Bob Black

This article was written by Terry Bohn

Bob Black (BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM)Looking back when he was nearly 70 years old, 19th-century pitcher Bob Black said, “I tell you this modern baseball is made to order for hitters. When I was pitching the distance was 50 feet, and you could take a hop, step, and jump and believe me, there weren’t any Babe Ruths or Jimmie Foxxes with that kind of stuff to look at. But I pitched under every rule at every legal distance.”1 Despite playing in a pitcher-friendly era, Black experienced little success in his one partial major-league season, posting a 4-9 pitching record with the Kansas City Cowboys of the Union Association after joining the club in August 1884. Known as a strong hitter as well as a good pitcher, Black’s propensity for fighting, insubordination, and contract holdouts, rather than lack of ability, may have contributed to why he did not have more opportunities or success.

Robert Benjamin Black was born December 10, 18622, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents were Samuel, a native of Pennsylvania, and Rachel (née Cotts), originally from Wheeling, West Virginia. Samuel fought in the Civil War as a member of the 6th Regiment, Ohio Infantry Militia, and later became a prominent attorney in Cincinnati. Robert was the sixth of seven children in the family, growing up with older brothers Stewart and Edward, older sisters Belle and Eva, and younger brother Samuel Jr. It is not known when Robert developed his interest in baseball, or began playing, but as a young boy it was likely he was aware of the famous Red Stockings club that was formed in his hometown. He may have even attended games.

One source said that the 5-foot-5, 155-pound right-hander began in 1879 with “the famous Kopecs,” apparently an amateur nine in Cincinnati.3 At the time of the 1880 US Census he was living with his parents and siblings in Newport, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati).

Black married Marie Krimmitz in 1881. They had a son, Robert Jr., born in St. Louis in 1882. One source suggested that the elder Robert played ball in St. Louis in 1882.4 However, no direct evidence could be found to verify that.

Black began his professional career as a 20-year-old with Quincy (Illinois) of the Northwestern League in 1883. He was primarily a pitcher, but like many players of the day, he played multiple positions, most often the outfield (an indication of his hitting ability). At Quincy he teamed up with catcher “Kid” Baldwin, himself just 18 years old, to form what was called the “kid (or colt) battery.”5 On the other end of the age spectrum, nearly 30 years their senior, was Quincy’s 47-year old shortstop, Dickey Pearce.

Both Black and Baldwin returned to Quincy in 1884, but partly owing to competition from the Union Association (UA), which drove up player salaries, the Northwestern League began to experience financial troubles in midseason. By late July teams began to fold and it was rumored that Quincy was one of those that would not survive the season. Details were not provided, but Black and Baldwin ran into some undisclosed trouble. A report noted, “Baldwin was heavily fined and blacklisted today for the violation of one of the rules,” while adding, “Bob Black, the pitcher, is under suspension without pay.”6

The result was that both men jumped to the Kansas City Cowboys of the UA. The 1884 Cowboys, managed by Ted Sullivan, were in the midst of a dismal season, sporting a record of 6-37 when Black and Baldwin joined the club in mid-August. That season the Cowboys lost 40 of 45 road games and were outscored by nearly a 2:1 ratio (311-619). They would eventually finish with a record of 16-63-3. Kansas City ended up in 11th place in the 12-team league, 61 games behind the St Louis Maroons. The Cowboys finished ahead of only the Wilmington Quicksteps, who disbanded after winning two of 18 games.

Kansas City was scheduled to begin a road trip in St. Louis on August 19, but Baldwin missed the train, so Joe Strauss was behind the bat when Black made his pitching debut. St. Louis won easily, 12-3, but most of the blame for the loss was placed on Strauss. The game report said, “[Strauss] proved a miserable failure behind the bat. In fact, Black was unable to put on speed at any stage, and as a result he was hit hard all through the game. Besides letting the ball pass him when ever given a chance, Strauss was lazy about recovering the ball, while his throwing to the bases was always wild.”7

Black’s next start came two days later against the league-leading Maroons back in Kansas City. After St. Louis took a 3-1 lead after three innings, Black was replaced on the mound by Alex Voss and moved to center field. The Cowboys were trailing 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Black led off the inning with a double and scored the tying run on a single by third baseman Henry Oberbeck. The St. Louis outfield mishandled the hit, allowing Oberbeck to take second on a close play. Voss then singled, driving in Oberbeck with the winning run, but umpire George Seward, a former player with St. Louis of the American Association, called Oberbeck out “apparently to even up on his close decision in Oberbeck’s favor at second.”8 The Maroons then pushed two runs across in the 10th inning to take a 6-4 win.

Black’s next start was against Cincinnati on August 26. He pitched well, but opposing pitcher Dick Burns tossed a no-hitter and Kansas City dropped the game 3-1. The same two pitchers faced off four days later in Cincinnati and this time the Reds pummeled Black for 20 hits in a 15-2 shellacking, giving Black his fourth straight loss. Ten Kansas City errors, however, resulted in just three of the Cincinnati runs being earned.

He dropped another close decision at Washington on September 2, losing 4-2, partly because of seven more errors by his Cowboy teammates. Black started against the Nationals again three days later and surrendered seven first-inning runs, two of them earned, after which he was replaced by Barney McLaughlin. Black finished the game in left field but was charged with the loss.

In his next start at Boston, Black returned to form, allowing just one earned run – but was again the victim of a gem by his mound opponent. Boston starter Dupee Shaw allowed just one hit in a 3-0 shutout, Black’s seventh loss in a row. Four days later Boston hitters batted Black “freely and hard” in a 6-2 loss.9

Black finally got into the win column with a 4-3 win over Baltimore on September 22 and followed that up with a 5-2 victory over Boston. He held Baltimore to one run over seven innings on October 2, but – aided by several Kansas City errors – Baltimore pushed across two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to take a 5-2 win. Black made a relief appearance on October 5 and started the next day, beating Baltimore 5-3. After a tie against St. Paul, Black’s final two starts of the season were against the Washington Nationals. He dropped a 10-4 decision on October 16 and a 5-1 setback two days later. The final game was like many of Black’s losses. He allowed only three hits and only one of the runs allowed was earned as a result of eight Cowboy errors.

Overall, Black pitched in 16 games for Kansas City in 1884, 15 of them starts, and finished with a won-lost record of 4-9. A closer look reveals that Black had an excellent strikeout to walk ratio (93:17) and was charged with only 44 earned runs in 123 innings pitched for an ERA of 3.22, slightly above the league average of 3.02. He also played 19 games in the outfield and seven more in the infield, appearing in 38 games overall. Often hitting in the middle of the Cowboys batting order, Black batted .247 with 14 doubles, two triples and a home run. Despite not joining the club until August, he led the Cowboys in doubles and runs scored.

However, the Union Association broke up after the one season, so Black was one of several hundred unemployed ballplayers looking for work in 1885. He played 24 games with Omaha/Keokuk of the Western League and spent some time with an independent team in Olathe, Kansas.10 He then signed with the Memphis Reds of the Southern League, where he finished the season.

Black returned to Memphis in 1886, this time with the Browns, members of the Southern Association. In April he accidentally shot a teammate, catcher Billy Colgan, during a hunting trip.11 In June he was suspended by the club for insubordination and “inciting several players to the same, and stirring up contention between the men.”12

In 1887 Black was back in Memphis, playing for the Browns in the Southern League. His brother Sam, playing under the name Shell Black, was briefly a teammate in Memphis that season. Bob had a 16-18 pitching record with a 2.53 ERA and batted .303 in 104 games, but again found himself involved in off-field controversies. Huge bets had been placed on Memphis in a May game with Nashville; it was alleged that Black and a teammate, John Sneed, were paid by gamblers to get Nashville pitcher Larry Corcoran (the next day’s starter for Nashville) drunk the night before the game. Black admitted to drinking with Corcoran but vehemently denied any payoff. Regardless, Corcoran failed to show for the game and was fined and suspended.13 Nashville manager George Bradley was onto the scheme and pitched the game, beating Memphis.14 Later that season Black himself was fined, and threatened with 10 days in the workhouse, for failing to respond to a subpoena when he was called to testify in a murder case.15

After three years in Memphis, Black next looked eastward. He signed with the Lynn (Massachusetts) Shoemakers of the New England League in December of 1887.16 In a June exhibition game, he defeated the New York Giants, 7-4.17 In July, however, Wilkes-Barre of the Central League bought his contract.18 After finishing the season there. Black returned to Wilkes-Barre in 1889 but left the club in July to sign with the Sioux City Cornhuskers of the Western Association. He would remain in the Sioux City area for the rest of his playing career and post-baseball life.

When he was acquired by Sioux City, Black reportedly agreed to a contract calling for $200 a month.19 During the 1889-1890 offseason, however, he asked for his release. In a letter to the Sporting News Black explained his reasons: “I thought I would drop you a line or so to tell you that I am done with Sioux City forever. We could not come to any understanding. They sent me a contract to sign, but the advance was not coming so I gave them till the first to send it. It did not come, so I think I will not sign until spring.” Black also added, “I am practicing my pitching for the coming season and if my arm will stand it (and I think it will) I will sign as a pitcher. Although I was treated very well last year, I think I can better myself.”20

In February 1890 there was a report that Black had signed with the Washington Senators.21 Nothing of the transaction was reported in the Washington, D. C. newspapers, so it may have been a rumor started by Black as a negotiating tactic with Sioux City. It may have worked, because after a brief holdout over salary in the spring, Black signed with Sioux City again for 1891. By this point in his career, nearing age 30, arm injuries limited him to only spot pitching duties – he posted an 0-2 record in four games. Yet he still hit well and remained an excellent fielder. He left the club in June to play for an independent team in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The Western Association ended play after the 1891 season. When the Western League was reorganized the following year, five former Association franchises (Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Omaha) were invited to join the new circuit, while three teams, including Sioux City, were not. When it became clear that Sioux City would not be in Organized Baseball in 1892, Black took it upon himself to organize a semipro team in town. He rented the local ball grounds and scheduled the best independent teams in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. Later in 1892 he moved to Le Mars, Iowa; over the next several years he organized, and played on, one of the top semipro teams in the region. He gained a reputation as, “the patriarch of western Iowa base balldom.”22

Black was one of the leaders in the organization of the Class D Iowa-South Dakota League in 1902. By then 39, he played shortstop and captained the Le Mars Blackbirds, who took their name from Black. He managed the Blackbirds for part of 1903;23 the team included his son, Bobby Jr., an outfielder. The younger Black had followed his father to his many stops in baseball, even serving as team mascot when Black was in Hot Springs in 1892. The 1903 Blackbirds roster also included a 21-year-old rookie catcher named Branch Rickey. There was some friction between the manager and player, however, because even then Rickey refused to play on Sundays, usually the most lucrative game day of the week.

Over the next several years Black was involved with a number of different activities, including a brief stint as a policeman in Sioux City in 1904.24 Later that year he managed the club in Burlington, Iowa. Black once owned a bowling alley and early in 1905 he opened a billiard room in Le Mars. That spring, his name was put forward as a candidate for one of the umpiring jobs in the Western League (he was ultimately not chosen).25 Later that year he leased the entire second floor of a building in Le Mars and opened “the finest billiard and pool room in the northwest.” At his grand opening in December, patrons could play on one of 16 Pfister tables (eight for billiards and eight for pool) – “all of them direct from the factory.”26

Black remained involved in baseball in northwestern Iowa for his entire life. In 1907 he organized a semipro team he called the Black Knights that included a future Hall of Famer: David “Beauty” Bancroft, a teenage shortstop from nearby Sioux City. Black got an opportunity to umpire in the Western Association in 1908 when he filled in after Brennan, one of the league’s regular arbiters, sustained a broken arm during an altercation with a spectator.27 He received generally positive reviews for his work, but – citing too much time away from his billiard hall (31 of the games he worked were in Denver or Pueblo) – Black resigned his position in early September.28

In 1911 he umpired a local tournament and made headlines when, decades ahead of its time and somewhat out of character for Black, he chose a woman, Mary Treglia, as his umpiring partner. Treglia was described as “adept at baseball” with the ability to “pitch and catch with the best of the boys.”29 Black also thought her presence would have a restraining effect on the normally rowdy behavior common in baseball at the time.

He explained, “Think of an erratic pitcher standing on the mound trying to do his best with a sweet voiced girl standing behind him, saying demurely, ‘Ball one, Ball two.’ It would be vulgar to spit on the ball. It would be uncouth to pick up a handful of dirt to rub the sphere. Then, another thing, the twirler dare not, if he is a gentleman, turn around and puncture the air with epithets.” Black went on to say that this was “the first stride towards women’s suffrage” and he predicted that “it would revolutionize baseball.”30

In 1915, Black’s wife Marie sued him for divorce, alleging that “his cruel acts impaired her health and endangered her life.”31 When the divorce, which Black did not contest, was granted, it was said that he “received his release from the matrimonial league.”32 In 1918 he married his second wife, Olive Mae Douglas, and they had three children: a son, Ralph, and two daughters, Marjorie and Dorothy.

On March 5, 1933, Bob Black suffered a stroke. Perhaps fittingly, it came while playing a game of billiards at his establishment, the Martin Hotel billiard parlor. He died at his home on March 21, at the age of 70. He was survived by his first and second wives and four children. Black was buried at Graceland Park Cemetery in Sioux City.



This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Paul Proia.



Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Black’s playing career are taken from and genealogical and family history was obtained from The author also used information from clippings in Black’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.



1 “Veteran to Make Comeback,” Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, May 22, 1932: 12.

2 Black’s year of birth is listed as 1862 on the Iowa death record but his grave maker says 1861.His obituary said he was age 70 at death, consistent with an 1862 birth year.

3 “Robert Black,” Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, March 24, 1905: 7.

4 “Memphis’ New Twirler,” Memphis Avalanche, August 11, 1885: 4.

5 “Baseball,” Boston Globe, November 16, 1884: 12.

6 “Base Ball,” Bloomington (Illinois) Pantograph, July 29, 1884: 1.

7 “Sporting,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, August 20, 1884: 8.

8 “St. Louis Unions, 2; Kansas Citys 4.,” (St. Louis) Globe Democrat, August 22, 1884: 8.

9 “Baseball,” Boston Globe, September 13, 1884: 8.

10 “Amusements,” Olathe (Kansas) Republican, June 19, 1885: 1.

11 “Catcher Colgan Shot,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 8, 1886: 5.

12 “Base Hits,” Atlanta Journal, June 22, 1886: 1.

13 “Sensation, Verily,” Memphis Appeal, May 3, 1887: 5.

14 “Around the Bases,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1887: 3; “Tennessee Troubles,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 3, 1887: 2.

15 “Bobby Black Fined,” Memphis Avalanche, July 7, 1887: 4.

16 “Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, December 25, 1887: 11.

17 “Around the Bases,” Times-Picayune, June 22, 1888: 2.

18 “Bobby Black’s Good Luck,” Memphis Avalanche, July 27, 1888: 4.

19 “After Wilkesbarre’s Players,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1889: 6.

20 “Black Wants His Release,” Sioux City Journal, January 19, 1890: 2.

21 “News of The Senators,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, February 4, 1890: 6.

22 “In The Ball Realm,” Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette, November 4, 1897: 8.

23 shows Bobby Alberts as the manager that year, but there is evidence that Black was skipper at least for part of the season. See “Jottings About Town,” Sioux City Journal, June 3, 1903: 10.

24 “Bob Black Turns Cop,” Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus Leader, February 18, 1904: 5.

25 “Umpires Have Been Named,” Sioux City Journal, April 23, 1905: 9.

26 “Bobby Black’s Fine Place,” Sioux City Journal, December 23, 1905: 2.

27 “Diamond Gossip,” Lincoln (Nebraska) Star Journal, July 21, 1908: 8.

28 “Black Resigns Job,” Sioux City Journal, September 5, 1908: 8.

29 “Bobby Black Makes a Find,” Sioux City Journal, June 11, 1911: 30.

30 “Bobby Black Makes a Find.”

31 “Wives in Divorce Court,” Sioux City Journal, August 28, 1915: 5.

32 “Bobby Black Divorced,” Sioux City Journal, September 22, 1915: 7.

Full Name

Robert Benjamin Black


December 10, 1862 at Cincinnati, OH (USA)


March 21, 1933 at Sioux City, IA (USA)

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