Showing posts with label 1954. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1954. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nat Peeples, 86, broke the color barrier in the Southern Association

Nat Peeples, the first African-American to play in the Southern League, passed away August 30, 2012 in Memphis, Tennnessee. He was 86. Reports of his passing have recently surfaced, and sadly his departure has gone with little fanfare.

Nat Peeples Signed Photo
Peeples played in the Negro Leagues with the Memphis Red Sox, Kansas City Monarchs, and Indianapolis Clowns before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1951. He played a few years in their system at the low minors and in 1953, he bounced around among three different teams, as the Dodgers sold him to independent Keokuk before the Braves bought his contract and sent him to Evansville to finish out the season. He finished the 1953 season with a .331 average and 15 home runs. His combination of speed, average, and power were enough for the Braves to offer him a contract with the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers for the 1954 season.

The 28-year-old outfielder was hesitant when he received the news that he was going to be the one to break the league’s color barrier.

“I was sick about it because back in 1954, I didn't know how it all was going to work out. I played through the South when I was with the Kansas City Monarchs. I knew what those towns were like. Earl Mann said, ‘Well, come to spring training, and we'll see what happens.’ And that's what I did,” said Peeples in Bruce Adelson’s, "Brushing Back Jim Crow."

After the first six games of spring training, Peeples was batting an impressive .429 with a home run. His early performance caught the attention of the media, with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune running the headline on March 22, 1954, “Nat Peeples May Be 1st to Break SA Race Barrier.” The once reluctant outfielder warmed up to his prospects after his hot start.

“I think I’ve made it, but of course that’s not for me to say,” he remarked.

Peeples played well enough to make the opening day roster, but couldn’t stick with the team. He made his debut on April 9, 1954 in Mobile, Ala., grounding out in a pinch-hitting appearance. He played in one more game, finishing 0-4 with a walk, and was sent to Class-A Jacksonville on April 17, 1954. Rumors surrounding his demotion stemmed from complaints of the rest of the owners in the league. Others have asserted he simply wasn't ready for the pitching in the league.

Kenneth Fenster took an in depth look at Peeples’ short time with Atlanta for a 2004 article in the NINE Journal, “Earl Mann, Nat Peeples, and the Failed Attempt of Integration in the Southern Association.” Fenster concluded that Peeples was unprepared for the jump in competition.

“When Earl Mann explained on April 17 that Peeples had lost his spot on the roster to more experienced outfielders and that the Crackers had sent him to Jacksonville so he could play every day, the Atlanta owner asserted the truth. … He was an average Class-A and a below-average Class-AA player, and it took him until the end of his career to reach that level of competence. Thus, in 1954, he was clearly not ready for the Southern Association,” Fenster reported.

He stayed with the Braves organization for the majority of his career, getting as far as Triple-A before his retirement in 1960. In his 1999 interview with Adelson, Peeples took pride in his accomplishment, no matter how brief it was.

“I felt pretty good about what I did because no other black players tried to play in the Southern Association. I don’t regret what I did, but I can’t say I’d do it again. I’d have to think about it. I’d like to be remembered for what I did.”

Further reading on the career of Nat Peeples -

Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy - Jules Tygiel

Questions plague Peeples' trailblazing story. -

Peeples first Negro in Southern Association. - Jet Magazine

Your job is going to be worse than mine because you're down south. -

Monday, March 7, 2011

Duke Snider's Philadelphia grab eclipsed that of Willie Mays in the World Series

Duke Snider made an award winning grab on Memorial Day in 1954 that still stands as the best ever, yes, even better than Willie Mays' grab in the 1954 World Series. The catch is one of many highlights detailed in Jason Aronoff's "Going, Going ... Caught!: Baseball's Great Outfield Catches as Described by Those Who Saw Them, 1887-1964"

In baseball circles, one just has to say “The Catch” and immediately visions of Willie Mays racing towards the depths of the Polo Grounds appear. While many regard Mays tracking down Vic Wertz’s smash as the best ever, some witnesses argued Mays’ catch wasn’t even the best one that year! The recently deceased Duke Snider made a snag on Memorial Day earlier that year that easily rivaled, if not surpassed Mays’ highlight in New York.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were facing the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia on May 31, 1954. Entrenched in a 12-inning battle, Phillies third baseman Willie “Puddin Head” Jones stepped to the plate against Clem Labine. Jones laced a screaming shot towards the left-center field gap that forced Snider into an all-out sprint towards the wood-faced concrete wall. Snider miraculously managed to dig his foot into the wall and propelled himself seemingly higher to reach out over his head and across his body to make a spinning backhanded catch against the fence. He stumbled down the wall and pulled the ball out of the webbing of his glove. Second base umpire Jocko Conlan signaled the out and the Dodgers mobbed Snider for preserving the victory.

The Brooklyn Eagle’s Dave Anderson labeled Snider’s grab as, “the greatest, absolutely the greatest, catch in baseball history.” Dodgers coach Jake Pitler told the New York Post that Snider’s catch was like no other he witnessed in baseball.

“In forty years of baseball, I never saw a catch like Snider made.”

In a 2009 interview I conducted with Dodger outfielder Don Thompson, he gave me a bird’s-eye view from his position in left field, where he was inserted as a late inning defensive replacement.

“A man in upstate New York contacted me about a book he was writing about baseball’s greatest catches," Thompson said. He asked me about a catch Duke Snider made on Memorial Day in 1954. I was in the field, as I went in during the 8th or 9th inning. Snider made a catch you wouldn’t believe unless you were there to see it. Puddin Head Jones hit a ball to left-center field; Snider had a better shot at it than I did. He was running towards the fence, jumped and turned, and sorta stuck his cleats in the wooden fence there and caught this ball. It may have gone over, but he jumped and turned and caught this ball. This author rated this number one. Snider was going right towards the fence as hard as he could, turned at the last minute, stuck his cleats in the fence and caught this ball. He rated it over Mays’ catch in the World Series. Mays had a long way to go, but he didn’t have anything obstructing him. Alston said not only did he have a long way to go, he had to jump, and he had the fence to contend with. I was playing left field, I was right there. He stuck his cleats in that old fence, and I couldn’t believe that he had it. He backhanded it for the catch.”

Bob “Mickey” Micelotta was on first base when the ball was hit. Micelotta was a rookie infielder for the Phillies, making only his third plate appearance in the major leagues. He drew a walk off of Labine to extend the inning for Jones’ drive. There was some speculation Snider trapped the ball against the wall with his near-impossible catch. In a July 2009 letter from Micelotta, he affirmed Snider’s awe inspiring leap.

“I did see the catch," Micelotta said. "I was on first base and the play was right in front of me. He did catch it!”