Make room on RFKs RF wall for
THREE MORE FOR VALHALLA
By John B Holway
Walter Johnson, Frank Howard, and Sammy Baugh will have to scrunch a little closer together on Washingtons rightfield wall -- the Pantheon with the names of the citys sports immortals on it. They've got to make room for three newcomers to Valhalla.
Ray Brown, Cum Posey, and Jud Boojum Wilson officially become Immortals Sunday afternoon at Cooperstown.
Who are these bumptious intruders?
They helped make the old Negro League Washington Homestead Grays into one of the most powerful dynasties in baseball history. They would have played the Senators of the 1937-48 era right off the diamond.
Ray, Cum, and Jud teamed with Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, who are already on the wall, and Cool Papa Bell, who is not. Now that Cooperstown is honoring them, how can their old hometown continue to turn its back?
Where will we find the space? George Selkirk and Gil Hodges are two candidates who are good to go. There are others.
W L Pct.
Paige 153 92 .624
Brown 153 53 .742
(Black teams played about 40-100 league games a year, filling the rest of their schedules against local semipro clubs.)
Brown holds the record for best winning percentage, black or white. The white champ, Whitey Ford of the Yanks, is .692. If Ray had Satchs talent for jokes, perhaps he, and not Paige, would have been the first Negro Leaguer into Cooperstown.
Ray and Gibson formed perhaps the best battery in black baseball history. Brown won 22 straight games in his first three years in Washington. The white big league record is 24 by Carl Hubbell. Brown also tossed a seven-inning perfect game.
Only Johnson surpasses him as the greatest pitcher ever to wear a Washington uniform.
While Josh was happy-go-lucky (at least until he began abusing alcohol and drugs late in his career), Brown was a surly character, who married the bosss daughter and became manager Vic Harriss biggest problem child.
But he could pitch, mixing a knuckler with a good curve. He could also hit for power and often pinch-hit or played the outfield.
CUM POSEY was the son of a prosperous riverboat captain from Pittsburgh and a good golfer and basketball player in several universities. But he dropped out of school to take over a steelworkers team, the Homestead Grays, and build it into one of the great franchises in history. He recruited the legendary Smoky Joe Williams and other stars, including 18 year-old Josh Gibson, and was in such demand that he stayed out of the league because he made more money barnstorming against white teams.
When Posey lost his stars during the Depression, he enticed Gibson back and built a second dynasty around him, Brown, and Leonard.
Cum died in 1946 just as Jackie Robinson was about it walk on the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey never paid a nickel for any of the black stars he snatched away from their owners. Its like coming into a mans store and stealing the goods right off the shelves, Posey protested. He died with those words on his lips.
JUD WILSON was nicknamed Boojum for the sound of his line drives rattling off the fences. Jud batted .343 lifetime and hit over .400 six times in the States and Cuba (black players just changed uniforms and kept playing both winter and summer). Its a good bet that he would have hit over .400 in an integrated Major League too. He was batting .400 against white stars until the end of his career, when his average fell off.
Jud was built like a rassler. He played every infield position for Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, stopping hard grounders with his chest and throwing the runners out.
He was as quick with his fists as he was with his bat. He especially hated umps, chasing one around the bases with a bat and clapping a bucket on the head of another and pounding on it with his fist.
Juds buddy was little Jake Stephens. Jake remembered coming in late half juiced up and waking Jud up. When Jake wouldn't shut up, Jud wearily grabbed him by one ankle and held him out of the window six floors above the street. Stephens yelled, Put me down! and kicked so hard that Wilson shifted hands in midair before pulling a sober Jake in. Next morning, Jake says, when I saw all the scratches on that mans arm, I couldn't walk. My feet just buckled under me.
In 1942 the Afro-American and other papers were agitating for the Senators to sign black players, although no one suggested paying Posey for them. Senators owner Clark Griffith called Gibson and Leonard into his office. If I get you two boys, it will break up your league, he warned prophetically.
We don't know about that, they said, but we think we could make the team.
They never heard from him again.
The Senators already had a potentially strong team Cecil Travis, Dutch Leonard, Mickey Vernon, George Case, and Early Wynn. If Griff had signed Josh, Buck, Cool Papa, Jud, and Ray, he just might have built a dynasty to challenge the Yanks; Griffith, not Rickey, might be hailed as baseballs Abe Lincoln, and the Senators might never have left town for 35 years.