Jim Brown (NoirTech Research)

Jim Brown

This article was written by Frederick C. Bush

Jim Brown (NoirTech Research)

When the name Jim Brown is mentioned, most sports fans call to mind the NFL’s Hall of Fame running back who starred for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. There was, however, an earlier Jim Brown – a catcher, first baseman, and, later, a manager – who played for Chicago American Giants squads that won five Negro National League pennants and two Negro League World Series in the 1920s. The worst thing reported about Brown was that a sheriff remembered him “as having kicked a dog a few years back and [that he] hasn’t any particular love for the guardians of the law.”1 Whether Brown cared for legal authorities or not, he was never reported to have been arrested or accused of any crime. Nonetheless, he has been depicted as a miscreant to the point that a sensationalized story about how he died has become better known than reality.2 The truth about Brown is that he put together a solid career as a player and manager that spanned the years 1914 to 1942, and the only troubles he was reported to have were occasional disciplinary actions due to vehement arguments with umpires.

James Rattles Brown was born on May 16, 1892, in San Marcos, Texas, to John and Emma Brown.3 He was the couple’s second child and had an older sister named Mary. In 1900 John worked as a press feeder at an oil mill and Emma was a laundress. James, or Jim as he was called, attended school, though the highest grade he completed is unknown. Also lost to history is how he attained his baseball skills and what type of work he did prior to becoming a professional ballplayer.

Whatever Brown did in his early years, in 1914, at the age of 22, he first appeared as a catcher for owner Enos Whittaker’s Dallas Black Giants team.4 Brown continued to grow into a top talent with Dallas in 1915 and 1916 as the Black Giants’ everyday backstop and developed the switch-hitting skills that made him a desirable asset. Press coverage of the team was sparse, but one known highlight for Brown was a two-out, 12th-inning home run for a 6-5 victory over the Austin Black Senators in a game on July 3, 1915, at Gardner Park in Dallas.5

In 1917 pitcher Dave Brown (no relation) joined the Dallas team, and the two players became renowned as the “Brown Battery” during their tenure with the Black Giants in 1917 and 1918.6 Rube Foster, owner of the Chicago American Giants, signed both Browns for his team in 1919. The Chicago Defender raved about Jim Brown after his arrival in the Windy City on April 6, declaring, “He has a whip of steel and a clouting eye. … Brown looks like a winning type of ball player and room just had to be made for him.”7

The 1919 season marked the American Giants’ last campaign as an independent ballclub, and the team finished with a 27-16 record against rival Black teams in the West. George Dixon was Chicago’s starting catcher, but Brown made the most of his opportunities and batted .310 with a .394 on-base percentage compared with Dixon’s .261 BA and .344 OBP. The handwriting was on the wall for Dixon and the two catchers reversed roles in 1920.

Prior to the start of the 1920 season, Rube Foster and owners of most of the West’s other major independent Black ballclubs formed the first Negro National League on February 13 at the Paseo Branch of the YMCA in Kansas City, Missouri.8 Foster’s American Giants dominated the league by winning the first three pennants (1920-1922).

Brown was the starting catcher in 1920 as the American Giants romped to a 43-17-2 league record that put them eight games ahead of the second-place Detroit Stars in the final standings. He had impressed Foster enough to become the first-string backstop, but the toll that catching takes on a player’s body was evident when Dixon outperformed him at the plate over the course of the season with a .324 batting average and .391 on-base percentage compared with Brown’s .235 and .330 marks.

Nonetheless, Brown was a key component in the team’s success, and he once again formed the Brown Battery with his former Dallas teammate Dave Brown. On August 22 the Brown Battery worked its magic against the Kansas City Monarchs in a 5-1 victory at Schorling Park in Chicago. Dave hurled a complete game, and Jim scored one of Chicago’s five runs. The American Giants embarrassed the Monarchs’ battery of pitcher Sam Crawford and catcher Vicente Rodriguez by stealing bases at will. Jim Brown joined in the fun by stealing second base in the third inning (and later scoring) and adding a steal of third in the eighth, an inning in which Chicago swiped a total of five bases.9

At the conclusion of the NNL’s inaugural season in 1920, Foster took his squad on a swing through the South in late September and early October. The American Giants defeated the Knoxville Giants for their 14th consecutive victory on October 2 that “sealed their status as the best black ball club in the country.”10 Next, they traveled northeast to take on the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in a series of games played at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. This series was to serve as “a dress rehearsal for what Rube envisioned as the black World Series.”11 The Bacharachs provided a stiff challenge, but the American Giants emerged with a 4-3-1 record in the series against the East’s top independent club, and Foster’s Chicago squad reigned supreme in 1920.12

In 1921 the American Giants held off the Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants to win a second consecutive NNL pennant. Dixon and Brown shared the catching duties to such an equitable extent that they appeared in the same number of games (53) and had the exact same number of plate appearances (186). Brown batted .289 and drove in 30 runs while Dixon hit .224 with 33 RBIs.

The following year, Chicago barely held off the Kansas City Monarchs to retain the NNL title. The American Giants won the pennant by virtue of having an almost infinitesimally greater winning percentage than Kansas City: The American Giants’ 37-24-1 record gave them a .607 winning percentage compared with the Monarchs’ 47-31-2, .603 mark. Brown recaptured the lion’s share of the time behind the plate – playing in 62 games to Dixon’s 28 – and batted .268 with 43 RBIs while Dixon hit .250 and drove in 14 runs. Brown also flashed a bit of speed by stealing 12 bases, an impressive number for a catcher.

The 1923 season marked a reversal of fortunes between the American Giants and the Monarchs. Ace pitcher Dave Brown defected to the New York Lincoln Giants of the new Eastern Colored League, which had been founded by Ed Bolden, owner of the Hilldale Club, to compete with the Western teams of the NNL. American Giants pitcher Ed “Huck” Rile was accused of luring players – such as Dave Brown – to teams in the new Eastern circuit and it was thought that he too would defect from Foster’s team.13 Instead, Rile emerged as the American Giants’ new ace, going 15-7 with a 2.53 ERA in NNL play, but it was not enough to keep Chicago atop the league standings as the team finished 3½ games behind first-place Kansas City. Jim Brown was firmly entrenched as Chicago’s starting catcher – Dixon was gone now – and, in 69 league games, he batted .238 with 45 RBIs.

Although the American Giants had finished second in the NNL, they were still a top-flight team, and they scheduled what was initially to be only a two-game series against the American League’s Detroit Tigers at Schorling Park in late October.14 Ty Cobb, the Tigers’ legendary player-manager, did not participate in the series, but the Detroit team – which had also finished in second place in its league – was otherwise at full strength. The Tigers’ roster included future Hall of Fame outfielders Harry Heilmann and Heinie Manush as well as 21-game winner George “Hooks” Dauss.

The first game took place on Saturday, October 20, and ended in a 5-5 tie when darkness forced the game to be halted at the end of the ninth inning.15 Brown committed two costly errors in the game: The first miscue resulted in two Detroit runs that tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the fifth, and the second allowed Detroit to tally three more runs in the top of the sixth and take a 5-4 lead.16 Chicago tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when Oscar Charleston crossed the plate, and the first game remained deadlocked.

The next day, 8,000 fans were in attendance as Detroit dominated the second game and won by a 7-1 score. The Tigers pounced on Rile for one run in the first inning and two more in the second and never looked back. For good measure, Detroit tacked on four more runs against Slim Branham, Chicago’s third pitcher of the day (after Tom Williams), in the top of the ninth inning.17

Since the first game had ended tied, the two teams played again on October 22, and “[t]he American Giants rang the curtain down on their 1923 baseball season by winning an 8 to 6 game from the Detroit Tigers.”18 With the game tied, 3-3, Chicago erupted for five runs against Dauss (who pitched the entire game) in the bottom of the seventh inning and then held on for the victory. Brown went 2-for-3 at the plate and scored two runs in the finale, thus atoning for his gaffes behind the dish in the first game. In finishing the series at 1-1-1, the American Giants had shown themselves to be the equals of their White major-league counterparts.

During the offseason, Brown had another reason to celebrate as he married Hattie Mae Trymise in his hometown of San Marcos.19 The joy, however, may have been short-lived as the couple was divorced by the time of Brown’s death and they did not have any children.

The 1924 NNL season resulted in another second-place finish for Chicago, five games behind the Monarchs. The disappointment was even more palpable as the year 1924 marked the first Negro League World Series between representatives of the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League. Foster had been preparing for such an event via his postseason tours to the East since 1920 and had been a key figure in bringing about this World Series. Now, all he could do was watch as the NNL rival Monarchs defeated Hilldale – owned by ECL founder Ed Bolden – in a 10-game classic (5-4-1).

Prior to the 1925 season, Foster cleaned house and released numerous aging stars in an effort to rebuild his team.20Although Brown turned 33 in May, he remained the American Giants’ starting catcher. In a season preview article, the Pittsburgh Courier extolled Brown as having “[o]ne of the best throwing arms in the game [and being] fleet of foot and a dangerous left-hand batter.”21

The Chicago Defender had high hopes for the American Giants at the 1925 season’s outset after the team beat the city champion Chicago Blues, 5-3, at Schorling Park on Opening Day (Sunday, April 12). Columnist Frank A. Youngdeclared, “With the weather man dishing out sunshine and warmth of a June afternoon, 5,000 fans wended their way to the 39th St. grounds to get a glimpse of Foster’s rejuvenated team, which from the brand of the national pastime they handed the assemblage Sunday, promises to bring to this city the National league championship.”22 By season’s end, however, Chicago finished in third place, a full 10 games behind first-place Kansas City and 6½ games behind the second-place St. Louis Stars. Despite the preseason accolades he had received, Brown’s batting average dropped from .266 in 1924 to .232 in 1925 and reflected his team’s temporary decline.

On top of Chicago’s continued slide in the standings, Foster had almost died of asphyxiation due to a faulty gas heater at the team’s boarding house in Indianapolis on May 26. Foster, who lived life at a frenetic pace, “brushed off the near-death experience and returned to Chicago with Mrs. Foster the next day.”23 Although he had survived the ordeal, Foster’s behavior became more erratic from that time forward.

Nonetheless, Foster’s baseball acumen was intact as the 1926 American Giants soared to new heights. Brown had his finest season for Chicago, batting .309 with a .395 on-base percentage and 46 RBIs in 75 league games. Age and the rigors of catching had begun to take their toll on him, and he played 50 of 74 regular-season games at first base, which helped to reinvigorate his bat. Pythias Russ was the primary catcher, and the two backstops caught a revamped pitching staff that posted a 2.74 team ERA, the best mark since the 1920 staff’s 2.32 ERA. The ace of the 1926 staff was none other than Willie Foster, Rube’s younger brother and a future Hall of Famer, who went 13-4 with a 1.80 ERA in NNL play.

Rube began the 1926 campaign in his familiar position as skipper. Chicago finished the first half of the NNL season with a 27-17-1 record under Foster as Kansas City again captured the title. However, Rube’s behavior had become so bizarre that he was urged to take a two-week vacation to get some much-needed rest. Third baseman Dave Malarcher took over as player-manager in the season’s second half and guided the team to a stellar 30-7-2 record to capture the second-half title. Malarcher’s managerial position became permanent after Foster’s vacation did not help to heal him. Eight days after a violent incident in August, during which he destroyed furniture in his apartment and threatened a friend with an ice pick, Foster “was declared mentally irresponsible and committed to the state hospital in Kankakee, Illinois. The event sent shock waves through the world of black baseball.”24

Foster spent the last four years of his life in the asylum in Kankakee. It was a tragic end to the life and career of a stellar pitcher, manager, and entrepreneur. It also meant that he did not get to see his Chicago American Giants win their first World Series in 1926. First, Chicago defeated the Kansas City Monarchs in a tough nine-game NNL playoff series. In an equally challenging World Series, the American Giants defeated the ECL’s Atlantic City Bacharach Giants in 11 games, with two of the contests ending in ties. Foster’s rebuild had paid off and the American Giants were indisputably Black baseball’s best team for the first time since 1920. Brown, for his part, struggled in the postseason, batting .250 against the Monarchs and only .158 against the Bacharachs while alternating between catcher and first base; however, by this time he had become an indispensable member of the team.

In 1927 the American Giants set to work to retain their status as kings of the baseball hill. Brown was now the longest-tenured player on the team. He again was Chicago’s starting first baseman, although he did spell catcher James Brayoccasionally. Brown’s mid-30s batting renaissance continued apace as he batted .299 with a .360 on-base percentage and 35 RBIs during the NNL season.

John Schorling, Rube Foster’s business partner, seized sole control of the American Giants from Rube’s wife, Sarah Foster, in what can only be termed as a hostile takeover. Schorling retained Malarcher as the manager and held on to most of the players, so the 1927 squad was still equipped to mount a defense of its title. Chicago won the NNL’s first-half championship, but again had to compete in a NNL playoff series when the Birmingham Black Barons captured the second-half flag.

Chicago had a composite 61-32-1 record in the NNL, but the team also excelled against outside competition. Over the Labor Day weekend, “the American Giants just had a gang of fun all to themselves at the expense of the Mills nine from the West side, the Hammond nine, with Buck Weaver, and the Duffy Florals, all white teams.”25 Brown’s bat was quiet on Saturday, September 3, when the American Giants defeated the Mills team, 3-1, but he was the offensive hero of the next two contests. On Sunday the local fans celebrated Buck Weaver Day, and the disgraced former White Sox third baseman “received a warm welcome from the crowd.”26 Brown greeted Weaver’s Hammond team with a 2-for-5 day in which he scored two runs and drove in the deciding run with an eighth-inning double as Chicago won, 5-3. The next day, Brown followed up with a 2-for-4 performance against the Duffy Florals and scored the game’s only run after drawing a one-out walk in the 11th inning.27

On September 19, it was back to business in the NNL as Chicago faced Birmingham in the playoffs. After losing the opener, the American Giants won the next four games to return to the World Series, where they faced a familiar foe. The Atlantic City Bacharach Giants had won both halves of the ECL’s split season and had been able to rest while Chicago battled Birmingham. It did not matter, though, as “[t]he similarities between the World Series of 1926 and that of 1927 [were] startling. The American Giants again won, five games to three, Willie Foster again won the final game against Hubert Lockhart, and an obscure left-handed Atlantic City pitcher [again threw] a no-hitter.”28 The American Giants extended their reign over the Black baseball world, and Brown had been a major contributor on offense this time around, batting .314 and driving in six runs while playing in all nine World Series games (one game had ended in a tie). These were heady days for the American Giants, but all was not well with the franchise or the Negro Leagues.

During the second half of the 1927 season, Schorling had sold the team to William Trimble, a White businessman from Princeton, Illinois. In addition to the American Giants missing Rube Foster, who had been both the team’s and the NNL’s guiding light, the Negro Leagues in general began to wane. In his wisdom, Foster “had always been a stern disciplinarian,” but now, “[w]ithout Foster, player behavior worsened and physical attacks on umpires weren’t uncommon. Scheduling, always an issue, became even tougher, and attendance waned. Black journalists began criticizing Negro League players for lackadaisical play, consuming alcohol during games, and excessive umpire baiting.”29 As his career progressed, Brown had his share of run-ins with umpires on the diamond.

The 1928 season was filled with adversity for Brown and the American Giants. The St. Louis Stars took the first-half title while Chicago coped with injuries. Manager-third baseman Malarcher missed several weeks after breaking a bone in his shoulder, during which time pitcher George Harney skippered the team to an 18-19 record (they were 40-21-1 under Malarcher).

On July 7, the Chicago Defender reported that Brown had undergone “an operation … Wednesday morning” – although the type of surgery was not mentioned – and he was expected to be hospitalized for “about 11 days.”30 Like Malarcher, Brown missed several weeks of playing time. He returned in time to take part in one of the ugly incidents with umpires that were plaguing the Negro Leagues. During an August 25 game against the Detroit Stars in Chicago, American Giants right fielder Walter “Steel Arm” Davis “lost his temper and hit [umpire] Moore in the face,” for which action he was suspended indefinitely by the league.31 Brown and four Chicago teammates were fined $5 each for arguing with the umpire about the call that caused Davis to commit assault on the game’s arbiter.32 It was a nasty confrontation in an abbreviated season for Brown that saw him appear in a mere 37 games during which he batted .264 with only 12 RBIs.

The American Giants mounted one final charge to garner the NNL’s second-half championship and earned the right to face St. Louis in the playoffs. The Stars routed the American Giants, 19-4, on October 4 in St. Louis to tie the series at four games apiece. The next day, the dispirited Chicagoans suffered a 9-2 defeat that put an end to their title hopes. St. Louis had to settle for the NNL championship since the ECL had folded early in the season, putting the Negro League World Series on hiatus for what turned out to be a 14-year period.

Prior to the 1929 season, Malarcher, who was unhappy with Trimble’s ownership style, left the team. As a result, Brown “was appointed the ‘captain,’ and took up the field manager duties.”33 Unfortunately for Brown, numerous other stalwarts from the past two seasons were also displeased with Trimble and defected from the team, leaving him with a depleted roster. Future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Mule Suttles, and Willie Wells all played for Chicago in 1929 but only for four games. Willie Foster was the only Hall of Famer whom Brown was able to count on all season, and he managed only a 9-7 record due to a lack of run support.

At one point, as the American Giants struggled in NNL play, a known felon thought things were so bad that he might finagle a slot in Chicago’s pitching rotation. Memphis Red Sox pitcher Robert Poindexter, upset over a 14-3 shellacking by the St. Louis Stars, had taken umbrage at teammate J.C. McHaskell’s attempt to cheer him up, pulled a revolver, and shot McHaskell in the foot. After Poindexter was arrested, it was discovered that he was wanted in Atlanta “about a little matter of a violated parole.”34 Inexplicably, Poindexter was able to extricate himself from legal trouble on both counts and went about searching for new employment. After being rebuffed by the Detroit club, “[h]e failed also to convince Jim Brown that he should be hired or come to Chicago via trade.”35 Brown may well have remembered what had happened to his former Brown Battery mate from Texas, Dave Brown, after he left Chicago and decided that on-field success was not worth off-field crimes. Dave Brown was, at that very moment, playing semipro ball in the Midwest under the alias Lefty Wilson while being wanted for murder for an April 28, 1925, shooting in New York City.

In late June, it was reported that Brown and catcher Pythias Russ were facing suspensions for their roles in another dust-up with an umpire during a midmonth series with the Monarchs in Kansas City. According to the Defender, “the [NNL] president’s office [was] simply awaiting a detailed report from the umpires in Kansas City where some serious trouble was narrowly averted.”36

The next time Chicago and Kansas City faced off, in a late-June/early-July series, the two teams split six games, but the Monarchs claimed the NNL’s first-half championship. To add insult to injury, Andy Cooper hurled a 2-0 no-hitter against the American Giants in the third game of the series on July 1 at Schorling Park.37 The Monarchs also claimed the second-half title and were the undisputed champions of the NNL. Chicago finished 51-40 in NNL play, which put the team in third place in the composite standings, 17½ games behind Kansas City. Brown’s first season at the helm was by no means an abject failure – the team finished 62-42 against all competition – but, compared with the three previous campaigns, it was a disappointment. As a player, Brown had inserted himself into the lineup wherever he was needed – infield, outfield, catcher, pinch-hitter – and had batted .248 with 21 RBIs.

Brown’s second season as skipper started off promisingly, with Chicago taking four of five games from the Detroit Stars in their opening series and then splitting a four-game set with the New York Cubans. However, things quickly went downhill and Brown’s frustration with his team began to show. In mid-June, the Defender noted, “He has tried benching Jelly Gardner, Walter Davis, Charlie Williams, Murray and Jeffries, but none of the substitutes he has put in the game have shown any better work.”38 Brown became so distressed by the American Giants’ perceived lack of effort that he resigned as manager on July 1 – but stayed on as a player – and, on July 12, it was reported that Willie Foster would take the reins.39

The St. Louis Stars won the NNL’s first-half title, but Chicago took five games against the Cubans early in the season’s second half as they tried to right their ship. Brown, liberated from the pressures of managing, hit better than he had in some time and was the key player in the sweep. Once again, though, the good feelings did not last long.

In the second game of an August 17 doubleheader against Birmingham at Schorling Park, Satchel Paige threw three consecutive pitches that almost hit Chicago shortstop Eddie Miller. A riled-up Miller “left the box and went to the pitcher’s box to hit Satchel in the head with his (Miller’s) bat. Satchel ran. Miller chased him. Fans began to leave the park. Players intervened and two or three fights were narrowly averted.”40 The Defender blasted both teams and averred, “No such actions would be tolerated in either the [White] American or National league.”41 In the aftermath of this fiasco, Willie Foster decided to clean house. The Defender applauded Foster’s effort to rebuild, stating, “There are many on the Windy City outfit that have been there just too long – have outlived their usefulness, not as ball players, perhaps, but as drawing cards.”42

In the hope of recapturing a dwindling fan base, the American Giants also began to schedule series against top clubs outside of the NNL such as the independent Homestead Grays from Pittsburgh and the Houston Black Buffaloes, champions of the Texas-Louisiana League. Brown sparkled in both series as Chicago lost five of six to Homestead but won four of five against Houston. He had become a beloved elder statesman on the team, who was appreciated for his efforts, and “the folks [were] calling him good old Jim Brown.”43

The Detroit Stars won the NNL’s second-half title but lost the championship series to the St. Louis Stars. The American Giants finished 1930 in fourth place in the composite standings, 20 games behind St. Louis. A revitalized Brown batted .305 with 26 RBIs in 56 games during his last season as a full-time player with the American Giants.

Late in the 1930 season, the Defender had lamented, “The league in its 10th season is in worse shape than in its whole history. The efforts of Rube Foster, who lost his health because of his untiring work to build up the league, seems [sic] to have gone to waste. The league is like a drowning man – someone must save it.”44 Rube Foster died on December 9, 1930. Two months later, on February 7, Chicago found out that Willie Foster was not going to play the role of savior for his older brother’s team or league. Foster announced that he was resigning as manager of the American Giants to focus on his pitching, and then he bolted Chicago to join the Homestead Grays for the 1931 season.45 On top of all that, Trimble had sold ownership of the franchise to Charles Bidwell in the second half of the 1930 season and Bidwell now “treated the American Giants like a pot he lucked upon in a poker game and was at a loss about what to do next.”46

Many players followed in Willie Foster’s footsteps and abandoned the American Giants. Brown and several teammates formed an independent team and went on a barnstorming tour. The Cleveland Cubs, a new entry in the NNL, opened their season on May 23 against Brown and company.47 Meanwhile, Malarcher returned to Chicago and agreed to resume a leadership role as the American Giants were re-formed and renamed the Chicago Columbia Giants; the team remained a member franchise of the NNL. The Columbia Giants opened their season with a two-game sweep of the Nashville Elite Giants over the Decoration Day (Memorial Day) weekend.48 Brown was not yet back in the fold, but he returned in time for the next series against the St. Louis Stars and split his time between catching and first base.49

On July 4 it was reported that the Columbia Giants were departing for a five-game set in St. Louis, after which the team would return to Chicago and play the remainder of the season as an independent ballclub.50 Chicago finished the NNL season with a 6-17-1 record that placed the squad last out of six teams; St. Louis played twice as many league games and won the championship with a 37-10-1 record. Brown, who was now 39 years old, batted .292 but that number was deceptive since he had played in only nine league games.

In late August Brown headed back to his home state of Texas as a member of the barnstorming Charles Wesley Giants. Wesley, who had played for several NNL squads in the 1920s had formed an all-star team and now combined seven members of his squad with eight former American Giants to form a new team.51 After their tour through Texas, the team returned to the Midwest and played anywhere a game could be scheduled until winter arrived.52

Rube Foster’s first iteration of the Negro National League collapsed after the 1931 season. In 1932 the American Giants joined the Negro Southern League while Brown formed a traveling squad named the Rube Foster Memorial Giants. The NSL’s Nashville Elite Giants opened their season against Brown’s team on April 10.53 By the end of the month, it was announced that Brown’s squad would replace the Cleveland Cubs and would become a member of the NSL.54

Although the Defender now used the moniker Jim Brown’s Cleveland Cubs,55 Brown and the team never represented Cleveland because the franchise could not secure a home ballpark. The team finished a brief tour of the South and had an abysmal 1-15 record when its season and existence came to a merciful end. In mid-May, the mighty Monroe Monarchs swept a four-game series from Brown’s squad, including a doubleheader in which Elbert Williams threw a 6-0, one-hit victory that Barney Morris followed with a 4-0 no-hitter.56

Two weeks after the debacle against the Monarchs, Brown signed to take over as the skipper of the NSL’s Louisville Black Caps after that team started the season 0-8 (0-4 in the NSL) under ex-American Giants outfielder Jimmie Lyons.57 The Defender, which never printed a harsh word about Brown, ran the headline “Louisville Eyes Flag” after the Black Caps swept a three-game series from the Montgomery Grey Sox.58 That was wishful thinking, however, as the team disbanded in late July prior to a series against Monroe. It was reported that “[t]he Louisville club gave out no news of its plans to quit until Monroe had arrived on the scene Saturday [July 23] and then the sign was displayed, ‘No game today.’”59 A new semipro squad – the Red Birds, soon renamed the Red Sox – was cobbled together from the remnants of the Black Caps and another local team, and Brown finished the season in the same manager-catcher role that he had played for the Black Caps.60

After his itinerant 1932 season, Brown’s whereabouts for most of 1933 are a mystery. The Defender reported in March that Brown would manage the Nashville team, which now belonged to the second iteration of the Negro National League (as did the Chicago American Giants).61 On March 25 the Defender still claimed, “Dunn, an infielder, and Jim Brown, manager, who is now in Chicago, are expected to be on hand when the train pulls out of here.”62 However, on April 2 the Nashville Banner reported that “Felton] Stratton, a local boy, will be the playing manager.”63 Stratton managed Nashville for the entire 1933 season, and Brown is known to have played in a mere two games at catcher for Chicago.

In 1934 Brown was back on the map and had steady employment throughout the year. He managed the barnstorming Van Dyke House of David team that had been founded by Harry Crump in Des Moines, Iowa.64 The original (White) House of David team had belonged to a religious commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and its players were known for their long hair and beards. This was not the first Black team to take the House of David name and to wear fake beards, but rather was one of many such ballclubs. Brown’s squad toured the entire Western half of the United States and even made a foray into Canada. After a grueling tour that lasted from May 18 into early October, the team was scheduled to “head to Omaha, Nebr., where new headquarters will be opened up and then players will depart to Chicago for the winter.”65 The 42-year-old Brown not only managed the Van Dykes but also continued to play and “established quite a reputation as a slugger, pounding the ball at [a] .356 clip.”66

Although Brown had excelled in 1934, the arduous tour had to have taken its toll on him, and in 1935 he returned to the Chicago American Giants. The team was alternately known as the Cole’s American Giants, thus named after new owner Robert Cole, a Black undertaker who had bought the franchise prior to the 1932 season. The Defender hailed Brown’s hire, noting, “[he] will serve as first assistant to [new manager] Larry Brown both in the catching department and running of the team. [Jim] Brown is one of the keenest judges of players and plays ever to don a uniform. He was acting captain of the Giants for years during the old regime.”67

Brown was basically the bench coach for his new catcher-manager Larry Brown (no relation) and appeared in only 11 games as a player in 1935. When he did play, he contributed all he could with a .476 batting average and a .522 on-base percentage. The glory days for Chicago were long gone, however, and the team finished 24-31-1, which was only good enough for sixth place (out of eight teams) in the NNL2’s composite standings.

After the 1935 campaign, Brown temporarily retired from baseball. He did not play or manage in 1936, made one appearance at catcher for the American Giants in 1937, and remained retired through 1939. Brown resided in Chicago and eventually responded to the siren call of baseball in 1940, when he emerged from retirement to manage the Palmer House All-Stars.68 The team was sponsored by Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel and was composed mostly of former Negro League players who worked for the hotel. Brown took over a squad that had “won the Illinois State Semi-pro championship and competed in the national tourney in Wichita” the previous year.69

Although Brown appeared to have enjoyed leading the Palmer House team, he retired again and sat out the 1941 season.70 In 1942, however, he was lured out of retirement a second time to manage the Minneapolis-St. Paul Gophers of the new Negro Major Baseball League.71 The circuit was the brainchild of promoter Abe Saperstein (of Harlem Globetrotters basketball renown), and top personnel were hired to run what was to be a first-rate operation. League President R.R. Jackson of Chicago gave assurances that the league “plans to go its own way on a high-class plane, has no axes to grind and does not contemplate injurious measures in the other circuits of Negro baseball.”72

The Gophers played their home games at St. Paul’s Lexington Park, the home of the American Association’s St. Paul Saints, and were set to open their home slate on June 21 against Brown’s old team, the Chicago American Giants.73However, the honeymoon between the Gophers and the Twin Cities ended quickly.

On Sunday, June 28, the Gophers lost a 1-0 game to the Cincinnati Ethiopian Clowns that was called after six innings due to rain.74 Three days later, the Minneapolis Star printed complaints from a disenchanted fan named Lyle Dowdal:

“In order to keep the gate receipts, says Dowdel [sic], both teams swung at first balls offered them, no matter how bad they were. The players rushed into action as fast as they could UNTIL THE NECESSARY FOUR AND A HALF INNINGS WERE PLAYED AND THE MONEY BELONGED TO THE PROMOTERS. Then they just took things leisurely until the rain stopped proceedings for the afternoon.

‘It was the worst case of cheating the spectators I have seen in baseball in all my life,’ Dowdal relates.”75

The Star contacted Saperstein, whom it named as “the Director, schedule maker, financier and publicity agent” of the league, to solicit his opinion on the matter. Saperstein replied with a written rebuttal in which he denied any wrongdoing on the part of either team or the league. In its July 10 edition, the Star asserted, “We are not backing down one bit on [the accusations], but call it a closed incident by printing the Saperstein rebuttal with the added warning that no one can successfully establish a new promotional enterprise in these parts by making customers mad.”76

After the Gophers and Chicago Brown Bombers became the first Black baseball teams to play a game in Waterloo, Iowa, the local newspaper also was unimpressed. This time, however, the dissatisfaction was with the style of play between the two Negro Major Baseball League teams compared with that of White baseball nines. The Waterloo Courier remarked:

“The Negro boys have their own systems of baseball. It was apparent Wednesday evening. They bunted when orthodox baseball called for a full cut at the ball; they stole bases or attempted it when three runs behind and otherwise performed in a manner that bewildered old baseball heads who are accustomed to seeing Johnny Mostil and White Hawk baseball.

“… It was apparent from the very start that the White Hawks or any other team in the Three-I could handle both teams at one and the same time. A better match would be the East High nine and a combined team from the two Negro clubs which appeared at the Stadium. The score would be close, too.”77

The Courier’s insults – which smacked in part of racism – notwithstanding, it was apparent that the new Negro Major Baseball League did not offer spectators the same quality baseball as the true Negro major leagues did. By early August, Brown’s best players had defected to the New York Lincoln Giants,78 and the only Gophers that the Minneapolis press was covering were the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who were preparing for the coming football season. It is unclear at what point the league folded, but it appears to have been a well-intentioned yet poorly implemented venture that failed to last an entire season.79

Brown, in poor health and divorced from his wife, Hattie, returned to Texas after the 1942 season and settled in San Antonio, which is close to his hometown of San Marcos. He was not there long before he died on January 21, 1943. Negro League historian James Riley has provided a wild account of Brown’s death that, as of the year 2021, proliferates on the Internet and in print. According to Riley, “Brown enjoyed nightlife and liked to gamble, and it eventually led to his death. In an incident relating to his gambling, he was thrown out of a moving car and died from a broken neck.”80

It is a peculiar tale of a violent death, but there is no truth to it. The Defender, in announcing Brown’s death to its readership, noted that Brown “had been seriously ill since the close of the 1942 baseball season.”81 The doctor who filled out Brown’s death certificate listed Brown’s cause of death as cardiac failure and observed that an enlarged liver and general edema were contributing factors. The secondary causes indicate that Brown likely consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, but he never achieved notoriety in the press for bad behavior that resulted from drunkenness and was not killed after a night of drinking and gambling.

On Sunday, January 24, 1943, Jim Brown was buried in San Marcos-Blanco Cemetery in San Marcos, Texas.82



All player statistics and team records were taken from Seamheads.com, except where otherwise indicated.

Ancestry.com was consulted for US Census information; military records; and birth, marriage, and death records.



1 “Lyons, Torrienti [sic] and Jim Brown Sign with Am. Giants,” Chicago Defender, January 13, 1923: 10.

2 James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994), 121.

3 Jim Brown’s death certificate lists his mother’s maiden name as Emma Giles. However, the 1910 census shows that Emma’s widowed mother, Liza Ford, was living with the Brown family at that time and lists Emma Ford as an alternate name for Emma Brown. It is possible that Liza Ford could have been twice widowed, by husbands with the surnames Giles and Ford, or that Jim Brown’s death certificate was in error about the name Giles (as it was about his year of birth, listing 1895 rather than the year 1892 that is corroborated by numerous other official documents).

4 “Negro Baseball,” Shreveport Times, July 6, 1914: 8.

5 “Dallas Black Giants Win,” Dallas Morning News, July 4, 1915: 6.

6 Multiple sources erroneously list Dave Brown as also having been born in San Marcos, Texas; however, Dave Brown was born in Marquez, Texas. There is no evidence that the two players were related; even if they were kin, they certainly were not members of the same immediate family.

7 “American Giants Open Sunday: ‘Rube’ Foster Will Present the Greatest Team of His Career,” Chicago Defender, April 12, 1919: 11.

8 Except for the Jewell’s ABCs, all the major Western Independent Clubs from 1919 became members of the NNL in 1920; two additional squads – the Indianapolis ABCs and the Kansas City Monarchs – also were founding members of the circuit.

9 “American Giants Take Kansas City’s Measure,” Chicago Defender, August 28, 1920: 6.

10 “American Giants, 2; Knoxville, 1,” Chicago Defender, October 9, 1920: 6; James A. Riley, Of Monarchs and Black Barons: Essays on Baseball’s Negro Leagues (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012), 74.

11 Paul Debono, The Chicago American Giants (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007), 80.

12 Chicago’s 4-3-1 record against the Bacharach Giants was derived from the game accounts found in Bill Nowlin’s timeline for the 1920 American Giants in the present volume.

13 “Pitchers Brown and Rile Jump to the Outlaws,” Chicago Defender, February 17, 1923: 10.

14 “Detroit Americans Face Fosters in 2-Game Fight,” Chicago Defender, October 20, 1923: 9.

15 “American Giant Nine Plays 5-5 Tie with Tigers,” Chicago Tribune, October 21, 1923: 2-7.

16 Debono, 96.

17 “American Giants Bow, 7-1, Before Detroit Majors, Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1923: 26.

18 “Rube Foster’s Giants Beat Detroit Tigers,” Chicago Tribune, October 23, 1923: 25.

19 Hattie Mae’s surname may have been “Trymise” or “Trymire” since both variants appear in legal records.

20 “Foster Releases Several Ball Players: Leroy Grant Among Those Unfortunates,” Chicago Defender, March 7, 1925: 12.

21 “Trio of American Giants,” Pittsburgh Courier, March 14, 1925: 7. Since the Courier referred to Brown as a left-handed batter, it is unknown whether Brown had given up on switch-hitting or was simply a better hitter from the left side.

22 Frank A. Young, “American Giants in Tip Top Shape Hand Chicago Blues 5 to 3 Trimming,” Chicago Defender, April 18, 1925: 9.

23 Debono, 105.

24 Debono, 110.

25 “White Teams Fall Before American Giants Attack,” Chicago Defender, September 10, 1927: 9.

26 “White Teams Fall Before American Giants Attack.”

27 “White Teams Fall Before American Giants Attack.”

28 Kyle McNary, Black Baseball: A History of African-Americans & the National Game (New York: PRC Publishing Ltd., 2003), 112. In 1926 Atlantic City’s Claude “Red” Grier threw a no-hitter against Chicago in Game Three of the World Series; it was the high point of Grier’s career as he won only one game in 1927 before his career ended at the age of 23. In the 1927 World Series, Atlantic City’s Luther Farrell pitched a seven-inning no-hitter in Game Five; although the game was called early due to darkness, the victory went in the books. Farrell fared better than Grier after his World Series no-no and won a career-high 16 games during the 1928 ECL season.

29 McNary, 112.

30 “Jim Brown Operated on at Douglass Hospital,” Chicago Defender, July 7, 1928: 8. No primary or secondary sources list the nature of Brown’s surgery. However, a July 14 news article mentioned about the American Giants that “Russ has been moved to the short field and Davis, the right fielder, has been shifted to first since Jim Brown injured his leg.” Thus, it is entirely possible that Brown had surgery on his injured leg. (See “American Giants Play Stars Today,” Detroit Free Press, July 14, 1928: 15.)

31 “Davis Draws Suspension for Fighting,” Chicago Defender, September 1, 1928: 9.

32 “Davis Draws Suspension for Fighting.”

33 Debono, 122.

34 “Shoots First Sacker; Pitcher to Hoosegow,” Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, June 1, 1929: 8.

35 “Poindexter Claims Shooting Accidental,” Chicago Defender, June 15, 1929: 8. Although Poindexter apparently incurred no legal consequences for the shooting, he was banished by the NNL later in the month of June (see “Jim Brown, Russ Face Suspension, Chicago Defender, June 29, 1929: 8).

36 “Jim Brown, Russ Face Suspension.”

37 “Kansas City Wins First Half of National League 1929 Season/Kansas City Hands American Giants No-Hit, No-Run Game; Lead Series Two Games to One,” Chicago Defender, July 6, 1929: 8.

38 “Kansas City vs. Am. Giants on June 21st,” Chicago Defender, June 21, 1930: 9.

39 “Giants Face Kansas City on July 11th/Willie Foster Succeeds Jim Brown as Giant Pilot,” Chicago Defender, July 12, 1930: 9.

40 “New Faces to Be Seen in American Giants Line-Up as Result of Drastic Shake-Up,” Chicago Defender, August 23, 1930: 8.

41 “New Faces to Be Seen.”

42 “New Faces to Be Seen.”

43 “Houston Nine in Chicago for 1st Time,” Chicago Defender, September 13, 1930: 8. (See also: “Grays Beat Am. Giants; Black Buffs Here/Foster Only Giants Pitcher to Stop Homesteads; Jim Brown and C. White Sparkle,” Chicago Defender, September 13, 1930: 8).

44 “New Faces to Be Seen.”

45 “Foster Resigns Managership of Am. Giants,” Chicago Defender, February 7, 1931: 8.

46 Debono, 129.

47 “Cleveland to Play Team from Chicago,” Chicago Defender, May 23, 1931: 9.

48 Dan Burley, “Nashville Elite Giants Beaten Twice by Columbia Giants at Chicago, 4-1; 5-2,” Chicago Defender, June 6, 1931: 8.

49 “St. Louis Here for 5-Game Series,” Chicago Defender, June 6, 1931: 9.

50 Dan Burley, “Columbia Giants Win Series from Cincinnati; Leave for St. Louis for 5-Game Stand,” Chicago Defender, July 4, 1931: 8.

51 “Giants Off for Games in Texas/Former Giant Players on Tour of Southland/Leaves to Play Ball in Texas,” Chicago Defender, August 22, 1931: 8.

52 “Ex-American Giant Players Win Game,” Chicago Defender, October 3, 1931: 9.

53 “Elites to Play/Local Negro Ball Club Will Meet Chicago Outfit,” Nashville Banner, April 7, 1932: 15. In a distressing display of how quickly even a prominent person can fall from the public consciousness, the Banner printed the following correction in this article: “A story in Wednesday’s paper stated that Rube Foster was managing the Giants. That was incorrect, since Foster is dead. The club is a memorial to Foster.”

54 “Jim Brown’s Team in League: Franchise of Cleveland to Chicagoan’s 9,” Chicago Defender, April 30, 1932: 9.

55 “Cleveland to Welcome Jim Brown’s Team,” Chicago Defender, May 7, 1932: 8.

56 “Monroe Beats Cleveland in Straight Sets,” Chicago Defender, May 14, 1932: 9.

57 “Black Caps Away,” Louisville Courier-Journal, May 28, 1932: 12.

58 “Louisville Eyes Flag: Jim Brown’s Gang Cops 3-Game Set,” Chicago Defender, July 16, 1932: 9.

59 “Louisville Quits Southern League,” Chicago Defender, July 30, 1932: 9.

60 “Louisville Quits Southern League”; “Jim Brown’s Team Victor,” Chicago Defender, August 20, 1932: 8.

61 “Leads Mates into Training,” Chicago Defender, March 18, 1933: 8.

62 “Nashville to Start Drills,” Chicago Defender, March 25, 1933: 9.

63 “Elite Giants Train in New Orleans, La.,” Nashville Banner, April 2, 1933: 11.

64 “Jim Brown’s Ball Team Wins a Pair,” Chicago Defender, May 26, 1934: 16.

65 “Jim Brown’s 9 to Tour Coast Starting Soon,” Chicago Defender, July 21, 1934: 17.

66 “Jim Brown Quits House of David to Play with Cole,” Chicago Defender, May 18, 1935: 13.

67 “Jim Brown Quits House of David to Play with Cole.”

68 “Jim Brown to Manage Palmer House Stars,” Chicago Defender, December 2, 1939: 22.

69 “Chicago All-Stars Bring Classy Club Here on Tuesday,” Davenport (Iowa) Daily Times, July 12, 1940: 16.

70 “Palmer House Boys Feted at Boosters Club,” Chicago Defender, December 14, 1940: 20.

71 “Chicago, Detroit, Boston, St. Paul, Baltimore, Minneapolis Form Loop,” Atlanta Daily World, March 25, 1942: 5.

72 “New League Has No Axes to Sharpen,” New York Amsterdam Star-News, April 4, 1942: 13.

73 “St. Paul Gophers Open Season Sunday June 21,” Chicago Defender, June 20, 1942: 20.

74 “City Negro Nine Loses League Game,” Minneapolis Star, June 29, 1942: 19.

75 Charlie Johnson, “Charlie Johnson’s Lowdown on Sports: ‘Cheating’ the Spectators,” Minneapolis Star, July 1, 1942: 28.

76 Charlie Johnson, “Charlie Johnson’s Lowdown on Sports: Saperstein’s Explanation,” Minneapolis Star, July 10, 1942: 20.

77 “Unorthodox and Funny in Spots, Negro Baseball,” Waterloo (Iowa) Courier, July 2, 1942: 9.

78 “Autos Expect Stiff Tussle with Giants,” Saint Joseph (Michigan) Herald-Press, August 18, 1942: 11.

79 “Bury Jim Brown, Famous Am. Giant Catcher, in Texas,” Chicago Defender, February 13, 1943: 21. In this article, the Defender made the claim that Brown ended the 1942 season as the manager of the traveling New York Lincoln Giants team. Although this author was unable to discover any other corroboration for this claim, it is entirely in the realm of possibility and would indicate that the Minneapolis-St. Paul Gophers (and perhaps the entire Negro Major Baseball League) folded in August 1942.

80 Riley, 121.

81 “Bury Jim Brown, Famous Am. Giant Catcher, in Texas.”

82 “Bury Jim Brown, Famous Am. Giant Catcher, in Texas.”

Full Name

James R. Brown


May 16, 1892 at San Marcos, TX (USA)


January 21, 1943 at San Antonio, TX (USA)

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