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Dick Redding, A Negro League Legend, Deserves To Be A Hall Of Famer

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The 1912 New York Lincoln Giants, featuring Dick "Cannonball" Redding (middle left)Unknown

By Russ Walsh

On Dec. 5, the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committees made their selections for next year’s Hall of Fame class. The 2022 Era Committee inductees will be Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva, Bud Fowler, and Buck O’Neil. When these votes are announced, the names not chosen often garner as much publicity as those that are chosen. This year, in the Philadelphia area at least, the failure of Dick Allen, who missed out by just one vote, to be elected to the Hall was the major topic of conversation. I’ll leave my Allen assessment for another day, however, because I want to talk about a snub that did not get nearly as much publicity: legendary Black pitcher Dick “Cannonball” Redding.

In Feb. 1971, a day after the Baseball Hall of Fame announced it was forming a special committee to consider the induction of Negro League players, the New York Daily News published a list of 12 leading candidates for inclusion in the Hall. They named Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Ray Dandridge, Martín Dihigo, Josh Gibson, Monte Irvin, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, “Smokey” Joe Williams, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, John Henry Lloyd, and Dick Redding. Of these 12, all but Redding have been inducted.

Redding, who stood 6’4” and 210 pounds, played for Negro League and Eastern Colored League teams from 1911-1931 and 1936. He was renowned to have one of the greatest fastballs in the history of baseball. That fastball earned him his nickname “Cannonball.” Employing a no-windup approach, in his early years he threw almost nothing but fastballs. Legend has it that he had three pitches – fastball inside, fastball outside, and fastball down the middle. Later, when some of the smoke had gone from his fastball, he developed a devastating hesitation pitch long before Satchel Paige came on the scene.

Redding’s statistics, particularly in his prime years in the 1910s, are impressive. In his rookie season of 1911, he won 17 consecutive games for the New York Lincoln Giants relying almost exclusively on his blazing fastball and great control, though a number of those wins were against lower level semipro and local teams. The following year, against all levels of competition combined, he compiled a 43-12 record and hurled several no-hitters, including one against the famed Cuban Stars. Another time, he struck out 24 men in one nine-inning game. In 1915, pitching for the Lincoln Stars, he won 20 straight games. In 1918, his blossoming baseball career was interrupted by combat service in World War I.

Of course, it is difficult to judge early Black baseball players by statistics alone. Records are missing or incomplete. We are often left only with anecdotes and testimonials by those who saw these men play. The New York Tribune compared Redding to all-time great Christy Matthewson, calling him the “Black Matty.” While he was pitching for Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants, the press started calling him “Smiling Dick” and compared him to Walter Johnson. It has been said that Ty Cobb declined to face Redding on the two occasions the players’ paths crossed in exhibition games. It has also been said that Redding once struck out Babe Ruth three times in a row on nine pitches. No less an authority than Casey Stengel told the New York Daily News, “You can keep Satchel Paige, I’ll take Cannonball Redding.”

Despite these credentials, I am embarrassed to say that I knew little about Redding until this fall, when I was doing research on the Klein Chocolate Company independent baseball team. In 1919, William Klein, owner of the Klein Chocolate Company of Elizabethtown, Pa., decided to field a team of the best players in the area, pay them well, and give them an offseason job. He hired former MLB pitcher John Brackenridge to manage the team and recruit players. Klein hoped his team would generate lots of free publicity for his chocolate bars, and it did. Backed by Klein’s money, Brackenridge was able to recruit several former and future Major Leaguers.

The team was a Pennsylvania powerhouse. In 1919, the Klein Chocolate team racked up a 69-14 record, which included a 7-4 record against Major League teams who stopped off to play exhibition games against the Kleins as they traveled east and west on the Pennsylvania Railroad. They beat Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox. They beat Zack Wheat and the Brooklyn Robins. They beat Edd Roush and the Cincinnati Reds. They whipped both the Philadelphia A’s and the Washington Senators twice. However, one team they could not beat was the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants and Redding, their star pitcher.

The Bacharach Giants, a Negro League team managed by John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, met Klein’s team at Island Park in Harrisburg, Pa., on Aug. 18, 1919. Redding was the Giants’ pitcher, and he held the powerful Klein lineup to just four hits as the Giants prevailed in a tight game, 2-1.

Klein Chocolate then visited the Giants in Atlantic City on Aug. 30. Again, Redding pitched, this time shutting out the Kleins, 1-0, on seven hits. These two games, against what was certainly one of the finest white independent baseball teams in the country that year, give some indication of Redding’s greatness. He led the Bacharach Giants to the best record among Eastern independent teams in 1919, per Seamheads.com.

In the last 10 years of his career, Redding served mostly as a manager and part-time pitcher. As a manager, he was reported to be easy-going, good-natured, and well-liked by his players. In the 1940s, Redding’s personality seemed to change, and he began behaving erratically. In Feb. 1948 he was institutionalized in Islip, N.Y. He died there on Oct. 31, 1948, at age 58. The official cause was listed as “syphilis of the central nervous system.”

There is no question that Redding was a great pitcher. There is no question that had he not been the victim of that unique brand of American apartheid practiced by MLB in the days before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he would have long ago taken his place in Cooperstown with the other greats of his era. This year’s snub only delays the inevitable. Someday, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, Redding will take his rightful place in the Hall.

Russ Walsh is a retired teacher, diehard Phillies fan, and student of the history of baseball with a special interest in the odd, quirky, and once in a lifetime events that happen on the baseball field. He writes for both the SABR BioProject and the SABR Games Project and maintains his own blog The Faith of a Phillies Fan. You can reach Russ on Twitter @faithofaphilli1.

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