12.07.2009

THE SMOKEY AND BOOJUM AND CANNONBALL EXPRESS

August 14, 1924

Why did I ever think I could sleep?

"Out of bed, darling!" said Rube Foster, standing at my berth with his suit still on at a little after midnight, "Cannonball's taking every cat's money and we need some white man's luck to cool him off."

The special train Rube and Pop Lloyd had helped get for the Black Phillies' first and maybe only road trip was somewhere in Ohio, and the parlor car's dice game showed no signs of ending. The colored stars had been joking and eating and liquoring and playing since the time we pulled out of Philadelphia, thrilled beyond belief to have a chance to prove themselves against big league pitching in a regular season way.

Acting commissioner Rutledge might've done a great thing by letting them replace the lousy white Phillies, but he was no dope. With the Bucs beating them at Baker Bowl the other day and still as hot as firecrackers, he knew darn well it would be almost impossible for these black players to catch them at the finish line and embarrass the heck out of the sport.

Our player/manager Oscar Charleston sure didn't care, and neither did Cannonball Dick Redding, Smokey Joe Williams or Boojum Wilson. These guys were deadlier than poison darts on a baseball field, and even if they didn't catch the Pirates they could make an awful big dent in people's race views by getting our record up close to .500.

"This is one big historical stew we're all cookin' up here," Cannonball told me and Benny as we ate our yummy chicken dinners hours earlier. Roy had gone ahead to Chicago a day ahead to meet his brother and get things set up for our first game at Cubs Park, so Benny was all mine for a change and loving every second of his first "luxury" train trip. From what I could tell he was more excited about maybe making a living at this game promotion thing than any sort of history, but he went along with what Cannonball said just to be nice. Redding was over six feet tall, a blazing fast thrower from what I saw out in Darby, and had this habit of never taking off his sweatshirt on long trips. After a while the armpit smell kind of mixed in with the chicken one so I passed up dessert and left the table.

By the time I saw Cannonball again he was in the parlor car after midnight whipping dice against the wall with Biz Mackey, Pop Lloyd and Jud Wilson. Jud was called Boojum because that was the sound his line drives used to make off the fence, and he had the biggest shoulders and smallest waist I'd seen outside of Babe Ruth. He also looked like he could squish me like a grape if I got him mad for some reason so I stayed as clear of him as I could.

Pop Lloyd used to push a train wagon when he wasn't waiting tables down in Florida, and him and a friend named Phillip Randolph who knew a lot of porters and train folks worked with Rube to help get us our own spiffy express. Pops was also a nice guy, and wouldn't even use bad language. "Gosh bob it!" he yelled when his dice came up wrong, then turned to me and asked, "Ain't your pal the one who put Judge Landis to sleep?" I told him it was actually two of my pals, and he should keep that business under his hat. "How long before that old coot wakes up, you think?" I said I had no clue, and Biz Mackey said, "If he does we'll just invite him to a game and let Smokey Joe put him in another coma by throwing those lazy curves."

Mackey seemed like a great person. He'd been catching on the Eastern Colored League's Hilldale team all year, and one of the reasons they were in first place was because of him. His fingers were all bent and twisted from taking foul tips but he's supposedly got a shotgun arm and can throw a man out at second even after a slow curve from his pitcher. He was also drinking like a fish on a fish's birthday, and his questions to me about the Cub hitters were so slurry I just made up some answers and he seemed to buy them.

Cy Williams was on the train too, even though he was asleep in his berth with blankets over his head. Rube named me and him honorary base coaches, I think to show the crowd that whites and coloreds could be "on the same team", but Cy had other problems, namely how the real Phillies would treat him as soon as this big experiment ended. I didn't care much about those jerks Wrightstone and Harper, but I did feel bad for my buddy Heinie Sand, who would have a tough time finding a place on any other team.

Me and Benny also talked with Smokey Joe Williams a little about what the Chicago crowds might be like. Smokey wasn't worried, because colored baseball is big in that town and Rube Foster is pretty well thought of. I figured it could get rough because the Cubs were playing real good lately and had a chance to jump in front of the Cards, and the last thing they needed was to get whupped by a bunch of colored fellas.

"Well then," said the tall, half-black and half-Indian Smokey while he puffed on his cigar, we'll just have to whup those Redbirds, too."

I threw my dice, which came up freight cars. Cannonball screamed in pain and handed me one of his twenties. Who the heck needed sleep, anyway?
—Vinny

Only National League game today:

at PIRATES 4-11-0, GIANTS 3-11-2 (10 innings)
Anybody who still needs to know why the Giants have a fly's chance in boiling water of winning the pennant should look at Forbes Field today for an easy lesson. New York collects a walk, three singles and a very rare scoring double by Kelly to take a quick 3-0 lead off Lee Meadows, winner of eight of his last nine starts. Then they spend most of the game getting men on and grounding into double plays until Irish Meusel gets around to butchering a fly for a double and error and helping the Bucs tie the score in the 6th. Jonnard relieves Watson, who wastes no time in giving Pittsburgh the game when Traynor singles and steals in the 10th and Wright singles him in. The Pirate win also eliminates the horrible Braves from the pennant race, not as if they were ever in it.










NATIONAL LEAGUE through Thursday, August 14
Pittsburgh Pirates7338.658
Brooklyn Robins6746.5937
Cincinnati Reds6746.5937
New York Giants6151.54512.5
Chicago Cubs5457.48619
St. Louis Cardinals5457.48619
Philadelphia Phillies4271.37232
Boston Braves3082.26843.5

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