Brian P. Scantlebury, Montclair, New Jersey
I'm sure your dad made many guys dance around in the batter's box like I did, because he was all business. It's a strange thing, but batters never forget good pitchers, and good pitchers never forget how bad they made batters look. Coincidentally shortly after that particular [March 15] column was published, I received pictures of the 1948 East-West All-Star teams (which included your dad, who made the East team) from Reggie Howard, a Negro League historian and close friend of mine. As a part of that group, he was in some pretty good company.
Sadly, at the time these pictures were taken, I was completely oblivious to the Negro League and the great talent within it. My first real knowledge of the Negro Leagues occurred when Jackie Robinson took the field with the Dodgers in 1947, followed by Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians the same year. The comedy about this is the year before, when Robinson was supposed to have been sent to Montreal for further seasoning: The only adjustment he needed was to be acclimated to the racial environment surrounding him. Doby stepped off the Newark Eagles bus and put on a Cleveland Indians uniform.
Although I didn't join the Memphis Red Sox until 1950, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson went to the St. Louis Browns straight from the Monarchs in 1947. Both were released during the season. Brown returned to the Monarchs and became a member of the 1948 West All-Star team. Thompson went to the New York Giants, where he starred for the next eight years.
In 1950, only ten teams were left in the Negro League. Before the season's end, two or three more teams would drop operations, but the league was over at that point. The teams I played against gave me an idea how powerful the Negro Leagues had been. From my observation, at least eight players on each remaining team could have done what Larry Doby (and later Ernie Banks) did by stepping off their team bus and joining any team in the big leagues. Your dad, along with Frank Robinson, didn't go to the Cincinnati Reds until 1956. Had there been any fairness practiced before Robinson joined the Dodgers, he would have had many guys jumping around in the batter's box trying to hit him.
Many black players went down the drain in major league farm systems. I can understand blacks' abandonment of baseball after the door to basketball and football opened, because both of the latter offered some kind of financial incentive, rather than a baseball farm system without a guarantee.
Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.
Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.
Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.
After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.
Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.