Is the Hall of Fame forgetting something?

By Bill Carroll
Updated: February 10, 2010

NEW YORK — While a few of the best known players from the Negro Leagues “Golden Age” the late 1920’s-WWII era have been inducted many more, especially from the earlier days, the pre- Negro Leagues dead-ball era the time of many lesser-known greats, has simply been neglected.

First some background my father’s first teaching job after he graduated from Temple University was at a reform school named Octavius V. Catto, a few years ago I researched the name and the man and discovered that in addition to being a leading abolitionist, assistant to the principal, Professor Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett, at what would later become Cheyney State, he also a supporter of the Pythians the foremost Negro baseball team of its era.

In fact he decided to apply for official recognition of the Pythians by the National Association of Base Ball Players National Association of Base Ball Players (America’s first organized league), during its annual convention in December 1867.

The Pythians were, however, denied membership.

The denial was based on the premise, “If colored clubs were admitted there would be in all probability some division of feeling, whereas, by excluding them no injury could result to anyone.”

“The association even passed a resolution that excluded “any club which may be composed of one or more colored players.” This premise was the predecessor of the “gentleman’s agreement” arriving later involving the major leagues and colored players.

In 1867, the Uniques of Brooklyn played the Excelsiors of Philadelphia for the first officially recorded black teams. The Excelsiors defeated the Uniques 37-24. Soon following, the more prestigious Philadelphia Pythians arrived on the scene.

Negroes continued to thrive in adopting the ‘National Pastime’ despite the segregation, with the few black teams of the day playing not only each other, but white teams as well; to break down racial barriers in baseball, when a group of whites formed the Pennsylvania Convention of Baseball Clubs in 1868.

His aggressive nature and strivings for equality in this instance greatly offended many immigrant whites who enjoyed baseball as their pastime. On October 10, 1871, Catto was leaving the Institute for Colored Youth, Catto was confronted by Frank Kelly, a Democratic Party operative and associate of the Party’s boss, who recognized Catto as he walked down the street. Kelly fired several shots at Catto with one bullet piercing his heart.

With his death came the death of the best Negro team of the time, the Pythians.

In 1879, William Edward White, a Brown University player, may have become the first African-American to play in the major leagues when he appeared in one game for the Providence Grays of the National League. In 1884, two African-American players, Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday Walker, joined the majors when their club, the Toledo Blue Stockings, joined the American Association.

Fleet Walker lasted until mid-season when an injury gave the team an excuse to release him; his brother only played a few games. Then in 1886 second baseman Frank Grant joined the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, the strongest minor league, and hit .340, third highest in the league.

Several other African-American players joined the International League the following season, including pitchers George Stovey and Robert Higgins, but 1888 was the last season in which blacks were allowed in a minor league of that level.

Despite the Color line many baseball men tried to sneak talented player through the “White Curtain.”

In 1901 there was an unusual signing of one “Chief Tokohama” to baseball’s Baltimore Orioles by manager John McGraw. Chief Tokohama was later revealed to be Charlie Grant, a straight haired, beige-skinned African-American second baseman with high cheekbones.

McGraw was attempting to draw upon the great untapped resource of African-American baseball talent in the face of baseball’s unspoken rule banning black players from the major leagues. The ruse was discovered after Grant signed with the Orioles as Chief Tokohama, when Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey discovered his real identity and led the charge to ban him from the league. Grant ended up spending the 1901 season playing stand-out second base for the all-black Columbia Giants.

John McGraw, manager of the Orioles from 1899 to 1902 and the New York Giants from 1902 to 1932, had real respect for African-Americans’ baseball abilities and wished to integrate the major leagues. McGraw was often in the stands at Negro League games, watching and taking notes, and later copying strategies used by Black teams.

In fact, legend has long held that McGraw had pitcher and Negro National League founder Rube Foster teach Giants star Christy Mathewson how to throw his “fadeaway” pitch or Screwball. McGraw held multiple exhibition games between his team and Negro League teams.

Not only promoting and showcasing the talent but as importantly bolstering their earnings.

In October 1917, Negro Leaguer “Smokey” Joe Williams pitched against the National League champion Giants, striking out 20 batters before losing 1-0 on an error in the 10th inning. Had records been kept of those exhibitions, the mark of 20 strikeouts would stood for 69 seasons. McGraw was not the only big leaguer who favored integration, or took up the cause.

Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner and Jimmie Foxx were among the players who would barnstorm with all-star Negro League teams in the off-season before black players were allowed to play with them in the regular season.

Each of them attested that the ‘Tan Talent’ was equal to what they’d faced in the majors. Joe DiMaggio famously stated that Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige was “the best and fastest pitcher” he ever faced.”

Now to commemorate February 9, 1971 the day that Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige was inducted into the slate of Negro League and Pre- Negro League players I believe are more than worthy of induction in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bud Fowler (real name John W. Jackson) had a lengthy career: 1877-1899: and he did some of everything he was a: 2b, P, SS, 3rd, OF, C, and manager with several teams and leagues: minor leagues (1877-1879, 1881, 1884-1899), Page Fence Giants (1895), Cuban Giants (1898),City Giants (1901), All-American Black Tourists (1903), Kansas City Smoky Stars (1904).

He was a solid and sturdy 5-foot-7, 155 pounds he batted and threw with his right hand. Fowler was a true pioneer playing wherever his color permitted. The first known African-American professional player. He played more seasons and more games in Organized Baseball than any Black man until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1946 and played his 11th season in 1956.

John Jackson was born in Fort Plain, New York, moved fittingly enough, to Cooperstown, New York the next year, and learned baseball there.

Why he selected the name Bud Fowler is unknown. According to biographer L. Robert Davids, he gained the nickname “Bud” because he called the other players by that name.

He began his career as a pitcher, and the first documented account of his appearing in a game was with Chelsea, Massachusetts, in April 1878.

Later that month, pitching for Lynn Live Oaks of the International Association, he defeated Tommy Bond and the famed Boston Nationals, 2-1, in an exhibition game.

Over the next few seasons he played with Worchester of the New England Association (1878), Malden of the Eastern Massachusetts League (1879), Guelph, Ontario (1881), and the Petrolia Imperials (1881). After 1884, when he finished with a 7-8 record with Stillwater, Minnesota, of the Northwestern League, he did not pitch substantially.

Foster also supported himself as a barber; he continued to play for teams in New England and Canada for the next four years. In 1883, Fowler played for a team in Niles, Ohio, and in 1884 in Stillwater, Minnesota. Unsubstantiated reports state that he played with the Washington Mutuals in 1869 and with a Newcastle, Pennsylvania, team in 1872 cannot be confirmed and are not fully reliable.

Eventually he became an everyday player and, while he could play any position, second base became his preferred spot. He continued to play in White leagues, appearing with Keokuk in the Western League (1885), Pueblo in the Colorado League (1885), Topeka in the Western League (1886), Binghamton in the International League (1887), Montpelier in the New England League (1887), Crawfordsville in the Central Interstate League (1888), Terre Haute in the Central Interstate League (1888), Santa Fe in the New Mexico League (1888), Greenville in the Michigan League (1889), Galesburg of the Central Interstate League (1890), Sterling of the Illinois-Iowa League (1890), Burlington of the Illinois-Iowa League (1890), Lincoln-Kearney of the Nebraska State League (1892), and the independent Findlay, Ohio, team (1891, 1893-1894, 1896-1899).

In earliest days of baseball there was no official color line, and Fowler played in organized baseball with White ball clubs until the color line became established and entrenched.

However, his stays were almost always of short duration despite his playing ability-probably because of the race factor. In 1887 he was dropped from Binghamton of the International League and was forbidden to sign with another International League team.

In the fall of 1894, the social conditions led him to organize the Page Fence Giants, an all-Black team sponsored by the Page Woven Wire Fence Company of Adrian, Michigan, and the team began play the following spring with Fowler as the playing manager and Grant “Home Run” Johnson as the shortstop and captain.

That spring the Page Fence Giants played a 2-game exhibition series against the National League Cincinnati Reds but dropped both games. However, the season was a success, as they ended it with a 118-36 record for a .766 winning percentage and Fowler hit .316 for the year.

Fowler had left the team before the end of the season to play with the Lansing team of the Michigan State League and hit .331 while splitting his time between second base and third base. That was to be his tenth and last season in organized baseball, a record until broken by Jackie Robinson in his last season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

He also played with the Cuban Giants in 1898, and as his playing skills faded, he became more inclined toward organizing and managing various barnstorming Black ball clubs.

These teams included the Smoky City Giants (1901), the All-American Black Tourists (1903), and the Kansas City Stars (1904), and although now in his forties, Fowler continued to play himself except with the latter team. At the end of his career he asserted that he had played on teams based in twenty-two different states and in Canada.

In 1909, Fowler was in poor health and several attempts were made to play a benefit game for him, but the efforts all proved fruitless and the game never happened. Less than three years later, the “real first” Black professional baseball player died of pernicious anemia in Frankfort, New York on February 26, 1913 after an extended illness.

His passing came just eighteen days before his fifty-fifth birthday.

Records are predictably sketchy but he is thought to have had a career batting average in the low .300s.

I had assumed that Theodore Roosevelt “Double Duty” Radcliffe was already in the Baseball Hall of Fame. After all he had more than 4,000 hits and 400 home runs, won what many estimate to be about 500 games and had in the neighborhood of 4,000 strike-outs.

He was great as a pitcher and a catcher, and he got his nickname from Damon Runyon no less, sadly I was mistaken he has not been enshrined. Radcliffe played as a catcher and as a pitcher in the successive games of a 1932 Negro League World Series doubleheader between the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Monroe Monarchs.

In the first of the two games at Yankee Stadium Radcliffe caught the pitcher Satchel Paige for a shutout and then pitched a shutout in the second game. Runyon wrote that Radcliffe “was worth the price of two admissions.” Radcliffe considered his year with the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords to be one of the highlights of his career.

The Crawfords beat the Monarchs 5-1 in the best-of-nine series.

There should have been four future hall of fame players were on the Crawfords in this year including Josh Gibson, Satchel Page, Oscar Charleston and “Double Duty” should be the fourth he lived to 103 to give baseball time to induct him while he was alive.

He played from 1919 to 1954 and lived from July 7th 1902 until August 11th, 2005, he and Buck O’Neil are the men on this list I have had the honor of speaking with. He was a great story teller with a flair for exaggeration.

He had many hilarious and harrowing tales of his playing days, they were mostly true but some of them had a bit of “yeast” in them.

What kind of player was he? In 1934, with the Jamestown Red Sox and Chicago American Giants, ‘Double Duty’ had one of the finest years anyone’s ever had. He won 18 games, lost 4 and walked only 17 batters all season. At bat, Duty batted .362 and hit some of the longest homers ever seen in North Dakota!

After the season, Duty managed a North Dakota semipro team that took on the Jimmie Foxx All-Stars (featuring Hall of Famers Foxx, Heinie Manush and Ted Lyons, along with All-Stars Pinkie Higgins and Doc Cramer, and 20-game winners Rube Walberg and Earl Whitehill.)

The North Dakota stars beat the Major Leaguers in Valley City, Jamestown and Bismarck. In those games, Duty batted .556 and threw a complete game win in Bismarck, not allowing a run until the 9th inning.

Radcliffe made his Negro League debut with the Detroit Stars in 1928, serving as both pitcher and catcher.

His first year with the team, the Stars played the major league all-stars.

He left the team in 1929 after the manager refused his request for a raise and he returned to another Chicago team, the Union Giants.

In 1930, the St. Louis Stars traded three players for Radcliffe. He stayed with the team one year, during which they won the pennant. Radcliffe next played for the Homestead Grays in Pittsburgh.

Radcliffe joined hometown friend, Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige, on the better-paying Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932, along with Gray’s teammates Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Ted Page.

That year, the team played a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. While writer Damon Runyon came to see Paige, he left impressed with Radcliffe’s ability to pitch and catch, he caught while Paige pitched a shutout in the first game, and then pitched his own shutout in the second. “It was worth the price of two admissions to see ‘Double Duty’ Radcliffe play,” Runyon wrote in his newspaper column the next day.

The nickname stuck with Radcliffe.

His Crawfords years were productive while doing “double duty” Radcliffe produced impressive numbers for those seasons, including batting averages of .283, .298, and .325 and corresponding pitching records of 10-2, 9-5, and 19-8.

With the Stars he was the regular catcher for the first half of the season, but when the pitching staff wore thin, he stepped in and proved to be one of the top hurlers on their championship squad.

In his later years, Radcliffe made no secret of his illegal pitching methods. Although he was never caught, he was known for his “emery ball” in which he scratched one side of the ball with an emery board. Radcliffe’ methods behind the plate were unorthodox as well. He had the words “Thou Shalt Not Steal” emblazoned across his chest protector and in the latter part of his career wrapped a steak in a handkerchief inside his mitt for extra padding against Paige’s fastballs.

Radcliffe pitched three and caught three of the six East-West All-Star Games in which he played.

He also pitched in two and caught in six other All-Star games. He hit .376 (11-for-29) in nine exhibition games against major leaguers, he pitched and caught multiple no-hitters in his career , won more than 400 games on the mound , batted over .300 lifetime with more than 400 home runs , hit major-leaguers in eight exhibitions at a .403 pace, he was chosen as a pitcher and catcher 3 times each for the Negro League East-West All-Star Game (batting .308, with a homer, one win, one save and a 2.35 ERA).

Radcliffe won the Negro American League MVP award in 1943 (at age 41). Not only that by the integrated 2 leagues in one season, 1948–the Southern Minny and the Michigan-Indiana Leagues, he was still pitching and catching in his 50s; he batted .459 and was 3-0 pitching for Winnipeg in a “triple A” semipro league and he played with more than 30 teams, as many as five in one season!

Double Duty’s Brother Alexander ‘Alec’ Radcliffe — at 6-feet, 205 pounds — he was an imposing right handed hitter, he was a vital cog in the Chicago American Giants’ 1932 Negro Southern League pennant (batting .283) and in their disputed 1933 and 1934 NNL claims. From 1933 to 1936 he batted .330.

The hard-hitting third baseman of the Chicago American Giants for most of his fifteen-year career, Radcliffe was virtually a perennial All Star, making eleven All Star appearances during his career. He played in every All Star game from its inception in 1933 through 1946, except for the 1940-1942 seasons, registering a .341 average in All Star competition. He is the lifetime All Star leader in at bats and hits, and is second to Buck Leonard in games played, runs batted in, and runs scored.

A good clutch hitter, this right handed slugger used a 40 ounce bat and had power to all fields. Noted as being a good curveball hitter with the ability to execute the hit and run, Radcliffe earned his acclaim with his bat, but he did everything well.

He was an adequate fielder with a strong arm, and although not fast, he was a little better than average as a base runner for his size. His manager, Dave Malarcher considered him one of the best White or Black to play the ‘hot corner’; a quick man, a powerful hitter and one who possessed a great baseball mind. Radcliffe batted .325 during the 1945 NAL season.

When he made his 11th and final East-West all-star game appearance in 1946, he had played in more of them than any other player. His 44 at-bats and 15 hits (.341) were East-West game highs, and he scored seven runs and drove in ten. His older brother Ted was one of the biggest stars and self-promoters in Negro Leagues and overshadowed his very talented younger.

The other tender of the ‘hot corner’ deserving of more Hall of Fame attention is a superior defensive third baseman, the 5-foot-9, 160 pound Oliver “Ghost” Marcelle was the most skilled third baseman in black baseball in the 1920s. A rare gem afield, he could do everything. In a 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll he was selected over Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge and Judy Johnson as the all-time greatest player at the hot corner, and was also picked by John Henry Lloyd in 1953 for his All-Time All Star team.

A rare gem afield, he could do everything. He was very fast, covered lots of territory, and possessed a quick and snappy arm. He had no equal in knocking down hard-hit balls and getting his man at first. Whether making spectacular plays to his left or to his right, or fielding bunts like a master, he delighted the fans.

While the Negro Leagues had many statistics recorded in the 1920s, Marcelle put up outstanding numbers. In 1922 with the Bacharach Giants, he posted a .379 batting average. Again in 1924, he hit well, putting up a .352 average for Bacharach and the New York Lincoln Giants.

He was considered by most to be the greatest fielding third basemen in the league throughout the 1920s and possibly of all time. Baseball Hall of Famer Judy Johnson once admitted that Marcelle was a better defensive player than himself. During that time, he and shortstop Dick Lundy made up one of the best left-side infields ever.

Teaming with Dick Lundy on the Bacharach Giants to form an almost impregnable left side of the infield, he was an integral part of the team’s success in the pennant years of 1926-27.

In the 1926 World Series against the Chicago American Giants, he hit a solid .293 in a losing effort.

His professional baseball career started in New Orleans, where he played for several teams during his teens. In 1918, he moved to Brooklyn where he played for the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1918 and 1919.

He soon gained recognition for his fielding abilities and his flair for the dramatic, his nickname, “The Ghost,” came from his fielding style. He could stand 10 feet off the bag and wait for someone to hit a ball his way. He would run and leap, while making the catch he could play 10 feet closer to the batter than anyone else, since he had cat-quick reflexes.

Moving with Lundy to the Baltimore Black Sox after the Eastern Colored League’s breakup, he still had enough hits left in his bat to hit a respectable .288 in 1929. A good hitter, he was most dangerous in the clutch, registering a .335 lifetime average in Negro League competition.

During eight winter seasons in Cuba, “Ghost” had a .305 average, including a league-leading .371 in 1923-24. He also hit .333 in exhibitions against major leaguers.

Marcelle’s quick and fiery temper, with umpires and opponents commonly got him into arguments even with teammates Marcelle once hit Oscar Charleston in the head with a bat. In addition to the Negro Leagues Marcelle had been a staple of the Cuban Winter League throughout the decade.

In the 1923-24 season he batted .393 to lead the league. After some time with in the Detroit Stars, Marcelle didn’t play very much longer. Marcelle quit playing in 1930.

He coached for a while and in 1933 toured with the Miami Giants, ending up in Denver.

His biggest contribution to baseball history may not have come as a player though.

The Denver Post sponsored one of the biggest semipro baseball tournaments in the country. In 1934, Marcelle convinced the Post’s sports editor that the paper should invite the Kansas City Monarchs, a black team, to the tournament. The Post invited the Monarchs, who had a pitcher by the name of Satchel Paige, who would later enter the Hall of Fame.

The tournament was Paige’s first exposure to the white press. Prior to the 1934 tournament, Denver had black teams and white teams. The next year, Denver’s baseball teams were integrated.

Marcelle’s final career average was supposedly around .305 with 12 home runs

NEXT: More on Newt Allen, Bingo’ DeMoss, and others.