Sunday, July 4, 1999
A Separate Game
Tristate is home to eight alumni
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
With the Reds in first place and baseball fever again gripping Cincinnati, The Enquirer celebrates the All-American game of baseball on this Fourth of July. We celebrate the game through the eyes of the men who played in the days before it was integrated.
Don Johnson, Tom Turner, Bunny Warren, Sonny Webb, Charlie Davis, Chuck Harmon.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
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We celebrate the national pastime with the men who played in the Negro Leagues.
The Reds, who were the first major-league team to rent out their stadium (Crosley Field) for a season to a Negro Leagues team (the Cuban Stars in 1921), revealed to The Enquirer last week a bit of news that brought a twinkle to eight men's eyes.
The Reds hope to have a Negro Leagues Night next season.
About four thousand men played in the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1959, the year the last of the white major league teams was integrated. They played on teams from Kansas City to New York, Birmingham to Chicago, and points in between, including Cincinnati.
At least seven former Negro Leaguers and one former umpire live in Greater Cincinnati:
75, a fine basketball player on the integrated University of Toledo team, played briefly for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1947 before the St. Louis Browns of the white major leagues signed him. The Browns ultimately sold his contract to the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he became the first African-American player in 1954.
Tom Turner, 84, a first baseman who had lived the good life playing ball in the integrated Mexican League in 1945 and 1946 for white manager Bob Lemon (who would ultimately make the Hall of Fame) played with the Chicago American Giants in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color line.
Charlie Davis, 70, a pitcher for the Memphis Red Sox from 1953-55, appeared in the famous East-West All-Star game in Chicago as the second pitcher for the West team, right after Satchel Paige.
Don Johnson, 72, was plucked from the stands as a young pickup player at an Indianapolis Clowns game at Crosley Field in 1949, a stint that launched his four-year Negro League playing career as a second baseman for the Chicago American Giants from 1949-51 and Philadelphia All-Stars in 1952.
Bunny Warren, 67, filled in for the Birmingham Black Barons while he was still in high school, before being signed to a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers and playing shortstop with Sheboygan in the Wisconsin State League in 1951, then barnstorming with the Detroit Stars in 1954.
Sonny Webb, 64, who grew up in Walnut Hills idolizing his next-door neighbor, the great Lou Dula, a pitcher with the Homestead Grays, barnstormed his way through West Virginia in 1958 with the Detroit Stars.
James Jenkins, 72, who had many memorable moments in three seasons with the Indianapolis Clowns, the greatest of which was the night he hit three home runs to beat the Baltimore Elite Giants.
Percy Reed, 89, an umpire who traveled with the Cincinnati Tigers of 1935-37 and also umpired extensively throughout the Negro Leagues into the 1950s, was always greeted by the great catcher Josh Gibson with the words: Thank God we have an umpire who'll call the corners tonight!
Negro League Stories