And avoid giving quite all of your money to Jeff Bezos.
Just use code 6AS19 at the University of Nebraska Press website when you check out.
Page proofs from Nebraska arrived. Review of proofs completed.
Let’s all just agree that no errors will remain, OK?
Most of my changes had to do with updating Oscar’s statistics. There have been some changes to the Seamheads.com database lately. Instead of owning four of the top five seasons by OPS+ in Negro Leagues history, Oscar now only owns four of the top eight.
He is trending in the wrong direction!
But four of the top eight is still pretty good.
I had intended to include in Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player a chronology of Charleston’s life. I thought it would be particularly helpful in Oscar’s case, given how peripatetic he was, and given the errors floating around in the online ether. But including it would just make the darn book too long, said the University of Nebraska Press, no doubt wisely. So I have now included that chronology here. You can navigate to it using the top menu of the site.
As always, if you spy any errors or have any questions, please let me know.
Apologies for the long absence. Life has a way of getting in the way of important things like website management, but here’s a quick update on the Charleston bio: In January, I finished the manuscript, and after a couple rounds of edits, the University of Nebraska Press today officially slated the book for publication in fall 2019. The title will be Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player.
I’ve been fortunate to collect a few good pre-publication blurbs for the book. Larry Lester, pioneer historian of the Negro Leagues, what say ye?
If you believe what many veterans of the Negro Leagues said—that Oscar Charleston was the greatest all-time all-around player—then you will find Jeremy Beer’s biography to be the unapologetic gospel truth. Beer’s examination of the grand Oscar’s youthful days, his military, his adult life and baseball legacy is the fruit of serious grassroots research. He proves that Charleston was the most divine legend there ever was!
Very nice of you, Larry. Indeed, the book would never have been completed without the incredibly kind and useful help Lester offered at every stage.
We’ll keep rolling out blurbs, photos, updates, and perhaps some excerpts here as publication nears. Stay tuned. . . .
More or less. Many little things still to check and look into, a few archives to examine, a few more calls to make. But in the main, done. 146,000 words of biographical goodness (or OKness, at least).
I wasn’t sure, when I first started this project, whether there was enough primary-source material to sustain a full bio of Charleston. I was an idiot. The man played, coached, scouted, umped, and/or managed for 40 years!
Anyway, also rediscovered this gem last weekend (apologies for the blurriness). Vintage Oscar: a food-focused bet, and some trash talk.
Greetings, and apologies for the hiatus here. Everything, I am pleased to report, is proceeding apace with the Charleston bio, which, if I have not announced it before, is to be published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2019. I am on track to deliver the manuscript next spring, God willing, and had two occasions to present on Oscar this summer: first at the Midwestern History Association meeting in Grand Rapids, and next at the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference in Harrisburg.
Thanks to the offices of city historian Calobe Jackson Jr., the trip to Harrisburg provided me the delightful opportunity to meet Mrs. Elizabeth Overton, Jane Charleston’s great-niece. Mrs. Overton was extremely close to Janie, living with her for many years and caring for her at the end of her life. She is also the family historian, so Janie entrusted her with numerous documents, photos, and stories about the Blalock family. Not, alas, with all that many stories about Oscar–but some.
My interviews with Mrs. Overton and her daughter, Dr. Miriam Phields, have given me a much better handle on who Janie was, what she was like, what she believed, and how she lived. All utterly invaluable, of course. I am deeply in the debt of Mrs. Overton and Dr. Phields, and will doubtless be leaning on them more as this project advances. (They have been warned.)
Anyway, I took a lot of photos of photos while visiting Mrs. Overton, and I think this charmer may be my favorite.
Click on the photo, and you can see the basketball reads “Philander A.C., 11-14-15.” That’s Janie in the second row, second from the left, sitting next to this cheerful basketball team’s male coach (I assume that’s who he is). And in the front row, sitting in the middle, is Esther Popel, a good friend of Janie and her sisters. Who was Esther Popel? A Harrisburg girl and Dickinson College graduate who as Esther Popel Shaw went on to become a significant poet and author associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
That was the sort of impressive crowd Janie ran with. Oscar surely took pride in that. Maybe he even read Esther’s poetry, sometimes.
My piece on Oscar’s rookie season with the Indianapolis ABCs, including a detailed account of the brawl he helped spark in an October 1915 contest versus the Donie Bush All-Stars, is now out in the Baseball Research Journal‘s print edition.
It’s not online yet, but I suspect it will be before long.
If you just can’t wait, looks like you can buy the issue here.
And if you also just can’t wait for the bio to be published…well, the manuscript is coming along. The University of Nebraska Press will be the publisher.
Thanks to the help of Ted Knorr and the research of Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson Jr., I now know a couple more important facts about Oscar Charleston and his second wife, Jane.
Miss Jane B. Howard of Harrisburg, Pa., was quietly married to Oscar Charleston Thursday noon, at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Percy Richards, 3305 Lawton Ave. Rev. C. A. Williams, pastor of St. Paul A. M. E. Church, performed the ceremony.
Calobe discovered that Rev. Williams pastored St. Paul’s in St. Louis, Missouri, and that the 3305 Lawton Ave. address is found there, as well. Percy Richards was living there and working as a bartender at the time of the 1920 census. My assumption is that Oscar became friends with Percy during the 1921 season, when he played for the St. Louis Stars.
My guess is that the Charlestons eloped because Jane’s family–prominent and proper as it was–did not approve of her marriage to the ballplaying Oscar, which seems to have come within just a few months of their meeting. But why St. Louis rather than, say, Atlantic City or some other place nearer to Harrisburg? I have no idea.
Over the last two days, while doing research in the Pittsburgh Courier files of the mid-1920s, I came across two wonderful nuggets. Each helps to reveal something about the personality and habits of Oscar Charleston, and about how others viewed him. This was during the peak of his career, while he was playing, managing, and essentially acting as the general manager of the Harrisburg Giants.
First, this June 20, 1925, excerpt from William Dunn’s column.
So: Oscar could sing! And take your money at billiards! And seemed, at least, to be happily married and well-liked by those who knew him, even as he remained somewhat hard to get to know.
Second, an April 3, 1926, anti-liquor article in the Courier that uses Oscar as its main example of how avoiding drink leads to success:
One of the outstanding characters of the diamond who shuns liquor is that great and colorful king of the diamond, Oscar Charleston, fielder supreme, the peer of whom is yet to be located. Year after year Oscar has gone on piling up achievements which make him a place in the hall of fame of Negro baseball for all time, aiding the game by his clean and sane method of living and playing the game. The answer is plain. Oscar could not have maintained such a remarkable record of performance if he had been a drinker, and this, we think, is one of the greatest factors of his success.
Dizzy Dismukes, too, we are told, also is a non-drinker. By contrast, the author argues, alcoholism drove former Charleston teammates Specs Clark and Jimmy Lyons out of baseball.
Dismukes and Charleston seem to have been friends. Charleston’s photo album contains a number of photos of his wife Jane with Dizzy’s wife in Cuba. Teetotaling may have been one thing that bonded the two men.
One hundred years ago, in all likelihood, Oscar Charleston met the young woman who would be his first wife. She had the unpromising name of Hazel Grubbs, but her family was one of black Indianapolis’s best.
Her father was William E. Grubbs, highly respected principal at Public School No. 42. William was called “professor” by those who knew him. He had a bachelor’s degree from Butler University and taught mathematics for a while at Tuskegee Institute, where he attracted the notice of Booker T. Washington. Like Washington, William believed in self-help, education, and civil society. He played the viola, among other instruments. Director of the Boys Club Orchestra of North Indianapolis, leader of YMCA membership and war-bond drives, active member of the First Baptist Church, he was not only a civic leader but a good-humored man, too, possessing “the ready capacity to shunt aside for a time the cares of work in favor of a good laugh.”
Hazel’s mother, Alberta, was just as energetic and highly respected as William. Her life centered around music. She taught piano out of the Grubbs’s home on 25th Street (it’s gone now, by the way, and I think it’s safe to say that the neighborhood no longer is home to ambitious bourgeois families), often directed musical performances around the city, and served as the organist at her church. She also sang and acted. The papers made frequent mention of her advanced musical abilities. In August 1918, she played before a Chautauqua audience of 5,000 in Rush County. This was a very talented woman.
By 1916, Hazel had followed in her mother’s footsteps. She often played piano for her father’s boys’ orchestra and took part in other performances as both a pianist and vocalist—at banquets given by the Ethical Culture Society, for example, and for the Shiloh Baptist Church’s Booker T. Washington Musicale.
Hazel was clearly no cleat-chaser. So how did she meet Oscar? The Grubbses didn’t live too far away from the Charlestons, but their home was a mile or so north of the Charlestons’ immediate neighborhood. They were clearly of a different social class. And at a time when baseball was still considered mildly disreputable, it would be somewhat surprising to learn that they were big fans. I suppose the Indianapolis black community wasn’t all that big. Oscar could have run into Hazel or her parents in any number of ways. Still…
Oscar and Hazel were married on January 9, 1917. So much silence surrounds the event that one wonders about the circumstances. The black press didn’t mention the marriage at all (although I haven’t yet been able to check the Freeman). Hazel was seventeen or eighteen at most—a young age for a bride even at that time, and especially young for an upwardly mobile, socially prominent family like the Grubbses. The eighth-grade-educated, ballplaying, grocery-clerking (that was his offseason job after the close of the 1916 season) Oscar couldn’t have fit William and Alberta’s preconception of what Hazel’s husband ought to be.
How and why these two people got together is a mystery.