Today marks Cool Papa Bell’s 115th birthday. James Thomas Bell was born on May 18, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi. He spent most of his 24 year baseball career in the Negro Leagues, although he spent some time playing in the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Satchel Paige, a teammate of Bell’s, once famously said, “Cool was so fast, he could turn out the light and jump in bed before it got dark.” (This is sometimes attributed to Josh Gibson.)
On April 14, 2009, then-Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill into law declaring the second Saturday in May to be Negro League Baseball Day. So, in honor of the day, here are some stats on the Negro Leagues in Maryland:
Four Negro League teams played in Maryland: (1) Baltimore Lord Baltimores, National Colored Baseball League, 1887; (2) Baltimore Black Sox, 1922-1934 (independent league, 1916-22 and 1930-31; Eastern Colored League, 1923-28; American Negro League, 1929; East-West League, 1932; Negro National League, 1933-34); (3) Baltimore Stars (independent league, 1933); and (4) Baltimore Elite Giants (Negro National League, 1938-48; Negro American League, 1949-50). In addition, several semi-pro and sandlot teams played throughout the state, such as the Mitchellville Tigers and the Galesville Hot Sox.
At least 10 members of the Baltimore Black Sox were born in Maryland: Blainey Hall, Buddy Burbage, George Grayer, John Stanley, Malcolm Brown, Peter Johnson, Scrappy Brown, Stuart Jones, Tony Mahoney, and Wyman Smith.
The Black Sox and the Elite Giants each won two championships: 1929 and 1932 for the Black Sox and 1939 and 1949 for the Elite Giants.
Two of the most famous Negro League players in Baltimore were Satchel Paige and Leon Day. Paige, a right-handed pitcher, had an win-loss record of 100-50 in the Negro Leagues, and 28-31 in the Major Leagues. Day, also a RHP, had a 64-29 win-loss record of 64-29 in the Negro Leagues, with an ERA of 2.98.
To close out African American History Month, let’s remember Rube Foster, the founder of the Negro National League. Born in 1879, Foster began his playing career with the Fort Worth Yellow Jackets in 1897. He would go on to play with the Chicago Union Giants, the Cuban X-Giants, the Philadelphia Giants, the Leland Giants, and the Chicago American Giants. in 1910, Foster became player/owner/manager of the Leland Giants, which were renamed the Chicago American Giants the next year. Below are just a few of his pitching stats from Baseball Reference.
“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!
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.