In the 1920s, Harry Kincannon left the coalfields of southern West Virginia and headed north to Pittsburgh, where he developed into a right-handed curveball specialist in the city’s sandlot leagues. He began his professional career in 1929 with the Pittsburgh Crawford Giants. Kincannon remained with the Crawfords organization through 1936, but did not make an appearance on the mound during the team’s 1935 Negro League Championship Series against the New York Cubans. In 1937 he was signed by the New York Black Yankees and then spent the following year with the Washington Black Senators.
Kincannon played his final season in the Negro Leagues with the short-lived 1939 Toledo Crawfords. After the Toledo team folded, Kincannon headed back home to West Virginia, where he spent the next 12 years as a pitcher and manager for a variety of successful semipro and amateur black baseball teams. When he wasn’t in the dugout or on the mound, Kincannon was a coal miner, as was his father and all three of his brothers. These two legacies – coal and baseball – bookended Kincannon’s life and served to both limit and expand his world.
Kincannon’s family roots trace back to Wythe County in southwestern Virginia, which borders the coalfields of southern West Virginia. Kincannon’s grandparents were born into slavery in Wythe County. His paternal grandfather, Andrew Kincannon, worked as a furnace laborer in the Ivanhoe community, refining lead from local mines, a grueling job he held both before and after the Civil War.
Harry Kincannon was the eldest of 10 children born to Charles “Charlie” Kincannon Sr. and Arlena (also spelled as “Arlene” and “Arleana”) Jones Kincannon. He was born on June 26, 1909, in Arlington, West Virginia, a coal-camp community in McDowell County, the southernmost county in the state.1 During the decade in which Harry was born, McDowell County was experiencing a major economic and population boom. By 1910, McDowell had the highest percentage of black population of any West Virginia county.2 The vast majority of African-Americans living in the county in 1910, including the Kincannons, came to work in the coal mines. Many were recruited by mine owners as a means to discourage unionization, or as strikebreakers where the unions had been established.3 The town of Arlington was founded by the Arlington Coal & Coke Company, and when the coal was gone, so was Arlington. It ceased to function as a community by the early 1930s and today no longer appears on official West Virginia highway maps.4
Kincannon’s genealogical background played a role in his life as a mixed-race man in the Jim Crow era. The 1910 Census classified Kincannon and his parents as “mulatto.”5 In 1942, when he registered for the World War II draft, he was described as a “negro” with “gray eyes” and a “light brown” complexion.6 Based on his physical appearance, Kincannon was able to “pass” as white and test some of the racial boundaries of the era, including being served in “whites only” businesses.7 For example, Kincannon, who was known for his good sense of humor, could enter a whites-only ice cream parlor without causing a stir, and enjoy his cone while he taunted his Negro League teammates who were denied entrance.8 But just in case any given situation went awry, Kincannon kept a pistol in his pocket – a personal insurance policy that he carried throughout his life.9
By 1920, Kincannon’s family moved to Northfork, a larger community just north of Arlington, where his father, Charlie, worked the dirty and dangerous job of a coal loader.10 Around the time the family moved to Northfork, Charlie’s uncle, Platfield “Platt” Kincannon, left Wythe County, Virginia, for Pittsburgh. Platt was born in Wythe County in 1898 and was 11 years younger than Charlie. Uncle Platt was probably the catalyst that inspired Harry Kincannon to move from Northfork to Pittsburgh. It is reasonable to assume that Platt was aware of his nephew’s baseball talents and encouraged the young man to try his luck at pitching for one of the numerous semipro teams in the booming Pittsburgh area. It is highly probable that before leaving McDowell County, Kincannon was also a pitcher for one of the many coal-company-sponsored baseball teams that flourished in West Virginia in the early 1900s. According to historian William E. Akin, the “majority of West Virginia natives who reached the major leagues … did their apprenticeship in coalfield ball.”11
Another factor that may have played a role in Kincannon’s relocation to Pittsburgh was a desire to avoid the life of a coal miner, a career that left his father with permanent disabilities including a deformed pelvis and the shortening of his right leg.12 At the time there were few other employment options for African-American men in the coalfields. Kincannon’s foray into professional baseball in the 1920s and ’30s afforded him an opportunity to temporarily postpone working in the mines. He did, however, work for coal companies before and after his days as a baseball player, as did all three of his brothers.
One of the challenges in documenting Kincannon’s baseball career is the variety of ways in which his name appeared in newspapers. His name, or something similar to it, first appeared in box scores for semipro independent leagues in the Pittsburgh area in 1928, when he was about 18 years old.13 From the beginning to the end of his career, Kincannon’s name appeared in a variety of abbreviated forms and misspellings. This is not surprising given that the name is nine letters long and that box-score column space was limited. One popular option to shorten “Kincannon” was to drop the first syllable and go with just Canon or Cannon. When his last name was abbreviated in box scores, it was sometimes given as a jumble of random letters including Kcan, Kincn, Kincnn, and Kncn, to name just a few.
Another option used by newspapers to identify Kincannon was to tag him with a nickname. Assigning nicknames to athletes is a long-standing tradition and his last name allowed for some creative appellations. The most frequently used nicknames for Kincannon were various riffs on “tin can” including Tincan, Tincannon, and Tincanner. During the 1920s, when he played in Pittsburgh area sandlot leagues, “tin can” was part of the popular and sportswriting vernacular. For example, there were the tin-can tourists, a term that referred to an emerging demographic of sightseers who chose to drive their tin-can cars (Tin Lizzies) and formed vacation communities of tin-canners.14 “Tincan” was also used in sports lingo. In boxing, it was used to describe a fighter who was retreating around the ring to “tincan to safety.”15 In horse racing, a tincan horse was one that won with ease.16
The first use of the nickname Tincan for Kincannon appeared in 1929 in a Pittsburgh Press account of the Twenty-fifth Ward Traders’ 14-4 defeat of the Rinkeydinks in which “Tincan pitched a wonderful game, striking out 12 batters.”17 Later that year, he was also called Tincup.18 By 1931, Tincannon was the most frequently used nickname for Kincannon but it largely disappeared by the mid-1930s.19 Then, in 1935, he was tagged as Roy Tincannon in a photo taken with fellow Crawfords pitcher Bertrum Hunter.20 This was not the only time Kincannon was mistakenly referred to as Roy. The origin of this name confusion is unknown, but it may have resulted from a conflation of the names of two Crawfords pitchers, Harry Kincannon and Roy Williams.
The first time something close to the correct spelling of Kincannon’s last name appeared in a Pittsburgh sports page occurred on May 29, 1929, when it was reported that “Kincanon” tossed a one-hitter for the Traders, and defeated the Clayton nine, 2-1.21 While the victory was notable enough to gain a few column inches in the Pittsburgh Courier, it was his batterymate was even more significant: his future Pittsburgh Crawfords teammate Josh Gibson, who likely was filling in for the Traders’ regular catcher.22 Gibson’s moonlighting gig with the Traders may have played a role in Kincannon joining the Pittsburgh Crawford Giants just a few months later.
Kincannon continued to enjoy success with the Traders in the summer of 1929, including a winning effort against the Rinkeydinks in which he struck out 12 batters.23 But by August he left the Traders and joined the Pittsburgh Crawford Colored Giants. “Tincup” won his first outing for the Crawford Giants when he held the Homestead Aces to four hits and led his new team to an 8-1 victory.24 Kincannon had another successful start for the Crawfords on September 9, 1929. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, “The Crawfords defeated the Stowe Civics last night by a 4-1 score at Ammon field with Tincan and Roscoe staging an interesting pitching battle.”25 Kincannon pitched for Crawford Colored Giants in 1931 and picked up a few starts for the Moon Run nine of the Colored Panhandle League.26 Although he moonlighted with other teams, the Crawfords were his main focus and, as the team improved, the Courier touted them as the “Pittsburgh district’s second ranking colored team,” a direct comparison with the more accomplished Homestead Grays.27
Gus Greenlee purchased the Crawford Colored Giants in 1931 and Kincannon was among the players who remained with the team under its new ownership. Despite rumors that the team was about to be disbanded, the Crawfords took the field for a difficult 1931 season.28 Financial uncertainty, fueled by a lack of games and silent turnstiles, brought into question the team’s survival. For example, one game played at Ammon Field at the end of May, netted the Crawfords just $6 after they paid $15 for baseballs, $24 to the umpires, and $50 to compensate the visiting team.29 Kincannon’s season with the Crawfords had as many ups and downs as did the team’s finances. He had two rough outings in August, but ended the 1931 season on a high note with a sterling four-hit, 20-0 win over Coraopolis at Ammon Field.30
If 1931 ended with a sense of optimism for Kincannon, then 1932 started off on the wrong foot – literally. While engaged in spring training at Hot Springs, Arkansas, Kincannon injured an ankle and was reduced to the role of spectator and equipment manager as his teammates took to the practice field.31 He recovered in time to rejoin his team for a barnstorming tour that took the Crawfords from Arkansas to points west before heading back to Pennsylvania for the regular season.32 Kincannon regained his pitching form on the road and “his curves were the talk of Omaha.”33 On July 17, 1932, he tossed a four-hitter against the Spiderwebs of Jamestown, New York.34 By August he was described as a “young curve ball shark.”35 At the end of the season, he had accumulated a respectable record of 15 wins and eight losses.36
The Crawfords started 1933 with much optimism and enthusiasm for the newly formed National Association of Negro Baseball Clubs, chaired by Greenlee.37 Kincannon was still viewed as a “youngster” and “showed perhaps more promise than any other twirler produced in this district for some time.”38 Courier columnist Charles “Ches” Washington lauded Kincannon for his “rare assortment of curves and twisters” and work ethic, and predicted that “with a bit more of the seasoning which he received last year [Kincannon] looks like a real comer.”39 Kincannon failed to meet expectations and finished the year with a record of just two wins against five losses.40
The 1934 season turned out to be Kincannon’s best year with the Crawfords, but it didn’t start out that way. Spring training came to abrupt end for him when he was “struck in the vital section with a batted ball” and was “forced to return home for treatment.”41 He recovered and finished the season with six wins and four losses in Negro League play, and made his only appearance in an East-West All-Star Game.42 In the competition for the most popular Crawfords pitcher that year, Kincannon received 2,877 endorsements in the East All-Star balloting, second only to Leroy “Satchel” Paige, who garnered 3,913 votes by fans.43
The Crawfords’ 1935 championship season began, as it had the year before, with spring training in Hot Springs. This time, however, Kincannon avoided any unpleasant injuries. Hopes were justifiably high in May as manager Oscar Charleston tagged “curve-baller” Kincannon as one of his pitching aces.44 He rewarded his skipper’s confidence by helping to sweep a doubleheader from the Nashville Elite Giants in May.45 But after his sharp start to the season, Kincannon was relegated mainly to relief work for the bulk of the summer. His lack of success on the hill was reflected by the paucity of votes generated by his fans for the 1935 East-West All-Star lineup. As of late July, in the early balloting for the West All-Stars, Kincannon had garnered just 13 votes.46 By early August, Kincannon had just 426 votes, far behind Leroy Matlock, the most popular Crawfords pitcher in the competition, with 3,843.47
Kincannon’s last start of the 1935 Crawfords’ regular season took place on September 9, when they played the New York Cubans in Paterson, New Jersey, before 4,000 fans, the largest regular-season attendance of the year.48 It was not pretty. The New Yorkers “solved the fancy curve ball of Kincannon” and rang him up for 14 hits in a 9-3 setback.49 It should be noted that although this particular game between the Crawfords and Cubans was thought by some to be the first game of the 1935 Negro League World Series, it was not.50 Newspaper reporting on the Series was unanimous – the first game of the series was played on September 13 at the Dyckman Oval in New York. Kincannon did not take the mound for the Crawfords in the championship series.51 Three days later he was mentioned as a possible starter when the Crawfords played the House of David in Altoona, Pennsylvania, as the team made its way back to Pittsburgh to continue the series against the Cubans.52 The Crawfords trimmed the bearded House of David nine by a tidy score of 14-4, but Kincannon’s name did not appear in the box score and teammate Sam Streeter picked up the win.53
It is not known why Kincannon did not play in the 1935 Negro League Championship Series. His disappearance from the Crawfords’ roster in the postseason is puzzling. That same year he also failed to make the roster for the North-South game played in Memphis, Tennessee, in late September.54 There were no reports that Kincannon was injured so it may have been simply a matter of his declining effectiveness. His lack of playing after early September could have been an indication of physical or off-field problems – or both.
Kincannon returned to the Crawfords’ lineup in 1936. He was one of eight hurlers on the roster and had another uneven year.55 His first start in a league game ended in a 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Stars.56 Four days later, he redeemed himself in a 12-4 rout of the House of David in Camden, New Jersey.57 Kincannon was at the top of his game in early June when he led the Crawfords to a 9-4 victory over the Philadelphia Stars at Felton Field in Chester, Pennsylvania.58 One of his best outings of 1936 season came on August 12, when his “fast balls and hooks” limited the Poughkeepsie All Stars to five hits and propelled the Crawfords to a 5-1 victory.59 Kincannon also had a nifty 3-2 win at home against the local Dormont-Mt. Lebanon nine on August 28, but as with his triumph over Poughkeepsie, it was not against a Negro National League team.60 By the end of August, Kincannon again was mainly relegated to relief duties. Increasingly, he walked more batters than he struck out. He was struggling with his control and his much-vaunted curveball was flattening out. During a game against the Washington Elite Giants in mid-August, in three innings of relief, Kincannon gave up five hits, walked one batter, and hit two batters.61
When the baseball season fired up in the spring of 1937, Kincannon found himself in an unusual situation. For the first time since he left West Virginia, he was not playing for a Pittsburgh-based team. His exit from western Pennsylvania was even the subject of a trivia question that appeared in the Courier:
“Q. What twirler seems to have the widest-breaking curve ball?
- Harry Kincannon, formerly of the Crawfords, now with the Grays.”62
Actually, instead of a “trick question,” the Courier provided its readers with a trick answer. Kincannon was not traded by the Craws to the Grays – he was acquired by the New York Black Yankees for the 1937 season. In fact, there are no records to indicate that Kincannon played for the Homestead Grays during his time in Pittsburgh.
Kincannon made a good first impression on the New York fans at the start of the 1937 season. He won one of his early outings for the Black Yankees by demonstrating his “speed artist” skills and by launching a triple of his own to drive in the winning run.63 He followed up with a 5-4 victory in May against the Newark Eagles at Dexter Park in Queens, New York.64 A few weeks later, however, he issued seven walks against three strikeouts in a loss to the Homestead Grays.65 One game summary noted that his pitching against the Grays was especially “wild.”66 Things were no better in early July when Kincannon, working as the starter, was “pummeled” in a 14-3 loss to the Newark Eagles.67 Kincannon’s misfortunes continued in late July when his former team, the Crawfords, handed his Black Yankees a 15-8 loss in what was described as “one of the wildest and wooliest baseball games of the season.68 At the end of the Black Yankees’ season, Kincannon finished with a record of two wins and two losses in official Negro National League play.69
Kincannon began the 1938 season with a new team, the Washington Black Senators, a member of the Negro National League for just one year. They won only two of 21 official league games and finished 1938 in the basement with a dismal .095 winning percentage.70 Washington also played the fewest games of all the Negro National League teams in 1938 and is considered to be one of the worst squads in Negro League history.71 As a reflection of his minimal success on the mound and his team’s dismal performance, Kincannon garnered a meager 214 votes in the 1938 East-West All-Star balloting.72 His record for the entire season was one win and one loss, which doesn’t sound impressive until one realizes that he was responsible for 50 percent of his team’s victories. His year in Washington had its upsides and downsides: He had the worst ERA of his career, a beefy 5.75 in 20⅓ innings, but he batted an impressive .308, the highest BA of his Negro League career.73
After the Black Senators folded in August, Kincannon found a spot on the roster of the 1938 Atlantic City Bacharachs. The team was organized in 1916 as the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants from the remnants of the Duval Giants of Jacksonville, Florida.74 They were a dominant African-American nine through the 1920s and briefly joined the Negro National League in late 1934 before devolving into an ad-hoc semipro outfit.75 By the time they signed Kincannon, they were in a steep decline and four years away from being disbanded. Kincannon’s brief association with the Bacharachs contributed little to his baseball résumé other than yet another variation on his first name. Describing a coming game against the semipro Brooklyn Bay Parkways, the sportswriter identified him as “Jack Kincannon, ex-Pittsburgh Crawford.”76
Kincannon began 1939 with a new-old team, the Toledo Crawfords, and with another version of his name – “Dick Kincannon.”77 He signed on with what turned out to be the next to last incarnation of the Crawfords. The 1939 Toledo Crawfords started the year as members of the Negro National League but switched to the Negro American League in midseason. These Crawfords did have some faces familiar to Kincannon including manager Oscar Charleston, Spoon Carter, Jimmie Crutchfield, Bill Harvey, and Leroy Morney, but there weren’t many high points for Kincannon or the Toledo Crawfords in 1939. They played fewer than 20 official league games, and spent most of the season barnstorming against local semipro and/or amateur nines.
After the season, Kincannon headed back home to West Virginia. His professional career was over, but he did not stop playing baseball. After the “Crawfords hit a financial skid and disbanded,” Kincannon signed to play with the local semipro Slab Fork Indians, a team originally sponsored by a Raleigh County coal company.78 He also worked in the coal mines in the Slab Fork community. By the time Kincannon arrived in Slab Fork, however, the golden era of company-sponsored baseball teams was over. Gone were the days when coal companies would “hire” a miner for his baseball skills rather than his potential to actually mine coal.79 During the 1920s, professional nines regularly barnstormed throughout southern West Virginia, broadening their fan bases as well as scouting local talent. The Homestead Grays and other Negro League teams, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords, made regular stops in the region, crossing bats not only with African-American teams, but also with all-white squads.80 It is possible that Kincannon interacted with some of these teams before moving to Pittsburgh and may help to explain how he got his start with the Crawfords.
Kincannon and the Slab Fork Indians played in the Tri-County Negro League in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. He was with the team off and on throughout the 1940s. In the summer of 1940 Kincannon enjoyed early successes with victories against other teams with coal company legacies, including the Winding Gulf Tigers and the New River Giants. He led his team to the Tri-County championship and was selected to play in an “All Star” game in which the region’s top African-American players were pitted against the best players from the area’s white teams. Kincannon played in these and other interracial contests throughout his career. Although one might assume these games were organized to exploit racial conflict, that was not necessarily the case. One former African-American baseball player who played in local coalfield leagues said that from his perspective, in games between blacks and whites, there were “no racial tensions. … We just played ball.”81 On October 16, 1940, just weeks after closing out his first season for the Slab Fork Indians, Kincannon registered for the US Army draft. In his draft documents, he was described as a 30-year-old unmarried and unemployed African-American man with gray eyes and black hair, standing 5-feet-11½, and weighing 172 pounds.82
Kincannon enjoyed his star turn as a pitcher for the Slab Fork Indians. Local newspapers frequently touted his professional baseball pedigree and noted that he was a “capable pitcher … and an especially consistent hitter.”83 In 1942 Kincannon also added “player-manager” to his baseball résumé.84 While he was multitasking for Slab Fork, he also freelanced as a pitcher for other teams, including one of their main rivals, the Raleigh Clippers, who were the West Virginia Negro League champions in 1942.85 Kincannon continued his fluid team allegiances through the early 1940s when many coalfield nines found themselves with thin rosters because of players lost to the military during World War II.86 He did help the Clippers win the league championship in 1943, although his effectiveness was somewhat diminished after he was spiked in the right hand in early August.87
Kincannon came back strong for the Clippers in in the summer of 1944. The press described him as a “rubber-armed right-hander with a fast ball which comes down the alley looking like an aspirin tablet.”88 That year he was joined on the field by his younger brother Charles Kincannon Jr.89 Charlie Jr. did some pitching but was better known as an outfielder. That year the brothers helped the Clippers repeat as league champions. The final game of 1944 for Harry was an exhibition tilt between the Clippers and a team of all-white “All-Stars” led by Johnny Gorsica, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.90 Gorsica’s All-Stars defeated the Clippers, 8-5, with Kincannon striking out seven and walking five batters in the losing effort.91 Also on the field for the All-Stars was Harry Perkowski, a 22-year-old local favorite, who was two years away from being signed by the Cincinnati Reds.92 The game was played at R.M.I. Field, a diamond that served as the focal point for coalfield baseball for decades.93 But in a nod to declines in financial and fan support for local semipro baseball, each player on both teams was required to “bring his own bat.”94
By 1945 it was apparent that Harry Kincannon was in the twilight of his pitching career. Even though he was spending more of his time as a skipper than as a star hurler, his services were still in demand. Early in the season, he forsook his Raleigh Clippers to sign as player-manager of the newly formed Beckley Indians.95 Through the 1945 season, Kincannon split his time between the Clippers and the Indians. He had flashes of brilliance and at times his curveball was “breaking fast and his speedball [was] in there like a bullet.”96 Kincannon ended the year with the Clippers that relinquished their long-held title as the “Negro League” champions of West Virginia. The Clippers were plagued by bad weather and the lack of a home field. The league organization itself was falling apart and games were more likely to be scheduled on an ad-hoc basis.
Both Harry and Charlie Kincannon were on the field for the Clippers in 1946 – in the few games that were actually played. Coverage of Clippers games during the 1946 season was sparse at best, and fraught with omissions and errors at worst. But then again, Kincannon’s season was nothing worthy of the record books. Harry supplemented his infrequent time on the mound with the Clippers with an occasional start for the rival Beckley Indians and the Mullens (West Virginia) Red Sox.97 Charlie’s participation with the Clippers may have been diminished by injuries he sustained during an altercation at a bar near Beckley in which he was stabbed in the head, back, and ribs.98 (Another brother, Ray Kincannon, was also injured in the fray.99) But there was one bright spot in Harry’s life that year involving a diamond, but happening off the field. In 1946 he married Dorothy Josephine Robertson in McDowell County. They remained married until his death in 1965, and together they raised five children.
Kincannon spent the summer of 1947 on the hill for the Clippers, with his brother Charlie doing his usual gardening in the outfield. That summer Kincannon tossed one of his finest games when he and the Clippers shut out the Gary (West Virginia) Miners, 2-0.100 The victory was vintage Kincannon and his arm must have felt 10 years younger that day. He pitched a complete game, struck out nine, and walked just one batter.101 The irony of this game was that Kincannon was not supposed to be the starting pitcher that day. That role was designated for Harold Hairston, but the “former Homestead Grays pitcher, didn’t show up as expected to hurl for the Clippers … but as it turned out he wasn’t needed and Harry Kincannon, old standby of the Clipper mound staff, turned in a seven-hit shutout.”102 Hairston, like Kincannon, was a West Virginia native. He played for the Clippers before signing with the Homestead Grays, and was under contract with the Grays for the 1947 season.103
Kincannon signed up for the Slab Fork Indians in 1948. The only game in which he played that was reported in a local newspaper was a contest between the Slab Fork Indians and the Glen Rogers (West Virginia) Red Sox which “the Indians won 1 to 0 behind Kincannon.”104 Although no first name for the pitcher was provided, it is very likely that Slab Fork’s starter that day was Harry Kincannon and not his brother, because in 1948 Charlie played for Glen Rogers.105
Harry and Charlie Kincannon were back with the Clippers in 1949 and things were looking up.106 The Clippers had just built a new ballpark in Stanaford, four miles northeast of Beckley, and mapped out a schedule to include “top notch Negro teams … as well as independent teams, white and colored.”107 The roster included 15 men who “worked in or around the mines” and all of whom, including Harry, were called upon to help with the construction of the new field.108 The Clippers’ booking manager, Grover Lewis, proclaimed that “the stage is set for Negro baseball to be bigger and better than before.”109 Throughout the season, Kincannon was used as a starter and in relief. In May he pitched an eight-hit shutout against the Hemphill (West Virginia) V-8’s, striking out nine, and he hit a solo home run to lift the Clippers to a 4-0 win at their new home ballpark.110 In June he pitched three scoreless innings in relief in a lopsided loss to the Homestead Grays.111 Playing second base for the Grays that day was Josh Gibson Jr., son of the late Josh Gibson, one of Harry’s former Crawfords teammates.112 But the more things changed, the more they stayed the same – Kincannon’s first name was incorrectly reported in local newspapers as Harold or Hal, a mistake that was repeated in future coverage.113
In the summer of 1949, at the advanced age of 40, Kincannon was still in command of the mound. By mid-July, he had a 3-0 record as a starting pitcher for the Clippers. The Beckley Post-Herald proclaimed that Kincannon “has pitched a lot of fine ball games in his career, but other efforts were overshadowed by the stuff he produced yesterday at Clipper field,” as it reported on his four-hitter against the Glen Rogers Red Sox.114 In July Harry’s role with the Clippers expanded to player-manager.115 All in all, 1949 was not a bad year for the veteran hurler. He had one of his most successful post-Negro League seasons and for the first time in several years helped the Raleigh Clippers reclaim the “Negro championship of Southern West Virginia.”116 But despite his late surge, when the 1949 season came to a close, Kincannon’s days as a starting pitcher for any team in any league were over.
In 1950 Kincannon served mainly as the Clippers’ manager and made only sporadic appearances as a reliever. He admitted that despite having “performed creditably on the mound for the Clippers last season … that his days as an active player are nearing the finish.”117 He didn’t “have the old zip on his fastball,” but he could still come in as a reliever and “fool a lot of the present day hitters who swing from their heels.”118 His brother Charlie was the only Kincannon to see regular play for the Raleigh squad. Even though the Clippers took the championship title again that year, the highlight of the season was an exhibition game played in July between the Clippers and the Homestead Grays. Kincannon’s former Crawfords teammate Satchel Paige was slated to start for the Clippers. Paige was touring the country as a “freelance” pitcher.119 The spectacle was held at Watt Powell Park in Charleston, West Virginia, and was organized to benefit the city’s recreation programs.120 It was promoted as a reunion for Kincannon and Paige, who were roommates during their time with the Crawfords and “developed a strong friendship that lasted through the years.”121 If only Kincannon’s team had been as reliable as his relationship with Paige. The Clippers were thrashed by the Grays, 11-1, thanks in part to the four errors committed by the Clippers during Paige’s three-inning cameo on the mound.122 No box score for the game was reported so it is unknown if either of the Kincannon brothers took the field.
For the last home game of the 1950 season, the Clippers slipped by the Eccles Admirals, an all-white team, 3-2.123 Harry stayed in the dugout as the Clippers’ manager while his brother Charlie was in his usual position in center field. And for this game, Kincannon had the hot corner covered by Sonny Watts of Beckley, a former Clippers star who had just finished his duties for the Birmingham Black Barons.124 The victory may have been especially satisfying for Kincannon because the Admirals’ starter, Harry Perkowski, who grew up in Eccles and later called Beckley his home, was now a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.125
Kincannon rejoined the Clippers bullpen in June for the 1951 season and ceded his managerial duties to Grover Lewis.126 The year started on a cautiously optimistic note with Kincannon expected to draw on his professional pedigree to boost the team’s image and bottom line. In the press, Kincannon was described as “a mound luminary in Negro baseball,” who was “with the Pittsburgh Crawfords when Satch Paige came up as a rookie,” and would be “used in relief roles until he gets in mid-season condition.”127 Kincannon did not, however, get into “condition” and made only infrequent appearances in relief during a mediocre year for the Clippers.
The 1952 baseball season began with the news that Kincannon was having recruiting problems. He found himself competing with the requirement that men between 18 and 26 register for the military draft.128 Unfortunately for baseball rosters at every level, the US Army sought the same demographic for the Korean War effort as did baseball teams. In early April, in his call for tryouts, Kincannon lamented that “there is plenty of room for newcomers as age and the Selective Service draft have nullified the eligibility of many 1951 Clippers regulars.”129 By this time Kincannon was 42, which was too old for the Army. He did manage to cobble together a ragtag nine, but to no avail. By the end of August, the Clippers had accumulated a dismal record of five wins and 11 losses, and Kincannon retired from baseball.130
After 1952, Kincannon no longer played for the Clippers or any other competitive team in West Virginia. His brother Charlie, who for so many years had been with him on the ballfield, left the Beckley area and moved to Columbus, Ohio. Kincannon set his glove aside, put on his hard hat, and turned his full-time attention back to his family and to working in the mines. The 1950s and 1960s were difficult times for Harry’s family. His life was disrupted by grief in 1955 when his father, Charles Kincannon Sr., died in Beckley at age 68. Three years later his mother died in Montgomery, West Virginia. Then, in the early 1960s, while working in a coal mine, Kincannon was seriously injured when a coal tram car ran over his foot twice and left him with a permanent disability.131
On October 21, 1965, Harry Kincannon died from pneumonia at age 56, three days after being admitted to the Beckley-Appalachian Regional Hospital. In his obituary, Kincannon was described only as a “retired miner,” and there was no mention of his accomplishments in professional and amateur baseball.132 His death certificate incorrectly states his age as 55, when in fact he had celebrated his 56th birthday a few months before his death. Also, it gave Kincannon’s occupation as laborer under Aid to Dependent Children of the Unemployed, a work program developed as part of the federal War on Poverty program. Kincannon’s qualification for the ADCU implied that he and his family had fallen on hard times and were living below the poverty line. Around the time he died, the average monthly wage for ADCU-employed men with five children was $211.133
Kincannon’s wife, Dorothy Jones Smith, died in 1985. She was buried alongside Harry in the Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery in East Beckley. One of Harry’s other survivors, his uncle Platt, the man who played a role in Kincannon’s entry into the Pittsburgh baseball scene, died there in 1983. It is an appropriate coincidence that Platt is buried in the same Pittsburgh cemetery as August Wilson, the author of the Tony Award-winning play Fences, which is set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and is centered on the themes of family tensions, racial prejudice, and baseball.134 In some ways Kincannon had his own “fences” to conquer. He faced many racial barriers in his life, but was able to partially navigate around those Jim Crow-era impediments due to his mixed-race background, athletic prowess, and winning personality. He played with and against white players and white teams throughout his decades-long baseball career. Kincannon also found a way to stave off the ultimate obstacle – the limited lifespan of an athlete – and enjoyed success on the baseball diamond after age 40, years after many of his contemporaries had hung up their spikes. There was little he could do, however, to overcome crushing poverty in the coalfields, racism, and limits to his life after his playing days in the Negro Leagues were over, but he persisted and left a lasting mark on the Negro National Leagues as well as African American baseball in West Virginia.
Seamheads.com was used for all Negro League statistics/team records.
The author is deeply indebted to the family of Harry Kincannon Sr., especially Harry Kincannon Jr., Toni Lynn Kincannon, and Troy Thomas Robertson, who generously shared their memories with the author.
1 US Selective Service, Registrar’s Report, October 16, 1940.
2 Bureau of the Census, Statistics for West Virginia (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), 581.
3 William E. Akin, “West Virginia Coalfield Baseball, 1921-1941,” in John B. Wiseman, ed., Joy in Mudville: Essays on Baseball and American Life (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009), 102.
4 West Virginia Department of Transportation, Official State Highway Map (Charleston: West Virginia Division of Highways, 2014).
5 US Census Bureau, 1910 Census of Population.
6 US Army Selective Service Registration Card, World War II, October 16, 1940.
7 Personal correspondence with Harry Kincannon Jr., 2019.
8 Personal correspondence with Harry Kincannon Jr., 2019.
9 James A. Riley The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1994), 464; Personal conversation with Harry Kincannon Jr., January 2020.
10 US Census Bureau, 1920 Census of Population.
11 Akin, 98.
12 West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, “Proceeding Under the Workmen’s Compensation Act by Charles Kincannon,” February 10, 1930.
13 “Two More Victories Recorded for the Grays,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 11, 1929: 19.
14 Kenneth L. Roberts, “The Sun-Hunters,” Saturday Evening Post, April 15, 1922: 27, 55.
15 “Cedar-DeMarco Go Friday Should Be Genuine Thriller,” Pittsburgh Press, February 18, 1929: 17.
16 “Slang of the Race Track,” Daily Racing Form (Chicago), October 17, 1924: 17.
17 “Stop Rinkeydinks,” Pittsburgh Press, June 12, 1929: 37.
18 “Crawfords Victor,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 28, 1929: 21.
19 “May Start,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 25, 1931: 15.
20 “Two Stellar Young Crawfords Hurlers,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 4, 1935: 14.
21 “Kincanon Holds Clayton,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 1, 1929: 16.
22 “Kincanon Holds Clayton.”
23 “Stop Rinkeydinks.”
24 “Crawfords Victor,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 28, 1929: 21.
25 “Crawfords Win,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 10, 1929: 21.
26 “Panhandle League,” National Labor Tribune (Pittsburgh), June 9, 1930: 8.
27 “Crawford Giants of 1930 to Be Strong Aggregation,” Pittsburgh Courier, February 22, 1930: 15.
28 “Crawfords to Have Strong Team,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 28, 1931: 15.
29 C.E. Pendleton, “Public’s Non-Support Makes Crawford’s [sic] Future Dubious,” Pittsburgh Courier, June 6, 1931: 14.
30 “Crawfords Easy Winner,” Pittsburgh Press, August 30, 1931: 43.
31 “John L. Clark’s Breezes from Arkansaw [sic],” Atlanta Daily World, March 20, 1932: 5.
32 “Crawfords Go to Texas from Spa,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 2, 1932: 15.
33 “Crawfords Back, Set for Test,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 30, 1932: 15.
34 “O.K. Kincannon,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 23, 1932: 14.
35 “Rouseville Games with Crawfords Holds Interest,” News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania), August 26, 1932:8.
36 Chester L. Washington Jr., “Sez Ches, New Ball League Clearing Decks for Action,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 28, 1933: 13.
40 Seamheads.com, “Harry Kincannon,” seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=kinca01har.
41 John L. Clark, “Wylie Avenue,” Pittsburgh Courier, May 5, 1934: 6.
42 Seamheads.com, “Harry Kincannon,” accessed online, seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=kinca01har.
43 “Voting for East-West All Stars,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 18, 1934: 15.
44 Paul Kurtz, “Negro Baseball Loop Ready to Play Ball,” Pittsburgh Press, May 2, 1935: 33.
45 “Crawfords Win Two,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 8, 1935: 20.
46 “How They Voted in the East-West Poll,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 13, 1935: 15.
47 “Shifts Seen in Leaders as E-W Game Vote Spurts,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 3, 1935: 14.
48 “Cubans Defeat Crawfords in Negro League National League Game,” Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey), September 9, 1935: 19.
49 “Cubans Defeat Crawfords in Negro League National League Game.”
50 John B. Holway, The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues (Fern Park, Florida: Hastings House, 1998), 320.
52 Os Figard, “Colored Loop Title Seekers Battle Beards in Exhibition,” Altoona (Pennsylvania) Tribune, September 16, 1935: 9.
53 “Crawfords Hand Beards 14-4 Lancing,” Altoona Tribune, September 17, 1935: 6.
54 “Memphis Awaits the Big Tilt,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 28, 1935: 14.
55 Paul Kurtz, “Exhibition Series Set for Champs,” Pittsburgh Press, May 5, 1936: 29.
56 “Crawfords Blanked,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 27, 1936: 21.
57 “Crawfords Ahead,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 30, 1936: 15.
58 “Boldens Bow to Crawfords Here,” Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania), June 2, 1936: 10.
59 Drew Middleton, “Crawfords Defeat All Stars, 5 to 1, Behind Kincannon,” Poughkeepsie (New York) Eagle-News, August 13, 1936: 8.
60 “Victory for Crawfords,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 29, 1936: 15.
61 “Crawfords, Giants Battle to Draw,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, August 16, 1936: 18.
62 Chester L. Washington Jr., “Sez Ches,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 24, 1937: 16.
63 “The Sport Dial,” New York Age, May 21, 1937: 8.
64 “Black Yankees Bow, 12-0; Win 5-4,” New York Daily News, June 1, 1937: 64.
65 “Homestead Grays Beat Yanks, 6-2,” Pittsburgh Press, June 20, 1937: 22.
66 “Homestead Grays Triumph Over the Black Yankees,” Paterson Morning Call, June 21, 1937: 18.
67 “Eagles Beat Black Yankees Here by 14-3 Count,” Paterson News, July 6, 1937: 47.
68 “Pittsburgh Crawfords Win in Game with Black Yankees,” Paterson Morning Call, July 26, 1937: 18.
69 Seamheads.com, “Harry Kincannon,” seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=kinca01har.
70 Seamheads.com, “1937 Season,” accessed online, seamheads.com/NegroLgs/year.php?yearID=1938.
71 Riley, 820.
72 “Thousands Vote as East-West Interest Mounts,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 6, 1938: 16.
73 Seamheads.com, “Harry Kincannon, Batting,” seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=kinca01har&tab=bat.
74 James E. Overmyer, Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916-1929 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishers, 2018), 9.
75 Riley, 43.
76 “With the Semi-Pros,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 28, 1938: 33.
77 “Back [sic] Giants, 3-2; Play Two Today,” Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1939: 27.
78 C.J. McQuade, “Needy’s Notions,” Sunday Register (Beckley, West Virginia), June 30, 1940: 10.
79 Akin, 100.
80 Akin, 102-103.
81 Akin, 105.
82 US Selective Service, Registrar’s Report, October 16, 1940.
83 “Raleigh Clippers Meet Slab Fork Today,” Beckley Post-Herald, July 4, 1942: 7.
84 “Slab Fork Has Perfect Record,” Beckley Post-Herald, May 28, 1942: 6.
85 Roy Lee Harmon, “Speaking of Sports,” Beckley Post-Herald, July 24, 1942: 10.
86 “Raleigh Clippers Beat Helen Team, 6 to 5,” Beckley Post-Herald, May 3, 1943: 5.
87 Roy Lee Harmon, “Speaking of Sports,” Beckley Post-Herald, August 10, 1943: 5.
88 “Clippers Will Meet Montcoal,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 3, 1944: 5.
89 “Stars Beaten by Montcoal 6 to 4,” Beckley Post-Herald, July 24, 1944: 5.
90 “Johnny Gorsica’s All-Stars Face Raleigh Clippers Today,” Raleigh Register (Beckley, West Virginia), October 15, 1944: 9.
91 Roy Lee Harmon, “Gorsica’s Team Wins Contest,” Beckley Post-Herald, October 16, 1944: 5.
92 Charles R. Lewis, “Perkowski Makes Hit with Cincy,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 6, 1947: 10.
93 William E. Akin, 98.
94 “Johnny Gorsica’s All-Stars Face Raleigh Clippers Today,” Raleigh Register, October 15, 1944: 9.
95 “Indians Play Charleston,” Raleigh Register, June 24, 1945: 6.
96 “Clippers and Indians Split,” Beckley Post-Herald, July 4, 1945: 2.
97 “Negro Baseball Game at Ruby Field Today,” Raleigh Register, June 2, 1946: 11.
98 “Knife Victim Reported Better,” Beckley Post-Herald, January 21, 1946: 2.
99 “Knife Victim Reported Better.”
100 “Clippers Humble Gary Miners, 2-0,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 17, 1947: 5.
101 “Clippers Humble Gary Miners, 2-0.”
102 “Clippers Shutout Gary Miners, 2-0,” Raleigh Register, June 17, 1947: 6.
103 “Raleigh Clippers Play Jacksonville,” Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, June 28, 1947: 5.
104 “Sox, Indians Split,” Beckley Post-Herald, August 23, 1948: 6.
105 “Red Sox Win Two,” Raleigh Register, August 6, 1948: 8.
106 “Clippers Win Second in Row,” Raleigh Register, May 9, 1949: 8.
107 “Ground Broken at Ball Park for Clippers,” Beckley Post-Herald, March 22, 1949: 7.
108 “Ground Broken at Ball Park for Clippers.”
109 “Raleigh Clippers Open Here Sunday,” Beckley Post-Herald, April 29, 1949: 8.
110 “Clippers Get Shutout Win on Home Lot,” Beckley Post-Herald, May 23, 1949: 6.
111 “Homestead Grays Clip Clippers, 11-3,” Raleigh Register, June 27, 1949: 8.
112 “Homestead Grays Clip Clippers, 11-3.”
113 “Clippers Lose 11-3 Contest to Homestead,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 27, 1949: 8.
114 “Raleigh Clippers Shut Out Red Sox, 3-0,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 29, 1949: 6.
115 “Clippers Top Virginians, Hosts to Gary,” Beckley Post-Herald, July 4, 1949: 6.
116 “Perkowski to Hurl,” Beckley Post-Herald, October 13, 1949: 12.
117 “Clippers Open Season with Bishop Outfit,” Beckley Post-Herald, April 21, 1950: 12.
118 “A.L. Hardman, “Saturday Salad,” Charleston Gazette, July 1, 1950: 5.
119 “Poor Support Hurts ‘Satch’ as Grays Win,” Charleston Gazette, July 2, 1950: 16.
120 “Poor Support Hurts ‘Satch’ as Grays Win.”
122 “Poor Support Hurts ‘Satch’ as Grays Win,” Charleston Gazette, July 2, 1950: 16.
123 “Clippers Beat Admirals, 3-2,” Raleigh Register, October 9, 1950: 6.
124 “Clippers-Admirals in Perkowski-Watts Day,” Raleigh Register, October 8, 1950: 14.
125 “Clippers-Admirals in Perkowski-Watts Day.”
126 “Clippers Play Black Cats Today,” Raleigh Register, August 12, 1951: 6.
127 “Clippers Face Hemphill V-8 Here Sunday,” Beckley Post-Herald, June 9, 1951: 6.
128 US Senate Committee on Armed Services, Hearings Before the Preparedness Subcommittee on the Armed Services United States Senate Eighty-Second Congress First Session on S-1 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1951).
129 “Raleigh Clippers to Practice Today,” Beckley Post-Herald, April 12, 1952: 6.
130 “Clippers Clash at Clipper Park,” Raleigh Register, August 24, 1052: 11.
131 Personal conversation with Harry Kincannon Jr., January 2020.
132 “Harry Kincannon,” Raleigh Register, October 21, 1965: 18.
133 US Congress Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Examination of the War on Poverty (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1967), 3066.
134 August Wilson, Fences: With an Introduction by Lloyd Richards (New York: Penguin/Random House, 1986).