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Is the Hall of Fame forgetting something? (Conclusion)
NEW YORK — One the finest pitchers in the Negro Leagues that most haven’t heard of was Chester Arthur Chet Brewer.
At over 6-feet-3 and around 180, Brewer was a durable pitcher whose career spanned from 1924-52.
He played with 11 teams including the Tennessee Rats, Gilkerson’s Union Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Crookston (MN), Bismarck (ND) Churchills, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cubans, Philadelphia Stars, Dominican Republic, Cleveland Buckeyes, Chicago American Giants, and Carmen Cardinals
A rangy right-hander who put away batters with raw speed, or his emery ball, Brewer was one of the top 20 pitchers in Negro League history.
He may have also been one of the most well-traveled baseball players of his era, having played in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, Canada, Hawaii, the Philippines, Haiti, China and Japan.
Brewer was the first Black to play in Mexico, going 18-3 with Tampico in 1938.
Brewer’s most famous pitching performance occurred in 193 0 when his Kansas City Monarchs faced Smokey Joe Williams and the Homestead Grays. The game was played under the portable lighting system that the Monarchs traveled with (which was poor at best), and it resulted in a pitching duel for the ages.
Brewer, using the emery ball he learned from Double Duty Radcliffe while on the Gilkerson’s Union Giants, struck out 19 Grays. Williams struck out 27 and eventually won 1-0 in 12 innings.
Brewer was one of the first Black players to play post-Anson integrated baseball when he was signed by Crookston, Minnesota in 1931 along with catcher John Van.
Brewer won every game he pitched that year, was given a key to the city, and showed many Midwest towns what a top Black pitcher could do for an otherwise ordinary team. Integration was not new to Brewer as he grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and had played high school basketball and football with Whites.
In 1934, Brewer again played integrated ball, this time with Jamestown, North Dakota in a series against a Major League All-Star team. Brewer shut out the Major League stars on six hits, striking out six.
In 1935, Brewer was hired away from the Monarchs to play with an integrated Bismarck team in the first National Semipro tournament in Wichita, Kansas. The Bismarck team, which featured white semi pros as well as Satchel Paige, Double Duty, Hilton Smith, Quincy Trouppe and Barney Morris, won the tourney in seven straight, Brewer winning 3 games and Paige winning 4.
Brewer, like many others (like Hilton Smith) often pitched in the shadow of Satchel Paige. In 1934, the Monarchs and House of David met in the championship game of the Denver Post tournament.
The Monarchs pitched Brewer, and the House of David hired Satchel Paige, the only beardless player on the squad, and Paige won 2-1.
In 1937, Ciudad Trujillo hired Negro Leaguers Satchel Paige, Sam Bankhead, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, and in the championship game Paige bested Brewer and his Aguilas Cibaenas team when Sam Bankhead hit a grand slam off Brewer (although during the year he one-hit the Trujillo team).
Brewer did his share of winning, though, winning titles with the Kansas City Monarchs, Bismarck, Panama and the Cleveland Buckeyes. Chet Brewer played in only two East-West All-Star games, mainly because he played so many years abroad; he played in the ’34 and ’47 games, sporting a 1.50 ERA in 6 innings.
I wish to mention that there are likely several pre-Negro League greats of whom I am not aware, however two early pitching greats can’t be left off this list, George Stovey and George “Walter” Ball.
Stovey was an outstanding talent, a left-handed pitcher who was a light-complexioned Canadian and some think he was greatest Black pitcher, of the 19th-century. He played for several white clubs before complete segregation in the late 1880s.
In 1886 he was the top pitcher for Jersey City of the International League, holding opposing hitters to a .167 batting average. He moved to Newark in 1887 and went 34-14, setting a still-standing IL record for wins. He also played the outfield, and hit .255.
Two unsubstantiated, years-later stories exist, in 1886 and 1887 that Cap Anson played a role in keeping the New York Giants from signing Stovey. The 1886 story was apparently first told in 1892 by Pat Powers, who had been Stovey’s manage r in Jersey City in the Eastern League in 1886.
The 1887 story was apparently first printed in a 1907 book by baseball player-turned-writer Sol White, a 2006 special inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1887 Stovey was the star pitcher for the Newark Little Giants of the International League, and formed the first known African-American battery with catcher Fleet Walker.
On July 14, 1887, the Chicago White Stockings played an exhibition game against the Little Giants. Contrary to some modern-day writers, Anson did not have a second encounter with Walker that day (Walker was apparently injured, having last played on July 11 and would not play again until July 26).
But Stovey had been listed as the game’s scheduled starting pitcher, in the Newark News of July 14. Only days after the game it was reported (in the newspaper the Newark Sunday Call) that:
“Stovey was expected to pitch in the Chicago game. It was announced on the ground [sic] that he was sulking, but it has since been given out that Anson objected to a colored man playing.”
“If this be true, and the crowd had known it, Mr. Anson would have received hisses instead of the applause that was given him when he first stepped to the bat.”
On the morning of the day of game, International League owners had voted 6-to-4 to exclude African-American players from future contracts. The color line was drawn in the International League that winter and Newark released Stovey.
He returned to the Cuban Giants and continued to play for another nine years, sometimes with the Cuban Giants against black teams and sometimes in predominantly white leagues, where he registered a lifetime record of 60-40 with a 2.17 ERA for his six seasons in organized baseball.
He pitched in many other games for which no records have been unearthed as yet.
George “Walter” Ball was a compact 5-foot-10, 170-pounder who both batted left and threw left and was primarily a pitcher from 1899-1923 for several teams: St. Paul (MN), St. Cloud (MN), Grand Forks, (ND), Augusta (GA), Chicago Union Giants, Cuban X-Giants, Philadelphia Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Chicago Lelands, Quaker Giants, St. Paul Colored Gophers, Pittsburgh Keystones, Chicago Giants, Chicago American Giants, St. Louis Giants, Mohawk Giants of Schenectady, NY, New York Lincolns, Milwaukee Giants, Cuba.
Ball was one of Black baseball’s very first great pitchers, combining pinpoint control with the occasional spitball to make up for his lack of a blazing fastball.
Ball was born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and spent a decade playing for predominantly white teams.
Debuting in 1896 Ball plied his trade on the sandlots of the Capital City with the “Young Cyclones,” a top amateur team. In 1900, Ball became a professional when he signed with the Grand Forks semipro team.
Ball often pitched in games in which prizes of $20 or less were offered to the winner. In 1902, Ball returned to Minnesota and pitched St. Cloud to a semipro championship.
Over the next several years, Ball played for many teams in the Midwest. Du ring that era, most teams carried only a couple pitchers, so Ball was expected to pitch often, and rarely was given the luxury of a relief pitcher if he got into trouble. Ball usually won more than 20 games a season, struck out more than a batter an inning, and had an ERA of less than two runs.
Ball was known as a bit of a dandy, he carried himself with class, and was usually treated well, at least to his face, in the small towns in which he played in his early career.
However, many Midwest towns, despite loving the way Ball pitched, didn’t like having a Black man representing their town, and Ball was released several times after great seasons on the field.
Ball, besides being a first-class pitcher, was industrious. While pitching in North Dakota, Ball picke d up extra money as a train porter and while pitching for St. Cloud (MN), Ball rented cushions to fans at the ball park at a nickel a piece.
In 1903, Ball jumped to the big time in Black baseball, signing with the Chicago Union Giants, the first all-Black team he had played for, and in 1904, Ball jumped to the Cuban X-Giants, and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers during the year, his first victory over a Big League club.
His teammates on the X-Giants included standouts: ‘Homerun’ Johnson and Dan McClellan. After a few more years in Midwest Black baseball, Ball returned to St. Paul to start the St. Paul Colored Gophers.
Ball eventually returned to Chicago again and pitched with the Chicago Giants and Chicago American Giants, teaming with such stars as Rube Foster, John Beckwith and Steel Arm Taylor.
By the time the first Negro National League was formed in 1920, Ball was nearing the end of his career, though he reportedly pitched a few more seasons of semi-pro ball.
Ball continued to stay in baseball after his playing days were over, coaching, organizing, etc., and at the 1937 East-West All-Star Game in Chicago, Ball was honored on the field. Ball died in December of 1946, after Jackie Robinson had played a watershed season with the Montreal Royals.
Ball, as well as the rest of the baseball world, knew that the color line in the Majors was on its last legs. Ball, almost certainly would have been a star Major League star pitcher had he been born 40 years later.
References and resources cited
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson- http://www.kadirnelson.com/
Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, by John Holway [Hastings House, Publishers 1997]
James A. Riley – The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002)
The websites cited
Wikipedia, www.pitchBlackbaseball.com , http://www.blackbaseball.com The Afrolumens Project- http://www.afrolumens.org/ The Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center- http://www.nlbm.com/buck/buck.
htm and The Negro Leagues E-Museum- http://coe.ksu.edu/nlbemuseum/ history/players/ball.html
NOTE: These articles were inspired by my late grandfather, Cyrus Echols Young (1897-1990) and my father, William Carroll Sr., who had filled my head with stories of some of these men.