Sunday, July 4, 1999
Holding out for $400 a month
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As an 18-year-old, Charlie Davis pitched for the all-black baseball team at the factory where he worked in Atlanta - the Simmons Bedspring & Mattress Co. On the Fourth of July, the black team always played Simmons' white team.
Memphis Red Sox Charlie Davis, right, with Sachel Paige, center, and Lonnie Harris in Kansas City in 1953.
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That spring, he had watched the rookie, Jackie Robinson, play an exhibition game in Atlanta as the Brooklyn Dodgers worked their way north.
A Negro Leaguer named Pee Wee Butts spotted Mr. Davis and told him he thought he could make a living playing in the Negro Leagues. The Birmingham Black Barons signed him, then traded him to the Memphis Red Sox in spring training, 1953.
"Butts told me what they were going to try to do - get me cheap. He told me to pick a figure - I chose $400 a month because that was more than I was making at home on my job - and to stick with it. Their first offer was $250, and they hassled me all kinds of ways, but I stuck to my number like Pee Wee said.
"They told me, ŒWe can't give no country boy that kind of money. You ain't done nothin' yet. You wanna stay and play or you wanna go back home?'
"I was homesick as could be, so I said, ŒI wanna go home.' Eventually, they gave in to the $400."
Two weeks later, Memphis was in New Orleans to play Birmingham. Manager Goose Curry told Mr. Davis if he lasted five innings, he'd let him go home to Atlanta for a few days. Mr. Davis was so pumped he shut out the Black Barons through seven innings.
After the game, Mr. Davis packed up everything in his hotel room and Mr. Curry took him to the bus station to buy a round-trip ticket to Atlanta.
"OK, give me your luggage," Mr. Curry told him.
"Why?" Mr. Davis answered.
" 'Cause if you take all your luggage home, I know you ain't comin' back."
Fine by me, Mr. Davis thought to himself. I ain't comin' back, anyway. You can have all my clothes. I'll go back to my job in Atlanta and buy some new ones.
But when Mr. Davis got home, his buddies rode him hard because they figured he'd been cut. He returned to the team just to show he had made it.
He had a 14-2 record that season and pitched in the East-West All-Star game in Comiskey Park. On the Red Sox was future country star Charlie Pride ("Biggest reason we kept him was he played guitar and harmonica - he couldn't get anybody out.")
Mr. Davis' best performance was a no-hitter against the Kansas City Monarchs in 1953, popping up Ernie Banks and striking out Buck O'Neil in the ninth.
He moved to Cincinnati in 1960.
Negro League Stories