Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bill 'Ready' Cash, veteran of eight Negro League seasons dies at 91

Bill “Ready” Cash, an All-Star catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues from 1943-1950, passed away Monday at Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 91.

Born February 21, 1919 in Round Oak, Georgia, Cash moved to Southwest Philadelphia as a youngster, where he honed his baseball skills on the local sandlots. After quitting his high school team, as he was the only black player on the squad, he starred on local semi-pro teams in the early 1940s. Under the tutelage of Negro League veteran Webster McDonald, he was brought to Philadelphia manager Goose Curry in 1943 and was invited to join the Stars.


Cash played eight seasons in the Negro Leagues, all with Philadelphia. He was selected to the East-West All-Star game in 1948 and 1949; during the latter which he caught the entire game. In demand for his prowess behind the plate, the well-traveled catcher played in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Canada.


I had the opportunity to meet Cash in 2008 at an event at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Even at his advanced age, he rattled off names and explicit details of legends such as Ray Dandridge, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. I marveled at the size of his hands, which were not only huge, but disfigured from the multiple broken fingers due to the hazards of catching. I only wondered about the power of those hands during his prime.

He earned the nickname “Ready” after being taken out of a game early in his tenure.  He wasn’t happy about the benching and quickly told the manager, "When I put on the uniform, I'm ready to play." The moniker followed him the rest of his career.

A few years after major league baseball had been integrated; Cash was signed in 1952 at the age of 33 by the Chicago White Sox. Fueled by the promise of a spot with Class A Colorado Springs, Cash batted .375 during spring training, besting fellow Negro League alum Sam Hairston’s .214 average. Despite his torrid spring, the White Sox executives did not hold up their end of the bargain and sent Cash to Class B Waterloo. Infuriated, Cash asked for his release.

“I was mad because they lied to me,” he said in Brent P. Kelly’s Voices from the Negro Leagues.

Reluctantly, Cash stayed on with Waterloo, seeking to prove his major league worthiness. His aspirations were derailed when he broke his leg less than 40 games into the season and was shelved for nine weeks. Upon his return, he was reassigned to Class C Superior to help them in their playoff run. It would be the end of Cash’s quest to get to the major leagues. He played a few more years in the Mandak League as well as with a semi-pro outfit in Bismarck, North Dakota before finishing in 1955.

Even at the end of his career, Cash’s skills continued to impress. During a 2008 interview I conducted with his Bismarck manager Al Cihocki, the mention of his name elicited an excited response.

“How about Bill Cash? Holy Christ, boy could he hit and throw. If he was playing today, he would be worth a fortune.”

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