By W.H. Johnson
One of the most significant mothers in the history of baseball was born sometime around 1850, the daughter of enslaved parents in South Carolina. Adaline, also referred to as Ada, later married a sharecropper named Isham Taylor, a collateral church pastor in addition to a farm laborer, and he and Ada not only embraced their family, one that ultimately grew to 11 children, but the two raised their children to value the church and their education as well.
It is almost inconceivable that four of their eleven children, growing up in the heart of the post-war South, would not only attend college but would – collectively – Impact professional baseball in ways few can begin to imagine. The Taylor family was a baseball phenomenon.
Charles Isham Taylor, Ada’s fifth child, was born on January 20, 1875, near Anderson, South Carolina. There is little existing documentation about his early years in northwest South Carolina, but he did join the United States Army and served as a private with the Buffalo Soldiers of the Army’s 10th Calvary during the Spanish-American War. Returning from that war in February 1899, Taylor enrolled at Clark College in Atlanta, and joined the college’s baseball team as the starting third baseman.
It was in 1909, however, that C.I. Taylor truly began to build the legacy for which he is still remembered. Between April 14 and 16, his Giants faced Rube Foster and the Leland Giants in a three-game series. Taylor’s squad lost, but it began a tempestuous relationship between him and Foster that would ultimately contribute to the organization of the Negro leagues. At the end of the 1916 season, Taylor’s Indianapolis A.B.C.s defeated the Chicago American Giants in five games to claim the “Colored Championship of the West,” and established the 1916 A.B.C.s as one of the great pre-Negro League teams.
It was in this decade that he and Rube Foster established an often-contentious-but-respectful relationship. Following one particularly heated series between the A.B.C.s squad and the American Giants, a letter-to-the-editor, public newspaper war erupted between the two.
In a letter to the Chicago Defender and the Indianapolis Freeman, Foster referred to Taylor as a stool pigeon of the A.B.C. club and termed Taylor an ingrate who had ruined baseball (earlier) in West Baden. Taylor countered some of Foster’s bluster but maneuvered his argument to a consideration of the prospects for organizing the stronger Black organizations into a single league. This is certainly not to imply that Foster had not already advocated this idea, but more to demonstrate that Taylor was seeking the high road with the Chicago manager in order to improve the game for everyone.
That story played out in February 1920, at the Paseo YMCA with the formal adoption of a league constitution and the instantiation of a professional Negro baseball league, the first Negro National League. From that league later came the Eastern Colored League, and the five other Negro leagues now considered ‘major leagues’ as well. Foster was designated the President of this first league. His vice president, his number-two aide and advisor? None other than the man that Foster had publicly pilloried a scant five years earlier.
Taylor accepted that role for what proved to be the last two years of his life, as he died of pneumonia two years and three days after the inception of the first Negro National League at the age of 47.
”Steel Arm Johnny” (John Boyce) Taylor
John Boyce Taylor is the least-known of the Taylors, but a terrific player in his own right. He coached at the collegiate level, pitched for an array of professional teams between 1903 and 1920, and joined brother Ben’s coaching staff through the 1924 season.
In 1899 he was named head coach of Biddle University’s baseball team while he also continued to pitch as a hired arm for the town team back in Anderson. Although he returned to Biddle as head coach again in 1905, he joined brother Charles’ new team, the Birmingham Giants, in 1904, and his professional career was launched.
For the next 15 years, he hopped from team to team, plying his trade and gaining invaluable experience. In 1923, brother Ben took over as manager of the new Washington Potomacs, and asked John to come to the district and take over as pitching coach.
His teams won more games than any team led by any other manager in the annals of organized black baseball. “Candy Jim” Taylor’s professional baseball career began in 1904, and his managerial tenure ended abruptly, just before the 1948 baseball season began, due to his sudden death.
In between, Taylor played with, managed, or opposed virtually every notable player in Black baseball. His teams twice won the Negro League World Series, and three other times captured the Negro National League pennant. He neither married nor fathered any children and evidently had few casual interests outside the game. He was, in the purest sense, a baseball lifer.
Much has been – and more should be – written about Ben Taylor. The youngest of the four baseball brothers, his playing career was sufficiently exceptional to merit election to Cooperstown with the class of 2007. That brilliant career lasted 40 years as a player and manager, and his mentorship of players like Buck Leonard echoed for generations.
The Taylors’ impact on baseball is undeniable. Not recognized as such in their active time, the first third of the 20th century, the four baseball-playing Taylors unintentionally exerted enormous shaping forces on the game.
It is difficult to imagine the heroism of Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and those that followed in breaking segregated baseball’s (and much of the nation’s) color barrier, at least in 1947, without the excellence and influence of the Taylor brothers. For that, we gratefully wish Ada Taylor a happy, belated Mother’s Day!
IBWAA member W.H. “Bill” Johnson has contributed to SABR’s Biography Project, written extensively on baseball history, and presented papers at related conferences. Bill and his wife Chris currently reside in Georgia. He can be contacted on Twitter: @BaseballStoic