Sunday, July 4, 1999
A third-deck homer and a look from a scout
BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Tom Turner, the ninth of 13 children, was born on his grandmother's 250-acre farm in Olive Branch, Tenn., two years before America's entry into the first World War. The family moved to Sharonville when Mr. Turner was 12 so his father could find work. On the segregated teams at old Glendale High, Mr. Turner was a quarterback in football and forward in basketball. He later attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and returned to Cincinnati in the late 1930s to play baseball in the Indiana-Ohio League, where the teams served as an informal farm system for the Negro Leagues.
Tom Turner, with Lt. James Chambers at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., played for the Chicago American Giants in 1947.
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He joined the Army for World War II and was stationed in Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., which began his contact with the integrated Mexican League, where would play for two years after the war before joining the Chicago American Giants.
The team trained in Jackson, Miss., and barnstormed its way north to Chicago, playing games daily in places like Meridian, Miss., Selma, Ala., Pine Bluff, Ark., and Omaha, Neb., usually against the Kansas City Monarchs.
In Mr. Turner's first official game in the Negro Leagues, he hit a home run into the third deck at Comiskey Park off the vaunted pitcher, Chet Brewer, of the Cleveland Buckeyes.
"I hit it so good I felt the wood flex in my hands," said Mr. Turner, referring to his $3.25 Louisville Slugger with the thick handle, same as Jackie Robinson was using in his rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The American Giants played Sunday doubleheaders at Comiskey Park when the White Sox were on the road, then gathered in the parking lot at midnight to board the bus and head out for a week of barnstorming.
Once Mr. Turner laced a pair of singles off Satchel Paige in Louisville in the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Brown Bombers. Before the second game, an African-American youth approached him.
"How old are you, mister?" the boy asked.
"Thirty-two," said Mr. Turner, not thinking twice about it.
Later, it hit him. He was being scouted by the white major leagues. A scout had slipped the boy a few cents and got him to approach Mr. Turner.
"I never thought to lie about my age," Mr. Turner said. "It wasn't the way I was brought up. I'd been a .300 hitter all my life, but I was too old for any minor-league seasoning like you'd have to go through."
He played against Junior Giliam and Pepper Bassett, Luke Easter and Bob Thurman, Willie Wells and Sam Hairston, Buck O'Neill and Hank Thompson, Minnie Minoso and Larry Doby, Roy Partlow and Monte Irvin.
But before the season was over he left the team, which was having financial problems and wanted to cut his pay. He missed his family, was tired of the grind, said the heck with it.
"I went back home to Cincinnati, but I kept playing ball," he said.
Negro League Stories