The Best Pitcher in Baseball

The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant

Robert Charles Cottrell
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Best Pitcher in Baseball
    Book Description:

    When Rube Foster was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, his rightful place alongside baseball's greatest black heroes was at last firmly established. A world-class pitcher, a formidable manager, and a brilliant administrator, Rube Foster was arguably more influential in breaking down the color barrier in major league baseball than the venerable Jackie Robinson.

    Born in 1879, Rube Foster pitched for the legendary black baseball teamsthe Cuban X-Giants and the Philadelphia Giants before becoming player-manager of the Leland Giants and the Chicago American Giants. Long a central figure in black baseball, he founded baseball's first black leaguethe Negro National League in 1920. From its inception, the Negro League served as a vehicle through which many of the finest black players could showcase their considerable talents. Challenging racial discrimination and stereotypes, it ultimately set the stage for future efforts to contest Jim Crow.

    Despite the long-standing success of the Negro National League as an influential black institution, Rube Foster was deeply embittered by organized baseball's unmitigated refusal to lift the color barrier. He died a broken man in 1930.

    The Best Pitcher in Baseball is the story of a man of unparalleled vision and organizational acumen whose passion for justice changed the face of baseball forever. It is a moving tribute to a man and his dream.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9040-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-5)

    Rube Foster, it can readily be argued, was black baseball’s greatest figure, although many claim that distinction for Jackie Robinson, who played but one season with the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson’s place in the annals of baseball and American history is, of course, secure. The minor league contract he signed with Branch Rickey in 1945 shattered the segregation barrier that had long soiled the national pastime. Then, as the first African American to perform in organized baseball in the twentieth century, Robinson starred as a member of the famed “Boys of Summer”; he helped to lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to...

  5. ONE The Best Pitcher in the Country
    (pp. 6-19)

    In the final stages of the nineteenth century, Calvert, Texas, experienced tremendous growth, thanks to railroads and to cotton planters who established large plantations in the Brazos River bottoms that exuded prosperity and southern warmth. With the passage of time, many of those planters headed into town, where they constructed stately Victorian mansions, some of which are still standing today. Situated in Robertson County, Calvert became a trading center in eastern Texas, trafficking in “King Cotton,” alfalfa, vegetables, and livestock. By 1871, Calvert possessed the world’s largest operating gin. As the town, one hundred miles northeast of the state capital,...

  6. TWO At the Top of His Game
    (pp. 20-31)

    Prior to the start of the 1905 season, Foster and several other Philadelphia Giants spent part of the winter in Palm Beach, competing for the Royal Poincians, which went up against top players in both black baseball and the organized professional game. In a stellar matchup at the Palm Beach diamond in early March, Foster threw a terrific shutout, defeating Ormond 1-0. Many of the Ormond players, who worked for the hotel of the same name, were pro ballplayers from the New York State League. In past seasons, Ormond had dominated the Palm Beach winter league and was expected to...

  7. THREE A Return to the Midwest
    (pp. 32-48)

    Once back in the States, it was clear that Slick Schlichter’s championship nine was about to be transformed. Team magnates Schlichter and Sol White were encountering considerable resentment from ballplayers like Foster and Pete Hill, who considered themselves woefully underpaid. The Giants were a powerful unit, featuring second baseman Charlie Grant, shortstop Grant “Home Run” Johnson—drawn from the Cuban X-Giants—outfielder Hill, and pitchers Danny McClellan and Foster. However, Foster, along with many of his compatriots, was increasingly disgruntled. As he saw matters, “The whole team was making only $100 out of Sunday games and a proportionate amount for...

  8. FOUR The Leland Giants
    (pp. 49-61)

    By the advent of the Cubs’ series, Frank C. Leland, due to a power struggle with Rube Foster, had departed from the team he had founded four years earlier. Foster was initially backed by two former Leland associates, Major R. R. Jackson and Beauregard Mosely. Leland went to court, seeking to prevent Foster from using the team name, and Foster countersued. The court ruling was curious, to say the least. Foster was allowed to retain the name Leland Giants, although the team’s namesake maintained the existing lease at Auburn Park. Foster, moreover, was enjoined from raiding the Leland roster; Leland...

  9. FIVE The Chicago American Giants and the Making of a Black Baseball Dynasty
    (pp. 62-77)

    The 1910 Leland Giants are one of black baseball’s legendary teams. Leland’s significance, however, pales in comparison to Foster’s next ball club, the Chicago American Giants. For more than a decade following their founding in 1911, the American Giants were unquestionably black baseball’s most important squad and, often, its finest. Foster placed his imprint on that team as he had on no other, using a racehorse brand of baseball that the American Giants became noted for. Sportswriters deemed his nine equal to any in the land, including those in organized baseball; its competition against top blackball units, leading minor league...

  10. SIX Another Championship
    (pp. 78-88)

    In March 1914, Foster again guided the American Giants out west. His already potent squad, however, was about to become stronger still. Undoubtedly due to the defeat suffered at the hands of the Lincoln Giants, Foster resorted to raiding some of the finest players in black baseball back east, particularly from the very team that had wrested away the crown he considered rightfully the property of his American Giants. Foster had no compunction against taking players from eastern teams, especially those, like the Lincoln Giants, that challenged Chicago’s supremacy in blackball. Among the latest additions to his squad were Smokey...

  11. SEVEN The Dynasty Is Interrupted
    (pp. 89-105)

    On April 29, 1915, the “peerless” American Giants opened their season by shutting out the Milwaukee Sox 9-0 on a three-hitter by rookie righthander Big Richard Whitworth. Six thousand fans gathered at Schorling Park to watch the latest version of the American Giants battle the Lake Shore League champions, whose record stood at 31-10. The Giants’ attack was imprinted by Hurley McNair’s three safeties. Louis Santop was behind the plate; Jess Barber had moved to first base; second was covered by Harry Bauchman; playing short was Fred Hutchinson; and stationed at third was Billy Francis. The outfield, from left to...

  12. EIGHT Back on Top in Wartime
    (pp. 106-119)

    Although the 1915 and 1916 seasons had hardly been unsuccessful ones for the American Giants, they were certainly not up to Rube Foster’s standards. From the time he joined the Cuban X-Giants and helped guide them to the “colored world’s championship” in 1902 and 1903, Foster had been involved with a virtually unbroken skein of title-bearing ball clubs, and now his American Giants were about to begin another extended reign as black baseball’s preeminent team. Even the loss of key players due to military service, the diminution of skills, and defections proved unable to prevent the Chicago American Giants from...

  13. NINE Rube Ball
    (pp. 120-125)

    The same article in theDefenderthat proclaimed Rube Foster “a genius” also lauded his system. It was a system that afforded him absolute control of the American Giants’ operations, from the signing of players to the carving out of a schedule. And that system, Foster insisted, enabled his team to remain on top. In 1918, he lost several key players and released John Henry Lloyd, still perhaps black baseball’s finest. Those departures would have proved fatal, he held, “if we had not perfected this system. In so doing we again won the championship, defeated all comers and played better...

  14. TEN Black Baseball and the Segregated Community
    (pp. 126-140)

    Just prior to the war’s close, few anticipated that brighter days lay in store for the national pastime, whether involving organized baseball or the blackball variety that Rube Foster seemingly had perfected. With sportswriters questioning the fate of the major and minor leagues, it was hardly surprising that they wondered about the viability of black baseball. F. C. Lane, the editor ofBaseball Magazine,in an article written before the Armistice, asked, “Where, or where, have the colored ball clubs gone? What has become of the dusky entertainers whose antics—and genuine playing skill—erstwhile sent thrills of joy through...

  15. ELEVEN Organizing Black Baseball
    (pp. 141-157)

    The ferocity of the race riot that ravaged Chicago must have stunned Rube Foster. Having long suffered segregation and discrimination, he nevertheless had optimistically believed that with the passage of time, racial barriers eventually would be surmounted. He had been raised in southeast Texas when Jim Crow practices were intensifying. Then, as a young ballplayer he had skirted the edges of organized baseball, locked out only because of his skin color. For nearly two decades he had been at the summit of the national game’s blackened version. As a consequence, he had starkly confronted the racial realities that prevented him...

  16. TWELVE Czar of Black Baseball
    (pp. 158-173)

    Starting with the Negro National League’s initial campaign, Rube Foster added another series of titles to his already illustrious record. The American Giants garnered the new circuit’s first three championships before beginning something of a slide engendered by diminishing skills and, perhaps, the plentitude of responsibilities its manager-owner and league president now carried. Even in 1921 and 1922, the gap between the American Giants and other top Negro National League teams narrowed. Nevertheless, Foster captured two additional pennants, thus enabling him to claim, with considerable credibility, sixteen black baseball titles in the past twenty-one years; the final eleven occurred while...

  17. THIRTEEN Rube Foster’s Legacy
    (pp. 174-183)

    Shortly after his confinement to the Kankakee sanitarium, Rube Foster’s legacy began to be more fully considered by those familiar with the history of black baseball. In his column for thePittsburgh Courier, W. Rollo Wilson, who later served as the commissioner of the Negro National League, spent considerable time in the early months of 1927 wrestling with the question of who the finest black ballplayer had been. He began by asking, “Who was the greatest colored baseball player of all time?” Respondents offered several candidates, among them, Foster. Almost all of the other athletes mentioned had played for Foster...

  18. FOURTEEN The Drive to Cooperstown
    (pp. 184-190)

    On May 18, 1968, theNew Courierdiscussed organized baseball’s repeated failures to acknowledge Rube Foster’s contributions to the game. Major league baseball, the paper contended, owed its continued existence to “the imaginative Foster,” who “kept 300 Negro players in uniform.” Foster “made it possible for the majors to tap a prime source of recruitment.” Baseball’s Hall of Fame “would be more complete, with Foster’s features preserved and polished in a deserved niche in Cooperstown.”¹

    In 1968 and 1969, Robert Peterson conducted a series of interviews with Dave Malarcher, in which Foster’s old ballplayer and successor as the American Giants’...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 191-220)
    (pp. 221-224)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 225-231)
    (pp. 232-232)