Skip to comments.Paying tribute to forgotten black ballplayers
Posted on 08/02/2006 10:32:29 AM PDT by Coleus
FRANK GRANT never got a chance to stretch his talent as a baseball player as far as it could go. The reason is so simple that it needs no finessing. He was black. His color kept him out. In a gesture that goes a long way toward making up for past slights, professional baseball is stretching its hand out to honor the forgotten black men of baseball. Grant, buried in Clifton, is one of them. He and others bounced around among all black teams but also played on teams that integrated decades before the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson, baseball historians now agree.
On Sunday, the Baseball Hall of Fame recognized Grant and 16 others, including a white woman from Newark, Effa Manley, who championed better salaries for black professional players in the 1930s and 1940s. Manley, the first woman inductee, was co-owner of the Newark Eagles. Designated to speak about the historic honor organized baseball gave black league players Sunday, Robinson's daughter Sharon Robinson reviewed black players' "tremendous contribution to professional baseball." "It is incumbent upon us to acknowledge and continue to struggle against the inequities in our society," Robinson said.
A step toward healing
It is impossible to make up for the kind of losses that go hand-in-hand with race-based exclusionary policies like the ones Frank Grant and the other black baseball players endured for decades and decades. The Hall of Fame recognition of so many this year is a step toward healing. "That's the best we can do now... but no, it doesn't make up for it," said James Overmyer, who has researched Grant for more than a decade. "It's good that they're honored, it's appropriate that they're honored. But there's nothing we can do to go back and remake history." Overmyer uncovered eyewitness and printed accounts about Grant's extraordinary talent that led him to be described by The Hall of Fame as the "greatest black ballplayer of the 19th century." Yesterday was the 141st anniversary of Grant's birth. He died in 1937, about a decade before Jackie Robinson officially broke Major League Baseball's color line.
The sport had been integrated since its invention in the early 1800s. But in the 1880s, Jim Crow imposed racial separation on all facets of life and sports. Teams refused to play black players and maliciously attacked them. Born Ulysses Franklin Grant on Aug. 1, 1865, in Pittsfield, Mass., Grant played more than 15 years in the minors and barnstorming black baseball teams, mostly as a second-baseman. He then went on to make a modest living in New York first as a waiter, then as a common laborer. Nobody made much money as an athlete back then.
So black athletes got neither big money nor broad recognition, and never got a chance to go as far as they could for the sport they loved. An unmarked grave in a Clifton's East Ridgelawn Cemetery is the final resting place of Grant, a man forced at times to pretend to be Spanish or something other than African-American so he could play on integrated teams. He was called "The Spaniard" when he played in Buffalo in the 1880s. The ethnic deception was a way to gain acceptability among baseball fans who didn't approve of someone -- even of Grant's caliber -- mixing with white players.
It was not uncommon for African-Americans playing on white minor league teams to be presented to the spectators and fans as Portuguese, Spanish or Arab -- anything but black. Overmyer found reports of hatred so intense that Grant's agility at second base was compromised by the crude wooden shin guards he had to wear because opposing players attacked the base with spikes especially sharpened to injure him. After African-American players were forced out of the minor leagues, Grant played for the Cuban Giants, an all-black team contracted to represent Trenton.
A pauper's burial
He ended up in a pauper's grave, sharing his space with possibly two other indigents. He had no family close by when he died in 1937 at the age of 71. His last 35 years were spent living on Minetta Lane in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and on West 17th Street. He'd had at least two wives, but died penniless and childless. Black players in all leagues never got their due. Grant ended up in the Clifton cemetery after dying of arteriosclerosis in Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital. In the end it was only him, too poor to get a decent burial. By then the cheering had long been silenced.
CLIFTON -- For the past 70 years, Frank Grant has lain unnoticed and forgotten in an unmarked grave in a shaded corner of East Ridgelawn Cemetery. This afternoon, he will become immortal. Grant will join Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and the rest of the 278 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Grant, who died in 1937, was regarded as one of the best baseball players of the late 19th century. But he never played a Major League game because he, along with all other black players, were excluded.
When he died in 1937 at 71, he apparently did not leave enough money to pay for a burial, so he was laid to rest in an unmarked plot in a cemetery off Main Avenue. Grant will be enshrined today as one of 17 former players and executives who made significant contributions to Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues baseball. The 17 inductees were chosen from a group of 39 players and executives by a committee of 12 historians. "This was designed to pretty much bring the black baseball membership in the Hall up to speed," said Jim Overmyer, a baseball historian from Massachusetts, who served on the 12-member committee. Overmyer spoke about Grant's life and career in a telephone interview on Friday.
Before the selection of today's 17 inductees, just 18 Negro Leaguers had been elected to the Hall since it was established in 1936. Grant was born in Pittsfield, Mass., on Aug. 1, 1865, just months after the end of the Civil War. In 1886, he debuted with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, a nearly all-white league that was the most competitive of baseball's minor leagues. A Buffalo newspaper described the new second baseman as a "Spaniard," according to "Only the Ball Was White," a history of Negro Leagues baseball by Robert Peterson. At the time, leagues tolerated black players as long as they were passed off as Latinos, Arabs or American Indians. In 1887, Grant was one of about 20 black players in "white" organized baseball, Peterson writes. But within a few years, blacks were driven from white baseball by bigoted white players. Segregation put an end to Grant's successful career in white baseball.
"He hit over .300 in every white league that we have stats for, which is five different seasons with six teams," Overmyer said. In addition to Grant's prowess as a hitter, "the papers then just raved about his fielding," Overmyer added. After baseball became segregated, Grant went on to star for all-black teams until he retired in 1903, Overmyer said. One contemporary wrote, "Were it not for the fact that he is a colored man, he would without a doubt be at the top notch of the records among the finest teams in the country." Baseball's color line, as it became known, remained until 1947, when Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Overmyer said the little that is known about Grant has been gleaned from old newspapers and census information.
After he retired, Grant moved to New York City, where he worked as a waiter and a laborer in a wool factory. He was married more than once and apparently did not have children. His only known descendants are the grandchildren and great-grandson of his older brother, Clarence. Grant died in New York's Bellevue Hospital on May 27, 1937. Among the pallbearers at his funeral were Smokey Joe Williams, a Negro Leagues pitcher who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1999, and Negro Leagues pioneer Sol White, who will be inducted today with Grant, Overmyer said. Grant was buried in Clifton on June 2, 1937, in a section of the East Ridgelawn Cemetery owned by the City of Passaic, said Barbara Brayya, the cemetery's office manager and bookkeeper. Brayya said she did not know how Grant, who does not appear to have had any connection with Passaic or Clifton, ended up in the cemetery. It is possible New York City had an arrangement with Passaic, she said.
With his induction to the Hall of Fame, Grant is likely the most famous person buried in East Ridgelawn. But because his grave is shared with two other people who could not afford their own burial plot, it must remain unmarked, Brayya said. For more information about Grant and today's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, visit www.baseballhalloffame.org.
Tough call. It's difficult to boot someone out of the HOF whose lifetime BA is .333 and who had over 3400 hits, especially if that someone didn't do anything illegal (like Pete Rose and Joe Jackson did). That said, Anson did aggressively use his considerable influence to keep black players banned from the game.
Concur, but if decency were an important criterion Cobb and perhaps a few other legends wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the HOF. If you're arguing that Anson took it a step (or several steps) further than anyone else and crossed the some invisilble line in doing so, I can buy that. ....but it's still a tough call.
Anson started his career almost a full generation before Delahanty (whose first year in the Bigs was 1888), so if Ed didn't use a glove I doubt Cap did either. .....unless he started using one later in his career.
The interviewer did not shirk the race issue and Buck did not avoid answers.
What a tragedy that Negro players were not allowed to play with the white boys
Is the HOF for truly great players, or just for political correctness? His is a great story, and he seems like a great guy, but that's not a HOF career, IMO.
I see "Big Ed" was listed at 6'1", 170 lbs. ....big for the era, I suppose. Or perhaps he just came up big in the clutch. Anson was a very large ballplayer for his day -- 6'0, 227 lbs.
That's an intersting tidbit about Spaulding.
I know this is thread is starting to veer of subject
Sports threads invariable do.
.353, .358, .345 and .330 are just decent?
And don't forget:
- first black coach in major league baseball (think that was a tough gig?)
- career as one of the best scouts in the game
- his career with the Negro League Hall of Fame, and efforts to get recognition for those players
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.