By Tim Lacy, Special to the AFRO
Major League Baseball (MLB) has packed its bags and gone south for the winter. While they are honing their craft it dawned on me that this is a great time to close out BLACK HISTORY MONTH by treating you to a look at some of the old time NEGRO LEAGUE CHARACTERS.
It is only fitting that I open with the ladies. Most people are not aware that there were a few COLORED ladies playing Pro Baseball. The most notable being Toni Stone, Connie Morgan and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. Peanut was my buddy, and when we showed up at the same venue, there were sure to be some hijinks.
When she made her debut with the Indianapolis Clowns she faced Hank Baylis. Hank was a crusty veteran, and spotting this 5’3″ wisp of a girl looking back at him from the mound, he guffawed and named her “Peanut”. He invited her to return to the kitchen and leave the ball playing to the men. She promptly struck him out. He was gone, but the name stuck.
I would like to introduce you to Rube Foster. Rube was Branch Rickey in blackface. He was a team owner who insisted that his players wear a suit when traveling, and he purchased a railroad car that he would attach to trains traveling to his destinations. The appearance of his players helped lend credibility to these barnstormers.
“Smokey” Joe Williams was a pitcher. He was said to have a fast ball so powerful that blind people would go out to the park just to listen to him pitch. James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell was the fastest man in baseball. It was said he could walk into a hotel room, hit the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark. He could hit a line drive up the middle and get hit by the ball sliding into second base. Josh Gibson was known as the Black Babe Ruth. Josh was so powerful, he was once fooled by a change up pitch and lost his grip on the bat. He proceeded to knock the ball out of Yankee Stadium with one hand. John Henry “Pop” Lloyd was still active after 27 years of baseball. He was so adept at shortstop, he was called “El Cuchara” which translates to the shovel or the spoon, for his penchant of coming up with a glove full of dirt when fielding a ground ball. A white HoF player Honus Wagner, had the same habit and both are enshrined in Cooperstown. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe lived to be 103 years old, and before he died, he was always seen with a fine looking lady on both arms. He got the name “Double Duty” from his habit of coming out of the dugout, spotting a beautiful day and shouting “Let’s play two!” Lloyd “Pepper” Bassett was a catcher known for sometimes catching a game in a rocking chair. “Pepper” played 20 years from his chair.
This is just a sample, and we may revisit these characters sometime in the future.