coast League)||4||10||1||0.300|