“Dick Seay was my idol. He and I used to talk a lot because I had a lot of confidence in him. I used to ask ’bout pointers playing second base, and he and I were very good friends. He really was a nice person.” – Birmingham Black Barons All-Star second baseman Tommy Sampson, 20002
This is not a tale of home runs and batting averages, for Dick Seay’s bat was largely dormant. He was primarily known as a glove man, a leader, and a mentor during his career that spanned the years 1926 through 1947.
And in addition to baseball, he also played a pretty good game of basketball.
Richard William Seay was born on November 30, 1904,4 in West New York, New Jersey, to George and Agnes Johnson Seay. He was the fourth of five children; his older siblings were Beatrice, Gladys, and George Jr., while younger sister Harriet was born three years after Dick.
Unlike most Black ballplayers of his time, Seay grew up in a predominantly White community. His father was employed by the railroad. Seay as a teenager played with the Pennsylvania Redcaps. Among his teammates was Charlie “Chino” Smith, who went on to play with the Brooklyn Royal Giants and New York Lincoln Giants.
Seay first played professionally in 1926, splitting his time between the Newark Stars and the Baltimore Black Sox. Both teams were members of the Eastern Colored League, but much of the competition was in barnstorming events against nonleague opponents. On May 6 Newark won both games of a doubleheader against the Jamaica Cardinals. In the opener, Seay went 2-for-5 in a 17-4 win, and in the nightcap, he went 3-for-5 in a 12-8 triumph.5 He joined the Black Sox in late June and was with the Black Sox when they fell to Hilldale, 5-4, on August 26; he had one hit in the game.6 At season’s end, the Black Sox took on Bethlehem Steel in a game for the mythical Baltimore city championship and split two games. Seay was the center of controversy in the first game when he was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning. Pitcher Costello of Bethlehem Steel got into a heated discussion with umpire Spencer, striking the arbiter, and was ejected from the game. The Black Sox scored four times in the inning en route to a 6-3 win. Bethlehem won the second game, 5-2.7
In 1927, the infielder, who stood 5-feet-7 and weighed 162 pounds, was with the Brooklyn Royal Giants and played shortstop. The next season, he traveled to Montreal, where manager George “Chappie” Johnson converted him into a second baseman.
Seay returned to the Brooklyn Royal Giants in 1929 and starred at second base. The Royal Giants barnstormed that season and often played against White semipro teams in the New York metropolitan area.
On April 14, against his former Baltimore teammates, the right-handed-hitting player had two hits, including a triple in an opening-game loss.8 On May 12, in a doubleheader against the semipro Bay Parkways, he handled 12 chances flawlessly as the Royal Giants split with the Bay Parkways, who featured a very young Hy Greenberg at first base. In the opener, Dick “Cannonball” Redding defeated the Bay Parkways, 16-5. Greenberg, who went 5-for-7 with a pair of doubles, had a key hit in the second game as the Bay Parkways won, 7-4.9 Late in 1930, Hank Greenberg played his first game with the Detroit Tigers.
A frequent opponent of Seay’s teams during his career was a well-known semipro squad, the Brooklyn Bushwicks, an aggregation that included several men who had played in the major leagues. When Seay was with the Royal Giants in 1929, they faced the Bushwicks on September 29 in a doubleheader at Dexter Park in Queens. In the opener, won by the Bushwicks, Seay converted a double play, and in the second game he doubled in a run as the two teams split the twin bill.10
By this point in his life, Seay actually had received as much publicity for his exploits on the basketball court as he had for his play around second base. He had first played basketball with the Lewis Big Five team in the Jersey City area.11 Prior to a game in December 1926, when he was playing for the Y.M.D. Alumni, the Pittsburgh Courier remarked that he “has never lost a ball on a dribble.”12
The next time the Courier caught up with him, “Tricky Dick” was described as “smooth, clean-cut, and fast as lightning” as he scored a team-high 10 points during his St. Christopher squad’s victory over the Capitol team, 55-21, in a game at Asbury Park on December 5, 1927.13 His team, described as a “well-drilled red and black machine,” played in the Eastern League of Associated Basketball Clubs.14 They extended their record to 5-0 with a one-sided 45-14 rout of the Montclair Y and a 36-35 overtime win against the Vandals in February.15 By late 1928, Seay was suiting up with the Rockland Athletic Club,16 but he also continued to play for St. Christopher and accompanied the team to Philadelphia for a game against the Tribune Big Five. Although his team came out on the short end, Seay, playing at forward, scored 12 points in the 28-24 loss.17
In 1932, Seay was reunited with his baseball mentor, Chappie Johnson, on the basketball court. He was a member of Chappie Johnson’s Colored Stars, and they played all comers – White and Black. Showmanship was a big part of the game for the Colored Stars and their showman was Jack Livingston.18 Talent was also in ample supply and after the game on January 9, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote, “[T]hese athletes seem able to do everything in the court game, and their smart tactics fooled the Centrals time and again.”19
Seay had continued to play baseball for the Royal Giants through 1931. During this period, the team remained unaffiliated with any league, but he had the opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium on July 12 in a doubleheader against the Harlem Stars. In front of a small crowd of 1,500, the Stars swept the doubleheader from the Royal Giants, 7-2 and 4-3. In the opener Cannonball Redding, now 41 years old, was the losing pitcher.20
In 1932, following a minor controversy, Seay joined the Baltimore Black Sox, now a member franchise of the East-West League. Prior to the season, the two-sport specialist had become a two-team specialist, signing with both the Newark and Baltimore entries in the East-West League. After the dust settled, his contract was awarded to Baltimore and he paid a fine for his transgression.21 He batted .288 with Baltimore that season as they finished in third place in the league’s only year of operation. Once the 1932 season was over, Seay returned to the hardwood and played for Courteers of the Colored House of David.22
Seay remained with Baltimore when the team joined the new Negro National League II in 1933. The team finished fifth in the NNL2, and after the season Seay opted to skip basketball and find warmer weather. In the winter of 1933-34, he traveled to Puerto Rico and played with the Ramirez All-Stars.
Seay signed on with the Philadelphia Stars at the beginning of the 1934 season. Although he was known primarily for his glove work, he opened the season with a flourish against the Newark Dodgers on May 12, when he had three hits in the Stars’ 12-0 victory.23 The next day, on the road against the same team, he had a pair of hits in a 5-4 win in the first game of a doubleheader. He also had a hit as the Stars won the second game, 4-1.24 Seay doubled and scored in a 5-2 loss to the powerhouse Pittsburgh Crawfords on May 22.25 Despite many clutch hits, he wound up batting only .184 (42-for-228 with seven extra-base hits) during the regular season.
Seay’s glove was very much in evidence in a 1-0 shutout loss to the Crawfords in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on June 11. His eighth-inning stop of a ball hit by Oscar Charleston got the crowd’s attention, and the local newspaper called the play “about the most sensational stop ever seen on the Island” where the ballpark was located.26
In the balloting for the annual East-West Game, Seay (5,287 votes) finished second in the polling to the Crawfords’ Chester Williams (5,394 votes).27 Seay was on the East roster for the game in Chicago, but he did not play as Williams manned the keystone sack for the entire nine innings in the East’s 1-0 victory.
The 1934 Stars were on fire. Starting on July 4, they won their first eight games in the second half of the season and, surprisingly, Seay’s bat was a big part of the equation during this winning streak. On July 4, in a doubleheader sweep of the Nashville Elite Giants in Philadelphia, he had two hits in the 7-1 morning win. In the Stars’ 9-2 afternoon triumph, Seay’s fourth-inning walk forced in the second of his team’s nine runs.28 On August 4 at Chester, Pennsylvania, Seay contributed two hits as the Stars blasted the Baltimore Black Sox, 19-14.29 The next day in Philadelphia, the Stars swept a doubleheader from the Black Yankees and Seay had a single in the second game as the Stars won 7-3.30
The Stars finished as second-half champions in the NNL and took on the first-half winner, the Chicago American Giants, in a championship series at the end of the season. The series went eight games (one game ended in a tie), and the Stars came out on top. Seay’s key contribution was a squeeze bunt in Game Six at Philadelphia that proved pivotal as the Stars tied the series at three games apiece. Otherwise, he went only 2-for-21.
Seay remained with Philadelphia for the 1935 season. He brought his average for the season up to .257 and was again named to the East squad for the annual East-West All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on August 11 after leading the balloting for his position with 13,019 votes. In the game, he went 1-for-3 before leaving for a pinch-hitter, as his East team (members of the Philadelphia Stars, Brooklyn Eagles, New York Cubans, and Newark Dodgers) was beaten 11-8 by the West squad (members of the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Chicago American Giants, and Columbus Elite Giants).
Prior to the 1936 season, Seay was traded to the Pittsburgh Crawfords for Bert Hunter and Curtis “Popeye” Harris.31 He joined a team that had won the NNL2 championship in 1935 and fielded five future Hall of Fame players (Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, and Satchel Paige). The 1936 Crawfords repeated as league champions, making it two out of three seasons in which Dick Seay was on a championship team.
In 1937 Seay joined the Newark Eagles and teamed with Mule Suttles, Willie Wells, and Ray Dandridge to form the premier infield in the league. Collectively they were known as the “Million Dollar Infield.” In spite of their star power, the Eagles finished second to the Homestead Grays in the NNL2 that year.
In 1938 Seay remained with the Eagles. Their record dropped below .500 and they finished in fifth place. During the 1938-1939 Puerto Rico Winter League season, he played for Humacao and flashed some speed as he stole 33 bases.
In Newark’s 1939 season, with Seay bringing his average above .200 for the first time in three years and Monte Irvin taking over at third base, the Eagles moved up to second place. In the offseason, Seay managed the Santurce club in the 1939-1940 Puerto Rico Winter League season. His club included Ed Stone of the Newark Eagles, Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays, and pitcher Bill Byrd of the Baltimore Elite Giants.32
In 1940, Seay split his time between two teams, finishing the season with the New York Black Yankees. His most productive time was with the Newark Eagles, with whom he started the season. He appeared in 26 games for the Eagles and had nine extra-base hits, his most-ever in a season. One of those extra-base hits, an RBI double, came against the Homestead Grays at Griffith Stadium on June 16 and keyed a two-run rally that tied the game in the top of the ninth inning; unfortunately for Seay and the Eagles, the Grays came back to win, 7-6, with a run in the bottom of the ninth.33 Seay found the short right-field porch at Newark’s Ruppert Stadium to his liking and hit three home runs, two of them coming in a game against the New York Cubans on June 27 that the Eagles won, 9-2.34 He was selected to start the East-West Game for the second time and scored two runs in an 11-0 East victory on August 18. The gloveman had five putouts and six assists, and initiated the game-ending double play.35
Weeks before the 1940 East-West Game, the 35-year-old infielder had been released by the Eagles36 and latched on with the Black Yankees, his first game with them being on August 11.37 With New York, he got into five league games over the remainder of the regular season.
In 1941, Seay was still with the Black Yankees and was selected as an East All-Star again. Later in life, he indicated that his biggest thrill in baseball was playing in front of 50,000 fans in the 1941 East-West Game.38 He was 36 years old during the 1941 season, but spectators still marveled at how well he played second base. Fay Young raved in the Chicago Defender, “(Felton) Snow and Seay robbed West batters of hits, both pulling down two line drives with one-handed stabs.” Seay remarked, “[P]laying in front of such an audience was great, but playing with such baseball headliners as Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, and Monte Irvin topped everything.”39
After having been with contending teams during his time with the Stars and Eagles, Seay was a member of a perennial also-ran with the Black Yankees. In 1941 the team was 21-32 against Negro League competition, but there were occasional highlights. Seay was joined by his former Eagles teammate Mule Suttles, and they both played a role in a come-from-behind win on Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium as an estimated 22,000 fans looked on. The Black Yankees trailed the Newark Eagles 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out and one on, Suttles singled and was removed for a pinch-runner. By the time Seay came to bat, the score was 5-5 and Henry Kimbro was on first base with two outs. Kimbro took off for second base, and Seay’s hard grounder to the hole between shortstop and third base could not be handled. Seay was credited with a single, and the winning run was in scoring position. Moments later, Harry Williams drove home the winning run in a 6-5 game.40
Seay was the type of player who, even without a base hit, could impact the outcome of a game. He was back at Yankee Stadium on July 20, 1941, as the Black Yankees played the Philadelphia Stars in the second game of a four-team doubleheader. In the opener, the Kansas City Monarchs, with Satchel Paige on the mound, had defeated the New York Cubans, as 27,000 spectators cheered for Negro baseball’s biggest drawing card. In the second game, the Black Yankees took an early lead as Seay reached first base on an error, took second on a sacrifice, and scored on a single by Suttles. After Philadelphia had tied the game with an unearned run in the top of the sixth inning, the Black Yankees came back. Seay ignited the rally when he walked, again moved to second on a sacrifice, and scored the lead run on a single by Jim Starks. Starks came around to score the Black Yankees’ final run in a 3-1 win.41
In 1942 Seay once more was among the top vote getters in balloting for the East-West Game, trailing only Ray Dandridge, but his season was cut short when he was called to military service on July 29, 1942. In his last game before leaving for the Army, he went 3-for-4 with two doubles as the Black Yankees defeated the Chicago American Giants at Yankee Stadium, 8-0.42
Seay missed parts of four seasons before returning to the Black Yankees in 1945. He was stationed at Bangor, Maine, for much of his time in the Army and played on the Dow Field Bombers baseball team there.43 He also played basketball with the camp’s team.
Although his official discharge did not come through until August 19, 1945,44 Seay appeared with the Black Yankees in a game on July 8. He played in eight NNL2 games with the Black Yankees after his military stint ended, and he had 8 hits in 31 at-bats as the team finished the season in last place.
Seay returned to the Black Yankees in 1946. Once again, they finished in last place and Seay had 12 hits and a .218 batting average in 19 league games. His best game was on August 24, when he had three hits in a 7-5 loss to the Philadelphia Stars.
Seay’s last season as a player was with the Black Yankees in 1947. In 1948 he managed the San Juan Stars, the Puerto Rican Winter League champions, as they barnstormed in the United States.
After Seay’s playing days were over, he continued to travel to Puerto Rico and coached for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. His tenure there lasted 15 years, and he coached the likes of Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Orlando Cepeda. Once he completed his tenure in Puerto Rico, he was a coach for the Jersey City team in the Atlantic Collegiate baseball league from 1967 through 1970, serving under manager Johnny Kucks.
Seay appears to have been married during his playing days (circa 1941), but, by the time of the 1950 census, he was divorced. He later entered into a second marriage, to Vivian Jones, on October 30, 1959.45
Dick Seay died in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 6, 1981. According to the New York Times, he was survived by two nieces and three nephews.46 No spouses or children were listed in the obituary.
In addition to the sources shown in the Notes, the author used Seamheads.com, Retrosheet.org, and the following:
Holway, John B. Black Giants (Springfield, Virginia: Lord Fairfax Press, 2010), 112-122.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Graig Kreindler.
1 Bob Considine, “On the Line,” Washington Post, July 22, 1941: 18.
2 Brent Kelley, The Negro Leagues Revisited: Conversations with 66 More Baseball Heroes (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2000), 125.
3 Brent Kelley, Voices from the Negro Leagues: Conversations with 52 Baseball Standouts (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1998), 95.
4 According to his Hall of Fame player questionnaire and Baseball Reference, Seay was born on November 30, 1904. Per his draft card, he was born on November 30, 1905. Per the 1905 New Jersey state census, he was born in 1904.
5 “Newark Stars Capture Both Ends of a Twin Bill at Jamaica Oval Sunday,” New York Amsterdam News, May 12, 1926: 6.
6 “Hilldale Nine Wins in Tenth,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 4, 1926: 14.
7 “Balto. Black Sox Tie Bethlehem Steel for City Crown,” Baltimore Afro-American, September 18, 1926: A9.
8 “Fans Brave Cold to See Sox Win,” Baltimore Afro-American, April 20, 1929: 15.
9 “Royals Divide with Parkways,” Brooklyn Daily Times, May 13, 1929: 3A.
10 “Royals Get Split with Bushwicks,” Brooklyn Daily Times, September 30, 1929: 2-A.
11 “Lewis Big Five,” Pittsburgh Courier, November 14, 1925: 14.
12 Thomas W. Young, “Y.M.D. Alumni and Omega Psi Phis in Big Game,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 18, 1926: 2: 7.
13 “Vandals and St. Christopher Fives Out in Front in Eastern Floor Loop,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 17, 1927: 2: 5.
14 “Vandals and St. Christopher Fives Out in Front in Eastern Floor Loop.”
15 “St. Christopher Defeats Vandals in Fast Game,’ and “St. Christopher Five Defeats Montclair Y,” New York Age, February 18, 1928: 6.
16 “New Quintet Formed,” Pittsburgh Courier, October 13, 1928: 2:5.
17 “Tribune Five Defeats St. Christopher,” New York Age, December 27, 1930: 6.
18 “No Letup in Sight for Centrals: Harlem Quintet Will Furnish Hard Work for Purple and Gold,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, January 5, 1932: 17.
19 “‘Room to Roam’ Gives Stars of Harlem Chance to Show Wares,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, January 15, 1932: 26.
20 “Harlem Stars Take Doubleheader from the Brooklyn Royal Giants,” New York Age, July 18, 1931: 6.
21 “Dick Seay Feels League Lash,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 21, 1932: 2: 4.
22 “Saunders, 205 lb. Center, Leads Husky Negro Cagers Against St. John’s Five,” Binghamton Press, December 1, 1932: 22.
23 W. Rollo Wilson, “Jones Holds Lundymen to Three Hits; Phila. Stars Win Opener in Big Way,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 19, 1934: Section 2: 4, and “Phila. Stars Victors in Colored Opening,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 13, 1934: S-3.
24 “Philadelphia Stars Win Two from Newark,” Philadelphia Tribune, May 17, 1934: 12.
25 “Crawfords Win Again,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 23, 1934: 16.
26 “Home Run Sends Philadelphia to Defeat in Duel,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Evening News, June 12, 1934: 13.
27 Complete balloting shown in Pittsburgh Courier, August 25, 1934: 2-5.
28 “Boldens Whip Nashville,” Chicago Defender, July 14, 1934: 16.
29 “Balto. Black Sox Lose to Stars,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 9, 1934: 12.
30 “Philly Stars Slap Yankees Twice,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 9, 1934: 12.
31 Lewis E. Dial, “League Heads Row in Meetings,” New York Age, March 14, 1936: 8.
32 “Josh Gibson to Autograph Six Baseballs at Black Yank Reception for His Female Fans,” New York Amsterdam News, September 23, 1939: 14.
33 “Grays Divide Double-Header with Newark,” Washington Post, June 17, 1940: 18.
34 “Newark and Cuban Stars Divide Doubleheader,” New York Age, July 6, 1940: 5.
35 Play by play information available on Retrosheet.org.
36 “Revamped Eagles Take 3 in a Row,” Baltimore Afro-American, July 27, 1940: 21.
37 “Eagles Nip Elites, Yanks Top Stars,” Baltimore Afro-American, August 17, 1940: 20.
38 Player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center.
39 “Only Baseball’s Color Line Closed Big Leagues to Seay,” Jersey Journal (Jersey City), April 8, 1981: 42s.
40 The articles in the Chicago Defender and New York Amsterdam Star News were inconsistent (neither had box scores), and the rendering herein is based on a composite of the accounts. Maurice Dancer, “Yanks Defeat Newark; Cubans Trounce Elites,” Chicago Defender, June 7, 1941: 23, credited Seay with the tying RBI; Dan Burley, “Black Yankees Trip Newark, 6-5 in Ninth Inning,” New York Amsterdam Star News, June 7, 1941: 18, credited Kimbro with the tying RBI.
41 William E. Clark, “27,000 See K.C. Monarchs Down Cubans; Black Yanks Beat Philly,” New York Age, July 26, 1941: 11; Maurice Dancer, “27,500 See Kansas City and Paige Defeat Cubans: Satchel Holds Islanders to Three Hits in 5 Innings; Black Yanks Down Phils,” Chicago Defender, July 26, 1941: 23; “Monarchs Turn Back Cubans; Yanks Beat Stars,” Norfolk (Virginia) Journal and Guide, July 26, 1941: 12.
42 “Yanks Top Chicago; Cubans Best Barons,” Norfolk New Journal and Guide, August 1, 1942: A-15.
43 Ben Toomey, “Sportlets,” Waterville (Maine) Morning Sentinel, May 1, 1945: 2.
44 “Black Yanks Well Heeled for Dexter,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 24, 1945: 12.
45 Player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
46 “Dick Seay, 2d Baseman, Black Baseball All-Star,” New York Times, April 10, 1981: B6.