Showing posts with label Stanley Glenn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stanley Glenn. Show all posts

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gene Conley recalls the rocky start to his major league career

At six-foot-eight, Gene Conley towered over his competition on the mound and the hardwood. He used his tremendous athleticism to claim his stake in two professional sports in a way that no other athlete has done since.

The two-sport star earned Major League Baseball and NBA championships respectively with the Milwaukee Braves (1957) and the Boston Celtics (1959-1961), making him the only player ever to accomplish this feat. Sadly, Conley passed away July 4, 2017 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He was 86.

Gene Conley 1951 Hartford Chiefs
After the Boston Braves lured Conley from his studies at Washington State University at the end of the 1950 school year, Conley’s performance for Class A Hartford in 1951 showed why the Braves persistently recruited him. Conley posted an impressive 20-9 record with a 2.16 ERA, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Eastern League and the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year. After one dominant performance, his catcher and former Negro Leaguer player Stanley Glenn, compared Conley to arguably the greatest pitcher ever.

"You reminded me of Satch tonight," Conley recalled during a 2008 telephone interview from his home.

Conley thought that he would work his way through the minor league ranks, but the slumping Braves had plans otherwise. Looking to capture the magic he displayed in his lone minor league season, the Braves management felt that he could continue his meteoric ascent in the major leagues. To his surprise, the Braves kept Conley on the major league roster when they broke from spring training in 1952.

“They brought me up after one year in A-ball to Boston,” he said. “They sent me down as fast as they brought me up!”

Conley was thrown right into the fire, making his debut in the third game of the season against the eventual National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a step up Conley acknowledged over a half-century later that he wasn’t ready to make.

“I opened up against the Dodgers,” he said. “I remember the first time I was with Braves after I came up from Hartford, I wasn't ready to pitch in the big leagues. The [Dodgers] were just loaded. Oh all of them, the whole works. I remember I was sitting there in the dugout. Spahn opened the season. Someone asked, ‘Who is pitching tomorrow?’ I heard someone say at the end of the bench, ‘They're going to try that phenom from Hartford I believe.’ I was going to crawl under my seat. I think some old veteran said that. I gave up about four runs and he [Tommy Holmes] took me out in the middle of the game.”

Blitzed by the prospect of facing a lineup filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers, there was no way for Conley to pitch around the mighty Brooklyn lineup. He recounted how the litany of talent they had didn’t allow him to focus on stopping one single batter.

“Their lineup was so loaded,” he said, “You didn't pay attention, there were so many stars. Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who gave you a lot of trouble?’ I said shoot, you go down the Dodger lineup. How about [Duke] Snider? [Jim] Gilliam? Pee Wee Reese? [Roy] Campanella? They were all good ballplayers, Gil Hodges too … You didn't worry about any one of them because the other guy was just as good. [Jackie] Robinson was a little over the hill, but he could play like he did. [He would] steal a base, work you for a walk, and drive you crazy on the bases.”

After just four appearances that left him with a 7.82 ERA, Conley was mercifully sent to Triple A where he helped to lead their Milwaukee team to the American Association pennant. He followed in 1953 with 23-win season at Toledo where he once again was bestowed with the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors.

He returned to the major leagues for good in 1954, pitching ten straight seasons with the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox until persistent arm troubles sidelined him in 1963. He finished his career with a 91-96 record, along with three All-Star selections and the aforementioned World Series championship.

While Conley stood out in baseball for more than just his height, he was humbled by the sheer talent that surrounded him during his career. He enjoyed being able to say that he was able to compete for a long period of time against baseball’s most iconic names.

“When you have eight teams,” he said, “you can imagine how tough the lineups were back in those days. I looked in a book on Hall of Famers, I played with and against more Hall of Famers than I ever saw. What luck did I have? That had to be a good period … I caught all of those guys. I'm glad I pitched through the 50s and 60s. I caught Berra, Mantle, and all of those guys. That was fun.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mahlon Duckett, 92, a Philadelphia Negro League legend dies

Mahlon Duckett, one of the last living members of the Philadelphia Stars in the Negro Leagues, passed away Sunday at a Philadelphia area hospital. He was 92.

Duckett was a Philadelphia native who starred in track at Overbrook High School, where he was recruited as an infielder by the Stars after playing semi-pro baseball for a local team. He shored up their infield for a decade from 1940-49 and finished his career in 1950 with the Homestead Grays as the league was on its decline. He was signed with the New York Giants in 1951, but his major league hopes were derailed by a case of rheumatic fever right before he was to head out to training in Arizona. Sidelined for a year by the illness, his career was over.

Mahlon Duckett (center) at the 2008 Judy Johnson Tribute Night / N. Diunte

I first met Mr. Duckett in 2007 at the Wilmington Blue Rocks annual tribute to the Negro Leagues. Gregg Truitt, one of the chairs of the Judy Johnson Foundation, graciously had me as his house guest for a pre-event ceremony with the players and their families. I sat down with him and after being greeted with a smile and handshake, we immediately connected. At the time, I was playing for the Roxborough Bandits, a semi-pro team in Philadelphia’s famed Penn-Del League. Once we started talking about the intricacies of playing the middle infield positions, I knew that I had made a friend.

Mahlon Duckett (r.) with the author in 2007 / N. Diunte

For the rest of the evening, I became Mr. Duckett’s go-to-guy, helping him get around the ballpark and through the on-field ceremonies. After the pre-game honors ended, I accompanied him to the autograph area. I sat with him as he signed autographs for seven innings as a continuous stream of fans approached the table. During breaks in the action, we continued to talk baseball, as Duckett took pauses from signing just so he could finish telling me some of his vast encyclopedia of stories.

We stayed in touch after that evening, exchanging some photos from the event, a few letters in the mail, and subsequent phone calls. When I returned the next year, he told me that people who visited him at his assisted living home would always remark about the young gentleman in the photo with him. He said he was proud to display it.

In the following years, it became more difficult for Duckett to travel and slowly he watched his crew of fellow Philadelphia Stars dwindle with the passings of Bill Cash, Stanley Glenn, and Harold Gould. He made his final public appearance last month at the opening of the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Philadelphia.



We last spoke in 2013 and our talk returned to his career. Only 17-years-old when he joined the Stars, he told me that he was left to figure out most of the game by himself.

“In the Negro Leagues, you just played on your natural ability, that’s all,” he said during our 2013 telephone interview. “A couple of guys told me a lot of things that they thought would help me, but I never had any one individual say, ‘I’m taking you under my wing and teaching you this that and the other thing.’”

Some seventy years later, he chose to share one of his favorite stories that involved the great Satchel Paige. At an age when most ballplayers were trying to figure out graduating high school, an 18-year-old Duckett approached the plate with the game on the line against arguably the best pitcher in baseball history.

“I hit a game-winning home run off of Satchel in Yankee Stadium in 1941,” he said. “I’ll never forget that; it was a great day, Yankee Stadium, about 45,000 people there. There were a lot of great things that happened in the Negro Leagues that a lot of people don’t know about. It was a great league with great ballplayers.”

For an excellent in-depth interview with Duckett, check out Brent P. Kelley's, "Voices From the Negro Leagues."

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