- Historic Sites
How To Score From First On A Sacrifice
August 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 5
I was the man who kept records on Gibson—sometimes they didn’t even keep a box score. But when I got with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, I started to count Gibson’s homers—seventy-two in one year, 1933. Josh hit one over the center-field fence in Griffith Stadium. The longest ball ever hit in Yankee Stadium, Josh hit it. He hit it against the back of the left-field bullpen—almost out of the park.
Take Larry Brown, who used to play for Nashville, Memphis, and Philadelphia. He was a great little catcher. Cobb happened to see him play, and they were talking about getting the colored into baseball. Brown was a very light fellow, and Cobb told them to send him to Cuba and teach him to speak Spanish so they could recruit him. It came out after Cobb died that he said if Brown ever got to the majors, he wanted him on his side, he didn’t want to have to run against him.
Did you ever hear of Oscar Charleston? Some people said he was the greatest Negro ballplayer, but John McGraw said he was the greatest ball player he’d ever seen. He was a left-handed hitter, but it didn’t make any difference—left-handed or right-handed pitchers, he hit them all. Against the major-league all-stars in Mexico in 1935, every time he’d come up with men on base they’d walk him, because they’d heard so much about him.
He was a center fielder like Willie Mays, and I’d have to pick him over Mays. He was a sensational ballplayer like Mays. If they hit the ball high, he’d walk just fast enough to catch it, or he’d turn a flip and then catch it. And he played right behind second base, closer than Mays. But Charleston could go back and get the long balls.
Charleston was one of those rough boys. He had nerve, he’d fight, do anything. Like Ty Cobb. He’d run over you, spike you, tell the pitcher, “Throw it at me, I’ll hit it down your throat.” I heard that he pulled the hood off a Ku Klux Klansman in Indiana once. I didn’t see that myself, but it sounded like him. He wasn’t afraid of anything.
Now I couldn’t pick an all-time all-star team. It wouldn’t be fair. Who would you leave off? Who would I put at third base? Oliver Marcelle was supposed to be the greatest third baseman of all time, but all around, Judy Johnson was better than Marcelle was. Judy was a little fellow, but he could hit, he could throw, and he was smart. He’s a scout for the Phillies now. A little later there was Ray Dandridge. They thought he was a Mexican—he was very light—and they went down to scout him, but they found out he was a Negro and they wiped him out.
Now Willie Wells was the greatest shortstop in the world. They were scouting him in Chicago at the Negro East-West game, which is what we used to call our allstar game. But the older fellows would say Pop Lloyd was the greatest. He played against Cobb in Cuba in 1910. Cobb used to spike guys, but our guys were used to that because we did the same thing, so it didn’t bother Lloyd. He beat Cobb hitting in one series, and after that Cobb said he never would play against a Negro team anymore. I didn’t see Lloyd in his best days, but if anyone was better than Wells, he had to be perfect.
At second base, who would you pick, Sammy T. Hughes or Bingo Demoss? Demoss played for the Chicago American Giants, smart, a great bunter, and a great runner. He died about a year ago.
In the outfield there was Martin Dihigo, the Cuban—they say he’s one of Castro’s boys now. Doby Moore of Kansas City, who was shot and killed in 1932, didn’t play very long, but he was a long-ball hitter. And Chino Smith, who also died young, could hit that ball hard. Then there was Sam Bennett, who died last year. He gave Tris Speaker pointers on how to play center field.
Those were great times. We used to play a night game Saturday, get in the bus, and play a double-header Sunday and then play another night game Sunday night. You show me a ballplayer in our old league and I’ll show you a guy that can sleep standing, sitting, or walking. When I went out East baseball was easier to play than in the West. They’d play only five days a week, so we had time to sit around the lobbies and talk baseball. The rest of the time we’d be cramped up, riding the bus.
The worst was the pay, and it didn’t matter who you were playing for. The most I ever made was two hundred and twenty dollars a month. Most of the others were getting ninety to one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month.
During the Depression some of the teams just stopped paying salaries. But the players didn’t have anywhere else to work so they stayed. They got expense money, but a lot of times it was so little you didn’t have enough money to eat on. And some of the owners were pretty tricky. I remember one team hired me and told me to pay my transportation from St. Louis to Memphis and they’d pay me back. But when I got there they said, “Our players pay their own expenses.” And then this guy told me, “And the owner of the club is a dentist and all our players have their teeth fixed here.” I didn’t have a toothache and I wasn’t about to pay a man to fix what didn’t need fixing, so I just turned around and went home.
We had some players in our league better than those in the major leagues now, but when the doors were finally open, they were too old. Look at Luke Easter and Sam Jethroe: they were thirty-five.
But I’ve got no kicks, no regrets. I made my share of money. Of course it would have been nice to play in the majors, but I have my memories.