Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Hake's: Some Negro League Rarities

Following up my post from Monday, I want to take a second look at Hake's current auction by focusing on a handful of great Negro League collectibles within it. As I mentioned previously, Hake's has been an exclusive consignor of Negro League paraphernalia that resided within the collection of Richard Merkin.

Merkin was a American painter and illustrator who taught his craft for over 40 years at the Rhode Island School of Design. His own works reside in the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution. He also wrote for Vanity Fair and illustrated the book "Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Leagues." BTW, pop culture enthusiast might find it interesting to know that Merkin appeared on the cover of the Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album (back row, right of center).

Anyway, he clearly was fascinated with the Negro League Baseball and when matched with his penchant for collecting vintage photography went on to build one of the more impressive collections ever assembled. Check out just few available in this auction that stuck out to me.

Although slightly faded the below photo doesn't disappoint. It is from 1937 and features five ballplayers from the Cuidad Trujillo ballclub in the Dominican Baseball League. If memory serves correctly, this was a team that was put together by then dictator Rafael Trujillo who wanted to make sure his team won. So, he raided the Negro Leagues and signed a whole bunch of their stars. Of course, since he stacked his team they did win. Various stories exist about this time period with most Negro League players indicating that they were glad to leave the country. Imagine the pressure for a player when you have a guy who might kill you and the entire team if you didn't win. Anyway, featured below are Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell (on the far left) and Josh Gibson (second on the right).

Here is a 1934 team photo of the Concordia Eagles of Venezuela. It features Hall of Famers Martin Dihigo (back row, third from left) and Josh Gibson (back row, far right). Furthermore, Luis Apricio Sr. (father of the Hall of Famer) is also there. Additionally, this is thought to be the only photo with both Gibson and Dihigo together.

Below is a 1934 team photo of the Bismark Churchills, and if features the great Satchel Paige (top row, at center). This was a semi-pro team that was not a member of any organized league due to its roster of mixed race players. Nevertheless, they won the National Semi-Pro Baseball Tournament in Wichita, Kansas in 1935 with "Satch" on the mound. In fact, Paige thought very highly of this team.
"That Was The Best Team I Ever Saw; The Best Players I Ever Played With. But Who Ever Heard Of Them."
BTW, this team was owned by Neal Churchill who was a local Chrysler car dealer in North Dakota.

This is a team photo of the 1930 Homestead Grays. It has four future Hall of Famers in it: Judy Johnson (top, second from right), Oscar Charleston (bottom row far right), Smokey Joe Williams (top, fourth from right), and Cumberland Posey (top row far right). This club won the Eastern Championship that season.

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