SABR

Dave Black

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame has an extensive library, packed with research materials. Most players have a file at the Hall, whose contents are made available to researchers. Some files are fairly thick. Most contain some basic information about the player, including a certificate of death for a deceased player, and newspaper clippings that mention the player in question. When writing this biography, the file on David Black was the slimmest of the 400 or so consulted by this author. It consists of one piece of paper with these 21 words: “Started playing professional ball in 1914 with Waterloo. Salary $125.00 per month. 1914 VIOLATED HIS CONTRACT and joined Chicago Federal Club.”

That's all.

In an earlier version of this biography, we reported failure to find his family through genealogical research.

Baseball records had long indicated that David Black (no middle name is indicated) was born on April 19, 1892, in Chicago. Had he a more uncommon name, tracing him in census records might have been easier, but no David Black born on that date in Chicago, or on that date for a couple of years before or a couple of years after, could be turned up.

Black died at an early age – he was 44 years old – on October 27, 1936, in Pittsburgh. Or so we thought.

Then Peter Morris stepped in and concluded that Black was born more than a year and half later than previously understood and died more than 22 years later. Morris is the author of the highly-recommended book Cracking Baseball's Cold Cases: Filling in the Facts About 17 Mystery Major Leaguers, published by McFarland in 2013.

As a result of his work, we now show Black as born in Chicago on November 8, 1893, and having died there as well, on June 17, 1959.

He was a pitcher, first thought to be a right-hander, though he batted from the left side of the plate. He’s listed at 6-feet-2 with a playing weight of 175 pounds. Research in the course of preparing this biography makes it clear that Black was a left-hander on the mound.

Black’s debut in the majors was with the 1914 Chi-Feds in the short-lived Federal League. In 1915 he played for the Chi-Feds (now called the Chicago Whales) and the Baltimore Terrapins. And then it was eight years until he played in the majors again, appearing in two games for the Boston Red Sox in 1923.

To write Black’s biography looked like a true challenge.

The first mention we could find in an initial search of newspapers described David Black as “pitcher of the Baltimore Federal league baseball team” and said he was “born in Chicago 22 years ago today.” That ran in the November 8, 1915, edition of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. That would put his birthdate as November 8, 1893 – not April 19, 1892. A search on Dave Black turned up reference to him joining the Chi-Feds as a Chicago semipro.1

Indeed, the November birthdate was later found by Peter Morris on Black's World War I draft registration, though as November 8, 1894. At the time, he was listed with a wife and stepchild and working at Shaw Taxi-cab as "investigator for employment." As Morris notes, "Curiously, in the asking for any infirmities that might prevent him from serving in the military, Black reported that he was left-handed."2

Morris found a listing for Black in Chicago living with his parents William Black and Martha (Stock) Black and eight siblings in 1900. His parents died within the decade and by 1910 he was living with his sister Maude Pitts and her husband J.F. Pitts, who Morris explains later served as team doctor for the Chicago Cubs. In 1920, he was listed at the same 3621 Seely Avenue address he'd been at in 1900, with a spouse named Alice, and providing his profession as "ball player."

Back to baseball, Black was one of 10 Chicago men on the Chi-Feds team, and he pitched in eight games for the team.3 He had one decision, a victory, in the last of his eight appearances. Joe Tinker was the manager of the team. After training with the team in Shreveport, Black debuted on May 2, 1914. Black’s first game was in Chicago’s Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field) against the visiting Pittsburgh Rebels. He worked the ninth inning and gave up one hit and no runs. Pittsburgh won the game, 7-4. It was Black’s only appearance between Opening Day and June 10. He pitched twice in June – four innings on the 10th and two more on the 12th. He gave up one run in the first game and none in the second. Chicago lost both games. James Crusinberry of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Black “displayed a swell curve ball” in the June 12 game, striking out three.4

Black pitched twice in July, on the 4th and 22nd, and Chicago lost both those games as well. He gave up five runs in one inning on the 4th and two runs in three innings on the 22nd. Black didn’t pitch at all in August.

He ended the year with three more appearances. The first two were, as were all his prior appearances, in relief. And both of those games were losses, too. On September 11 Buffalo beat Chicago 12-0. Seven of the runs were charged to Black, in three innings, but the game was already lost. He pitched two innings with one unearned run in the loss on September 28.

Black had, to this point, pitched in seven games, and – even though Chicago’s record was 82-63 and they were in first place on September 28 – every one of the games in which he appeared had been a loss.

Indianapolis clinched the pennant on October 6. There was just one game left on the schedule – October 8. Tinker gave Black his first major-league start. Black pitched a complete game and won, beating the sixth-place Kansas City Packers, 8-3. He struck out seven and walked none, and allowed seven hits. Black’s ERA for the season was 6.12, but he had a very good K/BB ratio – 19 strikeouts and four bases on balls. (Sporting Life reported 20 K and six BB.)5 He’d worked 25 innings and given up 19 runs, 17 earned. At the plate, Black was 2-for-6 (both singles) in eight plate appearances. For the year, he had an earned-run average of 6.12.

The Chi-Feds finished second, just a game and a half behind the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

At first, it didn’t look as though Black would be back in 1915. Sporting Life writer Sam Weller wrote in February, “Black and McGuire, both Chicago pitchers, did not develop as Tinker expected they would.” And another news story concluded, “Dave Black, a Chicago semi-pro, is a good pitcher but it doesn’t look as if he is good enough to measure up to big league requirements.”6

The Chicago Chi-Feds, known as the Whales in 1915, needed Black, as it turned out, and he got reasonably steady work, appearing in 25 games, starting ten of them, from May 7 (when he allowed just three hits in 6⅔ innings) through August 26. He was 6-7, but with a good 2.45 ERA. He walked more batters, 33 to 43 strikeouts, but gave up fewer hits than innings. His ERA may have been a little deceiving, in that he gave up 46 runs in his 121⅓ innings, but 13 of them were unearned. (A big chunk of them were the five unearned runs he gave up in the first game of a July 31 doubleheader at Weeghman, a game he won, 7-5.) That win capped a stretch of five consecutive wins for him.

Black didn’t pitch at all for the first two weeks of September, and was traded (along with a player to be named later) to the Baltimore Terrapins on the 14th for left-handed pitcher Bill Bailey. Black pitched in eight games for Baltimore (four starts) and was 1-3, with a 3.71 ERA. Given the demise of the Federal League after the 1915 season, it’s possible the pitcher to be named later was never named.

Black signed in 1916 to pitch for the Peoria Distillers in the Class B Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League). With an 84-50 record, Peoria won the pennant and Black’s 159 strikeouts led the league. He was 18-10, with a 2.06 ERA.7

Then Black largely disappeared for about six years. Was he in prison? The September 16, 1916, issue of Sporting Life reported: “Dave Black, pitcher for the pennant-winning Peoria Club, of the I.I.I. League, was arrested at the park at Peoria, Ills., on September 4, a few minutes after he had won the first game of a double-header against Hannibal. Black’s arrest was requested by the police of Hannibal, Mo., on a State warrant charging him with a felony. A woman of Hannibal is said to have preferred the charges. Black was admitted to bail and left immediately for Hannibal for his hearing.”

Perhaps the charges didn’t stick. Black was mentioned in January 1917 as having recommended a fielder to the Distillers. And in the following March, Sporting Life said that he was expected to be one of three returning veteran pitchers for Peoria.8 But it seems no more was heard of him for quite a while, save for a note in the Rockford (Illinois) Daily Register Gazette that “Dave Black has not shown up at Peoria.”9

Black popped up pitching semipro ball in Chicago for the Galligans, shutting out the famed Logan Squares team, 2-0, in August 1917. Later the same month, he was pitching for the Shaw Taxis, and worked a 1-1, 10-inning tie against the visiting Fisk Red Tops from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts (whose pitcher was Pete Wood, brother of Smoky Joe.)10 Black threw a 13-inning, 1-0 win for the Galligans against Hammond in September.

In June 1918 Black shows up again pitching for the Galligans. He also pitched, both in 1917 and 1918 for the Magnets.

In June 1919 manager John Castle of the Three-I League’s Rockford Rox said he had signed Black, “formerly one of Peoria’s standbys.”11 The Daily Register Gazette said that Black “has been twirling for Chicago independent teams of late.”12 And, oddly, he seemed to keep doing so – working for the Romeos against the J.P. Sheehans on June 22 and for the Gunthers in August and September.

Black disappeared from the news for a couple of years, but turned up once more in September 1921 for the White Giants, playing against the “crack team of the 77th Street barn of the Street Car Men’s league.”13

When the Boston Red Sox signed Black on January 27, 1923, he was listed as a “semi-pro pitcher from Chicago.”14 A syndicated International News Service story, however, called him a “promising lefty from Racine, Wisconsin.”15

It seemed as though it was all or nothing for Black; he didn’t want to pitch in the minors. He was working for a commercial house in Chicago and pitching semipro ball. Scout Mike Donlin sent a telegram to the Red Sox saying he had signed Black. He’d won 11 games in a row at one point in Chicago in 1922 and won 19 games of the 23 in which he appeared, and Donlin had wanted to sign him midway through 1922 “but at that time Black had what he regarded as a good position in some business concern in Chicago and did not care to abandon it to play baseball exclusively.”16

The story in the next day’s Boston Globe announcing the signing also said, “Black evidently aims to play in the big leagues or not at all, for he intimated that he would not stand for any seasoning process in the minors.”17 He’d been given a leave of absence by his company, long enough to go to spring training with the Red Sox and see if he could make the grade. The Red Sox took 17 pitchers to Hot Springs, Arkansas, that year. The January 28 Globe also called Black a “southpaw” – only remarkable in that baseball record books have always listed him as right-handed.

A month later, the Globe called Black a “heavy, rangey pitcher from the Racine, Midwest League team.”18

Black made the team and headed north, but appeared in only two games, both on the road. The first was in Washington on May 4. He threw one inning, the eighth, facing four batters, and allowed one hit, retiring the other three. Washington had a 7-4 lead and had no need to bat in the bottom of the ninth.

Before the game in Chicago on May 10, he was feted by 150 workers from Wilson and Co., the packing plant where he had worked in the receiving department for several years. Company president Thomas E. Wilson presented him with a “handsome diamond ring” and his thoughtful fellow workers presented him with a live pig just before the game. The Globe reported that “Young Porky” greeted Black with a “violent squeal.”19 Black faced one batter in the game, pitching to first baseman Earl Sheely in the eighth inning, and giving up a single. George Murray then replaced Black. Sheely was thrown out trying to steal.

The very next day, Red Sox manager Frank Chance released Black unconditionally, perhaps leaving him behind in Chicago as the Red Sox made their way to St. Louis to play the Browns on the 12th.20 Perhaps it was at Black’s request? Maybe he was touched by the celebration by his fellow workers and wanted to return to Wilson and Co.? Perhaps he wanted to spend time reassuring Young Porky? We do not know. He seems to have spent some the rest of the year working for the Racine Horlicks.

The Rockford Morning Star ran a story in November 1923 that said, “Dave Black, a promising left hander with many mannerisms suggestive of Eddie Plank, had a Red Sox contract, but preferred Racine to Boston.” 21

Black pitched for Racine (Midwest League) again in 1924, but on June 26 he was in the Racine jail. He was arrested that day and pleaded guilty to an assault and battery warrant taken out by his wife, Alice.22 Though he was given 30 days, somehow he was back out and on the mound pitching for Racine on July 8 – though he lasted only two-thirds of an inning.23

Whatever happened in Racine didn’t stand in the way of Black’s pitching the winning 2-0 game for the Chicago Blues, defeating the Cermaks for the city semipro championship.24 He pitched for the Blues again in 1925 and 1926.

In 1927 he’s found on the mound working for the Belle Plaines team, and in 1928 for the Gibsons.

We could find little more in print than just these brief mentions in scattered semipro games. His listing in the 1930 census (uncovered by Peter Morris) shows him as a cigar store proprietor, married to a woman named Alice and her 21-year-old daughter Margret Abshier, a telephone operator at the time. His listing when registering for the draft at the time of the Second World War verified the November 8 birthdate and provided sister Maude as primary contact.

The next thing we know about Black is that he died on June 17, 1959. Morris had tracked the obituaries of his siblings, which mentioned him as a surviving sibling at least as late as 1958. An updating of the Cook County death database showed him with the date of June 17, 1959 death. He had been a receiving clerk, married to a second wife, and living in Chicago.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Black’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Jack V. Morris contributed to this biography with research of his own. As indicated above, Peter Morris made all the difference in presenting proper information regarding Black's life outside baseball. Significant information was provided to Peter Morris by Matt Rothenberg of the Giamatti Center at the Hall of Fame, which surely now has a thicker player file on Black.

Thanks to Tom Mueller for trying to track down Black's death in Pittsburgh.

 

Notes

1 Duluth (Minnesota) News-Tribune, March 4, 1914.

2 Email from Peter Morris to SABR's Biographical Research Committee chair Bill Carle.

3 The 10 players were noted in the December 8, 1914, Chicago Tribune.

4 Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1914.

5 Sporting Life, October 24, 1914.

6 Watertown (New York) Daily Times, March 26, 1915.

7 The Sporting News, October 5, 1916.

8 Sporting Life, March 31, 1917.

9 Daily Register Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), April 16, 1917.

10 Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1917.

11 Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), June 8, 1919. The news was reported in the Chicago Tribune on the same day.

12 Daily Register Gazette, June 13, 1919.

13 Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1921.

14 Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, January 28, 1923.

15 See, for instance, the Rockford Republic, March 21, 1923.

16 Boston Globe, January 26, 1923.

17 Boston Globe, January 27, 1923.

18 Boston Globe, February 25, 1923.

19 Boston Globe, May 11, 1923.

20 Boston Globe, May 12, 1923.

21 Rockford Morning Star, November 21, 1923.

22 Daily Register Gazette, June 27, 1924.

23 The Repository (Canton, Ohio), July 8, 1924.

24 Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1924.

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