SABR

Charlie Grant

This article was written by Brian McKenna.

Statistics and anecdotes of early black player Charlie Grant are minimal and sketchy at best. The difficulty in seeking reliable evidence is compounded by the fact that many during his time and still today have consistently confused him with the great Frank Grant, who played in several white leagues during the nineteenth century and was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2006. For example, umpire E.H. Wood in 1916 gave an interview to the Baltimore Afro American titled, “Tribute to Charley Grant.” Unfortunately, Wood was confused; the remarks he made clearly identified Frank Grant. Even scholarly works have confused the two and many recaps of Charlie Grant’s career have pieces of Frank’s achievements intermixed. It is true that the men were similar in their position -- second base -- and their skills in the field and on the bases.

Charlie Grant, no doubt, was an extremely fluid and slick-fielding second baseman. As the Sporting Life acknowledged, he was “a phenomenal fielder.” He was also very fast, and though his bat may not place him among the upper echelon of players, he ranks high in the pre-Negro League era. It’s undeniable that Grant’s teams won championship after championship and were among the best prior to the successful organized black leagues. A speedy, solid second baseman who often batted leadoff surely added a great deal to the mix. However, he is at times overshadowed by his more-renowned teammates – Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Sol White, Rube Foster and Pop Lloyd to name a few. Charlie Grant’s flame blew hard and bright during the crux of his career, from 1896 until he lost his starting position in 1908.

Today, he is most often recognized as the black player John McGraw tried to sneak into the majors as a Native American. Before spring training even began in the inaugural season of the American League, McGraw and Grant hooked up in the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. They devised a plan that identified Grant as a Cherokee Indian in an effort to add him to the Baltimore roster and circumvent the unwritten color line barring African-Americans. This is an early instance in which men of darker skin had to pass themselves off as someone acceptable to white baseball executives and fans. In the case of Grant that was as a Native American. Later, the issue would be revisited when major league managers became interested in Cuban ballplayers.

Charles Grant Jr. was born in or around Cincinnati. His family is listed as residing in Winton Place, about ten miles outside Cincinnati, in the 1880 U.S. Census. His exact birth date is a little harder to determine. His World War I registration card lists it at August 31, 1877; however, in the 1900 Census he claims February 1875 as the month and year of his birth. His tombstone reads 1874, but the 1880 U.S. Census (dated June 14) lists him as 4 years old. This tentatively suggests a birth date of August 31, in 1874, 1875, or perhaps 1876; 1877 seems unlikely.

Grant was born to Charles and Mary Grant. Mary was born circa 1857 in Kentucky. Charles Sr. was born circa 1849 in Ohio. He supported the family as a “hostler,” which is an antiquated term for horse groomsman or stableman. As others have noted, he may have trained the animals as well. In the 1880 Census the family is listed as mulatto.

Grant learned to play ball in and around Cincinnati, as his family soon relocated to the main city. He was righthanded and grew to be 5-foot-8 and weigh approximately 175 pounds. Not tall by any stretch -- not even for his time -- he was speedy and solidly built, and naturally athletic. Being that baseball breeds nicknames, he had two: Speedy and Cincy, both self explanatory. Negro league researcher John Holway claims that Grant was a pitcher before 1896 and was rumored to be an inventor of the screwball. Grant, though, made his name in the game as a second baseman. Negro League biographer James A. Riley referred to him as “one of the first great black ballplayers; he was a good hitter and smooth fielder.” Again, one has to wonder if the Frank Grant confusion doesn’t creep into some proclamations. Charlie Grant was indeed a very good player, but there were others before him and even his first teams included others of at least equal caliber.

In 1896 Grant joined the Page Fence Giants of Adrian, Michigan, sponsored as an advertising tool by the local Page Woven Wire Fence Company. The team began play in 1895 and was formed by middle infielders Bud Fowler and Home Run Johnson and, of course, financial backers. The Giants were one of the first successful black barnstorming teams. The club was professional despite white baseball’s tendency to categorize them as semi-pro, perhaps because they played many white semipro clubs in their travels. Adrian was too small to support the club, so they survived by hitting the road for much of the season, playing seemingly anywhere a suitable opponent could be found.

“They traveled around the country in a custom-made railroad car which featured sleeping quarters, a cook and a porter,” notes the Negro League Baseball Players Association. The railroad car was a part of the attraction. Players theatrically emerged from it dressed in full uniform and firefighter’s hats. Then they rode bicycles (the Monarch Bicycle Company of Massachusetts was also a sponsor) around each town trying to drum up attendance for the game later that day. The men also entertained during the games to keep fans interested and amused.

Grant became the club’s starting second baseman, replacing Sol White, who had taken over running the team when Fowler departed for the Adrian entry in the integrated Michigan State League. At one point the ’96 Page Fence Giants won 32 consecutive games. At the end of the season, they took a fifteen-game series over the New York Cubans, 10-5, to claim the unofficial colored championship. In 1897 the Giants won 82 straight games and posted a 125-12 overall record. Grant stayed with the club through 1898. Despite its success on the field, the barnstormers suffered financial setbacks during the latter two seasons. In early 1899 the club folded and many of the men including Grant, Sherman Barton, William Binga, Pete Burns, Chappie Johnson, Joe Miller, Pat Patterson, George Wilson and Home Run Johnson transferred to the newly formed Columbia Giants, a club some claim was an extension of the Page Fence Giants.

The Columbia Giants were named after their sponsor, the Columbia Social Club of Chicago. The social club spent lavishly to promote itself, generously equipping the ballplayers with home and road uniforms (a rarity among black clubs) among other items. The team played at Wentworth Avenue and 39th Street; when the Chicago White Sox occupied the field 1901-10, it became known as South Side Park. In early April, Columbia poached the strong, cross-town Chicago Unions for pitcher Harry Buckner, sparking a running feud between the clubs. With the bulk of the Page Fence Giants and the addition of Buckner, the Columbia Giants soon established themselves as the top team in the “west.” Near the end of the season in September, they defeated the Unions in a two-game series, 4-1 and 6-0, to claim the western colored championship.

In 1900 Sol White joined the Columbia Giants at shortstop to work the keystone with Grant. The pair roomed together as well. No playoff occurred that year. On February 26, 1901, Baltimore Orioles co-owner and manager John McGraw arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a popular vacation spot, for a little preseason rejuvenation. Vacationers headed there to partake in the thermal springs, to get a little sun, to visit Bathhouse Row and to enjoy the nighttime festivities and perhaps to gamble. Baseball men headed there before the season to purge the excesses of the winter, tighten their muscles, and gain their wind for the grueling upcoming summer battles. They also enjoyed meeting up with their colleagues. This spring was a little different as a rival major league was challenging the National League for the first time in a decade. Not only did McGraw want the benefits of Hot Springs, he wanted to sign a player or two (or three or four) for his Baltimore roster. With little respect between the leagues for the other’s reserve roster, it was open season on tampering and contract jumping. All managers took part unabashedly.

Also in Hot Springs were winter residents, some of whom were black professional ballplayers working in the hotels, bathhouses or elsewhere in the community. Off duty, they would get up a game every now and again when a decent gate could be attracted. Charlie Grant, who was expected to soon rejoin the Columbia Giants, was working at the massive Eastman Hotel as a bellhop. How exactly Grant and McGraw came to interact and ultimately devise their plan is left to conjecture. As ballplayers, they may have known each other. Also in the mix was Chicago White Sox player-manager Clark Griffith, who arrived in Hot Springs at the turn of March. Griffith and Grant were both employed by Chicago-based clubs for several years and may have been acquainted. This is more likely when one considers that Griffith attended more Negro League games than any other man in the history of organized white baseball. One or the other may have approached Grant, or he may have approached them. The Chicago Tribune claimed that Grant “butted in” on the major league managers while they were conversing outside the hotel.

Another seemingly credible scenario was presented by Dave Wyatt in the Indianapolis Freeman on February 19, 1910. Wyatt, another black Chicago ballplayer and later a sportswriter, claimed that the idea originated with him. He was working as a rubdown man in one of the bathhouses that March and knew all the parties involved. Wyatt approached McGraw or perhaps Griffith about giving Grant a tryout. He also claimed that the major leaguers knew very well the racial identity of Grant. It was Wyatt, though, who proposed introducing Grant as an Indian. Because of his relatively light skin, high cheekbones and straight hair, Grant had previously been compared to a Native American, if only in jest.

In Wyatt’s words, “Grant was one of our greatest baseball players. Some years ago he accompanied the writer to Hot Springs where we hatched a plan to better the condition of colored players. I placed the same before McGraw, whom I knew personally. ... We manufactured [a name] -- Grant-a-Muscogee. This made a hit with McGraw, but in the meantime some newspaperman got ‘hep’ to us and sent the news broadcast that the Indian find’s name was Tokohoma. The idea that McGraw did not know Grant was a colored man is all bosh. ... In justice to Grant, I will say that at no time did he want to pass as anything but a colored player. There were a half dozen players on the Baltimore club then who knew Grant personally; two of them were Mike Donlin and Roger Bresnahan. George Rohe was raised up with him in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

On March 8 or 9, the 25-year-old Grant was given a tryout on the lawn of the Eastman. Griffith hit grounders and pitched to the potential recruit. Per the Chicago Tribune, “He was tried on all kinds of hard ones and the more McGraw saw him play the better he liked him. The Indian stopped everything that came his way, covering a large amount of ground, and handling himself like a natural-born ballplayer.” McGraw, impressed, told newspapermen that he was bringing the second baseman with him to Baltimore the following month, where the Orioles were conducting spring training. He had already signed Heinie Reitz to cover second base for the Orioles, but he was nearly 34 years old and had been out of the majors for more than a year.

One can read into the cover-up with the first newspaper references. On March 10 the Chicago Tribune printed: “McGraw has found at Hot Springs a Cherokee Indian named Tokohama, a fine player. He is practicing there with him every day and teaching him all the tricks of the game, with the intention of trying him at second base. ... McGraw writes [Wilbert] Robinson that the redskin is a wonder.” This article shows several things. First, even though spring training hadn’t even started, the Tribune apparently had a reporter in Hot Springs, probably accompanying Griffith. Second, this reporter may have been the one to initiate the “Tokohama” reference. Tokohama is close to and may be a bastardization of Tuskahoma, the capital of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. Grant would also be referred to in print as Tokohoma, Tokahoma, Tokahana, To Ka Ho Ma, Tokie and Toke. Third, the reporter was privy to McGraw’s telegram to Robinson, the Orioles’ other co-owner, who was home in Baltimore working out with some players and overseeing the construction of a new ballpark. The importance of the latter is quickly shown.

The following day, March 11, the Baltimore Sun printed a reference from Robinson that clearly identified the new player as “the Cherokee Indian Grant.” This shows a couple of things. First, Baltimore didn’t have a sportswriter in Hot Springs; their information came secondhand through the telegram received by Robinson. Second, the plan needed tweaking. McGraw hadn’t informed Robinson to keep the Grant part a secret. In the end it didn’t matter. The major newspapers never noticed. It would be a few more weeks until “Grant” was mentioned again. A longer, more detailed, piece appeared in the Baltimore Sun five days later but for some reason the Grant name was never mentioned, perhaps indicating that Robinson and the local reporters were finally brought in on the ruse and asked to maintain it.

On March 15, the Washington Post formally announced, “McGraw ... has signed a Cherokee Indian named Tokohama for his club this year.” A couple of stories expound on the significance of the signing. Per the Portsmouth Herald, “Manager McGraw of the Baltimore ball team claims to have secured a treasure in Tokahana, the full blooded Indian who will succeed [Louis] Sockalexis, the Cleveland Indian, in the baseball world. Tokahana is said to be even a better player than Sockalexis.” The Brooklyn Eagle also noted, “McGraw, in order to secure a little free advertising, has signed a ‘real live Indian.’ Two or three years ago a first class redskin ballplayer by the name of [Sockalexis] was brought out, but fire water was too good and Socks soon sank into oblivion. The Indian, however, was the hit of the season and the cause of many extra dollars being collected at the box office. Probably McGraw is after the same kind of a game. ...”

On March 21, the Brooklyn Eagle printed the Orioles’ expectant lineup with Reitz still slated at second base and Tokohoma listed as a utility man. In Hot Springs near the end of March, McGraw landed solid ballplayers Jimmy Williams (the eventual second baseman in 1901) and Turkey Mike Donlin. Grant then was seen as a potential right fielder. On March 25 McGraw left Hot Springs, leaving Grant and several of his men behind. A few days later on the 29th, the Boston Globe announced that Tokohama, Jimmy Sheckard, Joe McGinnity and Chappie Snodgrass left Hot Springs for Baltimore with a stop along the way at New Orleans.

Also, in the Globe on the 29th was a note that stated, “McGraw says ‘Tobe’ is a little uncivilized as yet.” This is an indication that McGraw was in some way souring on Grant. Some have claimed that the manager believed that Grant needed more seasoning, particularly fielding ground balls. This assertion, however, is ridiculous; Grant was an outstanding fielder. It may be that the addition of Williams and Donlin dropped Grant a few pegs on the Orioles’ depth chart. This is understandable. Another explanation is that McGraw was already under pressure to relinquish the black player -- which seems to jive with newspaper accounts as the ruse was soon to be revealed.

By March 31, the story linking Tokohama and Grant began to hit the major newspapers. As a prelude, the Brooklyn Eagle declared on the previous day, “McGraw has been making many idle boasts.” The reader is left to his own imagination here. On April 2, the Washington Post noted, “It is being persistently stated that Tokohama, McGraw’s Cherokee Indian, is Grant, the old Negro player.” The Ironwood Times expounded, “The crack Indian baseball player whom ‘Muggsy’ McGraw discovered at Hot Springs has turned out to be a Negro. Negroes are barred by the league ball clubs.” McGraw kept to his plan. First, he played off the confusion that misidentified Tokohama as the famed player Frank Grant (who the reference “the old Negro player” alluded to) rather than his true identity, Charlie Grant. Grant himself then gave an interview declaring himself as the product of an Indian mother and white father. He even dared newspapermen to confirm this with his mother who lived in Lawrence, Kansas. Second, McGraw flatly declared, “He is a real Indian and not the Negro Grant as alleged.” Sadly, the Cedar Rapids Republican summed up the feelings of today, “But for his colored blood, he would have been in the National League four or five years ago, for he is a finished ballplayer.”

The Chicago Tribune wasn’t buying it. Clark Griffith had probably informed White Sox owner Charles Comiskey of Tokohama’s identity. Moreover, as noted, someone from the Tribune was probably in on the deception from the beginning, who may have also told Comiskey or Ban Johnson perhaps (both lived in Chicago). The White Sox owner famously declared something to the effect that, “If McGraw keeps this Indian, I’ll put a Chinaman on third base.” The Washington Post sarcastically commented, “McGraw will have to exhibit Tokohama in all his war paint before the Chicago fans will believe that he has signed a genuine red-man.” The obvious implication here is that Chicago, a baseball Mecca, was quite familiar with Grant and his background.

Grant didn’t make the trip to Baltimore, rerouting to Chicago instead. McGinnity and Snodgrass arrived in Baltimore on April 4 but the Sun noted, “Tokahoma, the Indian, is still in Indian Territory.” This suggests that for some reason McGraw backed off the player. Whether American League president Ban Johnson was involved in the decision to relinquish Grant is not known. It’s not hard to envision some kind of private communication with McGraw but none has been unearthed. It should be noted that many, including Dave Wyatt, assumed that Johnson took an active role. Unfortunately, McGraw never fully addressed the Grant topic in subsequent interviews or in his biography.

On April 6, Grant rejoined the Columbia Giants. Per the Chicago Tribune, “Tokahoma, McGraw’s alleged Cherokee Indian, arrived yesterday, and will be seen on second base [for Columbia].” Chicago fans enthusiastically welcomed him back. In a ceremony they roundly cheered, “Our boy, Charlie Grant” and presented him with an expensive alligator bag. It has been consistently misstated that Chicago fans blew Grant’s cover with these gestures. But, at the earliest, the celebration was done a week after the cat was out of the bag, as Grant still hadn’t reached the city yet when his cover was blown.

McGraw’s time in the American League was rocky. It’s not that he approached the game differently; it’s that Ban Johnson wasn’t accepting the rowdy behavior that the National League had traditionally allowed. Griffith and McGraw were two of the biggest umpire baiters in the game. Eventually, Griffith conformed, more or less, to the decorum Johnson insisted upon. McGraw couldn’t. Within the first two weeks of the season, McGraw was suspended. Around the same time he lost Steve Brodie to injury. Jimmy Sheckard returned to the Dodgers and the manager released Chappie Snodgrass, Stan Yerkes and a couple other players. On May 18, McGraw sent a telegram to Grant, who was with the Columbia Giants in South Bend, Indiana. Per the Chicago Tribune, “Tokohama has been ordered to report to Baltimore at Boston on Monday [the 20th].” The recall was partly out  of necessity but was also probably a poke at Ban Johnson, daring a response. Whatever specifically the response was isn’t known. Grant, though, never joined the Orioles. The Washington Post interjected a little sarcasm on the 28th: “McGraw’s alleged Indian is in Chicago [as were the Orioles], but will not accompany the team. Why not?”

About the same time Grant rejoined the Columbia Giants in 1901, the Chicago Unions raided the Giants for Harry Buckner and Pat Patterson, severely weakening the club. In August Frank Leland raided both rosters, the Giants and Unions, to form the Chicago Union Giants. Grant remained with Columbia. Despite the heavy personnel losses, Columbia defeated the Union Giants in a two-game championship at the end of the season. It was, however, the end of the Columbia Giants, as they soon reorganized.

Grant joined the upstart Philadelphia Giants, another top team of the era, in 1902. The new club was formed by Sol White and two newspaper men, H. Walter Schlichter of the white Philadelphia Item and Harry Smith of the black Philadelphia Tribune. White managed the club. The men were put on salary, ranging from $60 to $90 a month. In 1903, Grant jumped to the Cuban X-Giants, out of Chicago, with Home Run Johnson and Pete Hill. Standout pitcher Rube Foster was also with the X-Giants. Near the end of the season, they took part in the first official black playoff versus White’s Philadelphia Giants. Between September 12 and 26, the clubs met seven times. The X-Giants won five games to cop the championship. Grant went 6 for 27.

After losing the championship, Philadelphia raided its opponent for Grant, Foster and Hill for the 1904 season. Future boxing heavyweight champion Jack Johnson also played on the club at times at first base. The Philadelphia Giants posted a 95-41-6 record. Again, Grant took part in the playoffs, against his former team, the X-Giants. Philadelphia won the swing game, of a three-game series, at Atlantic City on September 3 to capture the championship. Grant placed a meager two hits in twelve at-bats. Philadelphia fielded one of the elite infields in early black baseball history in 1905: Sol White, first base; Grant, second; Grant “Home Run” Johnson, shortstop; Bill Monroe, third base. They notched a 134-24-3 record and faced the Brooklyn Royal Giants in mid September for the title. Philadelphia won all three games; Grant went 2 for 8.

Grant Johnson left the club in 1906 for Brooklyn, leaving the relatively weak-hitting Nate Harris to take over shortstop. Philadelphia still posted an impressive 134-21 record and took the title over the Cuban X-Giants. It was Grant’s fourth straight championship. The Giants then played a three-game series against the Philadelphia A’s, losing each 2-1, 5-4, and 5-0. Over the winter, Grant headed to Cuba with other Philly and Brooklyn players to play as members of the X-Giants against several Cuban clubs.

Pop Lloyd and Bruce Petway joined Philadelphia for the 1907 season, but the club’s dominant pitcher, Rube Foster, and Pete Hill and several others departed for the Chicago Giants, disgruntled with the tight-fisted Schlichter. There was no championship in 1907 but some concede the title to Philadelphia. A reviewer of black baseball history could claim that Grant played on the top regional club every year from 1896 to 1907.

In 1908, Grant, perhaps as old as 34, lost his starting job to Nux James. The following season he joined the Philadelphia Quaker Giants with Sol White. Grant played shortstop with John Hill at second. From 1910 until his retirement in 1916, Grant played with second-tier black clubs. In 1910 he was based in New York with the Black Sox and the Lincoln Giants. In 1913 he started at second base for the Philadelphia Giants. During his three final years as an active player, Grant stayed near his lifelong home with the Cincinnati Stars. The Native American stunt came to define Grant’s career. From 1901 through the end of his career, he was a major attraction because of it. Even in 1916 (May 27) the Chicago Defender commented: “Charley Grant, whom McGraw tried to work off as an Indian on the Giant team [sic] several years ago, only to be foiled by the National Commission [sic], made his appearance on the infield for the Stars, and his all-around fielding was quite a sensation.” It interesting to note that Grant captured the majority of the Defender’s attention despite several factors: he was over forty years old; the Stars were crushed 18-0; an extremely young John Beckwith knocked two doubles and a triple for the Louisville White Sox that day.

The combination of strong black clubs and a variety of cities or communities that supported them started to jell around 1906. This led to stronger and stronger intra- and inter-city competition -- a prerequisite for league play. Unfortunately, Grant’s career was on the decline shortly after this and he never took part in what is traditionally referred to as Negro League Baseball. The first successful black league didn’t begin play until 1920.

Around 1907, Grant married Eva May Irvin, a Cincinnati native born in April 1879. They separated and divorced sometime between 1911 and 1918. They lived with her parents not far from Grant’s parent’s apartment. He listed his occupation as “messenger” in the 1910 Census. After the separation and leaving baseball, Grant moved in with his parents at 802 Blair Avenue. He lived there the rest of his life, working like his father as a janitor and handyman for the apartment building at that address. On July 9, 1932, Charles Grant was sitting and relaxing on the sidewalk outside his apartment when a passing motorist, whose tire blew, jumped the curb and slammed into the ex-ballplayer. He died in his mid-fifties and was interred at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, not far from the final resting place of Miller Huggins.

Notes

Season won-loss records for early black teams are in dispute. Various sources list different figures.

Sources

Ancestry.com.

Baltimore Afro-American, 1916, 1938.

Baltimore Sun, 1901.

baseball-reference.com.

Boston Globe, 1901.

Brooklyn Eagle, 1901.

Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Republican, 1901.

Chicago Defender, 1916, 1942.

Chicago Tribune, 1901.

Clark, Dick and Larry Lester. The Negro Leagues Book. Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research. 1994.

Daily Inter Ocean, 1895-1896.

findagrave.com.

Galveston (Texas) Daily News, 1901.

Gary Ashwill’s Agate Type Web site, agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/

Holway, John. The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History. Fern Park, Fla.: Hastings House Publishers, 2001.

Indianapolis Freeman, 1910.

Ironwood (Michigan) Times, 1901.

Lanctot, Neil. Fair Dealing and Clean Playing: The Hilldale Club and the Development of Black Professional Baseball, 1910-1932. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 1994.

Malloy, Jerry. Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball With Other Documents on the Early Black Game 1886-1936. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Milwaukee Sentinel, 1896.

www.nlbpa.com.

The Penny Press, Minneapolis, 1895.

Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams Before Black Men Played in the Major Leagues. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1970.

Phil Dixon’s Web site Americanbaseballchronicles.com.

Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Herald, 1901.

Riley, James A. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1994.

Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1983.

Washington Post, 1901.

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.