Ten former players were feted and saluted by the Tigers during the Negro Leagues Weekend at Comerica Park: Frank Crossan, Joe Douse, Melvin “Buck” Duncan, Harold “Bee-Bop” Gordon, Gene Johnson, Marvin Jones, Cecil Kaiser, Alton King, James “Bullet” Moore and Ron “Schoolboy” Teasley.
Most true baseball aficionados have heard of Negro Leagues icons like Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson and “Cool Papa” Bell, just to name a few. However, there were many others that were close to if not better than the aforementioned.
In particular, Detroit Stars legend Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, an 18-year superstar of the Negro Leagues, was honored posthumously by the Tigers with a plaque in Comerica Park last year. In 11 seasons with the Stars, Stearnes, who recently was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., led the Negro Leagues in home runs six times and
finished with a .359 career batting average.
Stearnes, who died in 1979, never got a chance to play in the then Whites-only Major Leagues because of racial discrimination.
The benevolence of the Tigers’ organization has kept in the forefront the noteworthy efforts of these great Americans.
If Stearnes was one of the Detroit Stars’ most popular players, then
pitcher Cecil Kaiser might have been the second most popular.
Earlier this year, the Tigers chose Kaiser in a special Major League
Baseball draft to pay tribute to former Negro Leagues players. Each MLB
team drafted a former Negro Leagues star in the event, which was held
prior to the actual MLB draft for first year players.
The selection was right on. Kaiser said he was pleasantly surprised.
“I played baseball for almost 20 years,” Kaiser said, “and just think I could not play on the same team with White players. At my age (92), I’m never surprised. What goes around seems to come around.”
Kaiser noted that he is not disappointed or unhappy at the way things were.
“My playing days are over,” he said. “I have no ill will against anyone.
That’s the way it was and it was what it was. It wasn’t just in baseball that
there were problems (being Black), it was everywhere else, too.”
Kaiser distinguished himself as a stellar all-around player but it was as a pitcher that he elevated his game to elite status.
Playing for the Stars, Motor City Giants, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh
Crawfords and in Canada, Cuba, Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – where many Negro Leagues players played in the winter – Kaiser left a trail of strikeouts.
“He could pitch with Satchel (Paige),” Marvin Jones said. “Cecil had Major League stuff.”
Added James Moore, a noteworthy pitcher in his own right: “First the Tigers honor Stearnes, then Cecil. When we were playing that was
something we could not even dream about.”
Moore continued: “Cecil was a darn good baseball player. Everything we did we learned ourselves. But I tell you, Cecil could hum that ball. They
called me ‘Bullet’ because I pitched like him. But they called him ‘Aspirin’
because he made the ball look so small.”
Said Teasley: “He was small in stature, very competitive and had a very big heart. There is no doubt if afforded the opportunity he could have been a very good pitcher in the (major) leagues.”
Interjected King: “Cecil was one of the best pitchers I’ve seen. I remember
he struck out Josh (Gibson) on three pitches. Then the next time he faced him (Josh) hit a home run. Then later in a very close game, Cecil knuckled down and struck out Josh again to win the game.”
The fact that the Tigers and Major League Baseball are honoring the Negro Leagues players helps to reintroduce them to an unknowing world
and brings back to life their very real contributions to professional baseball.
“Because of this event the public is more aware of the legacy that these players produced,” said Louis Manley, one of the founders of the
Michigan Chapter of Negro Leagues Baseball. “Maybe the fans that came
to the game will take it upon themselves to look at what these players went through for the love of the game. No matter how America treated them,
they remained positive.”
Kaiser noted that he pitched against the best players in the Negro Leagues and in All-Star contests against the White professional baseball superstars.
“They kept it out the papers, but we played against White professionals
and beat them almost every time,” he said. “We knew we had the ability
to compete, but this country was not ready for us.”
Digital Daily Signup
Sign up now for the Michigan Chronicle Digital Daily newsletter!