So Many Shades Of Gray by Glen Hammel

When he finally came out for a curtain call, the fans mobbed him. They hugged him, kissed him, cried, cheered and pulled and tore at his uniform while parading him around the infield on their shoulders. With tears streaming down his face, {he} finally begged off in order to shower, dress and catch a plane to the States. But the riot of joy wasn't over yet. When he emerged from the clubhouse, he had to bull his way through the waiting crowd outside the stadium. The thousands of fans chased him down Ontario Street for several blocks before he was rescued by a passing motorist and driven to his hotel.

--Dick Bacon, Montreal Gazette

It was 1946 and the Montreal Royals had just won the Little World Series... and "he" was Jackie Robinson.

As the fans kicked up the dust at the Delorimier Downs, they carried Robinson and his dreams off the field. His dreams that would be realized six months later when he embarked upon his major league career. A career that would be celebrated like no other. A career that would have to be endured like no other.

Except maybe by one player in Cleveland.

A player who, for at least that one season, already had a good idea of what Jackie Robinson was about to go through.

Cleveland had signed him shortly after the Brooklyn Dodgers had inked Robinson to a major league contract. Robinson was about to take the honors of being the first black player to break the color barrier in the National League, but that wasn't the only league where segregation could be broken. Unfortunately, Cleveland hadn't taken the signing as seriously as Branch Rickey and the Dodgers had taken the signing of Robinson.

Rickey had gone to great precautions to hand pick Robinson. He based his final choice on Jackie's baseball talent, intelligence and history of dealing with discrimination in both the military and college. Cleveland had taken no such precautions. The abilities of their newest ballplayer were "overprojected," his talents were questionable, and the team's intentions could even be considered suspect. It was a win-win situation for them. If he prevailed, the organization could be hailed as a champion of civil rights, the great integrator of the league. If he failed, it was simply further evidence that his kind just didn't have the talent to play on their rosters anyway.

Robinson was sent off to Canada to play for the 1946 season. It was the transition phase of Rickey's grand scheme - to let Robinson adjust in a more race-friendly environment, a country that would soon be home to dozens of Negro Leaguers trying to make their way into the Major Leagues. Cleveland had no such foresight. They threw their newest acquisition straight into the flames of spring training in the Deep South.

It wasn't simply segregation outside of the ballpark, at most fields he wasn't allowed to practice with his teammates. He wasn't allowed in the same dugout with his teammates. He couldn't even wear the team uniform. He was relegated to wearing his street clothes and sitting in the appropriate section of the stands. On April 13, 1946, in Birmingham, he was ordered off the field.

Still, he was a first. He broke the color barrier. Yet one year later - while Jackie Robinson became immortal, living through much the same ordeal on his way to the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, and Larry Doby became the first black player in the American League in that same Cleveland park - everyone had forgotten about him. In fact, most people had never even heard of Eddie Klepp in the first place.

That's Eddie Klepp. Pitcher. Cleveland Buckeyes. The first white man to play in the Negro Leagues.

... or was he?

Chick Meade broke into Negro League baseball in 1916 with the Indianapolis ABC's. The ABC's were the Western Champions of Colored Baseball in 1916, but they were enduring a power struggle of historic proportions. Owner Thomas Bowser and manager C.I. Taylor couldn't agree on how to run the team, so they split the roster and each went their own way. Taylor retained the Indianapolis ABC's while Bowser built the Bowser's ABC's around the players he took with him. Meade, who had played with the Brooklyn All-Stars and New York Stars, two black teams of lesser talent, caught on with Taylor's Indianapolis ABC's, probably thanks to the team's need to fill out its roster.

Meade was the backup at second base, but he was only hitting .143 in those games that were recorded. At some point during the season, Indianapolis began absorbing the best players from Bowser's roster though, and Bowser's ABC's faded into the footnotes of Negro League history. Also at some point during the season, likely by no coincidence, Meade found himself leaving the ABC's. He landed back on another minor league caliber team, the Pittsburgh Stars of Buffalo, and spent three full seasons there.

It was around this time that several major black ball teams began springing up in the East and Midwest, and Meade found a home on several of them. In 1919 he was the starting third baseman for the Hilldale Daisies. The following year he moved back to second with the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. In 1921 he found himself as a starting third baseman again, this time with the Baltimore Black Sox. Finally, he ended his career the next season playing third for the Harrisburg Giants. He was generally in the six-hole in most lineups, although he batted third with the newer Harrisburg team.

Meade must have had some business know-how, because he returned to the Harrisburg club in 1925 as the business manager. Business ethics were another matter though. Years after his Negro League career was over, Meade was arrested and imprisoned for trying to pass bad checks. It was only then, in his prison records, that the truth was revealed. Chick Meade, to the surprise of everyone, had been the first white man in the Negro Leagues.

... or was he?

Simply put, "Negro Leagues" is a bit of a misnomer. The men who participated on these teams weren't all Negroes, and for several years there were no official leagues either. For example, not one of the teams that Meade played for was part of a league while he was with the club. The first successful Negro League wasn't established until 1920. So, technically speaking, the claim could be made that Meade was never part of the Negro Leagues. However, in any common and practical sense, he was.

Even before any official league was established, most of the major Negro teams in the East and Midwest held loose agreements to play each other during the season, and these games were then used to determine both an East and West Colored Championship nearly every year.

However, these agreements didn't merely include the Negro teams. They included the major Cuban teams, the all-inclusive All-Nations teams, and may have included House of David teams (which often weren't Jewish at all, but instead consisted of semi-pro and "outlaw" players trying to hide their identities). By the time that these teams had assembled enough organization to be considered Negro Leagues, the All-Nations and House of David teams had mostly gone the way of novelty barnstorming. Cuban teams were interlocked with the Negro teams and leagues almost every single season though, until the New York Cubans dropped from the Negro American League after 1950.

There seems to be a common misconception that a clear barrier existed between the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues, and that no one ever crossed from one to the other until Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers. The truth is that the only barrier that existed was the line clouded by the Major Leagues of what skin complexion was permissible.

While most members of the Cuban teams were black, it certainly wasn't uncommon for "white Cubans" to be playing in the Negro Leagues. White Cubans who would be considered eligible to play Major League baseball... and not only were they eligible to play in the majors, but at least four players did play in both leagues.

Jose Acosta, a 134-lb. pitcher, pitched for a short-lived major independent colored team called the Long Branch Cubans in 1915. Five years later, he became one of several Cuban players signed by the Washington Senators during the 1920's. He went 10-10 in two plus seasons in the American League.

In 1916, a year after Acosta pitched for Long Branch, the team signed second baseman Mike Herrera. Ten years later, Herrera was backing up second baseman Bill Regan for the Boston Red Sox. Herrera was a .275 hitter during the year-and-a-half he spent in the majors (1925-26). He had also spent the 1920-21 seasons with the Cuban Stars (West) (there were two Cuban Stars teams, differentiated by "East" and "West") when the team was a charter member of the Negro National League.

The most famous of those who spent time in both leagues before integration was Dolf Luque. "The Pride of Havanna" pitched for the Cuban Stars (West) while they were an independent "Negro League" team in 1912, and then the Long Branch team in 1913, before they were considered a top-notch ball club. He then made his Major League debut with the "Miracle Braves" in 1914, and pitched twenty seasons in the National League, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds. In the process, he became the first Latin star in the majors, and posted what Bill James has concluded to be the finest season of any pitcher in the 1920's, when he went 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA in 1923.

{If you have James' Historical Abstract, I think you'll enjoy Luque's entry, #90 among pitchers, in which he covers Luque's translator referring to Dolf as an illiterate jack-ass, as well as an in-depth analysis of "expected hits allowed".}

The most interesting case of a player crossing leagues though, may have been Armando Marsans. Clark Griffith discovered the volant outfielder and signed him to a Reds contract in 1911, making him one of the first Cubans to enter the majors. He was never great with the bat, but his speed helped him to become the first successful and popular Cuban in the league. He was also one of the early players to take issue with the restrictions in his contract, and as a result became the only the player to ever play in the Negro Leagues, the Major Leagues, and the Federal League.

Marsans, at the assumed age of 17, had played with the All-Cubans in 1905, a team that seems to have been considered part of the top tier of colored baseball, although I couldn't find any information on the club. He then joined one of the Cuban Stars clubs (couldn't determine which one) in the Negro National League, five years after he last played in the majors. The eighteen years that had passed between Negro League stints may very well be a record as well. However, none of these facts are the reason Marsans is the most interesting player to have played in both leagues before integration.

The Cuban was fair-skinned enough that he was deemed acceptable by Major League standards, but he was actually 50% black. So it could be argued that Armando Marsans, 37 years before Jackie Robinson stepped onto the diamond at Ebbets Field, broke the Major League color barrier without anyone even noticing.

So many shades of gray.

...Chuck Brodsky, a folk singer and huge baseball fan, has now immortalized Eddie Klepp ...scroll down most of the page and look under "Letters in the Dirt".

...there's also a great "Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown" column by Two Finger Carney, which leads off with the story of Eddie Klepp. You won't find any new information on Klepp there because he couldn't find anything more than the same resource I found. However, the rest of the article is great (and I'd love to know if anyone has ever heard of the story of Harry Young before). Carney writes some really interesting stuff. Bookmark him. Wait... don't. My stuff won't be as interesting then, and he puts his columns out more regularly.

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Yannigan is an old multipurpose baseball term that's gone out of vogue. It was used to refer to a rookie before there were "rookies," but it was also stuck to those whose talent left something to be desired. Seemed about right... these stories aren't about "The Called Shot" or "Merkle's Boner," they're about the lesser known tales of baseball - the stories that, hopefully, you find interesting, maybe even educational, but they won't be the rehash of the stars we already know.

Random Fact

The first player to endorse and sign a bat was Honus Wagner.