Medicine’s Loss, Baseball’s Gain

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 18, 2005

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — In the early years of the Negro Leagues, one man stood above all other as the game’s most dominant and talented catchers. Bruce Petway was blessed with a strong and accurate throwing arm on the field.

Petway was groomed by the father of the Negro Leagues, Rube Foster, when he began his playing career with the Cuban X-Giants in 1906.

His playing career included stops with the Leland Giants (1906-10), Brooklyn Royal Giants & Phila. Giants (1908-09), Chicago American Giants (1911-18), and the Detroit Stars (1919-25).

The native of Nashville dropped his pursuit of a career in medicine at Nashville’s Meharry Medical College to play pro baseball. His reputation as the Negro League’s premier catcher in the early 1900′s was cemented during the winter of 1910.

While playing for Cuba in a series of exhibition games against the Detroit Tigers, Petway threw out Hall of Famer Ty Cobb three times in three attempts. The 5-foot-10, 170 pounder was also hit a sizzing .390 during the games against Detroit.

But Petway’s prowess came when he was behind the plate. He is reported to have been the first catcher to consistently throw to second base without rising from the squat. He was also a durable backstop as well.

From 1911 to 1918 while with the Giants, Petway was a fixture behind the plate as he was only put on the disabled list twice in that span. He was the catcher for such pitchers as Horace Jenkins, Dick Whitworth, and of course, the great Rube Foster.

The Giants were perennial winners during this era as they took the Negro League Western Championship every season except 1916 when they were defeated by the Indianapolis Clowns.

Playing with the likes of Bingo DeMoss and John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, the light-hitting Petway more than held his own with his teammates.

A career .254 hitter in 20 seasons, Petway’s best season came in 1910 when he hit a career-high .397 in 1910. A good base runner in his own right, he led the Cuban League with 20 stolen bases in 1912.

When his playing career ended in 1925 with the Detroit Stars, he went on to become the team’s manager. He spent seven seasons as Detroit skipper, but despite several winning campaigns, Petway was never able to get the Stars into the postseason parade.

The standout catcher passed away on July 4, 1941, but he will always be remembered as the man who helped pave the way for such future Negro League backstops like Roy Campanella, Josh Gibson and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe.

NOTE: The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro League’s, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, and The Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball all contributed to this story.