The assertive teenager’s pro baseball career began with a simple letter, jointly submitted with a friend and mailed from his hometown of Kinston, North Carolina. “We would like to seek a job or a tryout with your ballclub. We are now at the age of nineteen years old, we have had two years of experience with a semi-pro club which were the state champions,” they wrote. “Frederick Hobgood, pitcher, has record of 19 victories and 2 defeats, has excellent control, bats and throws on left side,” they continued, and for good measure they added that “neither has habits of smoking or drinking.” Hobgood composed that letter with teammate James Waters in early 1941 and sent it to the Newark Eagles.1
Frederick Douglass Hobgood was born on October 1, 1921, to Cuder and Zylphia (Bryant) Hobgood, about two years after his brother, John Bryant Hobgood.2 Fred was a lifelong resident of Kinston, which a 2018 ESPN article called “the NBA capital of the world,” asserting that “this town of some 21,000 residents is most surely, per capita, the greatest producer of NBA players in America.”3 As a result, it is reportedly called “Basketball Heaven” by many locals, but back when Hobgood joined the Newark club, Kinston was advertising itself as the “world’s foremost tobacco center.”4
According to the county marriage register, Cuder and Zylphia were wed on April 24, 1918.5 Two days later Cuder began military service, during the final year of World War I. His military service card dated November 22, 1919, indicated that he did not serve overseas. He was honorably discharged on February 3, 1919, 12 weeks after the end of the war.6
Minimal information about Fred Hobgood’s youth is available, but the 1920 census reports that shortly before Fred’s birth, Cuder worked at a tobacco factory. Cuder was listed in the city’s 1920 directory. In the 1930 census the family’s entry consisted of Zylphia Hobgood and her two sons, both of whom attended school. Zylphia, a servant in a private home, was identified as a widow, which was also the case in the 1940 census. However, Cuder had apparently remarried: In the 1940 census he and a different wife were living in Washington, D.C., with children Eugene, Loretta, and Cuder Jr. (The latter was born around 1925.) Kinston’s 1923 city directory had an entry for “Delphia” Hobgood, a laundress, who had presumably become a single mother by then.
The 1940 census entry for Zylphia and her two sons indicates that John had completed high school and Frederick had completed two years.
At the time of the 1930 census they would have been attending Tower Hill Elementary School. The only public high school for African-Americans in Kinston was Adkin High School, which opened in 1928. Twelfth grade wasn’t added to Adkin until 1942, after both Hobgood brothers attended.
The semipro team to which Hobgood alluded in the 1941 letter to the Newark Eagles was the Kinston Greys (sometimes called the Grays). They were founded in 1939, and initially their home games were played at Adkin High Park.7 On June 3, 1939, the Pittsburgh Courier did the Greys a big favor by publishing an announcement that they were “anxious to book games with teams traveling in this section. To date this strong nine has won eight out of twelve games.” Anyone interested in challenging the Greys was to contact a Miss Margaret Bryant (Zylphia’s maiden name), whose address was across the street from the team’s organizer, Oscar Cannon.8
One game that first season was a 6-5 loss to the Durham Black Sox on August 8. The game was covered by the Carolina Times, Durham’s African-American newspaper, though without a box score. The Greys used two pitchers, but neither was Hobgood.9 However, Lefty Hobgood was the winning pitcher for the Greys at home in a game early the next season. They hosted the Charlotte Hornets toward the end of April on a day that the Carolina Times described as cold and damp, “better suited for football than baseball.”10 The Greys led the entire game and had a comfortable cushion late “but received a terrific scare in the ninth inning when the visitors scored four times on four hits and a trio of errors after one man was out and the game ended with the tying run on base.”11 The Times added that Hobgood had been “master of the game until the fatal ninth when he weakened but he managed to pull through before too much damage was done.”12
After the Kinston nine’s first two years, Hobgood jumped to the professional ranks at the age of 19 with the Eagles, though his addition to the roster flew under the proverbial radar before Opening Day. For example, he wasn’t among the six pitchers named in a New York Age report in mid-April of 1941 from Newark’s spring-training camp in Daytona Beach, Florida. Similarly, he was not one of the five pitchers named in the Newark Sunday Call’s preview of the May 11 opener, against the Cuban Stars at home.13 When the New York Age summarized the outcome of that contest, a 10-7 Eagles loss before a crowd of 12,500, it noted that Leon Day was the starting pitcher and Maxwell Manning relieved him in the eighth inning, then added that other pitchers on Newark’s staff included Jimmie Hill, James Brown, Len Hooker “and several rookies.”14
Due to the spotty coverage of Negro National League games in newspapers, it is difficult to state with confidence when Fred Hobgood made his regular-season debut, but it was no later than May 18. On that Sunday, Newark hosted the Philadelphia Stars for a doubleheader. Jimmie Hill apparently pitched a complete game in the first contest, won by the Eagles, 5-2. According to the New York Age’s account, Manning was Newark’s starting pitcher in the “abbreviated” second game but “was relieved in the seventh by Rookie Fred Hopgood [sic].” (Hobgood’s surname was often misspelled that way during his pro career.) His team trailed 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning but Francis Matthews led off with a walk and Clarence Isreal homered into the left-field bleachers to tie the game. Monte Irvin then walked but the next two Eagles were retired. That brought up Day, who played center field in both contests. His triple in the first game was a crucial blow, and this time he tripled again to plate Irvin with the winning run.15
The next day Hobgood was the starting pitcher in a game against the Stars at Elks Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. Hobgood was one of six Eagles who scored in the second inning, which knocked opposing pitcher Henry McHenry out of the game, but the Stars replied with six runs in the second and third innings to tie it. Ultimately the Eagles won, 12-7. According to the box score, Hobgood scored two runs and had a single in five times at bat. Manning relieved him late in the game but Hobgood was the winning pitcher.16
Hobgood had another noteworthy outing about a month later against Philadelphia. In the second game of a doubleheader, the Pittsburgh Courier said, he “took top honors” in a 6-3 win, though he didn’t pitch a complete game. Another month or so later, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Elite Giants toward the end of July, he struck out six opponents and limited them to one run on his way to a five-hitter.17 Outside of NNL competition, Hobgood’s peak performance presumably came on September 5 against the Springfield Greys of New York when he hurled a three-hit shutout. “The Eagles southpaw had the Springfield club completely baffled as he spun a masterful pitching job to triumph 4-0,” wrote a Long Island newspaper.18
A rookie pitcher will commonly have his fair share of rough or rocky outings, and all told, Hobgood’s statistics for 1941 were decidedly average. One source shows his record as 5-4 with a 5.08 ERA in 15 games, nine of which he started and two of which he completed. Another source shows his record as 5-5 and his total starts as 10, but it credits him with only one complete game.19
In February 1942, not many weeks after the United States entered World War II, Hobgood filled out a draft registration card. His height was listed as 5-feet-11½ and his weight as 160 pounds. He listed his employer as Abe Manley, the co-owner of the Eagles, so Hobgood may already have had reason to believe he’d continue with the team in 1942. An obvious factor was the loss of players to military service, but the Mexican League was also aggressively recruiting African-American players. “The squad that Abe Manley had so painstakingly assembled by the late 1930s came apart rapidly after 1941,” concluded Effa Manley biographer James Overmyer.20 As the Eagles prepared for spring training, the New York Age declared that Newark’s staff for 1942 would “consist of Hill, Day, Hooker, Brown, Hopgood [sic] and Manning.”21 Sure enough, he earned a starting assignment early in the regular season. At Philadelphia on May 17 he pitched a complete game against the Stars but was on the losing end of a 4-1 score when the Eagles managed only four hits.22
During the first game of a doubleheader at Washington’s Griffith Stadium on June 28, the 20-year-old Hobgood demonstrated his durability. Jimmie Hill started for the Eagles against the Homestead Grays but was taken out in the third inning, down 3-1. “Frederick Hobgood, another lefthander, took over and held the Grays to two runs and nine hits for the remaining 12 innings, blanking them over the final five innings and stranding 17 men,” reported the Baltimore Afro-American. The Eagles almost won it in the ninth inning. They trailed 4-3 but rallied for two runs. But Hobgood walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the inning, “and Easterling’s smash to First Baseman Pearson put both runners on when nobody covered first. Benjamin fanned but Ches Williams tied it up, 5 to 5, by singling to right and scoring Whatley.” In the 14th inning, doubles by Willie Wells and Leon Day off starter Ray Brown produced the winning run. Though Hobgood walked eight and was 0-for-5 at bat, he earned the victory.23
Another high point for Hobgood in 1942 came on August 23 in the second game of a doubleheader against the New York Blank Yankees. The final score was 8-6 and the New York Age noted that Hobgood “won his first home game of the season with four-hit pitching.”24 Overall, though, his statistics were again so-so, with a record of 4-4 in 11 games, eight of which he started. He did, however, increase his complete games from two to four and lowered his ERA somewhat, to 4.57.
A notable preseason start for Hobgood in 1943 was in an exhibition doubleheader on April 25, Easter Sunday, before 11,000 spectators in Washington. After singling in two runs as a pinch-hitter in the first game, he pitched a complete-game loss to the Homestead Grays in the second game. The Grays tormented him more in another doubleheader there on July 4. “The Eagles went into the last inning with a 5 to 4 margin to protect and Hobgood, pitching carefully, retired both Bell and Benjamin,” the Pittsburgh Courier detailed. “He walked Leonard, however, and Josh Gibson, next up, leaned on one of his serves for a 430-foot line drive homer to win the game, 6 to 5.”25
On August 1, Hobgood apparently pitched for a different team, the Philadelphia Stars. A pitcher named “Hopgood” took over in the second inning of a game at Dexter Park, Queens, against the semipro Bushwicks of New York.26 Regardless, on August 7 and 8 Hobgood played for the Eagles against the Homestead Grays, and later in the month he was the second of three Newark pitchers in a game against the Stars.27
The 1943 season ended up being a financial success for the Eagles. “Solid profitability may still have been elusive in 1942, for Effa later told how a brisk attendance on the road had been needed to counter low home,” wrote James Overmyer.28 “But 1943 was reported to have been ‘the year the Eagles hit the black.’”29 On the other hand, that season was unsuccessful for Hobgood; his record was just 1-4 in six games. Five were starts and he completed three of them, but his ERA ballooned to 9.20.30
During NNL meetings in March of 1944, Newark negotiated a three-team trade with the Black Yankees and the Stars that resulted in Hobgood and outfielder Ed Stone ending up with Philadelphia.31 Hobgood’s statistics for 1944 consist of just one appearance for the Stars, lasting 1⅔ innings, plus a complete-game win back with Newark.32 He pitched less than an inning for the Stars against the Bushwicks in mid-June, but about a month later a newspaper in New Jersey reported that he was with “the Morristown Memorials, a colored club that are tied with the Knights of Columbus of that place for first position in the G.M.C.B. [Greater Morristown Community Baseball] League.” Early in a game against the Madison Colonels of New Jersey, Memorials Manager Buddie Ransome called upon reliever “Jim Hopgood, who recently left the Newark Eagles.”33 Hobgood also played semipro ball in New Jersey from June to October of 1945, as an outfielder and first baseman for the Orange Triangles.34
On May 13, 1945, a player named “Hopgood” played first base for the Hilldale A.C. club of Branch Rickey’s United States League in a doubleheader against another team in that short-lived circuit, Oscar Charleston’s Brooklyn Brown Dodgers. Because coverage of that league was so minimal, there may be no way to confirm that this player was indeed Fred Hobgood.35
On June 3, 1946, the Newark Eagles traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, for a game against the Baltimore Elite Giants. Despite chilly weather, 1,500 people watched Newark deploy 16 players in the close contest, which wasn’t decided until late. Lem Graves Jr. described the turning point for Norfolk’s African-American newspaper. Ahead 2 to 1 in the eighth inning, Byrd got off to a bad start by issuing a pass to Hobgood, Newark pinch batter, after getting the Newark lead-off man down 2 strikes to no balls. Hobgood was way behind when he decided to wait Byrd out. When Hobgood drew the freebie, Wilkes laid a bunt down the third base line. Russell, Baltimore third baseman, was up on the green for the play at first with plenty of time. However, he threw the ball away, making Wilkes safe at first on an error and allowing Hopgood [sic] to score. Then Pat Patterson hit a triple to right field scoring Wilkes.
Newark scored one more run in the inning, and the final score was 4-2 in what Graves said twice was an official game.36 If that was indeed Fred Hobgood rejoining his old team, it was quite possibly the final game of his pro career.
The Kinston Greys continued for about two decades, although whether Hobgood ever rejoined them is unknown. Five members of the team tried out with the St. Louis Browns at a camp in Kinston in August of 1948, but Hobgood wasn’t among them.37
By 1951 both of Fred Hobgood’s parents had died. His father, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, died in 1943. Zylphia died in December of 1950. The next month Fred Hobgood married Cecil (often spelled Cecile) Loftin, and a daughter, Frieda, was born in 1956, followed by daughter Melba in 1963.38
From 1953 to the end of the decade, city directories listed Hobgood’s job as a driver and later a salesman for the Carey-Perry Oil company, also known as the A.J. Carey Oil Company. Starting in the 1960 directory, he owned his own Hobgood’s Oil Service and in at least one of those directories he took out an ad specifying mobile fuel oil and printed meter service, for which his business would “assure accuracy.”
Hobgood wouldn’t enjoy having his own business for very long. He died on September 23, 1965. The cause specified on his death certificate was coronary occlusion, a common cause of heart attacks. He was a week shy of his 44th birthday.
1 James Overmyer, Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993), 84.
2 This spelling of his middle name is from his draft registration card dated February 16, 1942, though it is sometimes rendered as “Douglas” instead. Both of his parents’ first names were spelled differently in various sources, his father’s as “Cruder” and his mother’s as either “Zilphia” or “Zelphia.” One source for John Bryant Hobgood’s date of birth, November 11, 1919, is the North Carolina Birth Index, 1800-2000, available online via Ancestry.com.
3 “Since the 1972-73 NBA season, 1 out of every 52.7 players to suit up for Kinston High School’s varsity squad has reached the league, meaning the odds to do so in Kinston are, since the early 1970s, about 63 times [better] than the national average. Baxter Holmes, “America’s Basketball Heaven,” February 20, 2018. espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/22467698/how-kinston-north-carolina-became-greatest-producer-nba-talent-america.
5 Kinston is the seat of Lenoir County, and its register identified the couple’s parents as John and Letitia Hobgood and John and Fannie Bryant. One witness was Ethel Loftin, whose surname is the same as that of Frederick’s future wife.
6 See also his individual entry at blacksoldiersmattered.com/soldier?id=WW-I-Card_World-War-I-Service-Card-3-a_01165.tif. His service was confirmed in a list – as “C. Hobgood (colored)” – in “Kinstonians in Arms,” Kinston Daily Free Press, September 3, 1918: 4.
7 “Played Ball! The Greys Showed Baseball Was Colorblind,” Kinston Free Press, February 18, 2006: C1.
8 “Kingston [sic] Greys Booking,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 3, 1939: 16. The city’s name was spelled correctly within the short article.
9 “Black Sox Take 2,” Carolina Times (Durham, North Carolina), August 12, 1939: 8. The starting pitcher for the Greys was named Green and at some point he was relieved by an underhand pitcher named Williams. The hitting star for the Greys was named Price, who tripled. A column on the same page by Wm. A. Tuck, “The Sports Bazaar,” noted that at third base for the Greys was Dynamite Brewington, a former North Carolina College fullback. Based on “N.C. College Athletes Honored With Letters at Reception and Smoker,” Carolina Times, June 11, 1938: 3, Brewington’s first name was John, and he also lettered in basketball.
10 “Turn Back Charlotte Hornets,” Carolina Times, April 27, 1940: 2. Hobgood’s catcher was named Mills. On April 28 the Greys were scheduled to play the Greensboro Blue Sox.
13 “Newark Eagles Have New Pitching Star in James Brown,’ New York Age, April 19, 1941: 11. In addition to Brown, the article said, other pitchers in or expected at the camp included Leon Day, Maxwell Manning, Haywood Cozart, Len Hooker, and Jimmie Hill. “Negro Loop Opens Here Next Sunday,” Newark Sunday Call, May 4, 1941: Part 2, page 3. “On the pitching staff Manager Mackey will have Jimmy Hill and Leon Day battling for the No. 1 berth, in addition to James Brown, Len Hooker and Max Manning.”
14 “12,500 Fans Atttend [sic] Opening at Ruppert Stadium in Newark,” New York Age, May 17, 1941: 11.
15 “Newark Eagles Take Two from Star[sic]; Go Into First Place,” New York Age, May 24, 1941: 11. May 24, 1941, was a Saturday, and this newspaper was reporting on the previous Sunday, which was May 18.
16 “Newark Eagles Rout Phila. Stars,” Chester (Pennsylvania) Times, May 20, 1941: 15.
17 “Eagles in Stride; Top Philly Stars,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 21, 1941: 16. “Baltimore Giants, Newark Divide,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1941: 4.
18 “Greys Blanked with Three Hits,” Nassau Daily Review-Star (Long Island, New York), September 6, 1941: 11.
19 See seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=hobgo01fre (which, as of this writing, is the source that provides an ERA for him and shows his record as 5-4) and baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=hobgoo000fre.
20 Overmyer, 191.
21 “Newark Eagles to Train in Florida,” New York Age, February 28, 1942: 11.
22 “Eagles, Stars Divide Bill,” Baltimore Afro-American, May 23, 1942: 22.
23 “Eagles Nip Grays in 14th Inning,” Baltimore Afro-American, June 30, 1942: 22.
24 “Eagles Beat Black Yankees Twice at Ruppert Stadium,” New York Age, August 29, 1942: 10.
25 “Grays Win Twin Bill from Newark in D.C.,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 10, 1943: 19.
26 Bill Bloome, “Bushwicks Top Philly Stars in Two Games,” Long Island Daily Press, August 2, 1943: 11. “Hopgood” was mentioned three times in the article. This surname also appeared in the box score beneath “Dexters Dim Philly Stars in Two Games,” Brooklyn Eagle, August 2, 1943: 10.
27 Al Dunmore, “Jud Wilson Paces Grays in Two Wins,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 14, 1943: 19. “Hopgood [sic] was replaced in the fifth for Newark by the elongated Elam after giving up eight runs to the Grays.” Dunmore said the game was played on a Saturday, presumably referring to August 7. An article by Ric Roberts on the same page, “Grays and Eagles Split 2 Games,” was about a Sunday game, undoubtedly on August 8, in which “Hopgood” was a pinch-hitter. See also “Phila. Stars Beat Newark, 12-11,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 1943: 25.
28 Overmyer, 177.
31 “National League Set for Season,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 11, 1944: 12. See also “Judge Paige Plans Parade to Games,” Brooklyn Eagle, May 14, 1944: 18.
33 “Bell’s Single in 9th Gives Dexters 2 Wins,” Brooklyn Eagle, June 19, 1944: 12. “Local Team Continues Their Winning Streak,” Madison (New Jersey) Eagle, July 20, 1944: 10.
34 For example, see “Brookdale Weak with Stick in Two Loop Losses,” Independent Press (Bloomfield, New Jersey), June 29, 1945: 22. Hobgood played outfield while Joe Black pitched for the Orange Triangles.
35 “Twin Bill Swept by Dodgers Here,” Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Evening News, May 14, 1945: 16. Information compiled by baseball historians about the United States League can vary considerably. For example, contrast the teams listed at baseball-reference.com/register/league.cgi?code=USBL&class=Neg with those named at cnlbr.org/MuseumGallery/Programs/tabid/83/mid/402/ProjectId/62/wildRC/1/Default.aspx.
36 Lem Graves Jr., “Newark Tops Baltimore 4-2 As Doby Hits Ball Out of Park, New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Virginia), June 8, 1946. Thanks to SABR member Drew Noe for tracking down this article. Though Graves said Newark used 16 players, only 15 were listed in the box score. Though Hobgood’s first name was never identified, Norfolk is only 150 miles from Kinston. Also, in the 1940 census, every male named Hopgood or Hobgood in Virginia was white, and there was nobody by either surname in Norfolk’s city directories for 1946 or 1947.
37 See David E. Dalimonte, “Kinston Has a Rich Tradition in Baseball,” at milb.com/. “St. Louis Browns Try Five Players,” Baltimore Afro-American, August 21, 1948: Section 2, page 13. “Five colored players were among 50 young baseball hopefuls working out last week here at the St. Louis Browns’ tryout camp at Grainger Park. The five players, members of the Kinston Greys, a semi-pro team, were infielders William Randolph, Hubert Collins and Robert L. Smith, catcher Sam Coefield and pitcher Arthur CoIlins. Their ages range from 18 to 23. Scouts George Stis and George Staten said the colored players were smooth ball handlers, but did not say whether they would get contracts.”
38 Most of this information is from North Carolina death, birth, and marital records, but regarding Cuder Hobgood, see ancexplorer.army.mil/publicwmv/#/arlington-national/search/. John Hobgood, who outlived brother Fred by a few decades, served in the US Army for 23 years, and in 1964 “received a commendation from the American ambassador to Ethiopia for his outstanding volunteer work with Ethiopian youth,” according to his obituary. See legacy.com/obituaries/dispatch/obituary.aspx?n=john-bryant-hobgood&pid=15160199.