Chapter 1: All the Dirt on This Thing

Hi folks. I’m John Geoffrey Heath, otherwise known as “Jeff”, starting right fielder for the Chicago Dorseys.

Most of the time, at least. Our manager Luke Appling sits me down against lefties for Charlie King Kong Keller, which I can’t say I’m thrilled about, but over half the time I do get to share the outfield with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, the best white hitters in the country if you ask me. Anyway, the little time I’ve spent with the Cleveland White Indians in these early 1940s won’t hold a candle to what we’re about to go through in the Bragging Rights League.

See, the Major League of Professional Ballplaying Athletes has been going strong for about fifty years now, and the last thing they need or want is a bunch of white vagabonds like us breaking the old Moses Walker Color Code. But that’s where President Booker T. Washington came in. Before he died in 1915, he passed on his advanced beliefs about racial equality to his son Ernest, who would succeed him in office for three terms before the great poet Langston Hughes was voted in. And Ernest always believed that if whites were allowed to fight for their country, like some of them did on Europe’s battlefields in the Great War, and just might again if this new war in Europe and Asia actually starts, then by gosh, they should be allowed to play ball with their darker countrymen.

Well, something’s finally going to be done about this. Last month, when the entire Memphis Hamptons clubhouse was stricken with a horrible stomach virus during their off-season trip to Cuba, President Hughes quickly gave Commissioner Greenlee permission to establish the Bragging Rights League, and our Chicago Dorseys were born.

Player/manager Appling searched high and low through the white hinterlands, from the Detroit Milky Tigers to the Brooklyn Honky Dodgers, before it was decided to let him pick the best players from our American Division. From what I can see, though, we ought to be able to give those professional black fellows a fair fight. As you know, they don’t stage a championship series in the MLPBA, just a fierce, six-team pennant race, and the Bragging Rights League, at only 60 games per team instead of the usual 190, should be even more heated.

Every major league club has its big stars, with Josh Gibson catching for the Newark Ellingtons, Turkey Stearnes patrolling center for the Pittsburgh Jordans, Satchel Paige throwing speedy pills for the Kansas City Basies, and so on. With Gibson’s 53 homers and 29 complete game victories by Smokey Joe Williams, the Ellingtons took the league championship in 1940 with a sterling 131-59 mark, and you can be sure they’ll be ready to defend that crown.

Us? Well, there’s Teddy Ballgame and Joltin’ Joe, who I already mentioned. I saw our first baseman Jimmie Foxx belt a ball once that went farther than most of Gibsons’. Cecil Travis from the Washington club is a torrid hitter, and Philadelphia’s Frankie Hayes and New York’s Bill Dickey are great backstops. Bob Feller, also from my Cleveland team, is a strikeout machine, and Chicago’s Thornton Lee will feel right at home pitching in his home park, as long as the field isn’t in its usual chewed-up state, which could hurt the fielders behind him.

I’m not saying this is going to be an easy league for us. Except for the home white grandstands we’ll have at Comiskey, we’ll mostly be playing in front of tough all-black crowds on the road, and it’s likely we’ll have to lodge ourselves in white hotels and poor white neighborhoods. But good golly, I think we’re up to this and who knows, it may even earn us the right to vote some day soon.

Each series will be a best-of-three affair with its own “bragging rights,” and for the first one we’ll be hosting Cool Papa Bell, Slim Jones and the Detroit Calloways. I’ll be back in a week with firsthand accounts of how our first series and the other openers went. For the time being, take a look at our league rosters, enjoy the music by the team owners, and if you feel like it, venture a guess below on what the outcome might be.
J.G. Heath, April 1, 1941

Published in: on January 29, 2011 at 7:06 am  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Will the Chicago Dorseys consist of a bunch of players that aren’t tremendously skilled, but are considered “gritty” and “big-hearted” because they “have more hustle than anyone else in the league”?

    • From what I have read in the Philadelphia Evening Blabber, they are what are often referred to as “lunch pail” players. And I thank you for being the first commenter, sir!

  2. I’m guessing Heath won’t let anyone in the opposing dugout borrow one of his bats.

  3. How appropriate that the Bragging Rights League should begin with none other than Jeff Heath, who can trace his baseball roots through the Gentleman’s Agreement all the way back to Ty Cobb and Cap Anson.

    A ball player with a plentitude of promise and potential, much like Negro Leaguer Willard Brown, it will be interesting to follow Heath’s travails – however long or short they might be in this new league – and see if he has the right makeup for this ‘Great Experiment’.

  4. Jeff,
    Great idea. Looking forward to where this adventure will take us.
    I posted something on my blog to help get the word out, and I will include it in my blogroll as well.


  5. Jeff and Jeff…

    I’ll take you up on the invitation to venture a guess concerning how the Bragging Rights League will shake out.

    My pick for first place is the Birmingham Armstrongs. They’ve got a fancy-fielding, lefty-righty platoon at first base in Ben Taylor/Buck O’Neil, Tubby Scales is a potent bat at second, Pop Lloyd a legend at shortstop and Alec Radcliff a fine one at third. In the outfield, with Charleston and Willard Brown in the everyday lineup, and Bullet Rogan playing out there when he’s not pitching, the Armstrongs have some offensive thunder. And Biz Mackey behind the plate will shut down the opposition’s running game. On the mound, Rogan, the Fosters, and Leon Day are complemented by the underrated William Bell.

    Yes sir, that’s my pick. The Dorseys look good, but I think Bob Feller, their mound ace, is going to struggle in this league.

    • Mr. Feller does tend to issue his share of free passes, but do not sell the wicked left arm of Thornton Lee short. Makes me wonder if Cliff is his grandson…

      • Actually, Thornton’s son pitched in The Show, having a so-so career with the Sens, Angels, and some other teams. The weird thing is that he was a righty. Apparently he either figured that winning 20 as a southpaw was overrated, or he really wanted to show Pops that he was his own man.

  6. Jeff,

    Just found the fantasy bragging rights league, and even after only reading the first chapter I’m already hooked. Seems like a fun departure from the normal.

    • Read on, my friend. It is relatively short, but most sweet.

  7. Where can I find the entire story .
    Many thanks

    • I had assumed that there was a button to push at the bottom of each post to bring you to the next chapter. Apparently not.

      So the way to get the whole story is to scroll down on the home page ( that has the final chapter at the top, click on “Older Entries”, scroll down to the bottom of that, push the same button again and you should have everything. Just need to read it all from the bottom up, which naturally isn’t ideal.

      I fully intend to publish this in book form soon, along with Dear Hank and Mystery Ball ’58, so if you want to wait it will be an easier read, though probably without all the fun graphics.

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