Showing posts with label Satchel Paige. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Satchel Paige. Show all posts

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rare color footage of Satchel Paige pitching emerges

Rare footage of the legendary Satchel Paige pitching in 1948 has emerged due to a discovery in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archives. The video below is of Paige pitching on November 7, 1948 at a winter league game in California. Paige pitched in the game for Chet Brewer's Kansas City Royals against fellow Indians teammate Gene Bearden's Major League All-Stars. Bearden can be seen around the :23 mark in the video. Also playing in the game was future Hall of Famer James "Cool Papa" Bell, as well as Sam Hairston, grandfather of New York Mets outfielder Scott Hairston, and Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr.




Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dissecting Satchel Paige's major league debut

Just two days after the record books said he turned 42, Satchel Paige made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 9, 1948 in front of a crowd of 34,780 at Cleveland Stadium. The sheer magnitude of the situation shouldn’t have fazed the legendary hurler, who once pitched in the championship game of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s league in the Dominican Republic under the threat of a machine gun toting militia. Yet, for Paige, toeing the rubber on major league soil brought a sense of high drama, shaking one of baseball’s most experienced moundsmen.

“I felt those nerves … they were jumping every which way,” Paige recalled.

Satchel Paige
Standing at the plate for the St. Louis Browns was 29-year-old first baseman Chuck Stevens, who entered the game sporting a .252 batting average with one home run, certainly not the type of numbers that would rattle fear into opposing hurlers. While Paige admitted his nerves, Stevens on the other hand saw a familiar target. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Paige came out to Stevens’ California hometown of Long Beach to play winter ball. The two squared off many times before that fateful day.

“I played against him about ten times before that night. I played against him when he could really smoke it,” said the 94-year-old Stevens from his home in California. “When Satch relieved against us [in Cleveland], he was just spotting the ball around. [It seemed like] he had lost 60 mph off of his fastball. He threw his breaking stuff and he had great control so you knew he was going to be around the plate all the time. He wasn’t going to overpower you like I had seen him in his earlier days.”

Stevens wasted no time getting acquainted with his old friend. He promptly laced Paige’s offering into left field.

“The ballgame in Cleveland was not a big deal for me because I was just hitting off of Satch," he said. "I singled into left field, between [Ken] Keltner and [Lou] Boudreau. … I always had pretty good luck off of him.”

Stevens dates his success against Paige back to a meeting they had a few years prior, just as he returned from his service in World War II.

“One of the longest home runs I had ever hit in my life was off of Paige," he said. "I had just gotten out of close to four years in the service, and we played an exhibition game in Long Beach and Satch pitched against our ball club. The ball I hit, I guess it must have been well over 400 feet. I wondered where all that power came from when I was rounding the bases.”

Stevens’ teammate Ned Garver was a 22-year-old rookie relief pitcher. Only in the major leagues for two months, he found himself right in the middle of this historical event.

“There was never a time when there wasn’t a bunch of hoopla around Satchel because he was such a colorful guy,” said the 85-year-old Garver from his home in Ohio.

Garver pitched two and one-thirds innings of scoreless relief for the save that day, but his clearest memories from that game started before a pitch was even thrown.

“We had a man on our team who hit cleanup and played left field [Whitey Platt]. He was from Florida. He told the manager he wasn’t going to play,” Garver recalled. “Zack Taylor was our manager, and you know back in those days, you didn’t tell somebody you weren’t going to play. You didn’t get away with that kind of crap. [Taylor] said, ‘No, you’re gonnna play.’ So he put him in the lineup.” Platt wasn’t a happy camper to say the least, and when he batted against Paige, he let him know it. “The first pitch Paige threw to him, he threw his bat at Satchel, and it whistled out there about belt high. He just wanted to show that he did not like that situation.”

Paige fooled Platt so badly for strike three with his famed hesitation pitch, that his bat once again took flight, this time flying up the third base line. Looking to extract some sort of revenge for Platt’s first toss of the bat, Garver said Satchel pulled one from his bag of tricks to finish the deal.

“If he threw a bat at Satchel like he did, Satchel was not going to look on that with favor, so he was probably going to give some of his better stuff along the way. To strike him out gave him some satisfaction.”

Paige pitched two scoreless innings that day, quickly shaking whatever nerves he had when Stevens stepped to the plate. He finished the season with a 6-1 record and helped the Indians get to the World Series, where he made one appearance in relief. Even though his best days were behind him, he still had enough left to outsmart major league hitters and give fans a taste of what the major leagues missed in his prime.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Al Federoff's lasting impact on the Detroit Tigers organization

“He was the best manager I ever had,” said current Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland in the Detroit News. Al Federoff was Leyland’s manager during his 1964 rookie campaign in Lakeland, Fla. It was also Federoff who rescued Leyland a few years later when the Tigers weren’t sure what to do with him while filling out their minor league rosters.

“Leyland was my good luck charm. I took him everywhere I could,” said Federoff during a 2008 interview I conducted with him from his home in Taylor, Mich.

While Federoff has received notoriety for mentoring Leyland, many are unaware that he was a sure-handed, light-hitting second baseman for the Tigers in the early 1950s. He died in Glibert, Ariz. last week at the age of 87.

Al Federoff / Author's Collection
Federoff was one of the fastest players in major league baseball in the 1950s, clocking a 3.8 second time from home to first batting right handed, placing him sixth in major league baseball according to the September 3rd, 1952 issue of The Sporting News.

He entered professional baseball in 1946 with the Jamestown Falcons of the Class-D PONY League after serving in the Air Force in World War II. After a few years of climbing the rungs of the minor league ladder, he was a late season call-up with the Detroit Tigers in 1951.

Inspired by his taste of the big league action, Federoff hit a solid .288 at AAA Buffalo in 1952 and was recalled in July when second baseman Jerry Priddy went down with a leg injury. It was during this time that he would bear witness to two of Virgil Trucks’ greatest pitching performances ever.

The first one happened August 6, 1952 against the ageless Satchel Paige and the St. Louis Browns. Trucks and Paige battled to a scoreless tie in the ninth inning when Trucks was lifted for a pinch-hitter. The 46-year old Paige pitched the entire 12 innings for the victory. Federoff took the collar twice against Paige in his five trips to the plate. Federoff insisted age wasn’t a factor in Paige’s performance.

“You can’t take nothing away from him [Paige]; if you’re good, you’re good,” said Federoff of the Hall of Fame hurler.

Federoff had a more involved role in Trucks’ August 25th masterpiece at Yankee Stadium. Hank Bauer, the Yankees strong left-fielder, stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth. Bauer squared up one of Trucks’ fastballs right in the direction of Federoff.

“I get my name mentioned in the paper every now and then when Trucks pitched that no-hitter against the Yankees," told Federoff. "I made the last put-out on a hard smash by Hank Bauer for the final out; I saved the no-hitter!”

He finished the season with a .242 average and did what he was expected to do, play good defense at second base. His sure hands attracted the attention of another Hall of Famer, Tigers GM Charlie Gehringer.

“He came to me personally and told me, ‘You did damn good, your fielding was terrific,’” recalled Federoff.

While his fielding impressed Gehringer, his overall play did not do enough to sway manager Fred Hutchinson to give him an extension for the 1953 season.
 
“I was disappointed when they sold me to San Diego in 1953,” said Federoff, who thought he could add some youth to an aging ballclub. “Johnny Pesky was a good ballplayer, but he was already in his mid 30s, [Billy] Hitchcock was in his mid 30s and [Jerry] Priddy couldn’t run after that broken leg. Hutchinson kept him and he couldn’t even run; I hadn’t even hit my prime!”

Federoff was caught in a numbers game that was typical of his era, one that was prior to expansion and free agency.

“Another thing people don’t consider is that each league only had eight teams," he said. "Now they have an additional 320 40-man roster spots in each league. In our day, they sent you down to AAA and you would get lost down there because they had so many good players. Who was going to replace Jackie Robinson or Pee Wee Reese? If you were a SS or 2B [behind them], you were out of luck!”

Detroit wanted to send him to Buffalo, but he didn’t want to go back up north again after playing there the previous season.

“They tried to send me to Buffalo, but I wouldn’t go. I stuck around for a few days and they sold me to San Diego,” he said.

Federoff enjoyed four solid years with the Padres, helping to lead them to the 1954 PCL championship, walking 108 times against only 34 strikeouts.  During that championship season, he enjoyed the company of yet another mystical baseball figure, Luke Easter.

“He was my buddy; I liked him very much," Federoff recalled. "He protected me at second base. Any time he stepped up to the plate, the other teams were hoping he didn’t hit the long one."

Even though he was no longer in the major leagues, Federoff, like many other veterans enjoyed the comforts of playing on the West Coast. The warmer weather and improved travel were attractive propositions for ballplayers that endured the long bus rides that came with years of beating the bushes.

“In the PCL at that time, the playing conditions were better," he said. "We had a lot of good older players coming from the big leagues because the conditions were wonderful. A lot of great ballplayers finished their careers there and they were paid better than the big leagues. We played a week at home and a week at each city. We flew by airplane, and the weather was wonderful, especially in San Diego."

The same door that opened the opportunity for him to enter the big leagues is also the same one that closed his career. Bit by the injury bug, Federoff was robbed one of of the key elements of his game, speed.

“During my last year in San Diego, I was over the hill," he said. "San Diego traded me to Seattle. I played a year there. Then they sent me to Louisville, I played a half year there. I was sold to Atlanta and that was the end of my career. At the end I was overcoming a broken leg; I lost a lot of my speed. They had me there to fill in and just to work with the kids. They were interested in playing kids that had a chance to get up to the big leagues. You seem to know when you’ve had enough.”

After he hung up his cleats as a player, he entered the Tigers minor league system as a manager in 1960. He managed ten seasons, ending his career in 1970 ironically in the PCL, the place where he spent the bulk of his minor league time.

Despite never returning to the majors after the 1952 season as a player or a coach, Federoff was satisfied with his baseball career.

“I enjoyed it. I had some good days and bad ones like everybody else.”


Monday, May 23, 2011

Wilber "Bullet" Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs - Book Review

Imagine a player who many regard as a better pitcher than Satchel Paige and the equal of Joe DiMaggio at the plate and in the field. This isn’t the legend of Steve Nebraska, but that of Hall of Famer Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, who is so eloquently profiled by Phil S. Dixon in his book, “Wilber ‘Bullet’ Rogan and the Kansas City Monarchs.

Click here to read an entire review of the book.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Duane Pillette, 88, teammate of Satchel Paige on St. Louis Browns

Duane “Dee” Pillette, an eight-year major league veteran pitcher died Friday May 6, 2011 in San Jose, California at the age of 88. Pillette broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 1949, pitching until 1956 with the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies. He compiled a 38-66 record, leading the American League in losses in 1951 for the cellar dwelling Browns.

Duane Pillette - 1954 Topps / Baseball-Almanac.com

Pillette was the son of former major league pitcher Herman Pillette, who spent four of his 26 professional seasons in the major leagues with the Reds and Tigers. The elder Pillette pitched until he was 48 in the Pacific Coast League.

Despite his father’s long career in baseball, the patriarch did not want his son to follow in his footsteps. In a 2009 interview that I conducted with Pillette from his home in San Jose, he discussed how his father wanted him to stay far away from baseball.

“My father never talked much about baseball except he didn't want me to play," Pillette recalled. "He fought me tooth and nail when I was a kid. Even though he didn't make much money in the Coast League, he sent me to Parochial schools. He never got past the sixth grade."

His father stressed the importance of getting an education ahead of playing baseball. As a youngster enthralled with the game, he was determined to move forward with the sport.

“He said, ‘I don't give a damn about baseball, you aren't going to make any money. I want you to get a good job and the only way is to get a good education,’” Pillette remembered.

He pleaded his case to his father. His father relented with one caveat, he had to be his de facto agent when scouts approached.

“I said, ‘You don't have any money and I don't have any money. I have to play baseball to get a scholarship.’ He said, ‘I'll let you play in high school, but if you have a scout come around, he has to talk to me.’”

Pillette did in fact get that scholarship, heading to the University of Santa Clara largely due to the involvement of an important Yankee scout.

“One Yankee scout, Joe Devine got me a scholarship at the University of Santa Clara," he said. "I pitched well in high school because I had a helluva ballclub. I don't think San Diego High ever lost a game in the three years I was there.”

Pillette signed with the Yankees in 1946 and immediately debuted with their top minor league ballclub, AAA Newark of the International League. While Pillette found himself playing with upstarts Yogi Berra and Bobby Brown, it was one of his opponents that made everyone take notice, Jackie Robinson. Robinson was playing for Montreal that season, on the verge of breaking the color line in the major leagues. Pillette was impressed with how Robinson handled the pressures of that season.

“A lot of guys were trying to nick him and scare him," he said. "He handled himself very well. I didn't have much trouble getting him out. He hit a lot of ground balls off of me amazingly enough. I'm not saying he took 0-4's against me, that's for sure. Jackie wore us out the first few games against us, he must have hit .600. He would bunt with nobody on with two outs, steal second base and [George] Selkirk would blow his lid.”

Pillette battled a groin injury he suffered late in the 1946 season through his next few campaigns in the minors. He played for Newark the following season and then was sent to the Portland Beavers of the PCL to work on his curveball with Tommy Bridges. He developed it well and posted a 14-11 record in 1948, which earned him a spring training invite with the Yankees in February of 1949. He was off to a great start in Florida and earned the confidence of manager Casey Stengel.

“I had a good spring and Casey had told the guys the last day before we broke camp that I was going to be the fifth starter and a long reliever,” he said.

Unfortunately for Pillette, General Manager George Weiss thought otherwise. Very quickly the tides turned for the young pitcher.

"George Weiss had other ideas. He said, ‘He needs to go back to Newark and learn some other things.’”

Pillette found himself in the familiar confines of Newark, but not for long. By mid-season, he was in the major leagues.

“I stayed there about a good month and a half, maybe more than that,” Pillette said. "I was in Syracuse when they called me over. I joined them in Cleveland at six-o'clock in the morning.”

Little did Pillette know that he would be summoned to pitch the first day he was with the team.

“I didn't figure I was going to do anything and Casey came out and gave the sinkerball sign," he recalled, "so I came in the ballgame. We scored a run on our half and went one run ahead. The very first hitter I pitched to hit a line drive at Cliff Mapes. He took a couple steps in and the ball went over his head for a triple and they tied up the ballgame. I ended up losing the ballgame, so I didn't scare anybody.”

Pillette was right; he didn’t scare off his coaching staff, as they had him start four days later.

“Jim Turner liked me a lot and Casey liked me so he started me four days later in Detroit," he said. "I pitched a day before my birthday in July. They scored two runs in the first inning and we lost the game 2-1. Then he started me in Yankee stadium against the White Sox, we went 0-0 for nine innings and Luke Appling hit a home run with a man on first base in the tenth inning and we came back in our half."

Luck, however, was not on his side. Despite his best efforts on the mound, the Yankees couldn't turn the tide to victory.

“[Joe] DiMaggio hit a line drive to right center and he very seldom got thrown out taking the extra base," Pillette said. "They threw him out at second trying to make a double and the ballgame was over. They scored two runs in the first inning off me, then they didn't score two runs until the 10th inning [the next game] and I pitched 17 consecutive innings without allowing a run and I'm 0-3. I'm the worst goddamn pitcher in the world!”

Pillette ended up 2-4 in 12 games that season and did not appear in the World Series for the Yankees in the postseason. He would pitch briefly with the Yankees again in 1950, and then was traded to the St. Louis Browns in a six-player deal. Even though he went from the top team in the American League to the worst, the trade gave him an opportunity to pitch full time. Pillette would be a key cog in the Browns rotation, pitching in 120 games from 1950-1953.

It was there in St. Louis where he would befriend another baseball immortal, Satchel Paige. 'Ol Satch pitched with the Browns from 1951-1953, giving Pillette plenty of time to get to know the ageless hurler.

“I enjoyed the guy. I admired him from all the things I heard about him," he said. "As far as I was concerned, when I saw him pitch and the things he'd do, this guy was absolutely amazing. He had the worst looking legs and everybody would tell you if you want to be a pitcher, you have to have a pair of legs. This guy had some spindles and I don't know how the hell he did what he did, but he was great."

They shared a special connection, as Paige was fond of his father from their battles barnstorming on the West Coast.

“My dad pitched against Satch in Los Angeles," he noted. "I know because Satch told me that he pitched against my father. Satch happened to play against my father in Los Angeles when he was in the winter leagues. My dad picked up extra money playing in the winter leagues. They became pretty good friends because they both had been around awhile. He said he was a fine man. He told me, ‘He didn't pitch like anybody I ever saw. He threw more soft stuff than you could believe but he had a pretty good fastball. You get two strikes on you and you might look for it. He said he never wasted any energy and probably about as smart of a pitcher as you ever saw.’ That’s probably why I got along with Satch so well, he liked my father a lot.”

After an arm injury ended Pillette’s career in 1960, he found success in the mobile home business.

“After I quit baseball, I got in the mobile home business for 32 years," he said. "I helped to build and manage this park. I've got a nice 1,800 square foot mobile home. If you came on the inside, you wouldn't think it was a mobile home. They don't make them like this anymore."

Pillette continued to stay active late in his life, gaining notoriety for his dancing. The notoriety wasn’t so much for his skills, but that he was one half of the oldest couple on the dance floor.

“On Friday and Saturday I dance with a lovely young lady that's 85, and I'm 86," he said. "We even got our picture in the paper because we are the only two whiteheads on the dance floor and they were curious. The people from the paper came in to the hotel for a party of people who were retiring. We get out there and do a little bit of a dance and this outfit took some pictures.

“The gal [Bev] who I take out was the bridesmaid at my wedding. About 10 years after her husband passed away, she called me one day and said that she wasn't sending anymore Christmas cards and she wanted to warn me. So we got to become good friends and she was a marvelous dancer. They got a hold of Bev and asked her some questions. They interviewed us at her home the next day. They showed the top part of us that we were dancing. A little story was written about it. We found a photo of Beverly in her album from my wedding and they put that in there too.”

Pillette returned to New York last summer as one of the seven living members from the 1950 World Series team. He was thrilled about his appearance at the new stadium.

"It was just wonderful being there surrounded by all of these greats," he said. "There aren't too many of us from that team left."

Even though Pillette fell below the .500 mark for his career, he was an All-Star to the fans, generously signing autographs through the mail and speaking to researchers and historians with such candor about his career. Somewhere in heaven, Pillette is having a meeting on the mound with his Paige and his father, conspiring how to retire the next batter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stanley Glenn, 84, Negro League catcher and president

Stanley "Doc" Glenn, a catcher with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues died Saturday, April 16, 2011 due to natural causes at his home in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. He was 84.
Born Sept 19, 1926 in Wachatreague, VA, Glenn was a star at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia where he quickly drew the attention of the Stars Hall of Fame player / manager Oscar Charleston. Charleston signed him off of the sandlots in 1944 shortly after graduating from high school. Within a week of graduating, he was making $175 per month playing in the Negro Leagues.
Stanley Glenn (r.) at 2007 Judy Johnson Night / N. Diunte
Glenn played with the Stars through 1950, facing the likes of countless Hall of Famers in the Negro Leagues including: Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, Ray Dandridge, Roy Campanella, Hilton Smith, and Willard Brown. He expertly detailed his recollections of not only his career, but of all of the greats he encountered in the Negro Leagues team-by-team in his 2006 autobiography entitled, "Don't Let Anyone Take Your Joy Away: An Inside Look at Negro League Baseball and Its Legacy."
His career, like many ballplayers at the time, was interrupted by World War II. He served as a technician in the Army Medical Corps during from September 1945 through November 1946, taking time off to play with the Stars when the opportunity presented itself. Upon his return from military service, he earned the nickname "Doc" for his physical therapy work performed during the war.
Glenn as a member of the Philly Stars
After Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodger organization, many teams saw their top talent raided by major league organizations looking for the next baseball superstar. During the 1950 season, the hands of the Boston Braves scout Honey Russell reached down and signed Glenn to their Class-A affiliate in Hartford. As a catcher in the Braves organization, he faced stiff competition from the likes of Walker Cooper and Del Crandall. Nonetheless, Glenn played four seasons with Braves minor league outfits in Quebec, Lincoln, as well as Hartford before moving on to a career in the electrical supply business.
Glenn's Hartford teammate Gene Conley, who would go on to win championships in both MLB (Milwaukee Braves) and the NBA (Boston Celtics), was in his first year in pro ball when he pitched a game with Glenn as his catcher. Conley's performance that night was reminiscent of another lanky Negro League hurler.
"Stanley was my catcher the first season I played in A-ball," Conley recalled in a 2008 interview. "I liked him. I pitched a lot to him. I won my 20th game against Wilkes Barre. He was behind the plate when they gave me a night in Hartford. It was Gene Conley night. I pitched a shutout and beat Wilkes Barre 2-0 that night. After the last out, Stanley comes running out to the mound. Remember Podres jumping into Campanella's arms? He jumped up on me and said, 'I love you like a brother. You reminded me of Satch tonight!' He used to catch ol' Satch. I'll never forget that. It was a warm feeling. It was a good thing that he did; it made me feel good. The whole thing was nice. It was my 20th win, they gave me a night, and Stanley came out there and grabbed me. I tell people my first catcher told me I reminded him of Satchel Paige!"
Later in life with the resurgence of interest in the Negro Leagues, Glenn took the position as the president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. He advocated for the rights of many of the former players and helped to create opportunities for them to share in the profits that many companies were making off of the renewed interest in the former league. He was a fixture at many events in the Philadelphia area, generously appearing to spread the word about the league and its history. 
Stanley Glenn Negro League Art Card / Author's Collection
Glenn was ceremoniously given his first baseball card by the Topps Company in 2007, when he was included in their Allen and Ginter set. His inclusion in the set opened up his career to a new generation of fans and collectors alike. He received a tremendous amount of fan mail after the printing of the card with requests for his signature and information on his career.
Mr. Glenn often appeared at the Delaware Blue Rocks annual Judy Johnson Tribute Night, where he graciously signed autographs and spoke about the history of Negro League baseball for many hours throughout the ballgame, often giving fans his home phone number to contact him with their questions. He was honored by the club in 2008 with special artwork bearing his image that was given to fans entering the stadium that evening. His passing dims another beacon that was able to illuminate the rich history of the Negro Leagues.
2010 Judy Johnson Tribute Night

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review: The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 more baseball heroes

The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes

Brent Kelley
McFarland Publishing, 2010
389 pp.

"The Negro Leagues Revisited"
is Brent Kelley's follow-up to his successful collection of Negro League interviews "Voices from the Negro Leagues". Originally published in 2000, McFarland is celebrating its 10 year anniversary by releasing it in paperback form. Sadly, as of this writing less than one-third of the 66 players interviewed for this collection are deceased. The interviews span the careers of Negro League players from the 1920's through the 1960's.

Even though many of the legends are no longer with us, Kelley has managed to capture an important time in both baseball and American history by letting these men who played in the Negro Leagues tell their stories of competing in an era of segregation. Many are unaware that the Negro Leagues had a collection of veterans that made the league run in addition to the likes of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.

He brings to life the voices of such colorful players as Buck O'Neil, "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" Bobby Robinson, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, Andy "Pullman" Porter, and Buster Haywood who was Hank Aaron's manager in the Negro Leagues. Listen and enjoy their tales of traveling the United States and the Caribbean playing against all of the greats of baseball. It's a compelling look into the lives of the men who for most of their career, played in obscurity solely due to the color of their skin.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gene Hermanski turns 90, the former Brooklyn Dodger recalls his time with the Bushwicks

Former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder Gene Hermanski, now residing in Homosassa, Florida, celebrated his 90th birthday this past week. A WWII veteran, Hermanski made his debut with Brooklyn in 1943, after receiving two months of leave from the Coast Guard. He would continue to serve with the Coast Guard after a failed stint in the Navy until 1945.

While in the Coast Guard, Hermanski had the opportunity to play for another famous Brooklyn ballclub, the semipro Brooklyn Bushwicks. During a 2009 interview, Hermanski recalled that he used an assumed name to avoid being shipped out to combat in Europe.

"I played a few years with the Bushwicks," he said. "I was in the service then, stationed at Fort Bennett Field with the Coast Guard. I played under the name of Gene Walsh. I had to change it [my name]. It was the smartest thing I ever did in my life. If my commanding officer ever found out that I was playing ball in some ball park, he'd ship me overseas."

Gene Hermanski (2nd from left front row) with Brooklyn Bushwicks / Author's Collection

At the time he was playing for the Bushwicks, Hermanski encountered some of the greats of the Negro Leagues prior to playing with Jackie Robinson.

"We used to play teams like the Black Yankees, Philadelphia Stars, Kansas City Monarchs, and Homestead Grays," he recalled. "I played against Josh Gibson, as well as Satchel Paige. I got a hit or two off of Paige. I may have faced him seven or eight times and got two hits. He wasn't easy to hit, but it just so happened that I swung the bat and something happened and it was a base hit.

"We played all the black teams and we were all white. We were the home team from Brooklyn at Dexter Park, and the fans would root for the black [visiting] teams! Listen to this, we used to draw 10,000 on a Sunday for a doubleheader. It was inexpensive. They charged a buck to get in. ... We had a good reputation and we won. We played about .700 ball."

As we discussed his experiences playing against the likes of the famed Gibson and Paige, the conversation turned to Robinson. Hermanski was in the lineup the day that Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers. While Hermanski was a supporter of Robinson, having once proclaimed that the whole team wear number 42 after Robinson began to receive death threats, he recalled that there were dissenters in the Dodger clubhouse.

"Most of the ballplayers took to liking him," he said. "There were a few guys, the rednecks, who didn't care for blacks. It was only natural though the more I thought about it. These kids from the South were brought up to dislike the blacks, so they continued to do so. Some of them asked to be traded, Dixie Walker, Kirby Higbe, and Hugh Casey."

After helping the Dodgers to two National League pennants in 1947 and 1949, Hermanski was traded to the Cubs during the 1951 season. He went on to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates before finishing his career in 1954 with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League where he was reunited with Charlie Dressen.

"Buzzie Bavasi fixed me up with Oakland," he said. "I called him and he said, 'I could get you a job with Oakland, but the big leagues, forget it!' It was in spring training, so I said, 'I'll take it'. When he told me Charlie was the manager, I decided to go out there."

After his playing career was over, he worked as a sales representative for Tose Incorporated. At the age of 90, he still receives about ten autograph requests per week from fans across the country and enjoys the contact with those that still remember him. At the end of the interview, he inquired about my age. Sensing the significant age gap, hefelt that recalling his memories of playing with the Bushwicks for a short time allowed him to feel like he was playing again. It seems no matter what our age is, baseball is the true fountain of youth.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: The Mandak League: Haven for former Negro League ballplayers 1950-1957


Mandak League: Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957
Barry Swanton -
McFarland Publishing, 2006.
222 pp.

In the early 1950's, with the demise of the Negro Leagues and the availability of better racial conditions, playing baseball in Canada became an increasingly viable option for younger and aging black baseball players. SABR member Barry Swanton chronicles the history of the ManDak League, which opened its doors to many fine talents including Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Satchel Paige and Willie Wells.

This work serves as a great reference for the fan that wants to know more about the history of the league and the players involved. Each season is chronicled with details on statistics, pennant races, stadiums, and franchises. The second half of the book is devoted to profiling all of the players of the ManDak League, with special attention given to the former Negro League players.

While the book itself lacks any particularly enthralling tales, it has its place as an excellent resource to connect the dots of the Negro League players that traveled north to continue their careers in relative obscurity.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Satchel Paige: The Story Of An American Baseball Legend

NPR program Fresh Air recently conducted an interview with Larry Tye, the author of the biography, "Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend." Tye's book was a New York Times best-seller in 2009 and gives great insight into the life and career of one of baseball's greatest players and characters, Leroy "Satchel" Paige. Click here to listen to the audio of the interview.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wallace 'Bucky' Williams, 102, Former Negro League Pittsburgh Crawfords

The second oldest living Negro League player, Bucky Williams passed away on November 16, 2009 at the age of 102. Williams played infield for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1927-1932, and then with the Homestead Grays in the late 1930's, playing with and against many baseball luminaries including: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Martin Dihigo and Smokey Joe Williams. He retired in 1971 from Edgar Thomson Steel Works and moved to Penn Hills after his wife passed away in 1977. He was a fixture at the Josh Gibson Foundation dinners in recent years. He is only surpassed by 103 year old Puerto Rican Milito Navarro who played for the Cuban Stars in 1928-1929. Click here to view his entire obituary from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review - Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players - Larry Powell

"Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players "
Larry Powell
McFarland Publishing, 2009
220 pages

Hall of Fame icons Willie Mays and Satchel Paige resonate deeply with baseball fans, as both were prime examples of perfection at their respective positions. They both share a common bond, as they played for one of the Negro Leagues most storied franchises, the Birmingham Black Barons. University of Alabama professor Larry Powell provides not only a history of this Southern staple of Negro League Baseball, but first hand narratives from the players who lived to tell it.

Staring in 1920, Birmingham was home for such Negro League greats as Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, Bill Foster, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, Piper Davis, Artie Wilson, Charley Pride and Dan Bankhead who was the first African-American pitcher in Major League baseball. The team was a fixture in an area that had very few options for African American athletes and fans. They provided hope and entertainment for many during the Depression and Jim-Crow segregation.

Birmingham's consistent presence in black baseball allows Powell to take the reader on the roller coaster ride that was Negro League Baseball, as the league peaked and then tried to hold on as key players were scooped up by Major League Baseball. He separates the book into pre and post-era integration, as the Black Barons were one of the few Negro League teams that played from the inception of the Negro National League in 1920 and survived until the Negro Leagues complete demise in 1960. This gives Powell the opportunity to isolate the perspective on how the league changed once the door opened to Major League Baseball.

The book is dominated by the interviews of the living Black Barons, most who played after 1950 when the league was considered less than Major League caliber. Such is the function of writing a narrative on the Negro Leagues in 2009, as there are only a few surviving players from the 1930's and 1940's. Many of the teams had disbanded and Major League Baseball was raiding the top talent of the league. While the competition may not have been as strong in the heyday of players like Davis, Paige and Suttles, their stories share the same hopes of making it big, the conflicts of playing for little pay versus working in local steel mills, and persevering in spite of the strong arm of the Jim Crow laws in the segregated South.

You will be intrigued by the tales of the play of these great men, and moved by their experiences of fighting against segregation to play baseball. You will discover names of the greats that you never saw play, and by the end of the book you will wish you had been there to see them. These are the stories of the Birmingham Black Barons, and they are the ones that our future generations need to hear.