Memphis Red Sox
|Memphis Red Sox|
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. The A. P. Martin's Barber Boys, also known as the A. P. Martin's Barber College Team, was the creation of a Memphis barber named Arthur Peterson Martin. The team was a way for Martin to promote his two barber shops which were located in Memphis on Main and Beale Street and his barber college.
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. 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.
The Memphis Union Giants or Memphis Giants had existed in some form since at least 1907. They played throughout the region. The Giants played members of the National Association of Colored Baseball Clubs in 1908 and 1909. They are mentioned in local newspapers until 1915. 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.” 
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. The Barber College Team played the Chicago American Giants as the northerns toured the south in early April of 1921. The Barber Boys lost 2 to 1 in eleven innings. The Chicago Tribune’s short write-up of the game lists Martin’s team by name. Southern newspapers, though, often referred to the team as simple “Memphis” or one of several other names. 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. 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.
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 to 0. The Red Sox played the rest of their 1922 season home games at Russwood and Field's Park.
With the new team name came new owners, John Miller (also the team president) and Moses Dandridge. Miller and Dandridge were co-owners of the Liberty Auto Repair of Memphis. They purchased the Barber College Team from A. P. Martin in 1921. The two would own the team for less than two seasons. By 1923 they had sold the team and Dandridge was no longer listed as a co-owner of the auto repair shop.
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. Chicago would later go on to win the Negro National League pennant for the third straight year. Both the Commercial Appeal and the Dallas Express newspaper refer to Memphis as the winners of the Southern Negro League pennant, but the Nashville Elite Giants appeared to have had the best record. 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.” Memphis won the series against the Dallas Black Giants. The Giants took only three games of the nine game series. 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.”
1923 Thru 1928
Richard Stevenson Lewis was the owner of the Red Sox at the start of the 1923 season. The 30 years old Lewis was the owner and operation of R. S. Lewis Funeral Home on Vance Avenue in Memphis. 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.
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 3000 people. 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.
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, the Pittsburgh Crawford's owned Greenlee Field in Pittsburgh, the Nashville Giants owned Tom Wilson Park in Nashville, and the Claybrook Tigers owned Tiger Stadium in Claybrook, Arkansas. Since the Red Sox now owned their stadium the expense of leasing a ballpark, which could sometime cost up to twenty percent of the gate recipts, 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.
In 1923 the Toledo Tigers ball club, a member of the Negro National League, was dissolve 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. 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. 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. 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.
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 loses 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 loses. Memphis played 19 games as an associate member of the Negro National League against such teams as the Milwaukee Bears, Toledo Tigers, and St. Louis Stars. The team won 13 of those games and lost 6. 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.
The Memphis Red Sox remained an associate member of the Negro National League in 1924. During the leagues winter meetings in December of 1923 Birmingham, though, had been made a full member. 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.
The first preseason game of 1924 at Lewis Stadium was not played due to weather. The game was scheduled for March 30th was cancelled after a storm hit the city. 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 twenty-three people across the country.  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 to 4 score. The win was significant since it broke the Chicago American Giants 19 game win streak.
Memphis first game of the regular Negro National League season was May 3rd. The team played the Cuban All-Stars. 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. Memphis and the Cuban Stars split the two game series. Memphis’s schedule though May and into June included St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Birmingham.
On June 26th 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 lost 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.
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 teams initial record to 12 - 12. The Red Sox were ranked forth in the league with the adjustment. From August 2nd 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.
In early January of 1926 Negro National League Winter meeting was held in Philadelphia. At the meeting the league announced that Memphis would be dropped as a member. The Associated Negro Press also reported that the Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons had withdrawn from the league. 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 1stin Memphis.
Birmingham won the 1sthalf championship and by early September the Red Sox with 20 wins and 7 loses were declared the second half champs. The two teams met for the first game of a best of nine Negro Southern League Championship playoff series on September 11that Lewis Park. The first game was called do to darkness after 12 innings ending in a 2 to 2 tie. 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 to 4. Game three ended 1 to 0 in a Birmingham victory after catcher William Poindexter scored the wining run in the 7thinning.
With Black Barons leading with two wins, the series moved to Rickwood Field in Birmingham. Game four was another 1 to 0 win for the Black Barons. The game was scoreless till the bottom of the 9thinning. Game five was called in the 9thinning due to darkness with the score tied. Birmingham won game six 2 to 0. It was also Birmingham pitcher Jim Jefferies second shutout of the series.
The series returned to Memphis on September 25th. Game seven was the third tie of the series. Called due to darkness in the eleventh inning, the game was a shutout for both Drake throwing for Memphis and Birdine who pitched for Birmingham. Memphis was able to take the next two games by shutting out the Black Barons 2 to 0 and 1 to 0. Finally on September 29that Lewis Park, Birmingham closed the series out by wining its fifth game 9 to 3. The Birmingham Black Barons were declared the champions of the Negro Southern League.
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.
1929 Thru 1960
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.
At various periods, the franchise played independently, but 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. During end of the season playoffs, against the second half champion Atlanta Black Crackers, Memphis jumped out to a two-game lead; however, the series was canceled, a consequence of friction between the teams' management and failure of Atlanta to secure a ballpark in which the teams could play. 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 forfiture of the Black Crackers in game three of the series.
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.
- 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. In nine years with Memphis his ERA was 3.20.
- Marlin "Pee Wee" Carter played shortstop, second base, and third base. He had a BA of .257 and a OBP of .317 in his time with Memphis. He also played in the 1942 East-West All-Star game.
- 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. He had a career BA of .310 and an OBP of .377 over 14 years.
- Norman "Turkey" Stearnes played center field, left field and first base. He was only with Memphis for the 1922 season. In his 13-year career he had a BA of .346 and an OBP of .407. Stearnes played in four All-Star games was induction in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
- William "Willie" Hendrick Foster was a pitcher. He played with Memphis in 1923, 1924, and 1938. Foster was the half brother of Andrew "Rube" Foster, owner of the Chicago American Giants and one of the founders of the Negro National League. In his eleven-year career he had an ERA of 2.77. On July 2, 1923 while with Memphis, Foster pitched a no hitter against the independent Hot Spring black baseball club. Foster was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
- Country Singer Charley Pride also played for the team in 1953 and 1958 as a pitcher and outfielder.
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