SABR Salute: Tweed Webb
Editor’s note: The SABR Salute, first bestowed upon writer Fred Lieb in 1976, was designed as a manner of recognizing the contributions of some of the older members of the Society. Subsequent SABR Salutes appeared in the SABR Membership Directory and honored members who had made great contributions to baseball historical research. Tweed Webb (1905-1995) received the SABR Salute in 1986; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.
Normal (Tweed) Webb’s specialty is not Organized Baseball in a particular city, although he is knowledgeable about that sport in St. Louis. It is Negro League Baseball in numerous cities in the 1920s to 1940s. Born in St. Louis on August 19, 1905, Tweed got an early baseball orientation because his father, Sherman Webb, was a semipro player and manager. In 1917, when Rube Foster brought his Chicago American Giants to town for a series of games, Tweed got the job as their batboy. Sixty years later he would campaign hard to get Rube into the Hall of Fame.
By 1920 Tweed was spending his summers playing shortstop with the St. Louis Black Sox, a fast semipro club managed by his father. But he didn’t neglect his schooling. He attended Central High School in Cleveland and later took courses in a business college in St. Louis. He was a snappy dresser, with a preference for tweeds; hence the nickname which has been his trademark since his teens.
Tweed played professional ball for only one year (1926). That was with the Fort Wayne Pirates of the Negro National League. The fancy fielding shortstop didn’t like the meager pay and the carousing and returned to St. Louis to work as a self-employed sign painter. He continued to play ball in the municipal Tandy League until 1934. Forty years later he was the first black inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1932 he began reporting baseball for the St. Louis Argus, a black weekly. He continued his Hot Stove League column for 37 years, with a couple of years out for Navy service in the South Pacific in WWII. Tweed also served as an official scorer for Negro League games for 17 years and this included five all-star games in Chicago.
In his various capacities as bat boy, player, reporter and scorer, he had firsthand knowledge of some of the greatest players in the Negro Leagues. He also compiled numerous scrapbooks and notebook records and files on black baseball. He used any forum he could to gain some recognition for these largely forgotten players. When the Baseball Hall of Fame finally opened its doors a crack in 1971, Tweed was all set with researched records of a score of black players who merited considerations. The highlight of his career came in 1974 when his St. Louis friend, James (Cool Papa) Bell, for whom he had campaigned, was enshrined at Cooperstown. Tweed was there.
A spinoff of that visit was finding out about SABR, which he joined on January 19, 1975. Henceforth, his research efforts on behalf of black players has been enhanced by assistance of the Negro Leagues Committee. Although this committee has pushed for selection of living players such as Ray Dandridge, Tweed feels that the great old-time stars such as Smokey Joe Williams should not be forgotten by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee or the public at large. They won’t be as long as Tweed Webb is on the job.
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