May 7, 1921: Detroit Stars and Bacharach Giants hit the long ball
It was Saturday, May 7, 1921, the opening day of the Negro National League season in Detroit, with the Detroit Stars hosting the Bacharach Giants at Mack Park. Built in 1914, Mack Park was “a ramshackle ballpark made of wood and tin sheeting.”1 The single-deck structure could seat about 6,000. The day’s attendance was not reported, but the game was likely a sellout. An article in the Detroit Contender, a black newspaper, urged the black community to turn out in large numbers to support the Stars and the Negro National League. With the Detroit Tigers out of town, an appreciable number of white baseball fans may also have attended.2
The Stars were led by Pete Hill, the team’s 38-year-old manager and center fielder, and one of the all-time greats of Negro baseball. Detroit’s Bruce Petway was regarded as the finest defensive catcher in Negro baseball. First baseman Edgar Wesley, a left-handed power hitter, had led the Negro National League with 11 home runs in 1920.3 The middle infield was young but capable: 22-year-old Frank Warfield at second base and 21-year-old Mule Riggins at shortstop. Filling out the lineup were Johnson Hill at third base, Eugene Moore in left field, and Charley Hill in right field. The starting pitcher was Bill Force, a 25-year-old right-hander who had won 19 consecutive games for the Knoxville (Tennessee) Giants in 1920; he was “a big fellow” with “plenty of speed as well as deceptive curves.”4
The visiting Bacharach Giants had already played 27 games in 1921 and won 24 of them. Representing Atlantic City, New Jersey, the team was named for the city’s former mayor, Harry Bacharach, and was managed by 31-year-old Dick “Cannonball” Redding, a dominating pitcher. The outfielders were speedy: Elias “Country Brown” Bryant in left field, George “Rabbit” Shively in center, and Dennis Graham in right. The right side of the infield was old and competent, with Bill Pettus at first base and Bill Handy at second, while the left side was young and brilliant, with Dick Lundy at short and Oliver Marcell at third. The starting pitcher was 24-year-old Harold Treadwell, a right-handed submarine-style hurler who compiled a 27-6 record for the Giants in 1920. His catcher was Julio Rojo, a Cuban.5
The Stars struck first. In the bottom of the first inning, Pete Hill singled to right field and Riggins drew a walk. Wesley slugged consecutive pitches from Treadwell over the fence; the first one was barely foul, but the second one was barely fair for a three-run homer.
Not to be outdone, Lundy and Handy clubbed back-to-back solo homers off Force in the top of the second. In the third inning the Giants tallied a run on singles by Shively and Pettus and a double by Country Brown, and the Stars scored a run on doubles by Riggins and Johnson Hill.
In the fourth inning Shively dropped Petway’s fly ball in center field but caught Warfield’s long fly, and Petway scored. The next inning Petway smacked a two-run homer, and the Stars led 7-3.
The Giants were undeterred. Pettus led off the sixth inning with a double to right field. Country Brown received a base on balls, and Lundy rapped a single to center field, scoring Pettus. Force was tiring on the mound, so Pete Hill replaced him with Big Bill Gatewood, a savvy 39-year-old spitballer.
With runners on the corners, Gatewood induced Handy to ground the ball to third baseman Johnson Hill, who fired to Wesley at first base for the first out of the inning; Lundy advanced to second and Brown scored on the play. Next up, Graham singled to left center, sending Lundy to third. Rojo then grounded to Gatewood, who threw him out at first while holding Lundy at third, but Jesse Barber, pinch-hitting for Treadwell, singled to center field, and both Lundy and Graham romped home. The score was now tied, 7-7. Andrew “String Bean” Williams took the mound for the Giants in the bottom of the sixth and retired Warfield, Pete Hill, and Riggins in order.
Marcell singled to lead off the seventh inning for the Giants. Pettus grounded out, Gatewood to Wesley, and Marcell was thrown out attempting to reach third base on the play. His aggressive baserunning proved costly when the next batter, Brown, clouted a solo homer. Marcell, known as a hothead, was ejected in the bottom of the seventh after arguing an umpire’s call. Manager Redding moved catcher Rojo to third base to replace Marcell and put catcher Yank Deas behind the plate. After Wesley singled to left center, Moore drove him home with a double to right, and the score after seven innings was even at 8-8.
Twenty-year-old Bill Holland took the mound for the Stars in the top of the eighth; he hit Handy with a pitch, but retired Graham, Rojo, and Williams in order. In the bottom of the inning. Pete Hill beat out an infield single, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored the go-ahead run on a double by Riggins.
The Giants came to bat in the top of the ninth, trailing by a run. Shively led off and reached safely when Riggins bobbled his grounder to short. Deas singled over second base, and Pettus walked to load the bases. Holland was in a jam. Brown, who had already doubled and homered in the game, posed a serious threat, but he grounded to Holland, who threw home for a force out.
Now the dangerous Lundy stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. The Detroit fans were on the edge of their seats. Lundy lifted a fly ball to deep right field. Charley Hill went back and caught it near the fence. Deas, who was on third, tagged up and headed home, and it appeared that the score would be tied. But to the amazement of all, Charley pegged a perfect strike to Petway at home plate, who tagged Deas to complete a game-ending double play! Charley’s throw traveled more than 300 feet.
The final score was Detroit Stars 9, Bacharach Giants 8. The winning pitcher was Holland, and the loser was Williams. The slugfest featured five home runs and six doubles, but the star of the game was Charley Hill.
The author relied on the game description given in the May 14, 1921, issue of the Chicago Defender. Background information about the players was obtained from James A. Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994), and from Seamheads.com.
1 Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1992), 150.
2 Richard Bak, Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars: The Negro Leagues in Detroit, 1919-1933 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 58, 71, 72, 88.
3 Robert Charles Cottrell, The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 156.
4 Detroit Free Press, April 23, 1921.
5 James E. Overmyer, Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City, 1916-1929 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2014), 1, 44, 72, 206, 207.