Memphis Red Sox

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Memphis Red Sox
Memphis, Tennessee
League affiliation(s)
League titles1938

The Memphis Red Sox were a Negro League baseball team that was active from 1920 to 1959. The franchise won the 1938 Championship in their second season in the Negro American League but, despite assembling some talented line-ups in the 1940s, never replicated the success of that year.


In 1921 Memphis had two main Negro baseball clubs, the Memphis Union Giants and the A. P. Martin's Barber Boys Baseball Club. The Union Giants were owned by real estate salesman and bookkeeper Sherman G. King. The Union Giants were managed by Chick Cummings who was also a player on the team.[1] The A. P. Martin's Barber Boys, also known as the A. P. Martin's Barber College Team,[2] was the creation of a Memphis barber named Arthur Peterson Martin. The team was a way for Martin to promote his two barber shops[1] which were located in Memphis on Main and Beale Street[3] and his barber college.[2]

Baseball advertisement for the A.P. Martin and Vapor City Baseball Teams in the Hot Springs New Era Newspaper

The A. P. Martin's Barber College Team had been in existence since at least 1920. They played home games at Russwood Park. The park was home to the white minor league Memphis Chicks.[4] Toward the end of the summer of 1920 a promotion in the Arkansas newspaper the Hot Spring New Era invited readers to come out and watch the “Championship of the South” as the champions of Tennessee, A.P. Martin's Barber College Team face the champions of Arkansas, the Vapor City Tigers. An article in the same paper states that, “the Memphis club has beat everything in Tennessee and Alabama.” The results of the games were not published.[2][5]

The Memphis Union Giants or Memphis Giants had existed in some form since at least 1907.[6] They played throughout the region. The Giants played members of the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs in 1908 and 1909.[7] They are mentioned in local newspapers until 1915.[8] From 1915 till 1920 there is very little mention of them or any other black teams from Memphis. The team appears to have disbanded during these years as the announcement for the 1921 team said the city was "... reorganizing the famous Memphis Union Giants known in times gone by as one of the fastest Colored team in the country."[9]

Of these two teams the Union Giants were billed as "the toughest team in the south", but the Barber Boys Ball Club was the preeminent team due to their membership in the Negro Southern League.[1] The Barber College Team played the Chicago American Giants as the northerns toured the south in early April 1921. The Barber Boys lost 2–1 in eleven innings. The Chicago Tribune's short write-up of the game lists Martin's team by name.[10] Southern newspapers, though, often referred to the team as simple “Memphis” or one of several other names.[11] The Montgomery Advertiser referred to the team as the Memphis Stars and the New Orleans Times-Picayune listed the team as the Memphis Black Chicks.[12][13] It wasn't till late July that the newspaper, the Tennessean, published an article about Elite Giants who were to play a four-game series against the Memphis Red Sox.[14]

At the start of the 1922 baseball season the team representing Memphis in the Negro Southern League was no longer the A. P. Martin's Barber Boys Baseball Club but rather the Memphis Red Sox. Players on the Memphis Red Sox were a combination of players from the Barber Boys and the Union Giants. John W. Miller was the team president and Chick Cummings, the former manager of the Union Giants, was manager of the new club. The team played their first game at Russwood Park on May 3 against Birmingham Black Barons. Memphis won the game against the Barons 4–0. The Red Sox played the rest of their 1922 season home games at Russwood and Field's Park.[1]

With the new team name came new owners, John Miller (also the team president) and Moses Dandridge.[1] Miller and Dandridge were co-owners of the Liberty Auto Repair of Memphis.[15] They purchased the Barber College Team from A. P. Martin in 1921.[16] The two would own the team for less than two seasons. By 1923 they had sold the team[1] and Dandridge was no longer listed as a co-owner of the auto repair shop.[17]

The Memphis Red Sox and the Dallas Black Giants, at the Colored Dixie Series

The Negro Southern League was under severe strain during the 1922 season due to financial problems and bad management. The league was reorganized in 1923 to try to fix these issues. This led to the Red Sox not playing teams in the Negro Southern League after mid-July, and instead play teams from the Negro National League. The team played both the St. Louis Stars and the Chicago American Giants at home. They swept a five-game series with Chicago.[1] Chicago would later go on to win the Negro National League pennant for the third straight year.[18] Both the Commercial Appeal and the Dallas Express newspaper refer to Memphis as the winners of the Southern Negro League pennant,[1][19] but the Nashville Elite Giants appeared to have had the best record.[20] Despite the discrepancy in September, Memphis played in the first annual Colored Dixie Classic. The series was a playoff between the winner of the Southern Negro League and the winner of the Texas Negro League. In newspaper ads it was promoted as the “Championship of the South” and “A Little World Series.”[21] Memphis won the series against the Dallas Black Giants. The Giants took only three games of the nine game series.[22] The Dallas Express newspaper, at the conclusion of the Dixie Series, said the following about the victorious Red Sox. “A well balanced base ball machine made up of experience, brain, team work, team play, and inside base ball is the only way to characterize the strength and playing ability of the formidable baseball combination the Memphis Red Sox.”[22]

1923 Thru 1928[edit]

Richard Stevenson Lewis was the owner of the Red Sox at the start of the 1923 season.[23] The 30-year-old[24] Lewis was the owner and operation of R. S. Lewis Funeral Home on Vance Avenue in Memphis.[25] It is not clear when Lewis bought the team from Miller and Dandridge. During the Dixie Colored Series of 1922 he is listed in The Dallas Express as the team's president.[22]

On May 15, the Memphis Red Sox dedicated their new stadium at Lewis Park. Built by the team's new owner, the stadium held approximately 3,000 people.[1] It consisted of a grandstand behind home plate, a set of bleachers that ran down the third base line, and a fence that enclosed the remainder of the field.[26]

The Red Sox are one of only a few teams in the Negro Leagues that owned their stadium. Among them, the St. Louis Stars owned Star Park,[27] the Pittsburgh Crawford's owned Greenlee Field in Pittsburgh,[28] the Nashville Giants owned Tom Wilson Park in Nashville, and the Claybrook Tigers owned Tiger Stadium in Claybrook, Arkansas.[29] Since the Red Sox now owned their stadium the expense of leasing a ballpark, which could sometime cost up to 20 percent of the gate receipts, was eliminated.Teams that leased stadiums also had to arrange their schedules around the owning team's schedule, which lead to difficulties scheduling league games and cooridinating road games. Memphis would retain its Negro League stadium till the team played its last game in 1959.[1]

In 1923 the Toledo Tigers ball club, a member of the Negro National League, was dissolved in mid season. The Cleveland Tate Stars, who were expected to fill the Tiger's spot, could not raise the money for the deposit that the league required. This created an opening for a team in the Negro National League. The two top teams in the Negro Southern League, the Memphis Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons, were considered the top contenders to fill the spot.[30][31] Joe Rush owner of the Black Barons and R. S. Lewis owner of the Red Sox both travelled to Chicago to meet with the president of the Negro National League, Andrew "Rube" Foster, in late July.[1][31][32] Neither team was selected to fill the vacancy created by the departure of the Toledo club, but both were granted associate membership to the league.[1] This benefitted both Birmingham and Memphis by preventing National Negro League clubs from enticing players on the Red Sox or Barons roosters to abandon their team and play for the northern teams. It also allowed both southern teams to play the Negro National League teams at a regular interval, which translated to more profit due to higher attendance.[33]

The Negro Southern League with the loss Memphis and Birmingham did not post second half season standings. The league appears to have folded after the first half of 1923. Memphis had 15 wins to 16 losses as the first half of the Negro Southern League wrapped up. They were second to Birmingham, the dominant club in the league, who had 24 wins and 8 losses.[33] Memphis played 19 games as an associate member of the Negro National League[34] against such teams as the Milwaukee Bears, Toledo Tigers, and St. Louis Stars.[33] The team won 13 of those games and lost 6.[34] Memphis finished the season as they had in 1922 by playing the Dallas Black Giants of the Negro Texas League. The Black Giants swept Memphis in three games at Dallas.[1]

The Memphis Red Sox remained an associate member of the Negro National League in 1924.[35] During the league's winter meetings in December 1923 Birmingham, though, had been made a full member.[36] The Negro Southern League, which disbanded in 1923 with the loss of its two best teams, did not reform in 1924. Former teams in the Negro Southern League were left to play independently.[33]

The first preseason game of 1924 at Lewis Stadium was not played due to weather. The game was scheduled for March 30 was cancelled after a storm hit the city.[1] The same storm impacted almost half the country. Severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, gales force wind, flooding and blizzard conditions lead to the death of at least 23 people across the country.[37][38] After the cancellation of their first home game The Red Sox faced the Chicago American Giants in three exhibition games in mid April. The Red Sox lost the first two games of the series, but won the third game with a 6–4 score. The win was significant since it broke the Chicago American Giants 19 game win streak.[1][39]

Memphis first game of the regular Negro National League season was May 3. The team played the Cuban All-Stars.[40] The Cuban All-Stars were the only team in the Negro National League that did not have a home ballpark and were a road team for the entire season.[35] Memphis and the Cuban Stars split the two game series. Memphis's schedule though May and into June included St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Birmingham.[1]

On June 26 the Indianapolis A.B.C's were dropped from the Negro National League. Indianapolis had lost ten players over the winter to the Eastern Colored League. The loss of veteran players devastated the team. In their first seven home games the A.B.C's won only one game. Due to the team's poor performance it was designated as an associate team and Memphis took Indianapolis's place in the league.[41][42]

The Red Sox also assumed Indianapolis A.B.C.'s dismal record of 3 -19, but by July the league had decided to changes the team's initial record to 12–12.[43] The Red Sox were ranked forth in the league with the adjustment.[44] From August 2 to the end of the season Memphis would win only 5 games while losing 14. Memphis finished the season with an average of .439 in 5th place in the league.[34]

In early January 1926 Negro National League Winter meeting was held in Philadelphia. At the meeting the league announced that Memphis would be dropped as a member.[43] The Associated Negro Press also reported that the Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons had withdrawn from the league.[45] In April, the owners of eight southern clubs, including the Red Sox and the Black Barons, met in Memphis and created a new Negro Southern League with the first game featuring the Red Sox verses the New Orleans Ads to be played May 1 in Memphis.[45]

Birmingham won the 1st half championship and by early September the Red Sox with 20 wins and 7 losses were declared the second half champs.[1] The two teams met for the first game of a best of nine Negro Southern League Championship playoff series on September 11 at Lewis Park.[1] The first game was called due to darkness after 12 innings ending in a 2–2 tie.[33] In game two Birmingham batters bunched hits in the fourth and sixth innings scoring four runs in each inning . The Barons won the game 9–4.[1][33] Game three ended 1–0 in a Birmingham victory after catcher William Poindexter scored the winning run in the 7th inning.[33]

With Black Barons leading with two wins, the series moved to Rickwood Field in Birmingham.[1][33] Game four was another 1–0 win for the Black Barons. The game was scoreless till the bottom of the 9th inning.[1][33]  Game five was called in the 9th inning due to darkness with the score tied.[33] Birmingham won game six 2–0. It was also Birmingham pitcher Jim Jefferies second shutout of the series.[33]

The series returned to Memphis on September 25. Game seven was the third tie of the series. Called due to darkness in the 11th inning, the game was a shutout for both Drake throwing for Memphis and Birdine who pitched for Birmingham.[1][33] Memphis was able to take the next two games by shutting out the Black Barons 2–0 and 1–0.[33] Finally on September 29 at Lewis Park, Birmingham closed the series out by winning its fifth game 9–3.[1][33] The Birmingham Black Barons were declared the champions of the Negro Southern League.[46]

The failure of the largest African American owned bank in Memphis over the winter of 1927 and the drop in attendance over the preceding years lead Red Sox owner R. S. Lewis to incorporate the ball club prior to the 1928 season. The partnership included A. M. McCullough, M. B. Burnett, C. B. King, W. H. Cole and Dr. E. E. Nesbitt. The background of the men varied greatly. McCullough owned a variety of Memphis business. Burnett worked in insurance, banking, and investment. King was the director at a life insurance company. Cole was a timber contractor. Nesbitt was a physician working out of the same building from which Lewis ran his funeral home.  Incorporating the team raised fifty thousand dollars for Red Sox operation and stadium maintenance while protect it against the financial woos of one single investor.[1]

1929 through 1930[edit]

Dr. J.B. Martin and Dr. W. S. Martin purchased the Red Sox in 1929. They were two of four college-educated brother that lived in Memphis. Dr. J. B. Martin would go on to be owner of the Chicago American Giants and president of the Negro American League. The brothers had lent money to R. S. Lewis and he used the Red Sox and Lewis Stadium as collateral for the loan. In the spring of 1929 when Lewis could not repay the brothers they took possession of the ball club. News reports from the year also list Dr. E. E. Nesbitt as president of the Red Sox.[1]

The Red Sox opened the 1929 season against the Birmingham Black Barons. Memphis won the game 2–0. Memphis pitcher Carl Glass held the Black Barons to only one hit.[47] Despite the season opener, Memphis would finish the first half of the season near the bottom of the league[1] with the lowest batting average and most errors of any team.[48] The club's dysfunction was so bad that at one point, a fight between the pitcher, Robert Poindexter, and first baseman, J. C. McHaskell, lead to Poindexter shooting McHaskell in the foot.[49] The Red Sox would finish the season in last place.[1]

On April 25, 1930, Memphis opened the season with a four-game series against the Cuban Stars.[50] The Star and the Red Sox split the series kicking-off a losing year for Memphis.[1] By September, the team had won just 29 games while losing 45. They finished fifth in the league.[51]

The Great Depression brought two changes to the game in 1930. On June 20 the start time for the first game against the Birmingham Black Barons was pushed back from the normal 3:00 to 3:30 time to 5:00.[1][52] The later start time for these “twilight games” meant more people would be off work and able to come. The other change was the product of J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs.[53] The Monarchs were touring the country with a portable lighting system. The lights allowed games to be played at night for the first time. On May 12 approximately 4,000 people packed Lewis Park to see the Memphis Red Sox play their first night game. They lost the game 8–4.[1]

1931 through 1939[edit]

Memphis, the Nashville Elite Giants, and the Birmingham Black Barons withdrew from the Negro National League in 1931. The teams along with Chattanooga, Montgomery, and New Orleans formed a new Negro Southern League.[54] The league was base solely in the southeast which limited the high cost of transportation.[55] The first half championship was claimed by both the Elite Gaints and the Red Sox. Memphis though would play the Grey Sox, the second half champions, in the league championship series. With the series tied three games each, game seven scheduled for September 21 was canceled. No reason was given for the cancelation and the 1931 season ended with no clear Southern League Champion.[33]

Two Negro national leagues started the 1932 season. The Negro Southern League, of which Memphis was a member, and the East-West League. Only the Negro Southern League would finish out the year.[33]

Memphis started the 1932 season in last place[56] and by mid-June was accused of playing men who were owned by other teams. League President Jackson threatened to throw Memphis out of the league.[57] The dispute appeared to have been between Memphis and Birmingham over a first baseman named West. West left the Black Barons, whose team collapsed halfway through the season and was placed on the Memphis roster. West though, was never properly released from Birmingham, but by mid season the matter had been settled.[58] Memphis added several new players throughout the summer,[59] but finished the season third behind Nashville and Chicago.[60]

The Red Sox were once again member of the Negro Southern League in 1933. The team led the Negro Southern League in the standings of the league's first half, 32 wins to 10 losses. Beyond the first half of the season though, there is no clear record of the rest of the season.[33] Memphis spent most of August barnstorming though Iowa and Nebraska.[61][62][63] In the towns they played, the local newspapers claimed that they were the southern league champions.[61] The New Orleans Crescent Stars, though, also claimed the championship.[64]

The next year Memphis once again started in the Negro Southern League, but by July the team was barnstorming in cities throughout the Midwest.[33] The team participated and won the Class A Council Bluff, Iowa semi-pro tournament.[65] In early October five Red Sox players were chosen to represent the South in the all-star North South game between the Negro National League and the Negro Southern League.[33]

In 1935 Memphis spent a large part of the year barnstorming.[33] The team competed in the National Baseball Congress's First Annual Semi-Pro Tournament in Wichita, Kansas placing seventh[66][67] and in September they played the Claybrook Tigers for the Negro Southern League Championship. Claybrook won the series four games to three games.[33][20] Game seven was played at Martin Stadium where the Red Sox lost 5–2.[33]

In 1937 the Red Sox became a charter member of the Negro American League. The following year, having earned a 21–4 record, the team won the league's First Half Championship. The second half champion, the Atlanta Black Crackers, played Memphis in the American League Championship Series. It was decided that the series would start with two games in Memphis, followed by one game in Birmingham, and then finishing with three games in Atlanta.[68] The Red Sox won both games played in Memphis, but those would be the only games played. The Black Crackers did not arrive at the Birmingham ballpark till 8:30 the day of game three, which was deemed too late to start by the league president. The series then moved to Atlanta, but the minor league Atlanta Crackers had home games scheduled for the same days as the series games. This prevented the Black Crackers from using the field. The Black Crackers attempted to reschedule the games, but Memphis owner Dr. B. B. Martin refused to reschedule citing the high cost that would be incurred if the team's stay were extended in Atlanta.[68] At the league's winter meetings it was decided that the Red Sox had won the Negro National League pennant due to Memphis's two wins and the forfeiture of the Black Crackers in game three of the series.[69][70][71]

1940 through 1960[edit]

In 1940 the team finished third in the Negro American League, but events that occurred after the season lead to a change in teams front office.[1] Memphis police, starting in late October, began to harass one of the Red Sox co-owners and the President of the Negro American League, J. B. Martin. The police commissioner claimed that Martin was selling narcotics in his Memphis drug stores and placed police outside the stores to search all people entering. This was in retaliation for Martin's support of Republican politicians, a stance that was in opposition of the powerful former mayor of Memphis, Edward H. Crump. Do to the continuing police presence at his stores and threats of prosecutions J. B. Martin left Memphis in early December. He settled in Chicago leaving control of the Red Sox to his brothers and co-owners B. B. Martin and W. S. Martin.[72][73]

In the first half of the 1940s World War II, and the United States entry into the conflict, impacted the team in many different ways. The Red Sox had several players that joined or were drafted into the armed forces. Robert Sharpe, Olan Taylor, Leonard Randolph, Joe Scott, Bob Boyd, Riley Stewart were all Memphis players that served in the Army.[74][75] Marlin Carter served in the Coast Guard.[75] Walter Johnson served in the Navy.[75] Neal Robinson, outfielder for the Red Sox, and players from several other teams was stuck for a short time in Puerto Rico as they finished playing winter baseball in early 1942. The players, who used ships to get to the main land from the island, were stopped due to fears of German U-boats attacking their transports.[76] Tires and gas were rationed which lead several clubs to play closer to home and in the first half of 1943 the Office of Defense Transportation ruled that in order to save fuel league teams could not use their buses. The government agreed to let the teams travel by bus during the second half of the season after fans and owners appealed to have the ban lifted.[77][78][1]

The early 1940s saw several other challenges for Memphis. At the start of the 1943 season several players under contract by the Red Sox were enticed to join the Negro National League's Philadelphia Stars. The player dispute between the leagues was not resolved till the beginning of July when the Stars release pitcher Verdell Mathis and four other Red Sox players back to Memphis.[79][80] A year later the Red Sox lost all-star pitcher Porter Moss when he was shot and killed as the team travelled back to Memphis by train following a game at Nashville.[81] As the World War II ended in 1945 the team saw one of its worst regular season record ever. The Red Sox managed only 17 wins in 78 games.[1] Surprisingly though, the early 1940s would be the most profitable period the team would ever see.[1]

On May 28, 1960 Dr. B.B. Martin announced he was dissolving the Red Sox for financial reason. “It has been a losing proposition for the past four or five years...,” Dr. Martin said. The Negro American League would continue on for just a couple more years before it dissolve completely.[1][82]

Notable players[edit]

Red Sox Hall of Fame Players[edit]

Red Sox Players that also played in Major League Baseball[edit]

  • Daniel Robert Bankhead was a right-handed pitcher who played for the Birmingham Black Barons from 1940 to 1945 and the Memphis Red Sox in 1946 and 1947.[86] In the middle of the 1947 season Brooklyn Dodgers president, Branch Rickey, bought Bankhead's contract from the Red Sox for $15,000. Bankhead made his major league debut on August 26, 1947 in a game at Ebbets Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With that appearance he became the first black player to pitch in modern major league baseball.[87] In his relief appearance he allowed 15 hits and 8 runs in 3.1 innings. Bankhead did not pitch for the Dodgers in the 1947 World Series, but he did score a run as a pitch runner.[88] After 1947, the Dodgers sent Dan down to the minor leagues.[88] He returned to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 and part of 1951. He left major league baseball with a career ERA of 6.52 in 153.1 innings pitched.[89]
  • Jehosie“Jay” Heard was a left-handed pitcher who played primarily for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Houston (New Orleans) Eagles. In the spring of 1949 the Memphis Red Sox bought his contact, but it is unclear if he played for the team.[90] In 1952 the St. Louis Browns acquired Heard and placed him in their minor league system.[90] The Browns were sold to Baltimore attorney Clearance Miles in 1953.[91] In 1954 the team was moved to Baltimore and the team's name was changed to the Orioles.[92] Heard was called up from the minors to play on the new Orioles team. He only pitched two games, 3.1 innings. In that time he gave up 6 hits and 5 runs.[93]
  • Marshall “Sheriff” Bridges was a left-handed pitcher who played for Memphis prior to his major league debut.[94] In eight years with the major leagues he played for the St Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, and Washington Senators.[95] In 345.1 innings pitched his career ERA was 3.75.[95] He pitched in relief during game 4 of the 1962 World Series for the Yankees.[96]
  • Bob “Rope” Boyd was a left-handed first baseman that played for the Memphis Red Sox in 1947 and 1948.[97] In 1950 he was the first African American to sign with the Chicago White Sox.[98] Over ten years Boyd played for the White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Athletics, and Milwaukee Braves.[99] His career batting average with 1935 at bats was .293.[100] Later in life Boyd continued to play baseball with the semi-pro Wichita Dreamliners. He was awarded the National Baseball Congress World Series MVP in 1965 when the Dreamliners won the NBC championship.[101][102]
  • Vibert Ernesto “Webbo” Clarke was a left-handed pitcher who played for the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1946 to 1949,[103] the Memphis Red Sox from 1950 to 1953,[104][105] and the Pampa Oilers of the West Texas - New Mexico League in 1954.[106] Clarke debuted with the Washington Senators on September 4, 1955.[107] He pitched in seven games and started two. In 21.1 innings pitched he had an ERA of 4.64.[107] Clarke was sent to the minor league Charlotte Hornets at the beginning of the 1956 season and never returned to the major leagues.[108]

Other Star Red Sox Players[edit]

  • Verdell Mathis, left hand pitcher who also played first base and the outfield. Mathis pitched in two North-South Negro League All Star games and he was the winning pitcher in two East-West All-Star games.[109] In nine years with Memphis his ERA was 3.20.[110]
  • Marlin "Pee Wee" Carter played shortstop, second base, and third base. He had a BA of .257 and an OBP of .317 in his time with Memphis.[111] He also played in the 1942 East-West All-Star game.[112]
  • Cornelius "Neal" Randall Robinson played shortstop, second base, center field and left field. Over the eleven years he played Memphis, he played in eight East-West All-Star games. In the 1938 All-Star game he hit a 3 run inside the park home run that lead the West to a 5–4 victory over the East.[113] He had a career BA of .310 and an OBP of .377 over 14 years.[114]
  • Country Singer Charley Pride also played for the team in 1953 and 1958 as a pitcher and outfielder.[115]

Notable games[edit]

No hitters[edit]

Date[116] Pitcher Opponent Score
07-02-23 Willie Foster Arkansas Travelers 7–0
07-27-31 Homer Curry Little Rock 12–0
09-05-31 Homer Curry Birmingham 6–0
07-09-33 Son Harvey Nashville 1–0
09-27-43 Porter Moss Cincinnati Clowns 5–0


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