Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baseball snubbed Bobo's funeral

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

While reading early 1963 issues of The Sporting News the other day, I found an item that baffles me.

I've been reading microfilm of TSN for nearly 10 years. I've completed the 1940s, the first half of the 1950s and the first few years of the 1960s. 

It has been my sense that throughout that period itinerant pitcher Louis  "Bobo" Newsom was a well-known, well-liked "character" in professional ball.

There weren't many issues in which you wouldn't find Newsom's name in connection with salary wrangle or a trade rumor. Perhaps he had been a favorite of the sporting weekly's editors or was oft-cited by the beat writers because he provided color to their columns.

What I read in the Jan. 5, 1963, issue of TSN, however, gives me pause to think that my assessment of Newsom's popularity has not been well-founded. 

In his Bob Addie's Atoms" column, Washington baseball writer Bob Addie reported just a month after Newsom had died on Dec. 7, 1962, that the only "baseball man to attend Bobo Newsom's funeral in Orlando was former teammate Sid Hudson."

Addie added, "And, incidentally, Newsom, who won 211 victories in his career, belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was colorful and he was courageous on that mound."

I don't think anybody today would stump for Bobo for the Hall of Fame. In 20 major league seasons between 1929-53, Newsom had a major league record of 211-222 and an ERA of 3.98.

Though he was a four-time All-Star, he led his league four times in losses. He sometimes also led in games started (4X) and completed (2X), as well as innings pitched, batters faced and other indicators of durability. 

No doubt, if he hadn't usually been pitching for second-division teams, Newsom's won-loss record would be much rosier.

Newsom came to the majors in just his second season in pro ball, at age 21 in 1929. Here's the summary of his major league travels:
  • 1929 Brooklyn Robins
  • 1930 Brooklyn Robins
  • 1932 Chicago Cubs
  • 1934 St. Louis Browns
  • 1935 St. Louis Browns
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1936 Washington Senators
  • 1937 Washington Senators
  •          Boston Red Sox
  • 1938 St. Louis Browns
  • 1939 St. Louis Browns
  •          Detroit Tigers
  • 1940 Detroit Tigers
  • 1941 Detroit Tigers
  • 1942 Washington Senators
  •          Brooklyn Dodgers
  • 1943 Brooklyn Dodgers
  •          St. Louis Browns
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1944 Philadelphia A's
  • 1945 Philadelphia A's
  • 1946 Philadelphia A's
  •          Washington Senators
  • 1947 Washington Senators
  •          New York Yankees (He won a World Series ring.)
  • 1948 New York Giants
  • 1952 Washington Senators
  • 1953 Philadelphia A's

Prior to, and in among, those major league stops, Newsom played in nine minor league seasons:
  • 1928 Greenville
  •          Raleigh
  • 1929 Macon
  • 1930 Macon
  •          Jersey City
  • 1931 Little Rock
  • 1932 Albany
  •          Reading
  • 1933 Los Angeles
  • 1949 Chattanooga
  • 1950 Chattanooga
  • 1951 Chattanooga

His minor league record was 131-106 on a 4.13 ERA.

My best wild-ass guess in that in all his travels, Newsom had 1,000 or so teammates and dozens of owners, managers, general managers, coaches, etc. In the Baltimore Orioles' inaugural AL season of 1954, Newsom hosted the team's Blue Ribbon (bread, not beer) Knot-Hole Club for kids and the pre-game television broadcasts.

You can read a good career bio of Newsom written by Ralph Berger for SABR at Bobo Newsom . The tone of that biography leaves me all the more puzzled about the lack of baseball's representation at his funeral.

For his 25+ years in pro ball, much of it in the heydays of bubblegum cards, Newsom was under-represented, at least so far as mainstream baseball cards.

His first issues were in 1936, when he appeared in Goudey's game-card set. That year he was also included in Goudey's "Wide Pen" and National Chicle's "Fine Pen" premiums.

In 1939 he was again in a Goudey premium set (R303-A). In the Gum Inc. 1941 Double Play set he is paired on a card with Tigers teammate Hank Greenberg.

His next card was in the Topps 1953 set. This is a memorable card from my childhood. While Topps (and Bowman) had a sprinkling of "old guys" in their card wars years of the early 1950s, most of the white-haired gents were managers or coaches, but the '53T recognizes Bobo as "Pitcher".

The real stumbling blocks to putting together a Bobo Newsom player set are cards on which he appears in 1954 and 1955 in the Esskay hot dogs Baltimore Orioles team sets. Even in typical wretched condition, those rare regionals can set you back several hundred dollars.

Besides baseball "cards" Newsom was included in a handful of team-issue photo pack issues such as 1948 Giants and 1940s-1950s Philadelphia A's.

In both 1960 and 1961, Newsom was included in Fleer's "Baseball Greats" issues. Since 1981, he can be found in eight or ten inexpensive collectors' issues.

Perhaps as I read deeper into the 1960s issues of The Sporting News I'll get a better feel for what, to me, is the mystery of baseball's snub of Bobo Newsom.

Well, that didn't take long . . . 

In his column in the Feb. 2 issue, Addie reported receipt of a "gentle correction" from Tigers coach George Myatt, who also attended Newsom's funeral. Myatt indicated to Addie that there he saw "many baseball people" at the proceedings.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

'53T custom for long-time pro Quincy Trouppe

For a guy who played professional baseball all over the Western hemisphere nearly year-round for more than 20 seasons between 1930 and 1952, there are surprisingly few decent photos of Quincy Trouppe . . . and even fewer baseball cards.

All of Trouppe's career-contemporary baseball cards are Latin American issues and very tough to come by in today's hobby market. 

Since he played only six games in the major leagues, for Cleveland in 1952, it's easy to see why Topps, Bowman and other U.S. card companies omitted Trouppe.

I've recently completed a 1953 Topps-style custom card of Trouppe. It's based on a press photo I had for many years that was promulgated on the occasion of Trouppe becoming the first black man associated with the St. Louis Cardinals when they hired him as a scout in 1953. During his tenure as a Cards scout he is said to have recommended Ernie Banks and Roberto Clemente to the team, which rejected his advice.

Working up the back biography was not altogether an easy task. The internet resources that exist are not at all consistent concerning Trouppe's baseball travels and other biographical details.

Beyond my usual go-to resource,, let me recommend a pair of sites that I found useful in gathering data. James A. Riley's 1994 The Biographical Encyclopedia of Negro Baseball Leagues offers this: Trouppe bio. #1.

On the Laurens (Ga.) County African-American History blog in 2009, Scott Thompson posted this: Trouppe bio. #2.

I suppose a guy could use Trouppe's 1977 autobiography, 20 Years Too Soon: Prelude to Major League Integrated Baseball, to settle data disputes, but I've learned that you can't take what is written in such books as gospel, either. Still, I'm going to put the book on my winter reading list simply because I'd like to hear about this amazing athlete's career in his own words. 

Further complicating internet research is the fact that the ballplaying Trouppe had a son, Quincy Troupe Jr. (who spells the surname with only one p), who is an accomplished poet and writer. I spent a couple of hours working on an autograph element for the back of my card before noticing the spelling discrepancy. From various sources on the 'net I gather that Quincy Trouppe's surname probably started out as "Troup," the name of a prominent slave-holding family around Dublin, Ga. Shortly the "e" was added, and Quincy added a second "p" while playing in Latin America because he liked the way the locals pronounced it as "troo-pay".

While my custom card creation has slowed some in the past couple of months while I worked on disposing of my three-decades' accumulation of baseball cards and collectibles, with winter setting in I expect to increase my card output. Watch this blog for new releases.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Deacon" Law had rules for living a good life

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Part of Satchel Paige’s charm/mystique were the “rules” for life and baseball that he promulgated and that have been widely quoted since the 1940s.

Another player who formulated some thoughts on living a good life was long-time (1950-51, 1954-67) Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vern Law.

Law had been a three-sport high school star in Meridian, Idaho, and it was reported that he chose the Pirates from among a host of big league offers when team co-owner Bing Crosby phoned Law’s mother to assure her that Vern would be in wholesome environs with Pittsburgh.

An elder in the Mormon Church, Law spoke often to groups, using talking points from a notebook he kept with sayings and quick-quotes. He called them his “Words to Live By.”

Here are some of them, as reported by Les Biederman in in the March 13 issue of The Sporting News . . .

“I have never met a man who is not my superior at something.”

“A good timber never grows with ease; it needs a strong wind and storms to give it strength.”

“A discouraged man is not a strong man.”

“Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity.”

“There is nothing wrong with youth. Actually only ten per cent of the youths are bad and these ten per cent get all the publicity.”

Some of the rules by which the “Deacon” chose to live his life he summarized as . . .

“I shall never criticize my superiors. I will never uphold my opinion to the extent of angering another. I will never forget that I am one of God’s marked men.”

“I will always remember that I am made of the same stuff as the worst sinner and without God’s help I would be worse than he.”

“I will always have a smile for everyone, especially those who like me least.”

“When you are under the influence of anger and emotional outburst, growth is unlikely and spirituality impossible.”

“If you would rise to great heights, remember you cannot climb on the shoulders of your fellow men, but you must be worthy to be lifted by those about you to this lofty position.”

“There are two occasions in competition when you must learn to keep your mouth closed: When you lose and when you win.”

“A champion is not always a consistent winner; he may have been a one-time loser who would not quit. If you would leave footprints in the sands of time, it will be necessary to wear your work shoes.”

“Many have the will to win on the day of the contest, but few – the champions – have the will to prepare to win.”

Law’s words don’t have the folksy charm of Paige’s “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you,” but they speak volumes about the man who jotted them down.

Law won the Cy Young Award in 1960 with a 20-9 record. Some locker room horseplay after the pennant-clinching game in September led to his rapid decline thereafter.

A teammate tried to yank off Law’s shoe without untying the lace and accidentally twisted Law’s right ankle.

Adjusting his mechanics to accommodate the sore ankle, Law injured his right shoulder muscle. He went from a 20-9 mark in 1960 to a 3-4 record in 1961. After 1962-1963 seasons of 10-7 and 4-5, he went on the voluntarily retired list in August, 1963.

He returned for 1964, professing to suffer no pain in his shoulder, just weakness from lack of work. He was able to rebound to a 12-13 record.

Law pitched through the 1967 season, winning 48 more games and losing 36 to bring his lifetime major league record to 162-147.

4-hr. game most memorable
Though there were many highlights in his career, Law recalls an 18-inning no-decision game he pitched against the Braves in 1955 as his most memorable.

Law started the game at Forbes Field on July 19 at 8:15 p.m. and was still pitching at 2:35 a.m.

“It’s strange how that game stays with me through the years,” he said. “Fred Haney was our manager and I went 18 innings in a 2-2 game. I gave up nine hits, struck out 12 and walked two.

“We had a man on in the eighteenth, and when it came my turn to bat, Fred said he was going to send up a pinch-hitter.”

Roman Mejias batted for Law, with no success.

“We did not score and Bob Friend took over in the top of the nineteenth inning. The Braves got one run but we scored two in our half and won 4-3.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Dick Tracy's homage to Moses Yellowhorse

After publication of my feature on Moses Yellowhorse in Sports Collectors Digest early in 1994, I made the journey to Pawnee, Okla., about an hour northwest of Tulsa. I was in the area to represent Krause Publications' gun-trader periodical at a huge gun show in Tulsa. 

The principal purpose of my sidetrip was to present my 1922 Exhibit Supply Co. card of Moses Yellowhorse to the Pawnee County Historical Society. At the time, the society maintained a small display in the town's First National Bank building.The society has since opened a larger museum in town.

In 1994 I visited Pawnee, Okla., to present
the historical society with a 1922
Exhibit card of Yellowhorse. I'm on
the left; I no longer recall the name
of the society official who accepted
the donation.

The donation came about as the result of my correspondence with D. Jo Ferguson, publisher of The Pawnee Chief, the local newspaper. D. Jo had read my SCD article about Yellowhorse. 

We exchanged letters, clippings and photos and I grew to enjoy the appearance in my mail box of the distinctive yellow envelopes that the publisher used in his correspondence.

On my stopover in Pawnee, D. Jo bought me lunch at a local diner where we were joined by the chief of one of the Pawnee bands headquartered around Pawnee.

Over the course of the meal I was surprised to find that Yellowhorse, though a former major league pitcher, was only about the fourth most famous former resident of the small town (current population only about 2,230).

At the top of that list would be a famed Wild West showman and a renowned cartoonist.

The showman was, of course, "Pawnee Bill" (Gordon W. Lillie), who operated "Pawnee Bill's Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show" in various iterations from the late-1880s through the early 1910s.

Lillie settled in a mansion on a 500-acre ranch just west of Pawnee. The site is maintained today by the Oklahoma Historical Society as a museum.

Pawnee's most famous true native son is Chester Gould creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip, which he drew from 1931-77. There is a huge mural honoring the comic strip detective on the side of the downtown Pawnee County Historical Society Museum & Dick Tracy Headquarters. 

Though he left town many years before creating Dick Tracy, Gould often used Pawnee landmarks and characters in his strip -- including a character named Chief Yellow Pony.

According to Fuller, who penned a Yellowhorse biography in 2001, Gould introduced the character of Yellow Pony in an arc that ran in the Dick Tracy strip from March 27 to May 22, 1935. Fuller said that Gould's syndicate paid a fee to Moses Yellowhorse for use of the character.

This photocopy of the third strip in which Chief Yellow Pony was featured was provided through Fuller's courtesy.

The third Pawnee resident that outshines the ballplayer is noted actor Wes Studi. Studi, a native Oklahoma Cherokee, was not born in Pawnee, but went to the Chilocco Indian School there for high school in the early 1960s before going to Hollywood. Over lunch, I heard a bit about Studi's days in Pawnee from the then-chief.

Before I left Pawnee for the day, D. Jo took me out to a local cemetery, where Yellowhorse was buried in the once-segregated section now called the North Indian Cemetery. A nice granite headstone, pictured here, marks the grave.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Moses Yellowhorse, Part 3

(Editor's note: This concludes a three-part series, picking up the story of Moses Yellowhorse, who was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League following the 1922 season.)

A review of the coming 1923 P.C.L. season in The Sporting News allowed as how Yellowhorse "ought to do good on the Coast, provided he keeps himself in condition." That was a 1920s euphemism for staying away from the bottle.

The 1923 Zeenuts card of
Moses Yellowhorse. An

example graded EX sold
in a Robert Edward Auction
Oct. 17, 2015 for $600.
With Yellowhorse as the staff ace, Sacramento raised itself from last place in the Coast League in 1922 to second place in 1923. The Chief pitched in 57 contests, including 19 complete games. His record was 22-13 with an ERA of 3.68. Yellowhorse put in 311 innings of work for the Solons, walking 79 and whiffing 99. The 351 hits he surrendered gave the league a .293 batting average against him.

With the glove, Yellowhorse fielded in about the bottom 25% of P.C.L. pitchers, typical for his career. Yellowhorse's season at bat was also fairly typical, he hit .168 with only three doubles, two RBIs and 14 runs scored in 113 at-bats.

In the first month of the 1924 season, Yellowhorse suffered a serious injury to his pitching arm. Sacramento was carrying an 18-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at Salt Lake City when the home team began to rally. With cozy fences and the high altitude, the lead was by no 
means safe and Solons manager Charley Pick began going through his bullpen.
When the Bees had scored 10 runs, Pick told Yellowhorse, "Warm up fast, if the next batter gets a hit, in you're going." With only three warm-up pitches, Yellowhorse was called to the mound with the bases loaded, the tying run on first base. He reminisced later, "I went in and I threw just nine pitches, striking out in order John Peters, Tony Lazzeri and Duffy Lewis," and nailing down the victory.

"That was the finest job of pitching I ever did," Yellowhorse said, "But I couldn't raise my arm the next day. Jack Downey was the trainer but he couldn't stop the pain."
The 1924 Zeenuts candy
card of Yellowhorse.

Yellowhorse apparently resorted to heavy applications of 80-proof pain relief. By mid-June, The Sporting News reported, "Chief Moses Yellowhorse has gone the way of all bad Injuns. The Chief would not keep in condition, and was no longer of use to the team, so he was sold to Fort Worth, Texas. The Chief is his own worst enemy. He has the ability to be a big league pitcher, but lacks the inclination to keep in shape to pitch."

Yellowhorse left the P.C.L. in 1924 with just 10 games pitched, and a 1-4 record on a 6.07 ERA. The league had hit him to the tune of .337 in 46 innings; he had walked 14 and struck out 10.

Less than a month later, his right arm unable to come around, Yellowhorse was sent back to Sacramento by Ft. Worth, apparently never having appeared in an official game.

In early May of 1925, Yellowhorse once again teamed up with Kid Elberfeld, who was managing a pitching-poor Mobile team in the Southern Association. He joined the Bears on May 5, with the team in last place.

His first outing was on the 11th, when he came on in the 9th inning to beat Little Rock, 5-4, while giving up a walk, two hits and a run. Yellowhorse lasted just four games with Mobile. Though he had a 2-0 record, in his 9.2 innings of work he gave up 14 hits, and four walks, striking out two. (Editor's note: Yellowhorse's stint with Mobile is not recorded on If memory serves, the details provided here were taken from contemporary accounts in The Sporting News.)

Yellowhorse was apparently returned to Sacramento sometime during the season, for he appears on the team's "suspended" list in the November report of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues.

In January of 1926, he was sold to Omaha, in the Western League, the circuit where his pro career had begun in 1918. Yellowhorse played in fewer than 10 games or 45 innings for Omaha; his record is not included in the league's stats. credits him with a 1-1 record in three appearances. He was released in May, ending his professional career.

Following his playing days, Yellowhorse returned to the Pawnee reservation. He was active with his tribe, coaching youth baseball teams and umpiring semi-pro games. He also gave up drinking. In 1958 he returned to Sacramento for a brunch hosted by his old owner, Sam Gordon. He told a local newspaper, "I used to hit it up pretty good, but 13 years ago I decided I'd give up drinking. I came to that decision on my own. And I did it with willpower.

"It was quite a surprise to my old friends," he was quoted, "when I went back for a World Series. They'd almost filled a room with the stuff, and they couldn't believe it when I sat there and drank tall sodas. I've been very proud that I quit. Today I'm one of the happiest men in the world. I go here and there without fear and the people I meet and get to know have grown close to me."

Bill Conlin, sports editor of the Sacramento Union, commented, "It was a sincere and poignant moment with a once great and proud athlete, who carries the blood of warriors. Yellow Horse, in gaining humility has attained a new measure of greatness."

In 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers established a Class D minor league team at Ponca City, Okla., Yellowhorse attempted to catch on as a coach or umpire, but the best he could do was land a job as groundskeeper. In 1951, he spent the season as an umpire in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League.

Yellowhorse left Organized Baseball after that stint and took a job with the Oklahoma state highway department at Stillwater.

D. Jo Ferguson of the Pawnee Chief wrote of Yellowhorse's later years. "He worked outdoors for the state highway department and drew a fair salary and liked the work. He was always very friendly to both his white and Indian friends and made a fine appearance anywhere. They tell me that he drank considerably although I never saw him drunk. He had the physique of a 35-year-old athlete. I never knew him to look sloppy."

At the tribe's annual homecoming celebrations, Yellowhorse served as arena director, assisting the 300 costumed native dancers in their performance before crowds of up to 6,000 visitors. His picture was used on a promotional brochure produced by the tribe, confirming his status as his people's most famous athlete.

According to Ferguson, during the homecoming festivities, "He was always introduced to the crowd and always wore street clothes. I never saw him in an Indian outfit. Maybe he didn't dance."

Ferguson summarized Yellowhorse's status within the tribe thusly, "They would not hold him aloft as a mighty warrior but loved him for the honor he gave the tribe. At the same time they could not forget the added honor he could have brought them had he left the fire water alone."

On his 66th birthday, in January, 1964, Yellowhorse was honored by his tribe with a feast and war dance. A few months later, on April 10, he died of an apparent heart attack.
Following funeral services and preceding a traditional tribal mourning feast, Yellowhorse was buried in the North Indian Cemetery in Pawnee. He had never married and was survived by only a half-brother.

This photo, depicting Moses Yellowhorse in later life,
when he was a respected member of the community 
at Pawnee, Okla., was published in 1994, on the 
occasion of his posthumous induction into the 
American Indian Hall of Fame. 

(Editor's note: Check in tomorrow for some personal reflections on my 1994 visit to Pawnee, Okla., and a look at an unusual tribute paid to Moses Yellowhorse.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Moses Yellowhorse, Part 2

(Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part series begun yesterday.)

The only major league baseball card on which Moses
Yellowhorse can be found is the 1922 Exhibit Supply Co. issue.

On Sept. 16, 1920, Moses Yellowhorse's contract was purchased from Little Rock by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were closing out a fourth-place season. "A.W.P.," a baseball writer covering the Southern Association, commented in The Sporting News, "The sale of Moses Yellowhorse to Pittsburgh was rather unexpected, not that the Indian is not worthy of advancement, but it was generally expected that the young Pawnee would be allowed to remain another season here. Yellowhorse is sure to make good. He is a close student and soaks up every ounce of information that is given by a wise manager. The Indian will keep National League batters swinging with one foot free when he is on the mound. He has terrific speed, but wonderful control of it. He also has a good curve ball and controls it equally as well as his fast one."

It was later revealed that Yellowhorse's purchase by the Pirates had been a ruse to prevent his being drafted from Little Rock. The Pirates were to have returned him to the Travelers for 1921. The Indian showed so well in spring training with the Bucs, however, that manager Moon Gibson insisted on keeping him for the season.

Early in the season, a large photo of Yellowhorse appeared on Page 1 of The Sporting News under the headline, "Lo, the Indian Reappears." The caption read, "The 'native stock' American has furnished the 'national game' some shining lights in its day, but the Indian seems to have lost caste in the recent years with major league managers. A new entrant appears this season in Moses Yellowhorse and on his early showing with the Pittsburgh Pirates he may sculp his name in the Hall of Fame along with Bender, Meyers and others of his race famous in the past. He made such an impression on Manager Gibson in training camp that the leader of the Pirates insisted that he should be retained, whatever price might be asked for his release. Gibson's judgement seems justified, for Yellowhorse in such brief trials as he has had indicates he is worth any sort of money to a club that needs just one more winning pitcher on its staff to make it a pennant favorite."

Other writers were mixed in their pre-season reviews. One anonymous scribe in the March 19 Sporting News said, "Pittsburgh critics are comparing Moses Yellowhorse, the Indian pitcher Barney Dreyfuss bought from Little Rock, to Chief Bender. All he lacks is Bender's size, stuff and disposition. He's an Indian, with two legs and two arms. Not a bad pitching prospect at that, however, but hardly a Bender."

Long-time New York baseball writer Joe Vila described Yellowhorse as, "strongly built, well educated and smart. He has an exceptional knowledge of baseball strategy and is eager to remain in fast company."

Yellowhorse opened his major league career with two innings of hitless relief in the premiere series at Cincinnati, earning a save. When the team returned to Pittsburgh for its home curtain-raiser on April 21, the Pawnee pitcher became the first Pirates rookie to win a home opener. The Sporting News' account of the game read: "The opening game here gave Pittsburgers a glimpse of the Pirates' aboriginal pitcher, Moses Yellowhorse, a copper-hued young giant, who looks like a sure comer.

"Yellowhorse went to the mound last Thursday after Babe Adams and Elmer Ponder had been chased. He assumed the burden under most trying circumstances, but he got right down to work, stopped the Reds' hitting, and pitched air-tight ball during the remainder of the game." The Pirates rallied to win 8-7, giving Yellowhorse his first major league victory.
"The young Indian has a free and easy delivery, and is quite methodical in his work," the TSN account continued, "He doesn't use any extended windup, and has splendid control. He has not had a great deal of experience, but it looks as if he were sure of retention, and, if he continues as he has started out, he will be a big help to the club."

One of those early press accounts nicked Yellowhorse for not being of "Bender's size," while another called him a "young giant." The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia lists Yellowhorse as 5'10", 180 lbs. In his prime, Bender was 6'2", 185 lbs. Yellowhorse, however, photographed large, which may have caused some confusion as to his true physical stature.

By early June, Yellowhorse was becoming a popular part of the Pirates pen. TSN reported, "Fandom here has gone wild over Moses Yellowhorse, the young Indian slabman, who has been used to date only as a relief artist. They like the young Indian's actions, and are convinced he his going to shine when given the proper opportunity.

"Walter Schmidt, the veteran Pirate receiver, has been quoted as saying that Moses has more stuff than any twirler he ever handled, and his only drawback seems to be his youth."
A Pittsburgh tradition was born with Yellowhorse's penchant for successful relief pitching appearances. It wasn't long before fans began to chant, "Put in Yellowhorse" whenever the starting pitcher faltered. The chant became so ingrained during the Indian's short career with Pittsburgh, that it survived him by many years. Yellowhorse himself related hearing the call while attending a lop-sided boxing match in the city many years later. Edward Wolfe, who wrote for The Sporting News under the name "Jim Nasium," related in a 1926 column that during a lecture at the University of Pittsburgh a professor became lost in his notes, confused and tongue-tied and that his stammering was interrupted by a student who yelled, "Put in Yellowhorse."

In a July 5 game against the Cardinals, Yellowhorse suffered a rupture which required surgical repair and shelved him for more than two months.

Yellowhorse's 1921 season showed a 5-3 record in 10 games on a 2.98 ERA. Six of his appearances were in relief, where he notched three of his wins and a save. In 48 innings pitched he gave up 45 hits, walked 13 and struck out 19. He was 0-for-17 at the plate.

Presumably because of his long injury lay-off, Yellowhorse's teammates voted him only a 2/3 share of their second-place World Series money, but that was overruled by Commissioner Landis, who decreed the Indian was due a full share of $800.

Two months into the 1922 season, "Deacon" Bill McKechnie took over as manager of the Pirates. The team had been picked to win the National League pennant the previous year and was headed to a third-place finish in 1922. Much of the blame was placed on the shoulders of manager Gibson, who was accused of being unable to discipline his troops. Charges of heavy drinking against unnamed players were rife in the press. The departing skipper warned McKechnie that he would need to keep an eye on roommates Yellowhorse and "that Irish Indian" Rabbit Maranville. The hard-drinking Maranville had introduced Yellowhorse to whiskey and the two had been raising hell ever since. McKechnie devised a plan to control the pair by setting them up with him in a hotel suite while on the road.

Early on in the behavioral control experiment, the team was in Boston and McKechnie returned to his hotel room after dinner and a movie to find the merry-makers tucked in their beds. As the manager opened a closet door to hang up his coat, he was assaulted by a small flock of pigeons. Maranville cracked an eye and warned, "Don't open the other closet, Bill, the Chief's got his pigeons in there and he'd really be mad if you let them out."
McKechnie later learned that the pair had been conducting a competition by tippy-toeing out onto the 16th floor window ledge to see who could scoop up the most pigeons with their bare hands in 15 minutes. Maranville won, 8-5. McKechnie roomed by himself thereafter.

Yellowhorse had remained basically healthy through the 1922 season, save for a couple of weeks around the beginning of August when he was out of commission with tonsillitis.
On Sept. 26, Yellowhorse was called upon to pitch against the Detroit Tigers in an exhibition game at Detroit. In a 5-4 loss he plunked Ty Cobb so severely that the Georgia Peach had to be carried off the field.

Yellowhorse appeared in 28 games for the Bucs in 1922, all but five of them out of the bullpen. He compiled a 3-1 record (two of the wins in relief) on a 4.52 ERA. In 78 innings he gave up 92 hits, walked 20 and fanned 24. At bat, he managed to connect for a .316 average, while opposing hitters touched him to the tune of .273.

In December, Yellowhorse was traded to Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League with three other players and $7,500 for a pitching phenom named Earl Kunz (whose entire big league career was with the Pirates in 1923, for whom he was 1-2 with a 5.52 ERA in 21 appearances).

The trade marked the end of Moses Yellowhorse's major league career. In his two years with the Pirates, his career stats shook out like this:
 Games 38
 Starts 8
 Complete games 3
 Wins 8
 Losses 4
 Saves 1
 ERA 3.93
 Innings 126
 Hits 137
 Walks 33
 Strikeouts 43

(Editor's note: The series will conclude tomorrow with Yellowhorse's return to the minors.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Moses Yellowhorse, Part 1

(Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series about Moses Yellowhorse, a hard-throwing, hard-drinking young phenom whose professional baseball career in the 1920s was short, but colorful. I originally penned this as a feature article in Sports Collector's Digest around 1994, and have updated it just a bit.)

While it may or may not be true that he was the first full-blooded Indian to play in the major leagues, certainly no major leaguer prior to his day ever had a name that sounded more Indian than Moses Yellow Horse, the Pittsburgh Pirates relief specialist of the early 1920s.

From Louis Sockalexis, the Penobscot who put the "Indian" in Cleveland Indians in 1897, to Jim Thorpe and Chief Bender, the Native American had been sporadically represented on the rosters of major league teams in the years prior to World War I.

In 1914, a writer with the Cincinnati Times-Star made the observation that at least 75 percent of the Indians playing major or minor league baseball were of the Algonquin-Iroquois nations, "the tribes which specialized in the rough ball game beloved by the red men and were superior to all others."

The writer found it curious that these tribes represented only about 25 percent of the Indian population yet provided the vast majority of baseball-playing Indians and "excepting in the case of Chief Meyers, the best of the aboriginal stars, as well."

The Indian who would play big league ball in the early decades of the last century had to overcome considerable racial stereotyping. Neither Sockalexis nor Thorpe had done much to dispel the image of the drunken, lazy Indian, and even the best of the Native American ballplayers, Chief Bender, had enough episodes of "breaking training" as to negate his value as a "credit to his race."

This poem, published circa 1915 in the Pittsburgh Post, is typical of the perception of the Indian ballplayer in that era:

 Were I a base ball player
 I would not be a star.
 I would not be a Mathewson,
 Or e'en a Charley Carr.

 I would not be a Tyrus Cobb,
 A Collins, James or Plank;
 I would not be an Archer or
 A Gowdy, christened Hank;

 I would not be a Wagner,
 Or a Johnson or a Carey.
 I would not be a Lee Magee,
 Or e'en one called Sherry.

 I would not be a regular
 And labor for my kale;
 I'd like to have an easy time
 And still keep out of jail.

 I would not like expressions
 That might my beauty warp;
 All I want's an iron-clad contract,
 To just sit around like Thorpe.
At 5'10" and 180 lbs., Moses Yellowhorse was 23 years old
when he made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh
Pirates in 1921. Said to have been the first full-blooded Indian
to  play in the majors, the Pawnee may also have been
the darkest-skinned major leaguer since the color line
was drawn in the late 19th Century. 

In many ways, the baseball career of Moses Yellow Horse (the baseball press tightened it up to Yellowhorse, which will be used here as it is how he was best known in baseball) was typical of the Indian ballplayer of his era: a few stellar seasons in the minor leagues, a modicum of success in the big show, some colorful press and then a slide back through the minors. Tragically, that he drank himself out of baseball was also too typical of the Indian ballplayer in that era.

Yellow Horse was born in 1898 on the Pawnee reservation in Oklahoma. The family name was derived from a famed yellow pony of tribal lore said to have had exceptional ability in the buffalo hunt. He spent his early years on his father's 160-acre farm, where he developed his pitching arm by throwing stones at rabbits and squirrels for the stew pot.

At age 18, he tried out for the varsity nine of the Chilocco Indian School. He spent the 1916 season shagging fly balls, but in 1917 became the school's star pitcher on a record said to be 17-0. Yellowhorse played some semi-pro ball for Ponca City and in the Sunday "horseback league" traveling around Oklahoma.

He made his Organized Baseball debut with the Des Moines Boosters of the Class A Western League in 1918. League play was cut short by poor attendance and World War I manpower needs on July 7. Records show Yellowhorse gave up four hits and a pair of walks in four innings of work over three games. He is credited with an 0-1 record, but no ERA stats were promulgated.

Yellowhorse went back to semi-pro ball in 1919, where he apparently caught the eye of Kid Elberfeld, manager of the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association, another Class A circuit.

At an old-timers game in the late 1940s in Little Rock, Yellowhorse professed not to know how he came to receive a Little Rock contract. "If anybody scouted me out in Oklahoma, I didn't know about it," he said. "One day I got a contract from the Little Rock ball club in the mail and with it came a check to cover my railroad fare. That was all. I just cashed the check and went ahead. I got off the train at the Rock Island depot and asked my way downtown and then to the ball club office and reported to Mr. Bob Allen. I hadn't signed my contract yet, but I did soon afterward."

Latter day Little Rock baseball writer Bill Bentley said. "Yellow Horse had a tremendous arm, and he knew it. Didn't have a curve, didn't need one. Just threw that fast ball past them. But he was green. He didn't know much about pitching. He had to learn some things and Kid Elberfeld was just the man to teach him. Under his crusty exterior the Kid had the heart of a school teacher. He really liked to teach baseball to kids."

A "Sporting News" photo montage of some of the Indians on
the 1920 Little Rock team was decorated with caricatures,
inappropriate in today's politically correct sports climate.

It's possible that Yellowhorse was recommended to the Travelers by Bill Wano, the team's first baseman who had played with Yellowhorse on the Chilocco school team. Besides Wano, the Travelers featured two other Indian players during the 1920 season, Joe Guyon, a well-known college football player (and future football Hall of Famer), and Casey Smith, a pitcher who had come to Little Rock from the Pacific Coast League under the cloud of gambling suspicions.

Yellowhorse joined the team well into spring training. "They had already been at work three weeks and were way ahead of me in condition," Yellowhorse told Bentley. I didn't do so well in the spring. I had to get in shape and learn things."

In his spring training report, "A.W.P.," the Little Rock correspondent for The Sporting News, commented about the number of Indians on the team (this was prior to Smith's arrival), in an article headlined, "Redskins whooping it up for Elberfeld," "Three aborigines on one team is about as strong as any baseball club ever went, but then we are right here on the border and ought to pick them up if any one does."

The TSN writer had this to say about the Pawnee pitcher, "Yellow Horse is a raw recruit, but my, what smoke! The regulars have been batting at his smoke ball for several days now, and not one of them goes to the plate with a thought other than what would happen if the old apple should connect with a bean. The Indian has a sweet curve, too, and were it not for the fact that there were so many finished pitchers hanging around, Yellow Horse could be expected to stick. Elberfeld has taken quite a fancy to him, and it is possible he will yet beat out some of those who are counted on."

Yellowhorse did make the team and proved to be a valuable addition to the squad. In mid-July he contracted malaria fever and returned to his home to recuperate, but came back strong a couple of weeks later. "Well along in the season," he later said, "I was all even, seven won and seven lost. But after that I didn't lose any. Won 14 games out of 15 and tied in the other." One of Yellowhorse's late-season wins was that which clinched the first-ever Southern Association pennant for Little Rock.

For the Travelers in 1920, Yellowhorse had appeared in 46 games, winning 21 and losing seven, the best winning percentage of any pitcher in the league with more than 15 games. In 278 innings, Yellowhorse gave up 255 hits and 115 runs. He walked 55 and struck out 138. Earned run averages were not calculated by the S.A. that season, but his entry at, calculates his ERA as 3.72.

At the plate for Little Rock in 1920, Yellowhorse hit .222 in 99 at-bats. He had three doubles and scored six runs, but showed no power or speed.

Between Sept. 19-28, Little Rock and Fort Worth of the Texas League conducted a post-season series for the Class A minor league championship of the South-Southwest. Fort Worth won the series 4-2. Yellowhorse started the second game, but left very early in the 4-3 Little Rock loss. He returned to the mound two days later before the home crowd and went the distance in a 5-3 win, striking out seven. Yellowhorse also got the win in a 4-3 game on Sept. 25, tying the series at 2-2. Yellowhorse appeared in 2/3 of an inning in relief during the final game at Little Rock on Sept. 28. He gave up no hits and struck out one, but the Travelers lost the series, leaving 12 men on base in the 4-2 loss.

(Editor's note: This series will pick up tomorrow as Moses Yellowhorse makes his major league debut. For another biographical look at the Pawnee pitcher, see Ralph Berger's article in the Society For American Baseball Research's bio project at:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expanding my non-sports custom card repertoire with a Hit Stars Johnny Cash

As a card-collecting kid in the 1950s I only recall having a single card from Topps' 1957 Hit Stars set, Nat "King" Cole.

I have a distinct memory of playing with that card one Sunday night when Cole was on the Ed Sullivan TV show. Cole appeared on the Sullivan program 14 times between 1949-61. My recollection probably dates to his penultimate guest shot in 1958, after he had become the first black entertainer to have his own television variety series in 1957, the year Topps Hit Stars were released.

My latest custom card project is in the format of that 88-card Topps set.  I've created a Johnny Cash Hit Stars card.

I've always been a big fan of The Man in Black; something I "inherited" from my older brother, who in the late 1960s and early 1970s bought more than half a dozen Cash albums. They were passed down to me (I still have them) when my brother died in 1976. Since then, I've added a handful of CDs, and they remain in my music rotation while driving.

Cash was one of only two live concerts I attended in my college days. The other was Don McLean.

Making a Johnny Cash Hit Stars custom wasn't too tough. Topps didn't use a lot of fancy graphics on front and its choice of typefaces was fairly basic, with each remaining readily available to today's card creator.

There is, of course, no shortage of great Johnny Cash portrait photos available, though color pictures from his early years are scarce. I opted to colorize a black-and-white photo that I thought fit the "look" of the original Hit Stars cards, which mostly relied upon publicity shots from the record labels.

The biggest challenge came in trying to summarize Cash's musical biography through 1957 in about 80 words. I like to think I captured the style of the Topps writers.

I don't currently have plans to create any more Hit Stars customs, but as always, my custom card making plans are subject to change.