Chapter 7: Whiteness on the Edge of Town

Cool Papa Bell wasn't all that.

Like I figured, DiMaggio, Williams and Appling check themselves into separate rooms in the nicest Detroit hotel that allows white people, while the rest of us have to fend for ourselves in the scariest neighborhood in the city.

Its real name is Brightmoor, but some of the smart-aleck locals call it “White-more” and others go for “Milktown”. Prostitutes. fake preachers, reefer-crazed insurance peddlers and unshaven banjo players loiter on every sinister corner, and me and Cullenbine find ourselves walking faster than usual on the sidewalk. At one point we even think we smell lager beer on a passing woman’s breath. We know Foxx and Mize and some of the others went looking for a clean enough house of sexual repute, but not us. We got a tough series starting at Mack Park the next day and need a decent sleep more than anything.

So Chatterton’s Chess Parlor at Fenkell and Greydale seems good enough, despite the grizzled, shifty-eyed rookheads milling around under its black and red neon sign. Now I’ve spent a number of late nights in smoke-filled chess halls, but this one has ten dollar rooms upstairs and jolly Bix Beiderbecke music playing on a phonograph, so it seems just fine. The beds are lumpy and we have to murder a few spiders before settling under the sheets, but sleep’s no problem on the first night.

Cully’s already gone when I wake up, though, and I find him drinking a gigantic cup of coffee in a breakfast place at the corner, a jazzy look in his eye. “Got a good feeling about Ruffing today!” he says, slapping my back and throwing down his two dimes for the coffee, “Let’s go!”

We’re facing Martin Dihigo first, one of those ambi-fielding major leaguers who can play any position and just feels like pitching today. At 8-7, the Calloways are in no mood to be polite, having just had their pants pulled over their heads down in Birmingham, and their fans don’t let up with their racial bleats from the time we take the field for hitting practice. It isn’t like we weren’t expecting this in a few places, but Detroit is especially horrible. Reiser even gets an artichoke thrown at his noggin while shagging a toss from me.

But you know what? All this does is get us going at the plate. Pistol Pete, in center against the righty for the slumping DiMaggio, rips a single with one gone in the 1st, Ted wallops one onto the next street and we’re up 2-0! After Mize flies out I line a single on a weak fastball and Travis leaves me there but it just feels good to shut the crowd up for a few minutes.

And a few minutes is all it is. Cool Papa Bell, the Calloways’ manager and usual leadoff man, has a look in his eye today I’d rather not remember. He dumps a single right in front of me to start Detroit’s attack, gets to third on a Home Run Johnson single and scores on a Chino Smith fly that backs me to the fence. But when Joe Gordon and his .125 average cracks a triple with one out in our 2nd, I know it’s going to be a good day. Yep, Ruffing and Appling follow with singles, Reiser sac flies in another one and it’s 4-1.

Back come the Callows, with a Frog Redus homer, Rev Cannady double and a scoring single by their pitcher. Then I get into the act for a change, doubling in Mize after his two-bagger. Back and forth we go, but when Home Run Johnson supplies his namesake leading off the 7th and a double and two singles follow, we’re down 6-5 going to the 8th. The dumbest fans are screaming bile at us more than ever, but even the well-heeled sections, stuffed with automobile executives in expensive suits–no doubt part of the Grover Edsel Family which runs this town—can’t leave us alone.

Even worse, Appling had taken me out after my fourth at bat to put Keller in for defense, so all I can do is just sit on the bench and watch. Mize singles with out, and up walks King Kong himself. WHAM!! That ball gets out of Mack like it skipped on its check. We’re up 7-6, and the place doesn’t even have a second to whine before Cecil Travis belts the next pitch off the foul pole in right! I tell ya, it’s like someone just put a cork in the crowd’s bottle. Dave Brown comes on to get the last five of us, but Ruffing rolls them from there, and we tear through those showers and out of that place before they realize what hit ’em.

Summer’s just started, by the way, and the balls should be flying out even more, but that also means sweatier nights trying to sleep. I wake up around three, and Cullenbine’s not in his bed again, but I’m too tired to look for him, pour some cold water on my head and just re-collapse.

Game 2 is like a June lightning storm. Whit Wyatt gets his second start and he’s fabulous, but Slim Jones is even better and we’re down 2-1 when Whit bats for himself and walks with two gone in our 8th. Appling beats out a hit and here’s Foxx, who tripled and scored our only run of the game so far. Cully’s dozing in the dugout next to me and I give him a poke, seconds before Foxx CRUSHES one high to left. Frog races back, looks up and it’s outta here! 4-2 Dorsey boys! Dizzy Dismukes tries his luck, Cool Papa anxious to get him out there again after the Armstrongs destroyed his brain in that extra-inning nightmare last time. But Dizzy is just wobbly, and we get him for two walks, Williams and DiMaggio singles and two extra runs in the 9th. Two in a row, folks, and we’re 6-11!

Of course what this does is put our lives in jeopardy. Heading back to Chatterton’s, we pass under two or three straw-filled white dummies hanging from nooses on lamp posts. Pickup trucks filled with angry Calloways fans rumble through Brightmoor, hurling fruits and vegetables at whatever they can. Cullenbine seems even more jumpy than the last few nights, and this time when loud nearby shouting wakes me up and I see he’s out of his bed again, I throw on some clothes and hurry downstairs.

A mob of yelling chessies crowds around a table in the center of the room, throwing dollar bills down, yelling at each other. I squeeze my way through and see Cully, with nothing but three pawns, a king and a knight left on his board, staring down Michigan Melvin, the fattest, dirtiest, smartest-looking chess player around. Melvin has his queen and both bishops zeroing in on Cully’s king. I shake my friend.

“What the hell are you doing??”

“I’m close, Heath! I’m close! I can beat him!”

“Don’t you know who you’re playing, you idiot?”

“Of course I do! But they’re close! Every game’s been close!”

God only knows how much of Cully’s hard-earned Dorsey pay is gone, and if I knew he was a chess junkie I never would’ve roomed here.

“He’ll kill you—”

The crowd hushes me as Melvin raises his hand. Pauses to scratch one of his mutton chops, then slides his queen across the board, topples one of Cully’s final pawns.

“MATE,” he utters, the floor and walls rattling with his thunderous proclamation. Cheers erupt, money flies, and Cully starts to fall off his chair. I catch him.

“One more game, Heath…Just one more—”

I slap him to his senses, drag him out of the hall.

We end up dozing the rest of the night on a pair of benches by the river. “Appling doesn’t play me enough, that’s why this happened,” he says, but I tell him that’s belunkey. He’s been a chessaholic since he was 18, and shouldn’t be within five miles of a knight-pit like Chatterton’s, let alone Michigan Melvin.

Anyway, we’re both wiped out for the last ballgame, and it seems to be Thornton Lee’s problem, too. Our best pitcher so far has nothing, giving up two runs on four hits in the 1st, then SEVEN runs in the 3rd after we give him a 3-2 lead, capped by a grand slam by backup catcher Bill Perkins. None other than Bobby Feller comes on to throw three shutout innings, but then the back end of our pen, Wagner and Chandler, ruin the day some more. It’s a shame because we smack around Cannonball Dick Redding pretty good, but the Callows plate six more runs the last two innings, and after we score four times in the 9th off Holland, including a pinch 3-run rocket off the bat of Mize, I get to fly out to Cool Papa with the bases loaded to end the series. Bell smiles for the first time in three days, the crowd serenades us off the field with their famous “Hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-ho” chant, and we manage to get our bus out of town without the windows being pelted with plums.

Hell, it’s our first winning series of the year, and we’re heading back home to take on the first-place Armstrongs—and hopefully, because I need to see a friendly face more than ever, my favorite lady fan from Birmingham will be there. —J.G. Heath

CHC 220 100 030 – 8 14 0
DET 120 100 200 – 6 14 1

W-Ruffing L-Dihigo HRS: Williams, Keller, Travis, Redus, H.R. Johnson

CHC 100 000 302 – 6 10 3
DET 000 011 000 – 2 7 0

W-Wyatt L-Jones HRS: Foxx, Young

CHC 012 200 104 – 10 16 1
DET 207 000 33x – 15 17 3

W-Redding L-Lee SV-Holland HRS: Mize, Perkins, Taylor

*   *   *

with Jupiter Dobbs
Pittsburgh Courier Baseball Blabber

ELLINGTONS 8-15-1, at JORDANS 3-12-3
at JORDANS 4-12-3, ELLINGTONS 1-4-1
ELLINGTONS 5-10-0, at JORDANS 2-6-0
Yes, readers, weeders and leaders, you’re seeing right. After Double-Duty Radcliffe put our Jordans to sleep and the Dukers drowned Harry Salmon with a 5-run 4th, Greenlee Field saw its first victory after seven opening swan songs. Maxwell Manning, coming off his suffocating win in Chicago, was all the mightier here, snuffing Newark on just four hits…The glow lasted for just one full moon, though, as Nip Winters tucked us under the covers for the finale, and our “star” threesome of Buck, Rap and Turkey continue to be offensively vacant. Wouldja believe Leonard’s at .205, Dixon .224 and Stearnes just .289 with five errors already in centerfield? If you would’ve bet me that Superman Pennington would be our best hitter after 18 games with his .356, .988 OPS and 18 runs knocked in, I would’ve taken your money clip of Booker T. Washingtons any day.

at BASIES 6-9-0, ARMSTRONGS 5-8-2
at BASIES 3-5-0, ARMSTRONGS 2-11-1
ARMSTRONGS 7-16-1, at BASIES 6-13-1 (11 innings)
Yessir, pigs are living with snakes today, Adolf Hitler’s given up politics and gone back to art school, and the Birmingham Armstrongs went and lost a series. In Kansas City, no less, but naturally went down kicking and screaming. That first game? 4-0 Basies, on a 4-hit shutout by Bill Drake going to the top of the 9th. Which is when the Armstrong Alarm Clock Company tends to go to work. A Biz Mackey triple and Alec Radcliff homer made it 4-2, and after Ted Trent came on, Bankhead walked, Scales doubled, Lloyd walked and Ben Taylor cleared the sacks with a triple to give them the lead. Out of their minds, this team. The Lord finally took pity though, for with Rube Foster on the hill, Blackwell, Wilson and Torriente all singled. Judy Johnson hit a girly double play to tie the game, before Oscar Charleston, of all folks, dropped Spoony Palm’s easy fly to end it…More strangeness the next day, as the Armies collected over twice as many hits but with K.C. up 3-1 Trent sashayed in to quell an 8th inning uprising and yes peoples, give Satchel Paige Victory Number One on the year. He stunk like sulfur once more, issuing 10 of the 11 Armstrong hits but this time enjoyed the luck of an Irish whitey…Basie luck was gone with the wind for the final act, though, as K.C. came this close to sweeping Birmingham out of Missouri. Tied 5-5 after early ball-mashing by both squads, the Counts had five straight innings to get a winning tally against Bullet Joe Rogan but just couldn’t do it. A Pop Lloyd single, steal and Buck O’Neil double ignited a two-run rally in the 11th to end matters, before Rogan liquidated Wilson, Wells and Parnell with men afoot and kept the door-knocking Ellingtons one game behind….Our Jordans will host these same Basies at Greenlee next, so see you then, baseball bees and flowers!

Get your stats right here…

1.135 Jimmie Foxx, CHC
1.080 Ted Williams, CHC
1.060 John Beckwith, DET
1.059 Spoony Palm, KC
0.999 Home Run Johnson, DET
0.994 Oscar Charleston, BRM
0.988 Superman Pennington, PIT

.395 Home Run Johnson, DET
.380 Dick Lundy, NWK
.375 Pop Lloyd, BRM
.359 Ray Dandridge, NWK
.356 Superman Pennington, PIT

7 John Beckwith, DET
6 Spoony Palm, KC
5 Ted Williams, CHC
4 Wild Bill Wright, NWK
4 Bill Monroe, NWK

24 John Beckwith, DET
18 Superman Pennington, PIT
18 Chino Smith, DET
17 OScar Charleston, BRM
17 Mule Suttles, NWK

3 Oscar Charleston, BRM
3 John Beckwith, DET

16 Cool Papa Bell, DET
14 Josh Gibson, NWK
13 Ted Williams, CHC
13 Superman Pennington, PIT

FOR THE RECORD: Josh Gibson, NWK: .284/.398 OBP/.432 SLG, 2 homers, 8 RBIs

1.59 Roosevelt Davis, DET
1.97 Nip Winters, NWK
2.20 Big Bill Foster, BRM

1.03 Roosevelt Davis, DET
1.12 Nip Winters, NWK
1.16 Big Bill Foster, BRM

5-0 Nip Winters, NWK
4-0 Leon Day, BRM

35 Smokey Joe Williams, NWK
32 Leroy Matlock, PIT
32 Slim Jones, DET
30 Satchel Paige, KC

FOR THE RECORD: Satchel Paige, KC: 1-3, 4.21 ERA, 30/7 SO/BB ratio, but 57 hits allowed in 40 IP

Detroit +41
Newark +12
Birmingham +10
Kansas City –8
Pittsburgh –12
Chicago –43

Team Hitting, Team Pitching, and Assorted Miscellany

Birmingham Armstrongs 13 5 .722
Newark Ellingtons 12 6 .667 1
Detroit Calloways 9 9 .500 4
Pittsburgh Jordans 8 10 .444 5
Kansas City Basies 6 12 .333 7
Chicago Dorseys 6 12 .333 7

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Published in: on April 24, 2011 at 6:19 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I haven’t left any previous comments about this series, but I just wanted you to know that your writing and imagination always keep me coming back.
    Great work, my man.

  2. It’s going to be finish of mine day, except before
    ending I am reading this fantastic article to improve my know-how.

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