Carl Howard

This article was written by Rich Bogovich

Carl Howard (COURTESY OF ROBERT D. RETORT ENTERPRISES)Among potentially awkward encounters between semipro baseball teammates off the field, one player having to arrest another must rank very high. Carl “Sailor” Howard, who participated in spring training with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1935 and pitched in a couple of midseason exhibition games for the team, was on the receiving end of such an arrest in 1940, a few years after his brief career in the Negro National League had ended. Fortunately for Howard, the matter was settled in less than a week and may have cost him only $15.1

Carl Edgar Howard was born on September 21, 1904, near Simmons Creek in Mercer County, West Virginia.2 His parents were John Howard and the former Pearlie Mae Campbell. By the 1910 census the two had separated. At that time, Pearlie, Carl, and his two brothers were living with the large family of her uncle John in the East River district of Princeton, about 15 miles east of his birthplace.3 Carl’s brothers, Roscoe and John, were two and three years younger respectively. Pearlie worked as a laundress. On October 12, 1910, Pearlie married George Edward Baxter, and by the time of the 1920 census, they had two children, daughter Ogilva and son Ira.

A travesty of justice traumatized Mercer County’s African Americans in 1912, shortly before Carl’s eighth birthday. A 14-year-old white girl reported that she had been assaulted in Bluefield, 10 miles southwest of Princeton, and an African-American named Walter Johnson was taken into custody as a result. The sheriff’s office took him to Princeton for better protection, but a mob still managed to lynch him. It was soon announced that Johnson did not come close to meeting the girl’s description of her attacker, and Governor William Glasscock vowed that “all the money necessary to be used in apprehending and prosecuting the guilty parties will be placed at the command of the Mercer County authorities.” No such prosecutions ever occurred.4

Nevertheless, by 1920 the African-American residents of Mercer County were overcoming such embedded racism and serving themselves quite well. In Bluefield they had established two hotels, at least four grocery stores, several eateries, four doctors, two hospitals, and two drugstores.5

In the 1920 census the three Howard brothers were part of the Baxter household, and all with the surname Baxter themselves. Carl, at the age of 16, was no longer in school, but Roscoe, John, and Ogilva had been enrolled during the year. Pearlie’s husband was a railroad worker.

In early 1921, “Carl Baxter” was one of four young African-American men accused of assault in Princeton by a 20-year-old woman of the same race. A warrant was issued for the four but a few days later, police reported that they all had vanished.6 It’s unclear whether there was any prosecution of the accused men in the following months, but an African-American named Carl Baxter was listed in the Princeton section of the Bluefield city directory for 1923 and was living on the same short street as Edward and Pearl Baxter (neither with a house number identified, but there were no other entries for that surname).

Carl’s stepfather apparently died prior to mid-1925,7 after which Carl reverted to using Howard as his surname. In early 1926 Carl married 22-year-old Rosa Callendar.8 In the 1923 city directory for Princeton, a Rosa “Calendar” was listed as a waitress at Memorial Hospital. The couple wasn’t listed in the 1932 directory, and it’s quite possible the marriage had ended by then.

Later in 1926, Pearlie married Jacob “Jake” Eaves, and her sons John and Ira were living with the couple at the time of the 1930 census. Carl Howard does not appear to be anywhere in that census, which might be explained by international shipping records for April through July of that year. The 26-year-old Howard was an assistant ship steward on a United Fruit Company vessel, the Carrillo, which made monthly round trips between New York City and Santiago, Cuba. This also explains why he was nicknamed Sailor during his semipro baseball career in Michigan a few years later.

Little is known about Howard’s baseball experience prior to his leaving West Virginia. In May 1929 a brief news item mentioned that Carl and Roscoe were playing on a team in Kimball, 25 miles west of Princeton. By 1932, Princeton had an African-American team called the Grays, and in the middle of that year a pitcher named Howard hurled a shutout for them.9

Carl Howard’s life changed dramatically in 1933. A semipro African-American team in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Dixie Gas Stars, was being led by third baseman John Shackelford, who had played four seasons in the top Negro Leagues from 1924 to 1930. Shackelford later graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, practiced as an attorney, and was president of the United States Baseball League during its two seasons, 1945 and 1946.10 Shackelford’s trusted shortstop was Ted Bond, who hailed from Mercer County. Early that season Bond had “hand-picked” new players from his home state, and one of them was pitcher “Sailor Howard from Bluefield, W.Va.”11

Census data and Grand Rapids city directories indicate that there was already an older African American named Carl Howard in the city (middle initial R. and a wife named Jennie), so the nickname Sailor was most often used in newspaper coverage to distinguish between the two men. At a minimum, star outfielder Walter Coe of the Dixie Gas Stars knew the elder Howard, who was a local singer.12 Sailor Howard won the team’s opener in late May, 2-0, surrendering only five hits to the visiting House of David team from Benton Harbor, Michigan.13 Two months later, one newspaper assessed Sailor Howard as being “of league caliber,” which implied his readiness for promotion to the NNL.14

Howard and Bond continued with the Dixie Gas Stars in 1934,15 but during the first half of March 1935, the Pittsburgh Crawfords included both in a list of its players “submitted to the National Association of Negro Baseball Clubs in convention in Philadelphia.”16 Bond had been recommended to the Craws by “Attorney Shackelford,”17 and presumably Howard had been as well. Howard was one of four pitchers who saw action in a spring-training game against the Memphis Red Sox in New Orleans on April 12.18 However, a week later Howard was listed among six new players with the Cincinnati Tigers, a team that eventually joined the Negro American League in 1937.19 One of the other new Tigers was Cornelius “Neil” Robinson, a Grand Rapids native who had played for Shackelford there20 and who in mid-1933 was with a newly formed Grand Rapids team, the Pere Marquette Colored Giants.21 Robinson (whose first name was often spelled “Neal” in news articles) already had some NNL experience and went on to play in multiple East-West All-Star Games.

The Tigers opened their 1935 season at home on April 21 against the Louisville Black Caps. The game was played at Crosley Field, home of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds. The Tigers got off to a fantastic start by scoring nine runs in the first inning after two outs. They led 16-0 after three innings and ultimately won by 22-3. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s box score shows Howard as his team’s third pitcher, and the Tigers trio combined to limit Louisville to five hits. Howard singled in one at-bat, had an assist in the field, struck out one of the Black Caps, and walked none.22

It is unclear when Howard concluded his time with the Tigers, but he was mentioned in previews of their games until at least late May.23 He resurfaced in July with the Crawfords, and he hurled a complete game in Steubenville, Ohio, against the Electrical Department team of the Weirton Steel League on July 23. A crowd of 3,500 watched the Craws take a 9-0 lead after two innings and cruise to an 18-7 victory. Howard yielded 12 hits and a pair of walks but was undercut by four Pittsburgh errors.24 Three days later he was the first of the Crawfords’ three pitchers in Anderson, Indiana. The hometown Indians never scored more than once in any inning and the Craws won, 9-5.25

In August Howard spent some time with the NNL’s Brooklyn Eagles (though there were mysterious reports in June that the team had acquired a “first-string” right-handed pitcher named Holland from the Crawfords, despite the latter having no player by that name; Howard was the only surname that came close).26 In the first game of a doubleheader on August 4, an 8-5 loss to Ted Bond’s new team, the NNL’s Newark Dodgers, Howard entered the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter and made an out.27 On August 20 he played a full game for the Eagles, though in right field and not against another NNL team; he batted cleanup against the semipro Farmers of Glendale, Queens, and went hitless in five at-bats in a 4-3 loss.28 Though there has been some question as to whether this was the same player who had been with the Tigers and Crawfords, newspaper articles in 1936 and 1937 noted that Carl “Sailor” Howard had played for the Eagles in 1935.29

On August 30 Howard returned to Grand Rapids for a game, but now he was the starting pitcher for the Crawfords against his former semipro team, which now was named the Chicky Bar Giants. He did not pitch a complete game, but the Craws still prevailed, 5-3. A week later it was reported that “Sailor Howard” had rejoined the Chicky club.30

Howard’s ballplaying outside of Michigan during 1936 and 1937 is somewhat murky. A couple of sources identify Carl Howard as an outfielder with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1936, and the Atlanta Black Crackers may have had three different Howards on their roster that year, including a left fielder with the first initial of C. In fact, Negro Southern League expert William J. Plott devoted a paragraph of his 2019 book on the Black Barons to the confusion surrounding men named Howard on Birmingham’s roster in 1936.31 However, coverage in the Grand Rapids Press during 1936 put Howard on the Chicky club from April well into July.32 Also, Michigan marriage records reveal that, in June of that year, he married a local waitress named Wilhelmina Rypkema. Just 13 months later she filed for divorce on the grounds of some unspecified cruelty that Howard did not contest.

By mid-April of 1937, Howard and Ted Bond were reportedly reunited in Jackson, Mississippi, during spring training with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League.33 Howard was named as a member of Chicago’s pitching staff in at least two previews of subsequent exhibition games in late May and mid-July.34 In late July and four weeks later, Howard (no first name) was mentioned as the possible starting pitcher for two Chicky Giants games, but in neither instance did he actually pitch.35 The Chicky team continued to play at least into 1938, but it is unclear whether Howard played with them that season. He might not have played semipro baseball ever again.

In May 1938 Howard and six other residents of his apartment building were arrested during a raid. He was charged with disorderly conduct, for which he was fined $5 and court costs. Two years later, he was arrested for taking $10 from the wallet of a coworker at the Standard Auto Company. In this instance, the arresting officer was Detective Walter Coe, his longtime semipro teammate. Coe had moved to Grand Rapids from Nashville in 1916 specifically to play baseball, but he had become the city’s first African-American police officer in 1922. Though he rose through the ranks with promotions to sergeant in 1924 and lieutenant in 1932, he had continued to play baseball and started with Shackelford in 1928.36 Howard pleaded guilty to simple larceny, and was given the choice of a $15 fine or 20 days in jail.37 Then late in the following month, he was arrested in another raid for violating state liquor laws by selling without a license; this time he was sentenced to 60 days in jail.38

In the 1942 Grand Rapids city directory, Howard’s job and employer were specified for the first time: He was a furnace tender for the Liberman & Gittlen metal company, though he was unemployed by October 16, when World War II enlistment records show that he joined the US Army. Military records show that his height was entered as 5-feet-7 and weight as 175 pounds. His enlistment record also indicates that he was divorced at the time, had no dependents, and had completed only a grammar-school education. On March 10, 1943, he was discharged.39

In 1948, the city directory listed Carl with a wife named Mildred. Records indicate that Howard’s third wife was born Laura Mildred Lett, and the couple had a daughter named Joyce Marie (who was mentioned in his obituary many years later).40

Apparently Howard was divorced once again because in mid-1950 he married Christine Simmons, née Burger, and that represented the second major shift in his life as he soon left Michigan to return to his home state. By the time his mother died in the following year, Carl and Christine had moved to Kimball, West Virginia, which is one county west of where he had grown up.41 The first of their children together, Carl Jr., was born in 1953. By the time Howard’s brother John died in early 1962, they were living in Princeton.42

Howard’s fourth wife, Christine, may have provided the positive influence he needed to make the remainder of his life a period in which he no longer had periodic scrapes with the law. He eventually retired as an employee of the West Virginia Department of Highways and also served Princeton’s Mount Calvary Baptist Church as a trustee for many years. Carl Howard died on February 12, 1980, after “a short illness,” as his obituary read, though the cause was lung cancer. He was survived by seven children and stepchildren, plus 21 grandchildren. That same month, Princeton’s city council approved a resolution in his honor.43

In sum, because Howard was used so little during his short stints with the Crawfords and other top pro teams, he did not have one particular experience that stood out as a career highlight. Nevertheless, he provided value during the summer of 1935 by eating up innings in exhibition games for the Crawfords as they progressed toward that year’s NNL championship series. Despite the team’s impressive success during the season’s first half, their home attendance was not sustaining them financially in the midst of the Great Depression, so road games against random opponents helped meet payroll, and the presence of a player like Howard allowed the team to keep its stars fresh for the more important league games.44 As legendary broadcaster Vin Scully was fond of saying about pitchers stuck in bullpens, quoting the poet John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”45



Unless otherwise indicated, all Negro League statistics and team records have been taken from

Special thanks to Frederick C. Bush for providing considerable early research, especially in regard to Howard’s nautical nickname and to his stint with the Cincinnati Tigers.



1 “Petty Thefts Reported Here,” Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press, August 10, 1940: 2. “Admits $10 Theft,” Grand Rapids Press, August 12, 1940: 17.

2 West Virginia Vital Research Records,

3 For genealogical information about John Perry (sometimes “Peery” instead) and Carl Howard’s mother, see their respective entries at and Pearlie’s mother, Luella Perry was a sister to John Perry in the 1880 census, living in Jeffersonville (now Tazewell), Virginia.

4 “Sure of Negro’s Innocence,” New York Times, September 8, 1912: 2. For more details, see “Walter Johnson Lynched in Princeton, West Virginia” on the Equal Justice Initiative website at This horror was news halfway around the globe. For examples, see “Wrong Man Lynched,” The Argus (Melbourne, Australia), September 9, 1912: 13, and “Wrong Man Lynched,” Ashburton (New Zealand) Guardian, September 9, 1912: 5.

5 Joe William Trotter Jr., Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 145-146. Trotter quoted from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

6 “Princeton – County Seat News,” Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph, January 23, 1921: 10. “Princeton –County Seat News,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, January 26, 1921: 8.

7 “News of Colored Folk,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, June 6, 1925: 13. One “personal” item in the column noted that Mrs. Pearl Baxter had attended a recent “Widows’ and Widowers’ Club” meeting in Bluefield.

8 “Princeton Paragraphs,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, January 5, 1926: 7. A county register of marriages indicates that the ceremony was performed by the Rev. P. J. Dickerson, and there was an African-American minister in Princeton named Peter J. Dickerson around that time.

9 J.A. Creasey, “Princeton, W.Va.,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, May 12, 1929: 8. This item named “James Wilson, Roscoe Howard, and Carol Howard,” but that surely was supposed to be “Carl.” Only the pitcher’s surname was mentioned in “Princeton Team Wins,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, June 16, 1932: 2.

10 See SABR member Caleb Hardwick’s biography of Shackelford at For more about his league presidency in 1945-1946, see

11 “Shackelford’s Giants Starting Play Sunday,” Grand Rapids Press, May 26, 1933: 22.

12 The elder Carl Howard and Coe’s wife were both well-known singers locally and performed on the same occasion at least once. See “Imperial Chorus Choir Gives Concert Tonight,” Grand Rapids Press, March 17, 1932: 16.

13 “Shackelford Team Wins Its Opener,” Grand Rapids Press, May 29, 1933: 9. Sailor Howard was a “highly touted right-hander,” according to “Dixie Gas Stars Blank Davidites,” Lowell (Michigan) Ledger, June 1, 1933: 1. He was also known as a “curve ball artist,” according to “Second Giant-Dixie Game on Saturday,” Grand Rapids Press, August 18, 1933: 16.

14 “Dixie Gas Stars to Play Sunocos,” Lansing (Michigan) State Journal, July 28, 1933: 18.

15 For examples, see “Shack Gathers His Best Team to meet H. of D.,” Lowell Ledger, May 10, 1934: 1, and “Tatum’s Divide Week-End Tilts,” Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer, July 9, 1934: 11. He later won both games of a doubleheader against the Kent-Ottawa League All Stars, according to “Baseball,” Grand Rapids Press, August 27, 1934: 12.

16 “Craws’ Roster,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 16, 1935: Section 2, 4.

17 “Bond, New Craw Shortstop Find, Is W.Va. Product,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 18, 1935: Section 2, 5.

18 “Craws Top Memphis, to Play in New Orleans,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 20, 1935: Section 2, 5.

19 “New Players to Show,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 19, 1935: 18.

20 “Hopkins, Lansing to Visit Ramona,” Grand Rapids Press, July 31, 1931: 21. At that time, the full name of Shackelford’s team was “the Fineis Oils Colored Giants, of Lowell and Grand Rapids.” One of its outfielders was Johnny Robinson, and he was Neil’s brother, according to “Mariners to Play State’s Leading Independents In Twilight Game Friday,” Ludington (Michigan) Daily News, June 22, 1932: 6. In addition to Carl Howard and Neil Robinson, another new Cincinnati Tiger in April 1935 was “John Robsinson [sic], third base.”

21 “Mariners Meet Whitehall Today, G.R. Boys Monday,” Ludington Daily News, June 18, 1933: 6. “Postum Wins from Pere Marquette Colored Giants, 6 to 3,” Battle Creek Enquirer, August 17, 1933: 11. Robinson played for the Homestead Grays in 1934, and he was indeed “the outfielder secured from Grand Rapids,” according to Cum Posey, “Cum Posey’s Pointed Paragraphs,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 28, 1934: Section 2, 5.

22 “Amateur Baseball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 22, 1935: 14.

23 “Chevrolets Will Meet Negro Nine,” Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal, May 25, 1935: 6. “Memphis Sox Here,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 30, 1935: 33. It so happened that Memphis had a pitcher named Howard, and he pitched a complete-game loss against the Tigers on May 30. See “Tigers Break Even,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 31, 1935: 18. According to the Negro Southern League Museum Research Center, that was right-hander William “Bill” Howard, who was also on the team in 1934. That source also lists lefty Herman “Red” Howard as a pitcher on the Memphis Red Sox in 1934 and 1936, though not in 1935. See pages 68, 73, and 78 of

24 “Electrics Lose to Crawfords,” Steubenville (Ohio) Herald-Star, July 24, 1935: 11.

25 “Pittsburgh Nine Wins at Anderson,” Indianapolis Times, July 27, 1935: 10.

26 “Holland to Pitch against Columbus,” Brooklyn Times Union, June 8, 1935: 12. “Brooklyn Eagles Take to the Road,” Afro-American, June 15, 1935: 12. Both articles said Holland’s first name was Jim, but the only regular pro player named Holland within a decade was Bill, a right-handed pitcher with the New York Black Yankees from 1932 through 1941.

27 “Eagles Subdued in Double Header,” Brooklyn Times Union, August 5, 1935: 3A.

28 “Farmers Click under Francis, Beat Eagles,” Brooklyn Times Union, August 5, 1935: 3A. Seamheads’ 1935 fielding stats (which also list pinch-hitting and pinch-running appearances) show Howard as having played in three NNL games, two as a pinch-runner and one as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner, hitless in one at-bat but with a run scored.

29 “Chicky Presents Star Negro Nine,” Grand Rapids Press, April 20, 1936: 13. “Chicago American Giants Arrive Tomorrow,” Atlanta Daily World, July 18, 1937: 5. The latter also reported his height as 5-feet-9 and weight as 168 pounds; he also batted right-handed.

30 “Baseball,” Grand Rapids Press, August 31, 1935: 12. “Pro League Ending Season Saturday,” Grand Rapids Press, September 6, 1935: 22.

31 William J. Plott, Black Baseball’s Last Team Standing: The Birmingham Black Barons, 1919-1962 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2019), 107. See also Dick Clark, and Larry Lester, eds., The Negro Leagues Book (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 1994), 117, 196. At a minimum, Carl Howard was being confused with Herman “Red” Howard. For Atlanta’s 1936 roster, see, which draws from Plott’s research. In a doubleheader between Atlanta and Birmingham, Atlanta’s left fielder was C. Howard and Birmingham’s was A. Howard. However, three days later Atlanta’s left fielder was identified as J.D. Howard. See “Birmingham Barons, Crackers Split Two,” Atlanta Daily World, May 26, 1936: 5, and Ric Roberts, “Wellmaker Fans 14 Barons, Gives But 1 Hit,” Atlanta Daily World, May 29, 1936: 5.

32 For example, Sailor Howard won a game against a team called the Detroit Collegians right after Independence Day, according to “Baseball,” Grand Rapids Press, July 6, 1936: 12. See also “Postums Divide at Grand Rapids,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 13, 1936: 9. On the latter date, Chicky Bar Athletic Association, the owner of Shackelford’s team, hosted a concert by Louis Armstrong and his orchestra, according to “Louis Armstrong Next Big Number,” Chicago Defender, July 11, 1936: 9.

33 J.T. Hardy, “Jim Taylor, Giant Boss Talks of His 9 and East,” Chicago Defender, April 17, 1937: 13. Howard’s first name wasn’t mentioned, nor any other identifying information except that he was a pitcher, but his first name was included in “Svoboda Will Toss Ball in Semipro Tilt,” Chicago Daily News, April 29, 1937: 21.

34 “Hank Casserly, “Blues Victory String in Peril; American Giants Here for 2 Game Series,” Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), May 25, 1937: 17. “Chicago American Giants Arrive Tomorrow,” Atlanta Daily World, July 18, 1937: 5.

35 “Seater Nine and Metalcraft Win,” Grand Rapids Press, July 30, 1937: 15. “Y League Pennant Game Ends in Tie,” Grand Rapids Press, August 27, 1937: 18.

36 Roscoe D. Bennett, “Death Takes Walter Coe, One of Baseball’s Best,” Grand Rapids Press, January 25, 1937: 37. See also Grand Rapids Police Department, February 25, 2019,

37 See Note 1.

38 “44 Arrested in Raids Here,” Grand Rapids Press, September 30, 1940: 15. “Gets 60-Day Term for Sale of Liquor,” Grand Rapids Press, October 19, 1940: 19.

39 Howard’s service was uncommonly short, though his age, 38, could have been a factor. One possibility is that he was discharged for a medical reason. Another possibility is a dishonorable discharge, but his service in the Army was mentioned in his obituary, so he didn’t hide that from the family he built long after the war ended. See “Deaths and Funerals,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, February 15, 1980: 2. See also “Board 7 Lists 98 for Army,” Grand Rapids Press, October 23, 1942: 19.

40 “Deaths and Funerals,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, February 15, 1980: 2.

41 “Colored News,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, May 5, 1951: 3.

42 “Deaths and Funerals,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, January 14, 1962: 2. Besides Carl and Roscoe, this obituary mentions a brother named Fred Howard and a sister named Bell Howard, who were half-siblings fathered by Carl’s father after his parents split up.

43 “Deaths and Funerals,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, February 15, 1980: 2. Jim Gilreath, “Downtown Beer Ban Passes Princeton City Council Tuesday,” Bluefield Daily Telegraph, February 20, 1980: 3. On page 6D of that paper’s March 2 edition, his family placed a classified ad thanking many people connected to the church, plus staffs at two hospitals in the county.

44 “Joe Sephus’ Cullings,” Cumberland (Maryland) Evening Times, July 22, 1935: 4. The situation remained dire a month later, according to “Double, Double, Toil and Troubles – Baseball Association Kettle Bubbles,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 29, 1935: 9.

45 Eric Neel, “Alone in the Booth,”, October 10, 2005. The line concluded Milton’s sonnet, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.” For other recollections of Scully’s fondness for this quotation, see Curt Smith, Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story (Washington: Potomac Books Inc., 2009), 214, and Paul Haddad, High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania (Solana Beach, California: Santa Monica Press LLC, 2012), 24.

Full Name

Carl Edgar Howard


September 21, 1904 at Simmons Creek, WV (USA)


February 12, 1980 at Roanoke, VA (USA)

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