Herb Souell (NOIRTECH INC.)

Herb Souell

This article was written by Chris Hicks

Herb Souell (NOIRTECH INC.)Herb “Baldy” Souell, 5-feet-9 and 150 pounds, carved out an 11-year career as an undersized third baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1940 to 1950. He threw right-handed but was a switch-hitter whose valuable bat kept him in the top third of the Monarchs’ lineup for most of his career. Once Souell’s time with the Monarchs had passed, he played both north and south of the border and had a brief stint in the minor leagues before he hung up his spikes for good.

Herbert Souell was born on February 5, 1913, in West Monroe, Louisiana, to Fredrick and Clara (Davenport) Souell.1 Fredrick Souell worked different jobs throughout his life, including as a porter and laborer, until his death in 1971.2 Clara Davenport died at the age of 17 in 1916.3

Little is known about Souell’s childhood until 1930, when he is listed as a laborer in a West Monroe barbershop in the US census. He lived with his maternal grandfather, Charlie Davenport, his aunt Minnie, and two cousins, Walter and Charlie Phillips. According to the census, he was still in school. No school records could be located, but the local school for African Americans was Monroe Colored High school, now Boley Elementary. Despite its being called a high school, in the 1930s Monroe Colored High School educated children in the first through 11th grades and was the only secondary school for African Americans in the area.4

It is unclear when and how Souell got his start in baseball, but the earliest box score that has been found has him playing third base in 1936 for the Claybrook Tigers in Crittenden County, Arkansas, which is part of the greater Memphis metropolitan area.5 He is listed as Cyrus on the box score, but researchers believe it to be Souell since, as has been indicated, he played under the name Herb Cyrus until 1943.6

The Claybrook Tigers were owned by John C. Claybrook, who, despite reportedly being unable to read, was a successful African American farmer and businessman in the timber industry. The town of Claybrook, which no longer exists, was built around his 3,500 acres of land. He is also said to be one of the first African Americans in the Southern United States to be selected to be on a trial jury.7

Claybrook started the baseball team to coax his son John Jr. to stay in Claybrook to continue the family business. He was worried that John Jr., like many other young men, would move to the city to take advantage of the social life of Memphis. By 1933, Claybrook had a ballpark fully constructed on his land and had signed his first team. His desire to have the best players made games against his team tough ones for all competition. Within a few years, the Tigers were Negro Southern League champions in 1935, beating the Memphis Red Sox in a seven-game series.8 In 1936, Claybrook signed Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe as manager, Souell to be the third baseman, Bill Ball, touted as “the greatest one-armed centerfielder in the game,” and others.9 The team did not survive the midseason collapse of the Negro Southern League. Most of the players either signed with the Pittsburgh Crawfords or followed Radcliffe to play for the Cincinnati Tigers for 1937.10

Souell’s baseball career appears to have gone on hiatus during the years 1937 and 1938 as no box scores for either Herb Souell or Herb Cyrus have been located. Neither do any other records reveal what he was doing at this time.

In 1939 Souell signed on to play for Satchel Paige’s All-Star team. This barnstorming squad, formerly known as the Kansas City Travelers, was a second-tier team that also served as a feeder franchise for the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1938, while Paige had been playing in Puerto Rico, he had hurt his arm, possibly tearing his rotator cuff. Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson took a flyer on him and signed him to the Travelers. Wilkinson renamed the team after Paige, knowing that Paige’s reputation would result in an increased draw at the gate. The plan was that Paige would pitch when his arm was feeling good enough, and when it was not, he would be in the lineup as the team’s first baseman.11

Souell’s performance with the All-Stars earned him a contract with the Monarchs in 1940. Many newspapers touted the Monarchs rookie as a player who helped to “compose one of the cleverest infields in the game.”12 He hit .340 with five doubles and six stolen bases while the Monarchs compiled a 30-10-2 record in league play, and went 31-15-2 overall.

In 1941 Souell not only returned to the Monarchs, but also married Gladys Edna Lee. The couple did not have any children and eventually divorced in 1972. On the diamond, Souell was touted as a “homerun hitter.”13 It appears that he was used in just one at-bat for the season, getting one hit. According to one teammate, Souell started losing his hair at this time. His teammates, in jest, started referring to him as Baldy, a nickname that stuck with him throughout his career.14

In 1942 Souell batted .272 over the course of 23 NAL games as the Monarchs claimed the league pennant and swept the NNL’s Homestead Grays in the first Negro League World Series between those two circuits and the first of any kind since 1927.

In 1943 the Monarchs were looking to repeat as the top team in the league. Herb now appeared under his given name, Souell, rather than Cyrus. (There was still no explanation as to why he went by the name of Cyrus at the beginning of his career.15) Souell went on to produce a .256 average over 203 at-bats, now as the full-time third baseman. He also appeared in the North-South All-Star Game, going 1-for-4 with a double and run scored.16 The game featured top players from Negro League teams in the North versus Negro League teams in the South and was played in New Orleans.17 For the season, the Monarchs went 43-27-1 against NAL teams and 51-39-1 overall, landing in second place.

In 1944 Herb continued as the Monarchs third baseman and increased his average to .261 in 29 games. One of the more memorable moments of his career came at Yankee Stadium, when he hit a home run that traveled 400 feet in game one of a doubleheader. He did well in the second game, too, getting three RBIs to secure a Monarchs victory in front of 28,000 fans.18 The Monarchs finished 30-38 in NAL games and 35-51 overall to end the season in fourth place.

The 1945 season continued to see players drafted into the armed forces. Rosters suffered, resulting in Souell’s taking the field as one of the more seasoned veterans on the team in spite of the brevity of his career to that point.19 His average continued to rise. He hit .312 in 40 games. Famously, the Monarchs had a newcomer this season named Jackie Robinson, who hit a team-high .375 in his 34 games at shortstop. The Monarchs finished second with a record of 43-32-3 in the NAL and 49-38-4 overall.

After the Monarchs season concluded, Souell joined the Kansas City Royals in the California Winter League. He had a .500 average in six known at-bats.20 During this time, Jackie Robinson had two of his Kansas City Royals teammates, Souell and catcher Buster Haywood, go with him to Lane Field on October 2. He told them this was for a workout. A photographer from Look magazine was also invited to take photos and record the so-called workout.21

It turned out the Brooklyn Dodgers were having Robinson photographed for an article to appear in the magazine announcing his signing with the Dodgers. Neither Haywood nor Souell knew what was happening, according to an interview with Haywood in later years. (Souell was deceased by the time of this interview.) Most of these photos and the accompanying article were never published, and they sat in a box at the National Baseball Hall of Fame until the late 1980s. Only a few were published in a later Look article.22

With the end of World War II, players who were in the military started reuniting with their teammates and spring training got underway for the Monarchs in 1946. Souell returned from the California Winter League to take his place at third. During the season, he hit .273 and the Monarchs went 50-16-2 in the NAL and 55-26-2 overall. The Monarchs made another appearance in the 1946 Negro World Series with Souell batting .344. This time, however, the Newark Eagles were crowned the champions after a tense seven-game series.

After the season, Souell joined Jackie Robinson’s All-Star team and played third base.23 He spent the winter in San Luis Potosi, playing for the Cactus Pear Growers in the Mexican League, where he batted just .191 (9-for-47) in 12 games.24 He left Mexico early to return to the Monarchs in time to play Opening Day of the 1947 season and avoided receiving a five-year ban from the league for jumping to Mexico. He did not enjoy his time south of the border, and was reported as saying “he would never play there again,” and that he had “lost thirty-five pounds.” It was also reported that he was successfully regaining his weight and rebuilding his strength.25

In 1947, after one season with the Montreal Royals, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier of

White major-league baseball. Throughout the season, major-league teams began scouting players from around the Negro leagues. Some put “feelers” out for other Monarchs players, among them Herb Souell. Inquiries were as far as it went for Souell, however, as he spent the entire season with the Monarchs.26 He had a very successful season, and he was selected to play in his first of five career East-West All-Star games. (He played in both games in the 1947 and 1948 seasons.)27 In the first game, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, he hit a triple, while in the second game, at the Polo Grounds in New York, he went hitless. Game one had some controversy in that the players were offered only $50 for playing. The players, feeling that was not enough, decided to strike, returning to the field when they were promised $200 each.28

Souell then spent the winter months of 1947-48 playing for Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The Ponce team finished in last place with a 24-36 record.29 However, Souell acquitted himself well as he saw regular action and batted .345 (87-for-252).30 The time in Puerto Rico also served as a vacation of sorts, as airline travel records show that he was joined by his wife for part of the season.31

Souell continued to build on his reputation as a top defender in 1948, with the Detroit Tribune referring to him as a “stellar third baseman.”32 He became the top fielder at his position.33 His hitting prowess also was on display when he hit an inside-the-park home run in the first game of a doubleheader against the Indianapolis Clowns in July. Later that year he was named to the West team in both 1948 East-West All-Star Games.34

The 1949 season began with Souell being the final player to sign his Monarchs contract.35 He was reportedly working out with some of his teammates at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri, before making the trek to the familiar Monroe, Louisiana, for spring training.36 The Quad-City Times described Souell as “one of the best lead off men in Negro baseball, and he gets so many free trips to first that he has become a pain in the neck to rival pitchers.”37 Souell hit .269 in 88 games. The Monarchs finished the season 54-37, but lost the top spot in the Western Division to the Chicago American Giants after losing some players to the White major leagues.38

The Monarchs held spring training in San Antonio, Texas, in 1950.39 Souell once again found himself penciled into the lineup as the leadoff hitter.40 He excelled at the plate. While batting .325, he was named as a reserve to the West team for his third and final All-Star Game appearance.41 Souell went 0-for-1 with a run scored and an error.42 After finishing the season batting .301 for the 52-21 Western Division champion Monarchs, he spent the offseason appearing in games for both the Satchel Paige All-Stars and the Kansas City Royals.43

The year 1951 brought an end to Souell’s Monarchs career: On April 22 the Kansas City Star announced that he was retiring after 10 years with the Monarchs.44 However, he eventually signed to play with the Carman Cardinals in the Manitoba-Dakota (ManDak) League. The ManDak League was popular among former Negro League players because they did not have to deal with the Jim Crow laws since all but one team called Canada its home.45 Willie “Curly” Williams, Souell’s teammate on the Carman Cardinals in 1953, said, “[In Canada] we were treated so well. … We had so much fun there and everyone was accepted, you know, didn’t have problems going any place we wanted to eat. Just wonderful people. May not have made a whole lot of money but people were excited and they enjoyed you and would invite you to their homes.”46 In 59 games, Souell hit an impressive .306 with 7 home runs and 39 RBIs.47

The Carman Cardinals had Souell on their roster in 1952, but he made his debut in White Organized Baseball with the Spokane Indians of the Class-A Western International League, signing with the team on March 5.48 The team’s manager, Don Osborn, touted the 39-year-old player, whose career stretched back to at least 1936, to the owner of the Indians as a 24-year-old rookie who had played for the Monarchs since 1948.49 A later newspaper article referred to him as a 27-year-old who played for the Monarchs from 1946 to 1950.50 Both sources also claimed that Souell had never batted below .300.

Another newspaper article profiled both Souell, listed as a 28-year-old rookie, and Herb “Briefcase” Simpson, first baseman, not to be confused with Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. The article highlighted both players’ dry senses of humor, following them to a barbershop where they ran into a man whom the players knew to be the designer of their uniforms. When he asked how they liked the uniforms, the teammates played a joke, saying they did not like them. The man got upset and they both started laughing, revealing the prank. In truth, neither had seen the new uniforms at that point.51

Monarchs owner T.Y. Baird protested to George M. Trautman, the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, stating that Souell was still under contract with his team and therefore could not sign a contract with the Spokane club. When pressed by the league office to provide proof of a contract, Baird was unable to do so. Without the required proof, Souell was able to continue playing with the Indians.52

Things were not always so good for Souell with Spokane. Despite opening the season by going 4-for-4, he was plagued by inconsistency in his performances, both in the field and at the plate.53 One article spoke of Souell either missing or ignoring signs. It reported that he was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the middle of one at-bat because he took a swing at a pitch that the coach had signaled him to take.54 He was benched within weeks of that game and thereafter was designated as the backup third baseman.55 In mid-May, he was released because of a rule that teams had to have an 18-man roster before ultimately cutting it to 17.56

Souell was signed by the Tucson Cowboys of the Class-C Arizona-Texas League within a week of his release by Spokane.57 He made a splash with his new team, hitting a 350-foot home run and two doubles in a 17-7 rout of the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings on May 26.58 Souell, still known for his hitting prowess, was selected along with two teammates to put on a hitting demonstration at local batting cages.59 Nevertheless, he had some difficulty breaking into the lineup consistently and also played second base and the outfield to garner more playing time.60

At the end of June, the Cowboys sold Souell to the league’s Chihuahua Dorados, where he finished out the 1952 season.61 During his time with Spokane, Souell had a line of .264/.354/.306. In 91 total games with Tucson and Chihuahua, his line was .297/.361/.392 with 8 triples, 18 stolen bases, and a .909 fielding percentage.62

In 1953 Souell returned to the Carman Cardinals of the ManDak League. He performed as well as he had in the 1951 season, batting .302 with 5 home runs, and 39 RBIs in 72 games.63 After the season ended, he returned home to Los Angeles and made a life for himself there.

The Pittsburgh Courier had reported that Souell was going into business in Los Angeles when it announced his retirement from the Monarchs.64 What the business was, though, could not be determined. Souell and his wife, Gladys, divorced in 1972. In 1973 he married Lizzie Mae Baldwin in Las Vegas.

Souell died on July 12, 1978, from an unknown cause. He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. Lizzie Mae Souell was buried in the plot with him on December 27, 1991.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org were consulted for census information; birth, marriage, and death records; military draft registration cards; and other public records.

Negro League player statistics and manager/team records were taken from Seamheads.com, unless otherwise indicated.

 

Notes

1 As was the case with many individuals in early census records, Souell’s name can be found spelled in various different ways, including “Sowell,” “Sowells,” and “Sorrells.” Herb spelled his last name “Sowell” on his World War II draft registration card, and his father, Fredrick, spelled it the same way on his World War I draft registration card, suggesting that this was the original and accurate spelling of the family name. Herb Souell also went by the name Herb Cyrus – and he is named that way in many game articles and box scores. The reason for his adoption of this name is unknown.

2 When he was 16, he worked as a laborer at a pressing club. Around the time of Herb’s birth, the Monroe city directory shows him still living with his family working as a laborer at Union Oil Mill. He served briefly during World War I at age 24. By 1930 he had remarried and owned a cafe/boarding house with his wife, Delia. By 1933 he returned to live with his mother, and in 1940 ran his own auto garage.

3 Ancestry.com has incorrect information for Herb’s mother, Clara Davenport. Per Herb’s first cousin twice removed, C. Brandon Brewer, who posted on Ancestry.com, Herb’s mother died young, and this is corroborated by the death record from familysearch.org.

4 Thomas Aiello, The Kings of Casino Park (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 6.

5 “Claybrook Defeats Elmer 15-3,” Macon (Missouri) Chronicle-Herald, August 19, 1936: 6.

6 “Claybrook Tigers,” Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia, February 2, 2020, http://arkbaseball.com/tiki-index.php?page=Claybrook+Tigers.

7 “Claybrook Tigers Baseball Team,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas, November 12, 2008, https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/claybrook-tigers-baseball-team-2608/.

8 “Negro Southern League (1920-1951),” Negro Southern League Research Center.

9 For Bill Ball see: “Tigers to Play Black Barons of Birmingham,” Clarksdale (Mississippi) Press Register, June 3, 1936: 6.

10 “Claybrook Tigers Baseball Team.”

11 Jason Roe, “The Greatest Pitcher Ever,” Kansas City Public Library, February 1, 2021, https://kchistory.org/week-kansas-city-history/greatest-pitcher-ever.

12 “Old Pals Will Fete Milton at Tuesday Clash,” Times (Munster, Indiana), July 28, 1940: 13.

13 Ray T. Rocene, “Sport Jabs,” Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), June 19, 1941: 9.

14 Frazier Robinson with Paul Bauer, Catching Dreams: My Life in the Negro Baseball Leagues (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999), 54.

15 “Monarchs Return Popular Players for Clown Frolic,” Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), August 20, 1943: 14.

16 “1943 South All-Stars,” Seamheads.com, February 1, 2021.

17 Ryan Whirty, “Negro Leagues All-Stars Were a Big Hit in the Big Easy in 1939,” NOLA.com, October 1, 2009, https://www.nola.com/sports/article_27c3605f-583f-56db-aa5c-02ac79dddb31.html.

18 Wendell Smith, “Split Even in Tilts at Stadium,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 2, 1944: 12.

19 “Red Sox and Monarchs at League Park,” Mississippi Enterprise (Jackson), April 14, 1945: 1.

20 William McNeil, The California Winter League: Americas First Integrated Professional Baseball League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2002), 228.

21 John Thorn and Jules Tygiel, “Jackie Robinson’s Signing: The Real Story,” in From Rube to Robinson (Society for American Baseball Research, 2021), https://sabr.org/journal/article/jackie-robinsons-signing-the-real-story/.

22 Thorn and Tygiel.

23 “Jackie Robinson’s Stars Play Oakland Larks at Perris Hill,” San Bernardino Sun, October 27, 1946: 23.

24 Pedro Treto Cisneros, The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics, 1937-2001 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002), 300. Souell’s name is misspelled as “Hebert Sovell” in this source, but information from other sources helps to confirm that this was Herb Souell.

25 “2 Monarch Stars Now with St. Louis Club,” St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, July 22, 1947: 13.

26 “Majors Grab Monarch Stars,” Herald and Review (Decatur, Illinois), August 20, 1947: 9.

27 Riley, 732.

28 Larry Lester, Black Baseballs National Showcase: The East-West All-Star Game, 1933-1953 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 284, 294, 301.

29 Thomas E. Van Hyning, Puerto Rico’s Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball’s Launching Pad (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1995), 241.

30 William F. McNeil, Black Baseball Out of Season: Pay for Play Outside of the Negro Leagues (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007), 215.

31 “So*ell, Gladys,” (Air Passenger Manifest, Eastern Airlines, Plane No. 54365, November 12, 1947), Ancestry. Courtesy of Fredrick Bush.

32 “Monarchs Coming,” Detroit Tribune, June 5, 1948: 6.

33 “Birmingham Shortstop Hits .402,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 22, 1949: 12.

34 “A Monarch Is in Form,” Kansas City Times, July 26, 1948: 11.

35 “Souell Last of Kansas City Regulars to Sign,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1949: 12.

36 “Kan. City Monarch Begin Drills at Monroe, La. Camp,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 2, 1949: 23.

37 “Gene Baker of Davenport Is Monarchs’ Star,” Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), May 31, 1949: 15.

38 Cnlbr.org.

39 “Gene Baker of Davenport Is Monarchs’ Star.”

40 “Monarchs, Buckeyes Are Ready,” Kansas City (Missouri) Call, May 5, 1950: 21.

41 “17th All-Star Tilt at Comiskey Park,” New Tribune (Detroit), August 19, 1950: 23.

42 Lester, 349.

43 “Lemon, Paige Nines to Clash Here Today,” San Bernardino Sun, October 18, 1950: 25.

44 “Two with the Clowns,” Kansas City Star, April 22, 1951: 26.

45 Barry Swanton, The ManDak League: Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006), 1.

46 Jay-Dell Mah, “122. Curly Williams: A Good First Impression That Lasts and Lasts,” The Infinite Baseball Set, June 22, 2012, http://infinitecardset.blogspot.com/2012/06/122-curly-williams-good-first.html?m=1.

47 Swanton, 186.

48 “Herb Souell,” The Sporting News Baseball Players Contract Cards Collection, https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/146685/rec/1.

49 “Spokane Signs Third Baseman,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 9, 1952: 33.

50 Danny May, “May-Be So,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 25, 1952: 10.

51 “Meet the New Indians,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 11, 1952: 12.

52 “About Herbert Souell,” 1952, Box: 1, Folder: 4, T.Y. Baird Collection, RH MS 414, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

53 “Indians Delight in Opener, Dump Salem 7-1,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 23, 1952: 14; “Indians’ Souell Given Release,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 21, 1952: 10.

54 Danny May, “May-Be So,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, April 30, 1952: 16.

55 “League Leading Indians Open Here with Tri-City,” Spokane Chronicle, May 9, 1952: 13.

56 “Indians’ Souell Given Release,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 21, 1952: 10.

57 “Herb Souell,” The Sporting News Baseball Players Contract Cards Collection, https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/146685/rec/1.

58 Abe Chanin, “Cowboys Thump Four Pitchers in 17-7 Victory,” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), May 27, 1952: 16.

59 “Three Cowboys Slate Batting Session,” Arizona Daily Star, June 6, 1952: 23.

60 Lou Pavlovich, “Phoenix Takes Sweep of Four-Game Series,” Arizona Daily Star, June 12, 1952: 20; Ray McNally, “Two Wins Pulls Pokes Out of Cellar,” Tucson Daily Citizen, June 23, 1952: 21.

61 “Souell Is Sold to Dorados Club,” Arizona Daily Star, June 29, 1952: 21.

62 Baseball-Reference.com.

63 Swanton, 192.

64 “K.C. Monarchs Near Top Form,” Pittsburgh Courier, April 28, 1951: 14.

Full Name

Herbert Souell

Born

February 5, 1913 at West Monroe, LA (USA)

Died

July 12, 1978 at Los Angeles, CA (USA)

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