Sunday, July 4, 1999
Riding with the clowns, first in the Reds
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Chuck Harmon doesn't look upon himself as a former Negro Leaguer - "I was only there for four or five days, and I can't even remember if I ever got to bat," he said - but he was there long enough to know it was a lot harder life than he had experienced as a basketball player on the integrated basketball team at the University of Toledo.
Chuck Harmon, first African-American to play for the Reds (1954), played for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1947.
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At Toledo, they traveled by train and stayed in good hotels.
But with the Indianapolis Clowns he spent almost all of his time on the bus.
"Four games, four days on a bus," he said. "From Indianapolis, where we played the Kansas City Monarchs, to Flint, Mich., where we played the Monarchs again, to Ft. Wayne, where we got rained out, to Michigan City, where we were supposed to play but got rained out again, then to Chicago to play the American Giants in a doubleheader on Sunday."
He still appreciates the treatment accorded him by Goose Tatum, one of the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns stars and a basketball star with the Harlem Globetrotters.
"Back then, the young guys would sit two to a seat in the back of the bus," Mr. Harmon said. "If you sat in one of the veterans' seats, they'd just glare at you. But Goose took me under his wing. He liked me because he knew I played basketball. . . . Goose is the one who gave me the (alias) Charlie Fine. That's the name I played under. Goose didn't want my college eligibility to be affected."
Although Mr. Harmon's favorite game was basketball, he idolized the Clowns, because he'd grown up watching them play. Occasionally, they'd come barnstorming through his town of Washington, Ind.
"I couldn't imagine that I'd ever be good enough to play with them," Mr. Harmon said. "They were just way up there in my eyes. They put on quite a show. The opposing teams never wanted to fall behind the Clowns, because then they'd really get to clownin'."
Mr. Harmon had already decided he'd had enough even before he got home, but when he arrived to find a telegram from the Toledo athletic director, who had procured a summer job for him, Mr. Harmon's Negro League "career" was over.
He worked with the recreation department, but within a month was signed to a minor-league contract by the St. Louis Browns of the white major leagues. In 1952 his contract was sold to the Reds. In 1954, he became the Reds' first African-American player.
Negro League Stories