This article was written by Jim Kreuz
This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 27, 2007)
On April 24, 1943, Brooklyn Dodger president Branch Rickey sent a confidential memo to his top scout with instructions to begin searching for “colored” ballplayers, thus setting the wheels in motion that would result in the signing of Jackie Robinson. This document, and those that followed shortly thereafter, are historically significant yet have remained a secret until now. They read like an Ian Fleming novel, with Rickey cast as “M” and his scout, Tom Greenwade, as James Bond.
One has to be a hard-core baseball fan to recognize Greenwade’s name, but you will recognize some of the ballplayers this scout has signed-Bill Virdon, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, George Kell, Hank Bauer, Tom Sturdivant, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Ralph Terry, Bobby Murcer, and Mickey Mantle. Yet the ballplayer he was probably most proud of recommending, but is least known for being associated with, is Jackie Robinson. Before telling the story behind this scout’s search for Mr. Robinson, you need to hear about the first “colored” player the Dodgers tried to sign.
Silvio Garcia: Their First Choice
His name is Silvio Garcia, and when the Dodgers tried to sign this Cuban shortstop in 1943 he was playing in Mexico, which is one reason why Branch Rickey sent his top scout there in May 1943. Rickey was intent on keeping this scouting effort top-secret, so his first conversation with Greenwade was in person, prior to the April 24th memo. The two arranged to meet at the Biltmore Hotel in Kansas City, but Greenwade had trouble locating his boss because Rickey signed in at the hotel registry as Greenwade, not wanting the locals to know the Dodger president was in town and start asking why.
The why included a request to check out “colored” ballplayers in Mexico, and in particular Garcia, whom Dodger manager Leo Durocher had seen play in the Mexican League. The Brooklyn skipper claimed that Joe DiMaggio couldn’t carry Garcia’s glove. I’m assuming someone asked Leo if Garcia could carry DiMaggio’s bat. In a December 3, 1953, newspaper article, Greenwade described how their hotel meeting went. “All that secrecy had me buffaloed. And I got more curious after he sat and talked to me about things that had happened in his life. He told me one story about the time a hotel refused to allow the catcher of his Ohio Wesleyan team to have a room. The catcher was a Negro, and I began to get the idea.”
Tom only had two problems with this trip. One, he didn’t want to keep it a secret from his wife, Florence, and two, he didn’t speak Spanish. True to form, Rickey quickly solved both by suggesting that he take his wife, and he provided a translator. Florence made it to Mexico, but the translator did not. It seems he went on a drinking binge in San Antonio and was left behind.
Where Did the Documents Come From?
I’m not your typical SABR researcher. If it isn’t right underneath my nose, I’m not going to find it. It took a few subtle suggestions from editor Jim Charlton for me to finally pull the shovel out and start digging. A portion of the information for this article was handed to me by the Greenwade family. That was the easy part-no shovel required. While I was working on an earlier article about Greenwade’s scouting career, I asked his son and daughter for copies of any documents that would add to the piece. What I received were confidential memos from Branch Rickey directing his number one scout to begin a clandestine search for ballplayers in Mexico in early 1943. I saved these gems for this article.
It’s been widely assumed that the Brooklyn Dodgers’ scouting of the first black major league ballplayer of the 20th century did not seriously begin until the spring of 1945. Jackie Robinson was signed by Rickey in October of that year to a Montreal Royals contract, and in 1947 became the man that “broke the color barrier.” The Robinson signing in 1945 coincided with the death of baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a man many assumed to be against baseball integration, in the minor leagues as well as the majors. But was he?
Landis Wasn’t the Entire Reason
According to David Pietrusza’s well-written book on Landis, Judge and Jury, we shouldn’t lump all the blame on the Judge for the lack of “colored” ballplayers in the majors. The remainder goes to the Jury (Major League Baseball and America). Quoting Pietrusza from page 406,
What share of the responsibility for baseball’s Jim Crow status did Landis bear? What were his attitudes on race and how did he handle racial matters—both as arbiter of baseball and on the federal bench? The answers may never be really known, but the picture of Landis as an “openly biased” individual who almost single-handedly blocked baseball’s integration clearly distorts the actual events, America’s racial attitudes, and perhaps even the man himself. Landis certainly bears some responsibility for baseball’s segregation. However, to imply that it was he—and he alone—who created or prolonged the situation whitewashes the attitudes and actions of much, if not most, of baseball’s establishment.
Quoting Richard Dozer’s 1983 Baseball Digest article on Leo Durocher and a meeting Durocher had with Commissioner Landis at his office,
Durocher recalled that he mentioned having played in an exhibition against Josh Gibson, the great Negro League catcher, and observed that even though Gibson had great talent he apparently was not welcome in the major leagues. “Landis looked down at me with that glare of his and said ‘Bring me the man who says you can’t have a colored player in the big leagues, and I’ll take care of him real quick.’ I believe to this day that
Landis would have accepted the black player if an owner had signed one, Leo said.
So why was Rickey so secretive? My guess is he assumed that if Landis wouldn’t balk at the signing of a black ballplayer, the owners would. That’s one secret Branch took with him to his grave.
The Search Begins
John Thom and Jules Tygiel wrote an excellent piece on the Jackie Robinson signing, but could only find documentation on the search that went back to April 1945 when a handwritten memo uncovered in the Rickey Papers gives instructions to Dodger scouts to “Cover Negro teams for possible major league talent.” The memo was signed “Chas. D. Clark.” No one knows who this man was. It could have been a fictitious name. We now have proof that the date the Dodgers’ search began was on April 24, 1943, in the form of an inter-club communication from Rickey’s office in Brooklyn to Tom Greenwade at his home in Willard, MO. It’s titled,
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL.
I am enclosing some very confidential material. In the newspaper you will see averages. I don’t believe you can afford to show these to Tuero. You will have to work them out for yourself.”
Tuero is possibly Oscar Tuero, a Cuban pitcher who had played with the St Louis Cardinals from 1918-1920.
In a follow-up memo dated April 29, 1943, Rickey mentions that,
I am very sure that his (Tuero’s) services will not be required more than two to four weeks and not that long if you find that you can get along very nicely without him. Of course, at no time now or in the future will he know anything about part of the objective of your trip…
He later added,
Tuero is not at all above chiseling. He was a chiseler as a ball player, so far as that is concerned, and if he shows very decided tendencies to do the chiseling act with us, I am inclined to have you go on down on your health seeking job without him As a matter of fact, I don’t trust him…
Rickey also gives some advice regarding Tom’s upcoming scouting trip to Mexico. In the same note, the Dodger president mentions that he is “hoping that we will be able to get several of them signed to Durham or Olean contracts, or even Montreal if we can find one good enough.” Of course, when Jackie Robinson was signed, he was sent to their top minor league club in Montreal. Notice he never mentions “colored” ball players, only referring to them as “them.” That’s because he’d already conveyed his intent during their Kansas City hotel meeting, and he didn’t want to risk someone besides Greenwade reading the memos. Tom knew he was to focus on “colored” ballplayers.
By May 10, 1943, Tom Greenwade was receiving transmittals in Mexico City from Rickey in Brooklyn. You can feel his anticipation as he wrote:
I am enclosing some information herewith. Write me fully airmail and mark it personal and confidential on the outside of your envelope and give me all the dope on players. We can certainly use some good Mexican boys right now at both Durham and Olean. The Durham Club is terrible. I don’t believe you should try to sign any boys until you get a full report on everybody and know exactly what you want to do with everybody before you start to work on anybody. I hope you will be able to work quietly without any newspaper publicity whatever.
If you run into anything especially good I will send help to you or I might even come myself.
Greenwade also received detailed information prior to leaving his home on Silvio Garcia who was playing in Mexico at that time, and was considered the best ballplayer from his country. The two attached photos of Garcia that accompanied the report definitely would qualify him as a “colored ballplayer.”
Silvio Garcia: The Attempted Signing
In an April 14, 1958, Los Angeles Times article written by Braven Dyer on Walter O’Malley, I found some interesting information on our subject. “O’Malley (and not Rickey) almost became the man to sign the first Negro for Major League Baseball. Early in his affiliation with the Dodgers O’Malley went to Havana, Cuba, to sign a Negro shortstop named Silvio Garcia. On arrival he discovered Garcia with 49 other Cuban Army conscripts in a pup tent encampment.
“As a big sports hero, Garcia was the first man tapped by the military. Not hankering to tangle with the whole Cuban army, O’Malley staged a strategic retreat and Garcia never appeared in a major league line-up.”
According to Murray Polner’s well-written 1982 biography on Branch Rickey, “Walter O’Malley…went to Cuba in 1944 with a letter of credit for $25,000 with instructions from Rickey to sign Silvio Garcia, a black player, only to learn that Garcia had been drafted into the Cuban army.” I spoke to Polner and he recounted the O’Malley interview. The author could find no other living source in the early 1980s who could corroborate O’Malley’s story, yet portions are backed up by the Dodgers scouting report on Garcia, which mentions that he might be redrafted soon into the Cuban army.
The only thing that bothers me about O’Malley’s statement is the year-1944. All the secret documents from the Greenwade family are from 1943, and yet in a December 3, 1953, newspaper article given to me by the Greenwades there is mention of Tom discussing his trip to Mexico to scout Silvio Garcia in 1944. One of three things happened: both Greenwade and O’Malley were either telling the truth, they were covering up the actual date, or, they both forgot the correct date/year.
I’m convinced they both simply forgot what year it was when telling their story. I’ m certain that O’Malley made the offer in 1943, not 1944, because Garcia would have been back in the army by 1944. The clincher is the fact that Rickey was anxious to sign someone in 1943, as is evident by his tone in the Greenwade memos. Garcia was 28 at the time, two years older than Robinson was when signed by the Dodgers.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to take O’Malley’s story and add our report on Garcia to con clude that the Dodgers made an attempt to sign him in Cuba after the end of the 1943 season. Yet, based on the 1958 Los Angeles Times article, O’Malley never actually approached Silvio with the offer, thus allowing their search to remain a secret.
In an October 3, 1956, article in The Sporting News on our scout, this item came up. “On Greenwade’s say so, the Dodgers steered away from Garcia .. .” Quoting Greenwade in this piece, “He couldn’t pull the ball. He was a right handed hitter-everything went to right field.” My conclusion: Greenwade wasn’t high on Garcia, but Rickey was, based on Durocher’s recommendation, and when the Cuban army stepped in and blocked the move, Tom convinced the Dodger brass to drop any future pursuit of the shortstop.
In Roberto Echevarria’s book, The Pride of Havana, the author mentions the Dodgers’ attempt at signing Silvio.
Legend has it that Silvio Garcia was seriously considered by Branch Rickey to be the man to break the color barrier in the United States, but that when asked what he would do if a rival hurled racial slurs at him, the Cuban answered: “I would kill him.” This ended his chances.
Unfortunately, Silvio Garcia passed away in 1978, so there is no way we can substantiate this story. When Roberto Echevarria mentioned to me that Garcia has a son living in Miami but did not know what his first name was, I realized my time playing detective Colombo on the Silvio Garcia story was over. The ballplayer thought to be one of the best shortstops in Cuban baseball history won two Mexican League batting titles and was considered a superb fielder, so he had the talent to possibly play in the major leagues. Unfortunately, the closest he came was when he spent time in the USA playing in the Negro Leagues.
On a side note, there was some success in that Mexico trip. A 21-year-old catcher with the Monterrey club caught Greenwade’s eye, and a reco1mnendation was forwarded to the home office. A few years later the Dodgers signed him: Roy Campanella.
The Scouting of Jackie Robinson
In The Sporting News article of 1956, author Harold Rosenthal states, “He [Greenwade] was the only scout used on the Jackie Robinson job,” a statement repeated by Tom’s son and daughter to me. Quoting Greenwade from this article,
I saw Jackie play about 20 times… but I never spoke to him once. When I finally did speak to him he had already made the Dodgers and I was scouting for the Yankees. John Griffin, the Brooklyn clubhouse man, introduced us in St Louis.
Tom Greenwade scouted for the Dodgers until December 1945, when he signed on with the Yankees. He conferred with his boss, Mr. Rickey, prior to making the decision to leave, and Rickey chose not to hold him back, knowing the Yankees would make Tom the highest-paid scout in baseball, which they did. His annual salary jumped from $3,600 to over $11,000 (including an annual bonus).
What we can’ t answer with certainty is why the Dodgers president waited two years after the attempted signing of Silvio Garcia before making the second attempt — with Jackie Robinson. Again, did he fear a back lash from Landis and the owners? My guess is, yes, he got cold feet until Landis passed away and our country was in a state of euphoria after winning the Second World War.
Greenwade described the task of following Robinson’s 1945 Kansas City Monarch ball club in The Sporting News piece. “The war was still on, there wasn’t much transportation available, and the Monarchs got around by bus. Most of the time I chased them. … When I scouted Robinson, I told Mr. Rickey that he didn’t have a short stop’s arm. It wasn’t strong and he needed to dance a step and a half before cutting loose. Maybe he’d make a first baseman or second baseman, but never a shortstop.”
To stress his singular effort one more time, “I want to make it very clear that I was the only scout used on Robinson. The only time Clyde Sukeforth went to see him it rained and they didn’t play.” My impression of Tom Greenwade, formed via research on this piece, was that he was a very modest man, did not go around bragging about his exploits, but wanted to keep the facts straight. Keep in mind that if his recommendation of Robinson had resulted in a bust, Greenwade’s reputation would have been scarred. He had quite a bit riding on this and therefore should receive due credit.
Clyde Sukeforth’s Robinson Recommendation
Clyde Sukeforth is credited by some as the scout who recommended Jackie Robinson, yet we now know he was used as a checker by the Dodgers to confirm Tom Greenwade’s recommendation. In a November 28, 1993, phone interview, Clyde describes that day.
I didn’t see him play before we signed him. He [Rickey] knew a lot about Robinson. He just sent me down there to check out his mm. He [Robinson] naturally couldn’t understand [why Clyde was there], was very interested in why Rickey was interested in his arm, and he developed that he had fallen on his shoulder the night before and was out of the lineup for a couple of days, maybe more.
So I asked him to meet me down at my hotel, and he did. He kept asking me [why], and I just told him, “I just work here. I can’t tell you anything but I do know there is a lot of interest in you.” There was a colored club in Brooklyn not affiliated with the Dodgers but you had a right to assume that it was. So I told him, “Mr. Rickey can answer your questions, why don’t you come on back to Brooklyn with me?”
And the rest was history.
The Next Bob Feller
Tom Greenwade was not always perfect when projecting a player’s future. Our scout’s biggest disappointment in his talent-hunting career was the hard-throwing, hard luck Dodger pitcher Rex Barney, who tossed a no-hitter and had a 15-win season with Brooklyn. Tom thought he was the second coming of Bob Feller, but Rex’s control problems ended his short career.
Only Two Were Humming “Where Have You Gone, Mr. Robinson…”
The only two Dodgers that were in on the Jackie Robinson signing were Branch Rickey and Tom Greenwade. It was obvious Rickey wanted to keep things close to his vest, and he did so by only including his best scout. And his best scout was the best that ever scouted. Greenwade’s major league ballplayers (over 40 of them) would agree with this. When Mickey Mantle was sent down to the Kansas City club in 1951, he didn’t immediately call his father, Mutt Mantle. His first phone call was to his trusted friend and scout Tom Greenwade. The scout was close to all of his players, as should be his plaque in Cooperstown.
Where would the Dodgers and Yankees of the late 1940s to the mid 1960s be without the man that signed a majority of their stars? Probably watching the World Series from the stands.
In 1964, Tom Greenwade left the Yankees and his scouting career to live out the rest of his life in his home town of Willard, MO. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 81.
JIM KREUZ was introduced to SABR by former ML pitcher Tim McNamara, whose high school catcher was a kid named Gabby Hartnett, his shortstop at Fordham was Frankie Frisch, and his best friend on the Boston Braves was an outfielder named Casey Stengel.