How the Baltimore Orioles and Charlie Grant tried to break the color barrier

Charlie Grant was walking past the Eastman Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, when he saw two men playing baseball on the large lawn. One was John “Mugsy” McGraw, the Baltimore Orioles player-manager. The other was Chicago White Stockings player-manager Clark Griffith.

McGraw, a third baseman, hit one of Griffith’s pitches in the area Grant was walking through. Grant picked up the ball from the ground and the style in which he returned it prompted McGraw to ask Grant if he thought he could play the game.

According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of March 17, 1901, Grant replied, “If I’m nothing else and if the guys want to see how to play ball, kick a few of them at me.”

Little did the two men know that Grant, who had worked as a bellhop in Hot Springs for several weeks that spring, was also the second baseman for the champion Columbia Giants, a black Chicago baseball team. In his first season as Orioles manager, McGraw kept his eyes peeled for any prospects he could bring to the team. But since white-run leagues had been banned from signing black players since 1887, McGraw asked Grant if he was Native American.

The truth is that Grant, whose alias McGraw used, Charlie Tokohoma, was actually black. McGraw was fully prepared to overturn the gentlemen’s agreement to help the Orioles line up their roster with talent.

The Globe Democrat continued: “The new discovery of Indian Territory Indian baseball player Mugsy McGraw has been the only topic among baseball players here this week. The Indian is truly a first-class natural player. Handles extremely well on ground balls. … His name is Tokohoma and his parents are pure-blooded Cherokees. “Tokie”, as it is called, weighs 170 pounds and is built on the lines of an athlete.

It all culminated when McGraw called Grant to the team two days before Baltimore’s home opener against the Boston Red Sox on April 26, 1901.

“Former Columbia Giants second baseman, whose Indian name is Tokohoma, who will play with McGraw’s Baltimore team,” reported The Independent (Hutchinson, Kan.) April 24, 1901.

McGraw and Grant would have pulled off the trick — and the story — had it not been for the objections of White Stockings owner Charles Comiskey, who knew Grant and his time with the Giants.

Grant’s first mention appears in The Baltimore Sun on March 11, 1901, several days after McGraw arrived in Hot Springs for the Orioles’ spring training.

“Manager John J. McGraw will likely return from Hot Springs this weekend, and the men who work the cage daily at Johns Hopkins want to be fit to keep up with the manager when he appears with Indian Cherokee player Grant , “reports the newspaper.

Four days later, the Sun broke the news with the headline and caption: “McGraw signs Indian: Tokohoma, from the Cherokee tribe, becomes an Oriole.”

Grant came to his tryout well before his scheduled time with McGraw and Griffith, and when the pair showed up, they observed Grant wearing an infielder’s sweater and glove.

“The more McGraw saw him play, the better he liked him,” the Sun wrote on March 16. , and I was supposed to be the best player on the team.

“McGraw then tried it at bat. Griffith threw him wide, and the Indian showed he was a good sticker. He was then signed for this year and will accompany McGraw to Baltimore. He will be judged at second base, but will likely be sent to right field.

Additionally, Grant told the Globe-Democrat that he did not participate in recreational activities at the time – smoking, chewing tobacco or drinking.

But that’s when Comiskey stepped in to sow doubt and create divisiveness about Grant joining the Orioles and playing in the major leagues. He went to the Buffalo Enquirer the same day Grant was signed, aiming to expose the secret.

“The rambling manager’s latest find is said to be a pureblood nigger, and he is nicknamed an Indian to bring him into the game as the boycott of colored players is in vogue in all the major leagues,” wrote the Enquirer. March 16, 1901. “The player is said to be none other than Grant, who once played in this city in international times.

Comiskey went on to tell the newspaper, “There was a capable colored infielder on one of the teams, but he was kicked out by the southern players at the club. It’s an open secret, however, that two National League men, both quite high profile, who are offside, were niggers, who simply went about their jobs like quiet gentlemen. I never had a say and I played three seasons without having the slightest problem.

Keep this tidbit in mind: McGraw had bet every other American League manager that the Orioles would win the pennant that season. In a letter to a friend, McGraw said that in Grant he “had one of the greatest players of the century” and “would amaze them when he let the guy go”.

The Evansville Journal, which wrote about this correspondence on March 30, 1901, added that Grant is “a first-class ball player” who would have entered the major leagues long ago, but for his color.

“‘Grant is a half-breed Indian, and his high cheekbones and straight hair speak volumes,” the report said. “He could easily pass for a pure-blooded Indian, as he is brassy.”

Even though McGraw was aware there was a question, he continued to vehemently deny that Grant was a black man.

“McGraw said last night that there was no truth in the report that the Indian and Grant were the same, because Grant was rather short and was a portly and muscular individual, while Tokohoma is tall and bony. “, reported the Sun in March. 30, 1901. “Director says Indian still at Springs but will come when sent for.”

However, this never materialized. McGraw and Grant did not abandon the plan, and Comiskey never officially opposed the new player. The plan was finally scrapped in May of that year, and stories surfaced of how McGraw had tried to bend the rules.

Comiskey’s team, with an 83-53 record, would go on to win the American League title – there was no World Series at the time – while the Orioles finished fifth (68-65) in McGraw’s only season as manager. According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Grant made a triumphant return to the Columbia Giants and played for many black teams until 1916. He worked for years as a janitor, handyman and courier in Cincinnati before dying in a traffic accident in 1932. .

The next time a black player tried out for a major league team was April 6, 1945, when sportswriter Joe Bostic brought pitcher Terris McDuffie and first baseman Dave “Showboat” Thomas with him. at the Brooklyn Dodgers spring training facility. He surprised team president Branch Rickey with the move, but after several hours of discussion, Rickey gave a thorough tryout for the men. Ten days later, Wendell Smith accompanied Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Jackie Robinson, Philadelphia Stars second baseman Marvin Williams and Cleveland Buckeyes outfielder Sam Jethroe to a tryout with the Boston Red Sox. .

It would take another two years for Robinson to cross the color barrier in April 1947.

(Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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