Showing posts with label Chicago American Giants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago American Giants. Show all posts

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Joe Durham, 84, first African-American to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles

Joe Durham was a bona fide All-Star well before he made history as the first African-American player to hit a home run for the Baltimore Orioles. Playing in 1952 for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro Leagues, Durham was selected to the East-West All-Star Game at Comiskey Park. It was a thrill for a rookie to share a prominent stage amongst the league's veterans.

Joe Durham

“It was kind of exciting,” Durham said to me during a 2010 phone interview from his home in Maryland. “The All-Star game was good; we had a fairly decent crowd. We had a chance to play against one another and participate against guys from the East and the West. Most of the guys on those teams were older… There were several veterans that got my attention. I saw them play when I was a kid. Henry Kimbro and Doc Dennis… these guys had been playing for ages.”

Durham passed away Thursday, April 28, 2016, at the Northwest Hospital Hospice Center in Randallstown, Maryland. He was 84.

The outfielder found himself in the Negro Leagues after signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1952. The Browns wanted to place him on their farm teams in the South, but racial tensions at the time prevented that from being an option for Durham. Luckily Browns owner Bill Veeck was able to use a long-standing connection to place Durham on one of the flagship Negro League franchises.

“Everything they had in the farm system where they wanted to start me was in the South and I couldn’t play there,” he said. “Abe Saperstein who owned the Chicago American Giants and Bill Veeck who owned the St. Louis Browns were very good friends. So that’s how I got over there [to Chicago] for just one year.”

As major league teams signed more players from the Negro Leagues, these prospects served as agents of change across the minor leagues. In 1953, Durham along with future Baltimore Orioles outfielder Willie Tasby helped to break the color barrier of the Piedmont League as members of the York White Roses. Even though Durham grew up in segregated Newport News, Virginia, that still didn’t prepare him for the taunting he faced while playing.

“Hagerstown was the worst team in the whole damn league,” he said in Bruce Adelson’s book, Brushing Back Jim Crow. “They were really bad. I used to hate to go there. We opened the season in Hagerstown. I’m telling you, I never heard so much stuff in my life.”

Tasby further explained the degree of insults they faced while playing in Hagerstown. They retaliated against the hateful slurs by taking it out on the opposition.

“That was as bad as Mississippi,” Tasby told Adelson. “That was one of the worst places I played in my life. It wasn’t even in what you’d call the South. It’s in Maryland. But you see, Baltimore and Washington used to be bad too.

“We got called everything except our names there, all of the derogatory names. Of course, we beat the hell out of them every time we played there. But we still had to hear them.”

Durham responded by batting .308 with 14 home runs, earning a promotion to San Antonio in the Texas League in 1954. Still deep in the South, he had to figure out a way to keep his performance on the field unaffected by the social conditions at the time.

“Black ballplayers of that era had to have a little something extra to go along with their playing talent because of things you had to endure,” Durham said to Adelson. “You had to tell yourself not to let anything get in your way or distract you. There was nothing you could do.”

After another standout minor league season, where he hit .318 with 14 home runs and 108 RBI, Durham earned a September call-up to the Baltimore Orioles. Upon his arrival, he was immediately inserted into the lineup, and in his fourth major league game, he became the first African-American to homer for the Orioles, hitting a circuit blast off of Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Al Sima.

“The first night I got here, I played,” he said in during our 2010 interview. “I played out the season and then I had to go into the Army. I was scheduled to go in July, but I got a deferment until October.”

Durham spent two years in the Army, serving first at Camp Gordon in Georgia and then later with the Seventh Army in Germany. Upon his discharge in October 1956, he went on to play winter ball with San Juan in Puerto Rico, preparing him for major league spring training in 1957.

He responded to his two-year absence by leading the team in batting during spring training. Finally, Durham felt that he proved his worth as a full-time major leaguer. However, Orioles manager Paul Richards thought otherwise.

“The strange thing about it, I led the Orioles in hitting in spring training,” he said. “I had tremendous spring training. The prejudiced manager Paul Richards, the last day he told me, ‘If we go to Baltimore, you are only going to play 20-30 games and you are going to get rusty. We want you to go down to San Antonio.’ I asked him about going to Triple-A Vancouver and he said the roster there was full. He said, ‘Go on down there for a couple of weeks keep hitting, and we’ll bring you back up here.’”

A dejected Durham returned to San Antonio, determined to prove Richards wrong in his decision to keep him in the minor leagues. Upon his return to Texas after a three-year absence, Durham encountered greater indignities than when he left in 1954. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana enacted a law barring white and blacks from playing on the same field together. Rather than forcing the Texas League to remove Shreveport from competition, the league allowed the rest of the clubs to carry an extra player to compensate for keeping their players of color at home while they traveled to Shreveport.

“The first year I played at Shreveport, you could go in [and play],” he said. “I went in the Army and came back out. I started in 1957 and no blacks or whites could participate on the field, arena, or against one another in Shreveport. We would go to Houston and the team would go to Shreveport; we would go back to San Antonio.”

Showing tremendous character in the face of adversity, Durham’s on-field performance was at its peak. Durham maintained a .400 average during the first two months of the season, finally forcing the Orioles to call him up in the middle of June after he hit .391 in 50 games.

“I didn’t get recalled until June 10th and I was hitting over .400 until the 1st of June,” he recalled. “I came up and played the rest of the season in Baltimore.”

Unfortunately, Durham couldn’t duplicate his minor league success, hitting only .185 with four home runs in 77 games for the Orioles in 1957. Save for five at-bats with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959, it would be his last foray in the major leagues.

“I really hate to say it, but I never got a good chance to play,” Durham lamented. “They would tell you that they wanted to have you on the team and you were doing well, but he [Richards] was playing all of his boys. In 1959, I went to the St. Louis Cardinals. I had another tremendous spring, made the team and I got five at-bats before they decided to send me back to Baltimore.”

Durham continued to play in the minor leagues at the Triple-A level until 1964 and continued his involvement with the Orioles organization until his passing. A link to the franchise's birth, Durham’s six-decade association with the Orioles made him the longest-tenured employee in the team’s history. He spent 20 years as a batting practice pitcher after he hung up his spikes, and then served as their community coordinator for baseball operations, as well as a minor league coach, instructor, and scout.

“I do clinics and go around to some of the schools, community relations they call it,” he said in 2010. “I’m not on the regular payroll. I’ve been on their payroll in some capacity since 1954. I used to do a lot of traveling, hitting schools and private organizations; that was part of my job. I worked in the front office as the community relations director. I scouted one year. That was the last year I worked.”

As with many of his African-American counterparts in the early 1950s, Durham’s major league stats fall short of explaining the totality of his story and skills. His ability to stand tall in the face of Jim Crow segregation to become the Orioles’ most respected employee demonstrates Durham proved his All-Star status long after he left the diamond.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Marvin Price, 81, youngest to play in the Negro Leagues

Marvin Price, a feared hitter in the Negro Leagues, who was regarded as the youngest player ever to suit up in an official Negro League game, passed away July 31, 2013 in Chicago. His niece Maria Stimpson confirmed his death on Thursday that came after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 81.

Price was born in Chicago on April 5, 1932, the second youngest child to Mary Emma Anderson Price and Porter Earl Price. As a youngster, he developed a passionate appetite for the sport.

"One day, Marvin couldn't come out to play [baseball] because he was sick,” said his sister Gloria Price Stimpson. “The other boys would look up to Marvin, who would be standing in the window, and they'd ask him to make the call – ‘out, safe, foul ball, or fair ball’. He always imagined that baseball would play a huge role in his life.”

Marvin Price - 1995 On-Field Pre-Game Ceremony - M. Stimpson
At the tender age of 14, professional baseball soon became a reality for Price when he was spotted playing baseball in Washington Park by legendary Chicago American Giants outfielder Jimmie Crutchfield. A tryout was soon arranged with owner J.B. Martin at Comiskey Park, where manager Quincy Trouppe initially thought he was the new batboy. It didn’t take long for him to show he wasn’t there to distribute the equipment.

“Dr. J.B. Martin and my family was out there before batting practice at Comiskey Park and I put on a show for ‘em,” said Price in Brent P. Kelley’s, “The Negro Leagues Revisited".

The American Giants decided to take Price on a trip down South, where he could play without jeopardizing his amateur status back in Chicago. Facing the hardened veterans of the black leagues, Price’s mettle was immediately tested after a strong display of hitting.

“I doubled and got hit in the side of the face and got right back in there and doubled again. He told me I had a lot of nerve and guts, so just keep playing,” he said.

After a week, Price returned home to Englewood High School for fear of getting caught playing in the league. He graduated high school in 1949, and caught on as a first baseman with Cleveland Buckeyes. This started a four-year run for Price in the league, playing with the New Orleans Eagles in 1950 and for his hometown Giants from 1951-52. While playing in Chicago, he batted an incredible .390 in 1951, according to the Chicago Defender.

Just as it looked like Price was on the path to major league stardom, his career was interrupted when he enlisted into the military in 1952, where he served four years for the United States Coast Guard.

With the Negro Leagues on the decline after his return, Price played in semi-pro leagues, never losing his love for the game. He used his experience in the Negro Leagues to share with the high school athletes coached by his brother-in-law.

“When my dad started coaching high school baseball, Marvin would frequently show up to teach the boys how to play shortstop -- and they loved it,” said Maria Stimpson. “Even when Marvin wasn't on the field, he was known to just jump up out of the blue and punctuate his conversations with all sorts of animated baseball moves.”

Price went on to work as a supervisor in the Chicago post office for 30 years. Still drawn to the game, he continued to work part-time with the Chicago Park District, where he drew the admiration of the local youth, teaching them the finer points of baseball at Jackson Park Field House.

“Kids have a lot of respect for me ‘cause they know I tell ‘em the truth. I’ve been a lucky man,” Price said.

He is survived by a son and daughter, two granddaughters, two sisters, four nieces, five nephews, and a host of friends throughout the United States. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Share your memories of John 'Mule' Miles, Negro League star

John "Mule" Miles, a power hitting outfielder / third baseman for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues, passed away on Friday May 24, 2013 at the age of 90. Miles played three seasons in the Negro Leagues from 1946-48, and set a record of hitting home runs in 11 straight games.

John "Mule" Miles
In recent years, Miles was a very popular figure with baseball fans, exchanging letters filled with inspirational phrases like the one below to those that sought his signature. It is no surprise that he entitled his autobiography, "A Legacy to Leave Our Youth."

Pictured below is a note from Miles after writing to him in 2006.
"Winning is not by luck, it is how you play the game."
Share your memories of Mr. Miles below, or your favorite words of wisdom that you received in your correspondence with him.