Klein: Frank Grant, the Buffalo Bisons, and the drawing of baseball’s color line

From Jeff Z. Klein at WBFO on April 23, 2018:

The chronicle of baseball’s color line usually focuses on the triumphant story of its breaking by Jackie Robinson in the 1940s. Rarely told is the bitter story of how the color line was established, way back in the 1880s — in places like Buffalo, at the expense of black men like Frank Grant, the star second baseman of the Buffalo Bisons.

Grant, 20, born and raised in western Massachusetts, came to the Herd midway through 1886, during a brief period when ball clubs in the high minor leagues were hiring a smattering of talented black players in defiance of the segregationist norms of the era. The practice caused a leading sports journal of the time, Sporting Life, to wonder, “How far will this mania for engaging colored players go?” The Buffalo manager, John Chapman, tried to play down Grant’s race, referring to him as a “Spaniard” or an “Italian.” It was just too much to actually come out and acknowledge that black men could play alongside whites on the same team.

But it was hard to argue with the impact Grant made for the Bisons at Olympic Park on the northeast corner of Richmond and Summer, where he quickly became a fan favorite. Playing with what the Buffalo Evening News described as “vim and abandon,” he hit .344, tops among Bisons regulars, with a strong .516 slugging percentage. Several accounts noted his tremendous range and fielding ability on defense. Even Sporting Life was impressed: “The second-base play of Buffalo’s colored lad, Grant, is described as wonderful. Some of his stops and catches are said to be phenomenal.”

In future years, many who saw Grant would declare him the best second baseman of the late 19th century. “His fielding bordered on the impossible,” another black player, Sol White, wrote in 1907. (In 2006, Grant would belatedly be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

Read the full article here: http://news.wbfo.org/post/heritage-moments-frank-grant-buffalo-bisons-and-drawing-baseball-s-color-line

Originally published: April 23, 2018. Last Updated: April 23, 2018.