When the first Negro National League, founded by Rube Foster and his fellow owners of the West’s prominent independent ballclubs, began play in 1920, the circuit included two teams that called Chicago home. As the metropolis with the second-largest population in the United States, the Windy City certainly was able to support multiple teams. The National League’s Cubs (on Chicago’s North Side) and American League’s White Sox (on the South Side) each had faithful followers and even had competed against in each other in the 1906 World Series, with the South Side’s Hitless Wonders pulling off a six-game triumph over the record-setting 116-win North Siders.
In the twentieth century, both the Cubs (2-3 in World Series appearances) and the White Sox (2-1, with the loss coming in the infamous 1919 Black Sox affair) had experienced some success, but there was no such equity between Foster’s American Giants and their intraleague rivals with the almost identical name.1 The CAG had romped to the first NNL pennant in 1920 with a 43-17-2 league record that placed them eight games ahead of the second-place Detroit Stars, while the Chicago Giants had finished in last place with an abysmal 5-31 ledger.2 By the end of the 1921 season, it was déjà vu all over again as the CAG finished in first at 44-22-2 and the Chicago Giants placed last, though they doubled their win total as they finished 10-35-2.
Given the disparity between the two teams, it was surprising that the Giants provided stiff competition in a June 19, 1921, game at the CAG’s home field, Schorling Park. As the Chicago Defender asserted, “Anyone who stayed away from the ballpark this afternoon expecting Rube Foster to have a walk-away with Joe Green’s Chicago Giants simply missed a rattling good game.”3 Perhaps the pitching matchup proved attractive enough that “a banner crowd of eleven thousand witnessed the contest.”4 Tom Johnson, one of many Black ballplayers who had served in World War I, took the mound for the CAG. Johnson had pitched to a perfect 11-0 record with a 1.84 ERA for Foster’s squad the previous season, but he had been inconsistent thus far in 1921.5 His opponent on the hill was John Taylor, an above-average pitcher who had the misfortune of plying his trade for a moribund team. Taylor had tied for the lead in wins on the Giants’ staff with a 2-11 record in 1920. He was clearly the ace of the 1921 Giants; although he finished with a 6-14 record, he posted a 2.90 ERA, giving him a 144 ERA+ that showed his record to be largely a result of the lack of support behind him.
The first inning was uneventful as both hurlers took care of business, but the CAG jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Catcher Jim Brown drew a leadoff walk but was in danger of being stranded at first after Jelly Gardner flied out and Bobby Williams struck out. Brown took matters into his own hands and stole second base as Williams was called out on strikes. First baseman Leroy Grant then strode to the plate and stroked a base hit to left field. Brown should have been out at home, but left fielder Thurman Jennings’ throw to the plate was wild and allowed him to score. Grant tried to advance to third, but catcher Otto Ray rifled a throw to third baseman Willie Green, who tagged Grant for the third out.
Johnson threatened to surrender the CAG’s slim lead when he issued two-out walks to Lemuel Hawkins and Harry Jeffries in the top of the third, but Jennings hit a comebacker to the mound and Johnson threw him out at first to escape the jam. Another walk, however, contributed to the Giants tying the game in the top of the fifth. Green, leading off the inning, drew a free pass. Third baseman Dave Malarcher followed with an error on Harry Bauchman’s grounder, putting runners at first and second.
For a moment, it appeared as though Johnson might pull off his Harry Houdini imitation again and escape another tight spot as Taylor flied out and Hawkins fouled out, but Jeffries singled to drive in Green, tying the game, 1-1. Next, with Jennings at bat, the Giants tried a double steal, but the CAG players were prepared for the play. Brown fired the ball to second baseman Bingo DeMoss, who “made no attempt to tag the runner, but shot it back to Brown … in time to kill Bauchman trying to score.”6 The Defender questioned the wisdom of the Giants’ decision, remarking, “Just whatever possessed [pitcher Walter] Ball, who was coaching off third, to send Bauchman in, knowing he is a slow runner, no one would understand. It killed a possible chance for another run.”7
The game did not remain tied for long as the CAG retook the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. DeMoss led off and reached first safely when Giants shortstop John Beckwith committed an error with a wild throw to first. The next batter, Jimmie Lyons, drew a walk, after which Cristóbal Torriente lined what the Defender called “a fluke triple which hit inside the fair line about a foot” and then bounced all the way to the wall before Giants right fielder Luther Farrell could reach it. DeMoss and Lyons scored to give the CAG a 3-1 lead. After Brown flied out, Gardner reached base on Beckwith’s second error; however, since Beckwith was bobbling the ball, Torriente was unable to score on the play. Gardner stole second base to put himself in scoring position, but Williams lined back to Taylor, who caught the ball and then threw to third to double off Torriente.
The Giants almost took the lead in the top of the eighth, but Beckwith again was a victim of hard luck as he had a game that he likely wanted to forget immediately. Jeffries and Jennings hit two-out singles to extend the inning, and Beckwith was up next. On a 2-and-0 count, Beckwith hit a long foul ball into the bleachers. Then, on 3-and-1, he lofted a long ball that hit the right-field wall, but it was foul by a few feet, “having stayed up long enough for the wind to carry it.”8 Beckwith then struck out looking at Johnson’s final offering.
After the excitement in the top of the eighth, the CAG decided to add some thrills of their own in the bottom of the inning. DeMoss started things off with a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. Lyons hit a grounder to Beckwith, who threw out DeMoss attempting to take third. Torriente lofted a fly ball to right that Luther dropped for a two-base error. Lyons tried to score from first, but Taylor fired the relay to Beckwith at home to nail Lyons. Brown then hit a bouncer to Beckwith, who made his third error of the game and allowed Torriente to score for a 4-1 CAG lead. Brown, following his teammate Lyons’ lead, overplayed his hand when he attempted to steal second and was thrown out by catcher Ray to second baseman Bauchman.
In the top of the ninth, Ray’s one-out single – one of only four hits that Johnson allowed – went for naught, and the CAG’s 4-1 lead held up as the final score. Although the CAG was clearly the better team and Torriente’s triple was the game’s decisive blow, they also had benefited greatly from Beckwith’s bout of temporary ineptitude and the Giants’ questionable double-steal attempt in the third inning, both of which helped to secure the win. The Defender summarized the day’s events aptly, stating, “Taylor pitched a real good game, but the breaks were in favor of Tom Johnson of the home team.”9
Play-by-play was adapted from: Mister Fan, “American Giants Win 2 from Chicago Giants,” Chicago Defender, June 25, 1921: 10.
Seamheads.com was consulted on May 20, 2021, for all player statistics, team records, and league standings. The Seamheads database is a continual work in progress and all information found on the website is subject to change as additional news articles that contain game accounts and statistics are uncovered.
1 To avoid too much repetition of “Chicago” and “Giants,” the Chicago American Giants will be referred to as CAG (a common abbreviation for the team) while the Chicago Giants will be referred to either by the team’s full name or just as Giants. It bears mention that the NNL’s St. Louis franchise also used the name Giants; however, since they were not involved in this game, there should be no confusion when only the name Giants is used here.
2 For a number of reasons – including ballpark and opponent availability as well as weather conditions – Negro League teams’ schedules were rarely balanced as they have been throughout the history of White major-league baseball. Thus, the Chicago Giants were able to play only 36 official NNL games in 1920 while Rube Foster’s American Giants played 62. The disparity in the number of NNL games played by each team carried over into the 1921 season.
3 Mister Fan, “American Giants Win 2 from Chicago Giants,” Chicago Defender, June 25, 1921: 10.
4 Allen Harrison Dorsey, “Prime Sport News,” Cleveland Gazette, June 25, 1921: 3.
5 Johnson also started four games for the Detroit Stars and went 2-2 with a 4.21 ERA that gave him a composite record of 13-2 and a 2.42 ERA in NNL play in 1920.
6 Mister Fan.
7 Mister Fan.
8 Mister Fan.
9 Mister Fan.
Chicago American Giants 4
Chicago Giants 1
If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.