Wednesday, May 19, 2010

29. Eddie Cicotte

This card is the first in a series I will be doing on the Eight Men Out, the players who were banned from organized baseball after being accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. I originally had the idea of depicting the players while on the 1919 Sox, complete with their season stats and series record. In fact I actually posted the Lefty Williams and Buck Weaver cards in this format. The more I thought about it though, I decided that I wanted to focus more on an aspect that always intrigued me, what did those players do AFTER they were banned. I had heard stories back where I grew up in Northern New Jersey of Shoeless Joe Jackson playing under fake names for little Jersey town teams back in the '20's, but found no proof. At the end of Eliot Asinof's great book "Eight Men Out" he leaves us with tantalizing mention of a Black Sox barnstorming tour. Was this team real? What did these guys do after the ban? Could they have just gave up playing the game they must have loved? Through my research and with the help of many historians who generously shared their material I will attempt to create an 8 card set of these guys and the outlaw teams they played on after Judge Landis threw them out of organised baseball in the Fall of 1920.

After being banned from organized baseball, the eight Chicago players implicated in fixing the 1919 World Series spent the 1921 season playing pick-up games in and around the Chicago area waiting in vain for an appeal of Commissioner Landis' decision. The players were not actually convicted of any wrong doing in any court and the office of Commissioner of Baseball was a new institution at the time. Like many people they underestimated the absolute power the commissioner now had. By the spring of 1922 they now understood the dire situation they were in and were not likely to be let back in the major leagues for the foreseeable future. Faced with the need to make a living the players decided to capitalize on their infamous notoriety. Eddie Cicotte joined Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, Joe Jackson, Hap Felsch and Buck Weaver to form a barnstorming team called the “Ex-Major League Stars”. Lord knows how this name must have angered the new Commissioner of Baseball. The team played a few games around the mid-west but many fans ridiculed the dirty players and most teams refused to play the them due to warnings about doing so by Commissioner Landis. Young players did not want to be tainted by the association with the banned players and to do so could have a negative effect on their eligibility to move up to organised ball. Older players understood what a terrible mark the whole affair of 1919 cast over their beloved game and local newspapers who were usually more than enthusiastic about a barnstorming team of major league players coming to town now railed against the shunned players. All was not well in the Ex-Major League Stars camp, however and the team apparently broke up when Cicotte got into a fight with The Swede over money. The rough and tumble Risberg got the best of the match and reportedly knocked two of Eddie’s teeth out. This was the last time that many of the players were together on a team. Cicotte eventually drifted back to his farm and family in Michigan where he anonymously worked on the assembly line for Ford Motor Company.

Special thanks to the people over at the great site "The Shoeless Joe Jackson Virtual Hall of Fame Web Site" They were very helpful answering questions and sending me newspaper articles regarding the Black Sox after 1920.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

28. Willard Brown

Back in 1947 as Jackie Robinson was breaking the color line in the National League, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson, two heavy weight negro league sluggers joined the American Leagues' St. Louis Browns. While Robinson was given a year of minor league seasoning to get acclimated to white organized ball, Brown and Thompson were sent directly to the big club. This move by the Browns ultimately hurt both the players and the team as they were not able to adapt to the huge cultural difference and senseless racism they encountered. They were unable to sleep in the same hotel as their teammates who were pretty much indifferent to their presence on the club. On August 13, 1947 Brown belted a Hal Newhouser pitch into the far reaches of Sportsmans Park and quickly rounded the bases for an inside the park home run, the first by a black player in the American League. Instead of celebrating the feat, teammate Jeff Heath, whose bat Brown used, broke it in half rather than have him use it again. After 21 games and a low batting average both Brown and Thompson were released. Thompson had a second chance with the Giants a few years later and made good but Willard Brown never made it back to the majors, spending the next 10 years in the negro and minor leagues where he continued his legendary status as one of the games best sluggers.

As the mighty Kansas City Monarchs' batboy, Willard Brown dreamed of playing for the Monarchs. In 1935 he realised that dream when he became the team's starting shortstop. Soon moved to the outfield to take advantage of his speed, Brown became black baseball's most prolific hitter. He hit for a high average and was also one of the fastest ballplayers of the late 1930’s. Brown was sometimes accused of being lazy in the field, saving his strength for larger crowds and more important games but at the same time he was considered to be a superior outfielder and was voted to the All-Star Game 8 times. He hit well above .300 for his whole negro league career and led the league in doubles, triple, home runs and stolen bases many times. The Monarchs of the late '30's and '40's were a powerhouse and Brown was instrumental in their winning the pennant 5 times during his time with the team. During the war Brown played on the champion ballclub that won the European Theater World Series and he hit the winning home run of the deciding game giving Leon Day the victory over Ewell Blackwell and Patton's 4th Army team made up of major league players. He then played ball in the negro and minor leagues until 1957. Popular with players and fans, Brown was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006.